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November 5, 2008

Two Hall of Famers headline Tech's first Female Forum on Success

By: Jimmy Robertson

Lisa Pikalek Karlish

One looks like the javelin she once tossed, tall and slender, and talks quietly in a way that belies her success. The other one still looks like a volleyball player and resembles a CEO, seemingly confident in front of any crowd.

Both are mothers and yet still look like athletes, a strong defiance of Father Time. Both speak with a combination of wit and wisdom, a testament to their undeniable pursuit of education and success in the job arena. Both excelled academically and athletically at Virginia Tech, earning All-America honors in the classroom and in their respective sports.

And both graciously returned to campus recently.

Katie Ollendick, a former track superstar who will be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in late November, and Lisa Pikalek Karlish, a former volleyball extraordinaire who is already in the Tech Hall of Fame, came back to Blacksburg in early October as guest speakers for the inaugural Female Athlete Success Forum held in the south stadium club at Lane Stadium. All of Tech’s female student-athletes were required to attend.

The Nutrition and Performance Committee within the athletics department sponsored the forum. That committee consists of Dr. Mike Gentry (assistant AD for athletic performance), Dr. Gary Bennett (sport psychology coordinator), Dr. Mark Rogers (sports therapist), Amy Freel (director of sports nutrition), Jamie Meyer (coordinator of strength and conditioning) and Katie Baer (athletic trainer). Together, they brought Ollendick and Karlish back to campus to speak to Tech’s female student-athletes and to offer advice on how to succeed academically and athletically, and also professionally, once they leave Virginia Tech.

“In the past, we’ve brought in speakers who maybe have overcome an addiction or adversity,” Gentry said. “While we recognize the value of doing that, we also want to bring in former student-athletes who were successful here and who have carried that success into their professional lives as well. Katie and Lisa were winners in everything they did here, and they’re still winners.

hey’ve carried all the things you need to succeed over into their professional careers.”
For sure, their resumes take a back seat to no one.

After going to UVa for her freshman year – “You do make mistakes and you can recover from them,” Ollendick joked. – she returned to her hometown of Blacksburg and shined in track and field at Tech for the next three years, earning All-America honors in the high jump her senior season. She also was an academic All-American, graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average, with a double major in human nutrition, foods and exercise, and psychology. She added a minor in chemistry for good measure.

Ollendick later got a master’s degree in physical therapy at the University of North Carolina. She currently is pursuing a doctoral degree in physical therapy at UNC, while also working as a pediatric physical therapist at the Duke University Medical Center.

Karlish’s resume is no less impressive. She earned All-Metro Conference honors all four years at Tech and still ranks as the school’s all-time leader in kills with 2,770. She was a two-time academic All-American and graduated in 1993 with a 3.9 GPA – and also was a double major in sociology and psychology. She received her master’s and her doctoral degrees from Duke in clinical psychology and currently runs an independent strategic consulting service in the Raleigh-Durham area.

The two spoke to Tech’s female student-athletes, a contingent that numbers more than 200, but they focused on contrasting topics.
Ollendick spoke to an array of topics. She specifically addressed the issue of time management – a seemingly never-ending issue for all student-athletes. A majority of Tech’s student-athletes find themselves juggling weightlifting sessions, practices, film sessions (in certain sports), classes and study hall, while also trying to find some semblance of a social life.

Ollendick herself is a resident expert in time management. In addition to working at Duke as a pediatric physical therapist, she takes online courses while working toward her doctoral degree, and she trains for and competes in triathlons.

Katie Ollendick addressed a large crowd of female student-athletes at the Female Forum for Success. She discussed a variety of topics, including time management and life after graduation.

And for good measure, she’s the single mother of a 4-year-old daughter.

“Time is at a premium, so manage it well,” she said, addressing the audience. “Learn how to manage your time and your resources. Learn how to multi-task and prioritize. Take all those pieces and put them into your daily life. Come up with a plan. Take an active role. Be proactive in knowing what’s coming up and what’s ahead.”

She also emphasized remaining active in some form of athletics once graduation hits. She chose triathlons – a grueling test of physical endurance that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon – as a way to channel her athletic skills.

“We often identify ourselves as athletes,” she said. “What do you do when you’re phasing out of that and making that adjustment? I would suggest you stay active and continue competing in whatever you do that makes you tick. Don’t just give it all up. You’ll find that it helps not just in the physical sense, but also mentally. There are a lot of things out there. I do the triathlons and that’s a way for me to challenge myself.”

Karlish spoke specifically to the topic of teamwork, citing her volleyball teammates during her days at Tech as an example. They had a losing season her sophomore year, but won 28 and 26 matches, respectively, her final two years, finishing in a tie for first in the Metro Conference her senior season.

“Just because you have a team doesn’t mean you have a ‘real’ team,” Karlish said. “A real team is one where the results of the team are more than the sum of its parts. The 1980 men’s hockey team – the “Miracle on Ice” – that was a real team. If you look at the individuals on that team, you’d never think they would have had the success they had. They weren’t the most talented or the most experienced. But real teams bring forth extraordinary results from ordinary people.”

Karlish stressed the importance of female student-athletes as leaders of teams. The world continues to become more complex, and as a result, the problems become more and more complex. Teams, rather than individuals, will be needed to solve these problems, and women possess the skills be the leaders of these teams.

“Women tend to be much more focused on the overall success of the team than their own standing within the team,” she said.

Their approach is much more democratic and more inclusive, and the problem solving is better in a team environment.

“You guys bring the best of both worlds as you move into the future. You understand teams and the need to rely on each other to get things done. You have the confidence and competitive spirit to step up and lead when the chips are down. The world needs people like you who will be humble enough to know that a team is stronger than an individual and that you have the confidence to lead those teams to deliver the best it has to offer.”

Both Ollendick and Karlish provided some light humor during their addresses. Ollendick told the story of injuring her ankle while celebrating after one of her high jumps, while Karlish gave the play-by-play on how she and her teammates got a tattoo at a sketchy place off Price’s Fork Road following their first-place finish in the Metro.

Overall, their advice resonated with the audience. But Karlish probably hit on the most important point of the forum.

“Be confident in yourself,” she said. “We, as women, always tend to focus on what we’re not. You all are so amazing just to be here, and in the moment, you don’t take the time to realize it. You all belong here and you’ve all accomplished so much in life already that most people won’t have the opportunity to do. Every once in a while, take stock in that. Pat yourself on the back. You should be proud.”