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Student-Athletes Embrace Leadership on Colorado Trip

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It is only natural to want to stay in your comfort zone.

On a leadership retreat to the glorious mountains of Colorado over the summer, eight UTA student-athletes were launched well outside of the known commodity of their comfort, or green, zone.

Under the direction of UTA student-athlete development specialist Tim Kennedy, eight of UTA's best and brightest embarked on a trip to test their limits.

"This was a valuable life-skills experience for some of our student athletes," Kennedy said. "During the trip, I got to witness our student-athletes get taken out of their green zone and watch them make the needed adjustments and continue to press through their challenges."

Logan Austin (baseball), Tamerah Gorham (track), Beau Eggers (track), Cy'Andria Newton (softball), Chineme Obikudu (track), Samantha Hughes (track), Tori Shelton (track) and Emoni Taylor (track) joined Kennedy on a venture to Noah's Ark, planted in picturesque Browns Canyon just outside of Denver.

The Maverick student-athletes turned off their electronics, broke from 21st century life, and spent seven days surrounded by the gorgeous sights of Colorado.

"We all had to push ourselves to another level," Austin said. "It was a lot of fun encouraging others and getting out of our comfort zone."

After arriving from Arlington, the UTA student-athletes immediately put their new found relationships to the test with a white water rafting trip. After the excitement of the rafting journey, the Mavs embarked on a four-day hike to scale the mountaintops, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

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"It was also great to see them working together during the whitewater rafting trip and backpacking trip," Kennedy said. "They really got a chance to work on the team-building skills by encouraging each other during the difficult times. It was also great seeing them build meaningful relationships and the bond that they got to experience during their time together. Some of them when from not knowing each other's names to becoming good friends."

The hike presented particular challenges to UTA's student-athletes. While climbing four miles a day with a hefty backpack, camping in the mountains and dealing with the unfamiliar trial of high altitudes, the team was tested in a unique way.  

"I grew up living in a house full of all girls, so going out consisted of city activities for us," Shelton said. "We not only went camping, but hiked up an entire mountain with a pack half my size. It was awesome. The people that we were with was amazing and I never thought I could have done that without them."

A former collegiate track star, Kennedy saw particular benefit in trials presented throughout the trip.

"Seeing our student-athletes deal with hiking up a mountain in high altitude, getting rained on and snowed on during the hike, having to deal with cold weather while sleeping in tents, and unplugging from electronics was encouraging to watch," Kennedy said. "During those difficult times on the trip, they had opportunities to complain or quit but they just kept pushing on."

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At the conclusion of each day, huddled around a fire and a makeshift camp site, UTA's group would have breakout sessions.

"During the sessions, student-athletes would share their experiences of the day, how they were taken out of their green zone, how they reacted being outside their green zone and how they can apply that experience to life after sports and athletics," Kennedy detailed. "It was amazing to hear what they shared during the sessions and how they were being challenged during the trip. By the end, each student-athlete was taken out of his green zone several times and sometimes they handled it well and other times they didn't. At the end of the trip, students shared the impact that the trip had on them and how much they grew from the experience."

The athletes benefited from the unique challenges, a necessity for teamwork and unfamiliar environments presented throughout the trip.

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"This trip showed me that there are better ways to handle adversities that you go through in your life," Shelton said. "At the end of the day you need to sit down and evaluate what you did and how you handled it and the possibilities of making it better the next time. Throughout college it is important to do that too and I am just thankful that Tim took us on this trip so we could discover things about ourselves."

Fostering relationships was a tremendous by-product of the leadership retreat and those bonds are sure to live on well after their athletic careers conclude.

"It is moments like these," Austin said. "You won't look back at your ERA or your batting average, you are going to look back and remember the relationships you made and the people around you. That is what I am going to remember the most. I went in not knowing anybody and I made some friends that will be lifelong. That is cool. Life isn't always about wins and losses, it is about the people around you. Those are the times that you remember, not the wins and losses."

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