By Kristi Vettese
DANA POINT, Calif. — ESPN recently held its fourth annual ESPNW Summit at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, and the three-day conference event, Oct. 9-11, was unlike any other in the sports industry.
Attendees included female professional athletes, such as world famous soccer player Mia Hamm and professional surfer Lakey Peterson to top ranking executives at ESPN, including ESPNW’s vice president Laura Gentile.
The overall goal of the summit each year, according to Gentile, is to urge individuals to make a difference in strengthening the presence of women in the sports industry.
“There are not a lot of venues frankly where women can gather and talk about the future of women in sports. So for us, we’re filling a void and we’re providing a forum where these conversations can happen. And we’re providing a forum where we can start working together and start sharing ideas. So really we’re bringing people together as a facilitator and ideally we’re leading the conversation, but also just really a part of the conversation.”
ESPNW’s previous summits were held in Tuscan, Ariz., and Torrey Pines, Calif.
The 2013 summit’s first day of activities began with a welcome reception for event attendees, followed by a series of various discussion panels and speeches.
Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, who was the summit’s first keynote speaker, spoke on her experiences being involved with the Special Olympics organization and her efforts to help those with intellectual disabilities achieve their athletic dreams. Kwan urged those in attendance that they each could make a difference and could help someone with a disability. Followed by Kwan’s speech, the first discussion panel of the night was mediated by one of ESPN’s SportsCenter anchors, Sage Steele, and focused on discussing the Special Olympics organization and how the Special Olympics World Games will be held in 2015 in Los Angeles.
Following the conclusion of the first discussion panel, guests were treated to a dinner before the evening continued on with its next speaker, Sarah Reinertsen, who is a highly successful paraplegic track athlete. In her “Power Talk,” Reinertsen spoke on the issue of growing inactivity among young children and the correlation with serious health issues, including diabetes.
Long time ESPN veteran Hannah Storm mediated the evening’s final panel, which included WNBA star Tina Charles, snowboard cross-Olympic athlete Lindsey Jacobellis, track and field star Sanya Richards Ross and Olympic swimmer Janet Evans. All four women discussed what it is like being a professional athlete and how to balance life and family with having a professional athletic career.
The evening came to a close with a screening of the ESPN Nine for IX film “The 99ers.”
The summit, according to Gentile, summed up one core feeling among attendees and participants.
“It’s about every one of us taking responsibly and making a difference ourselves and certainly collectively we can do that. But I think if we each take personal responsibility whether it’s volunteering for the Special Olympics or going to a WNBA game. But it’s really about connecting with everyone and if we start working together collectively and individually that’s where change happens,” Gentile said.
Steele discussed her feelings toward being an integral member of the summit each year.
“This is an opportunity to grow, and ESPN has done a lot to make sure this event takes place. Yes things have gotten better in society and in sports and ESPN is making sure women have as much of an equal chance as men to succeed. We all with a little effort can help to be a voice and I am humbled to get a chance to be here. I have girls and I have a son and I don’t want them to think twice about being involved in sports,” Steele commented.
The ESPNW summit will return again next year to Dana Point next year. For more information, check out ESPWsummit.com.