LEAD Sports Summit: Women Empowering Swimmers Beyond the Pool

Photo Courtesy: Kateland Cornine

By Olivia McKelvey, Swimming World College Intern.

Four days filled with inspirational speakers, one-on-one feedback from Olympians, yoga sessions and much more: the LEAD Sports Summit Conference provides an opportunity for girls between the ages of 13 and 18 to immerse themselves in training outside of the water. Three-time Olympian and LEAD founder Kara Lynn Joyce says: “I created LEAD because I wanted to help young girls develop and grow beyond the training and performance-centered aspects of swimming.”

Although LEAD is only in its second year of operations, it is already making quite the splash. It offers girls the chance to improve in a wide range of categories that contribute to the overall success of any elite athlete, ranging from nutrition and mentality to leadership. They look beyond the mind-numbing hours of training, race strategy analysis, and the tedious attention to detail with technique work to focus on more of the soft skills of the sport.


Photo Courtesy: Kateland Cornine

An Elite Panel

By pulling together her resources, networking channels, and twenty-plus years of experience as an elite swimmer, Joyce joined forces with some of the world’s most renowned swimmers and specialists to offer young girls a unique experience. Held over Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Ga., the Summit featured an epic panel of speakers: Elizabeth Beisel, Missy Franklin, Lia Neal, Dr. Megan Cannon, Katie Meili, Christen Shefchunas, Jennifier Brunelli and Toni Armstrong.

All guest speakers and athletes who were in attendance represented differing backgrounds; however, all shared the same passion – an enduring love for the sport of swimming. From sports psychologists to dietitians and leadership experts to Olympic swimmers, young girls were surrounded by strong women with plenty of knowledge and experience to share. After all, it wasn’t long ago they were in these young girls’ very shoes.


Photo Courtesy: Kateland Cornine

Each of LEAD’s keynote speakers agree that they themselves wish they had something like LEAD to attend while growing up in the sport of swimming. Beisel stressed the importance of the uniqueness of the program: “One of the things that makes LEAD so rare is the fact that you would never find this camp in a different sport. You would never find a basketball camp where Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce were all the four lead-up keynote speakers.”

Fighting Their Fears

These eleven strong-minded women bring so much to the table for just a short four days. In particular, Shefchunas – the former University of Miami head swimming coach turned confidence expert – provides a framework for young girls to approach the mental aspect of swimming. Shefchunas has centralized her keynote lecture around talking about the taboo subject of fear.

There is a stigma that every athlete should be this invincible hero. Thoughts such as “I’m afraid of what the clock is gonna say,” or “I’m scared I won’t qualify for junior nationals,” are unheard of in the best of the best within swimming. However, Shefchunas communicates that these stigmas are unrealistic, and the idea of being fearless does not guarantee a success story. “What I’ve learned about fear is that everyone is experiencing it, but also everyone thinks they are the only one experiencing it.”

Moving forward, LEAD aims to educate girls that they do not need to put on a superhero cape and pretend to be someone they’re not – they simply should learn to recognize and manage fear when it arises.

Encouraging and Empowering

Another LEAD staff member known for her bubbly personality and leadership background is Beisel, who had the honor of sharing her insights with LEAD attendees: “I pretty much cover the whole gamut. From adversity to self-doubt and illness, I get to share my successes and failures with these girls. But what I truly want them to take away is that if I can do it, they can do it.”

Beisel keynote

Photo Courtesy: Kateland Cornine

It’s women like Shefchunas, Beisel, Joyce and all others involved in LEAD who are making a change in the tight-knit community of swimming. LEAD goes above and beyond by providing girls with so much more than what they thought might be just another swim camp. “We want these girls to believe that they are destined for greatness. Whether it’s the Olympics or becoming a CEO one day, they need to know that they can do it,” Beisel stated.

There is no doubt that LEAD is growing – and quickly. From a group of 76 girls attending the inaugural conference in 2017 to 125 who attended in 2018, LEAD’s roar has been heard and will continue to reach teenagers around the country. In the future, the LEAD team plans to stick with the demographic of teenage girls. “I’m going to take a stay-in-my-lane approach for LEAD because it’s what I know. It’s targeted at such a niche community that I want to give back to,” Joyce said.

As for what’s next for LEAD, one thing is certain – it will only continue to grow and shape girls to become leaders both in and out of the pool. Who knows, maybe LEAD will be merging into other sports in the future. Imagine what the world of athletics would look like with more young, female athletes given the opportunity to feel empowered and conquer the “impossible.”

The 2019-20 release dates and location will be announced in October along with the first two guest speakers of the conference, and tickets will be available by mid-November.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Ann Marks Miracle

    So pleased and excited that my oldest granddaughter has had the privilege of attending the LEAD conference in 2017 and 2018!!

  2. Tara Garrett Houser

    Is this separate from SheLeads sponsored by US Swimming?

    • Kara Lynn Williamson

      Hi Tara, yes we are independently women-owned and operated. Part of what inspires us at LEAD is that we were created by female swimmers for female swimmers, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to inspire young girls in the sport. For more information on our summit, check out our website http://www.leadsportssummit.com and sign up for our newsletter if you’re interested in hearing about 2019!

    • Tara Garrett Houser

      Kara Lynn Williamson thanks…I’ll pass along to my daughter