In its 27th year, Atkins' course allows athletes to showcase their persuasive and motivational abilities, as well as develop additional comfort in public speaking. It culminates with a personal speech delivered to a live audience that included professors,and other WVU dignitaries like Director of Athletics Shane Lyons, along with a live streaming webcast of the event, available here.
Wrestler Zachary Moore spoke about his parents, Harvey and Kelli, fostering 23 children - 22 of whom were girls. Harvey works as a police officer in the Oklahoma City area, Kelli as a special education teacher. After Zach and his twin brother Keegan, who's also the wrestling team, turned four, their parents decided to begin fostering children. The first was a six-year-old boy. The rest, all 22 of them, were girls.
"My mom was tired of all boys," Moore said. "She wanted someone to do their hair and we got one (girl) and we fell in love with doing it. It's made me humble and realize how fortunate I am. Not everyone has a loving home. It opened my eyes to a lot of culture, personality. Some were Asian, some Mexican, and they stayed with us anywhere from four days to four years."
The experience, and the resulting lessons, were the foundation of a piece titled "You Just Have To Care," which centered around what can be accomplished when that simple mantra is put into action. Fellow wrestler Chris Nelson offered a similarly selfless topic, asking what type of person one wishes to be, and how to go about getting there. They key, he said, is helping others and developing self-discipline and the ability to grow from all experiences.
"A mistake is only a mistake if we don't learn from it," said Nelson, a native of Coal City, W.Va. who was named an Iron Mountaineer in 2014 and received the Coaches Award in '15.
Fellow state native Rebecca LaFata, the 2014 Class AAA pole vault state champion, talked about her motivation, and the ability to focus when needed to win a state title, then continuing her career at West Virginia. The Morgantown High grad cleared a 10-6 at the prep level to take the championship, and has managed a 3.2-meter vault in outdoor competition at the collegiate level. Swimmer Jake Williams detailed his trials in overcoming a fear of failure, particularly overcoming a miserable experience in the Big 12 championships in which he swam his slowest times of the season in all three events - while also missing the bus to one of the events and showing up late.
"I thought my college career was over," he said. "It was horrible."
Williams rebounded by pacing teammate Nate Carr in the individual medley, coming in right at a time of 1:44. The ability to rebound from the early miscues gave him enough confidence that it began to, as his presentation was titled, "Conquer the Fear of Failure."
That was also theme for cross country and track's Amy Cashin, who uprooted a life and training career in Werribee, Australia to move to the United States for college. The junior from just outside Melbourne wasn't just initially hesitant to move, she actually threw away the first offer from the University of Tennessee.
"I needed my coach, my culture, my country," she said.
But after attending the World Cross Country championship in Poland, she began to feel both the value of change, and of the richness of experiences she would otherwise never experience if she remained in Australia. Cashin has now been in the United States for more than two years, and though she misses family, friends and driving on the left side of the road, among other aspects, she said that embracing change "is a positive thing. It's important to experience life. Being hesitant is OK. Letting it stop you isn't. Change is the only way we show growth."
Cashin, the first freshman finisher to cross the line at the 2015 Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championship, explains how she selected her topic, and how that change has boosted her athletically and academically, as well as the nuances between the training and set-up in Australia and the States.