BSELS Celebrates National Girls & Women in Sports Day: Bridget Niland, Holly Cercone and Ashley O’Brien

Lastly, we have Bridget Niland, Holly Cercone (mother of BSELS President, @jakecercone) and Ashley O’Brien. Thank you to these three women, and the previous women, for taking time to answer my questions and reflect on their athletic journeys. We, as a society, still have a long way to go in terms of equality for women in sports. I cannot think of a better way to spread the message than by spreading stories, listening to what those who have been there have to say, and applying their determination and perseverance to our future efforts. We are not done. She is not done. And we will #leadherforward.

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Bridget Niland

What do you do for a living?

Daemen College Sports Management Professor, Director of Project Play WNY and on occasion, Sports Lawyer.

What sport(s) did you play and what was the highest level you played at? 

Cross Country, Track and Field, Distance Running (NCAA Division I).

If you played at the collegiate/professional level, where did you play?

University at Buffalo.

What is your proudest athletic achievement?

A tough one to pick. I have been fortunate to have so many opportunities and great moments through sport. If I had to pick one, it would be the 1998 Buffalo Marathon win. I felt a lot of pressure to repeat the 1997 win but was in a much different place with training due to law school and work responsibilities. I had to run portions of the race with no one around and it was just mentally tough. Proud to have pulled it through.

How have sports impacted your personal life?

In every way. Sports, running and others like swimming, skiing, tennis, and cycling, have been a source of emotional and physical strength for me. My closest friends in life are my college teammates or former colleagues at the NCAA and Daemen/UB Athletics. As literally a Title IX baby born in 1972, sports set me on a path personally that has helped me handle life’s ups and downs. I have turned to sports during challenging personal times and it always provides a source of strength, confidence, and perspective.

How have sports impacted your professional life?

As a kid, I never planned to work in sports, I wanted to be an FBI agent. The funny thing about life is sometimes it shows you your path by consistently providing opportunities in certain areas, and my area has been sports. As a lifelong endurance athlete, sport taught me to pace myself, plot my training and race plans and then follow through. Just like I never started a race or workout not knowing why I was doing it or where it was taking me, I have tackled my professional life with a similar frame of mind. Having this mindset engrained in me through sport has allowed me to better balance work and life.

What is your connection to sports now?

For the past 15 years, I have been a sports management professor at Daemen where I teach, research and advise in the sport law and youth and college athletic space. My current area of focus is youth sports. As Director of Project Play WNY, I lead a collective impact community effort to rethink the role of youth sports in the 21st century and ensure it is building happier kids, healthier families and stronger communities.

If you could give advice to a younger generation of female athletes, what would it be?

Savor the time as a young athlete, but also know that your post competitive life can be just as rewarding and demanding. I would also encourage more young female athletes get involved in youth sport coaching. Consider paying it forward by reaching back and spending some time with the next generation of female athletes. The youth sport spaces needs more women coaches.

Holly Cercone

What do you do for a living?

Wife, Mother, Office Manager, Church and Community Volunteer

What sport(s) did you play and what was the highest level you played at? 

Track and Field Collegiate (NCAA Div I). Basketball, volleyball, track and field (high school).

If you played at the collegiate/professional level, where did you play?

West Virginia University.

What is your proudest athletic achievement? 

My proudest athletic achievement is being able to maintain a level of fitness that allows me to compete at the national masters level of Track and Field. I believe that God gives us all special talents. I am thankful for all of the experiences, blessings and opportunities of growth that athletics has given me.

How have sports impacted your personal life?

Athletics gave me many key ingredients that are needed to succeed in life such as self esteem, confidence, discipline, resilience, grit and mental toughness.

How have sports impacted your professional life?

Knowledge of teamwork and leadership along with the above ingredients are great assets in the workplace.

What is your connection to sports now?

Masters Track and Field competitor. Masters Olympian. I’m in the planning stages of developing a community and school sports programs for girls.

If you could give advice to a younger generation of female athletes, what would it be?

1) Be the best person/athlete you can be (physically, spiritually, and emotionally). 2) Use your opportunity as an athlete to widen your horizon as you train, compete, travel and meet other people. 3) Pass on what you have learned to the next generation through coaching, mentoring , etc. 4) Make a commitment to live a healthy lifestyle forever!

Ashley O’Brien

What do you do for a living?

Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach – Buffalo State College

What sport(s) did you play and what was the highest level you played at? 

Lacrosse – College Level; Division III

If you played at the collegiate/professional level, where did you play?

Buffalo State College

What is your proudest athletic achievement? 

Proudest Team – Ranking in the Top 20 Division III WLAX teams in the country, hosting the 2011 SUNYAC Championship tournament. Proudest Personal – Making 1st Team All-SUNYAC in 2009 and 2011; 1st Team All-SUNYAC Tournament Team 2008, 2009, 2010; 2009 First Year Female Athlete of the Year.

How have sports impacted your personal life?

Sports have been a constant in my life. It was a way to push myself towards the positive end of polarity when my home-life was challenging. They have taught me how to channel my competitive and aggressive nature and create success with it. I am endlessly grateful for the relationships I have built on the field and on the sideline. The personal connections I have grown through this sport persist today as my strongest bonds.

How have sports impacted your professional life?

I am so fortunate to be able to live it every day. I cannot believe I get to wake up every single day and work at my dream job. I love Buffalo State and am grateful to be able to give back to it throughout my entire career. Coaching lacrosse at the college level in a competitive conference is everything I could ever ask for professionally.

What is your connection to sports now?

Coaching College Lacrosse at Buffalo State College.

If you could give advice to a younger generation of female athletes, what would it be?

Be patient and prioritize. It takes a lot of effort to have perspective on the choices that you are making every day in your young life. Spend time getting to know what you want, what makes you fulfilled and set up achievable goals to get you to happiness. I see a lot of young athletes getting lost on the way to their goals because they don’t have a plan and they have trouble remembering why they do the things they do. There is so much this life has to offer you if you sit down and know what to push for, what doors to open and your ‘why’.

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