Boxer Floyd Mayweather topped Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes in 2012 by earning $85 million.
And while most sports careers — whether athletes, coaches or front-office personnel — aren’t as financially rewarding, there is at least a diverse spectrum of opportunities in the field.
The struggle, then, for a recent college graduate like Geneva Azevedo, who attended UC Davis and competed on its diving team for three years, is choosing just one of the many sports-related professions available.
“I was thinking something in marketing, but that’s changing week by week,” she said with a giggle. “I have a lot of options, but don’t exactly know what the next step is … and that’s so fun.”
Azevedo, however, did gain a better understanding of her choices (as well as a job offer, but more on that later) at the NCAA’s Career in Sports Forum. She was among 277 Division I, II and III student-athletes who attended the event, which took place June 8-11 in Indianapolis, Ind.
As with the other attendees, Azevedo was selected from a national pool by a committee of administrators from member institutions, conference offices and affiliate organizations.
“It was amazing to go there and realize the world is a lot bigger than the California bubble I’ve lived in,” she said. “It was eye-opening to talk to someone from a Division III school in Maryland who hadn’t ever heard of (UCD).
“But the sports community really is a far-reaching aspect of life, and I found people who share my values from everywhere: from the big Division I schools that are on TV all the time to that small Maryland university.”
The invitation-only event was created by the NCAA in 2010 as a way of giving collegiate athletes an opportunity to focus on and learn of vocational opportunities.
Those present for the four-day forum were split into groups for a more targeted program of seminars and mentoring about career paths, based on general interests, such as coaching or administration.
“Luckily enough, one of my best friends, a swimmer from UC San Diego, was also chosen to attend,” Azevedo said. “We were placed into different groups, but as we figured out, that really doubled our networking quota.”
She gave examples of topics that were discussed: nontraditional careers, or jobs that are “off the beaten path”; skills and personality traits that suit certain vocations; and personal branding know-how.
The event’s facilitators had the student-athletes sitting through talks and meetings for long hours, barring side conversation and phone tinkering for the duration.
“But we were all OK with that,” Azevedo said, “because we realized that the fact that we were chosen to travel to this conference was a special privilege in itself. Plus, we learned what it means to act professionally.”
How grateful Azevedo was to have attended the forum is something she continued to express. And she particularly conveyed thanks for UCD swimming coach Barbara Jahn’s and diving mentor Phil Tonne’s role in her selection.
Their involvement traces back to an appeal Azevedo made to them after her freshman year, when she joined the women’s rowing team in the year that it and three other intercollegiate teams were cut by the UCD Athletics Department.
“They were very sympathetic to my situation,” she said “I spoke honestly, and told them my diving experience was nil. I had no real idea how to even approach a dive, but had done some gymnastics and was willing to learn.
“I asked them to take a chance on me, and they did. That, first and foremost, is probably one of my biggest accomplishments: that I just made it on the team.”
The three years of Aggie diving culminated with career bests last season, which took place Jan. 12 against Pacific on the 1-meter board (201.00) and on Senior Night, Jan. 19, against CSU Bakersfield on the 3-meter board (165.23).
“What better way to go out than with career bests at the senior meet,” Azevedo said. “I owe it all to the coaches. The amount of patience they had for me learning to dive was amazing.”
And though she wants to pursue a career that is related to sports post-graduation, she said she’s content with remaining a pro sports spectator. That’s in stark contrast to her sister, Emily, who was once a hurdler for the Aggies.
Emily, a 2005 graduate, became a brakewoman for the USA women’s bobsled team, and finished fifth at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Azevedo said she often jokes about becoming her sister’s agent.
By coincidence, Azevedo found an opportunity for work from another former Olympic athlete at the Career in Sports Forum. A steeplechase runner who competed for USA in 2004, Ann Gaffigan, corresponded with Azevedo about writing for a blog.
Thus, Azevedo has been invited to take the first professional step en route to her future in sports, contributing to media coverage of female athletes on womentalksports.com.
“I came back just a few days ago,” she said, “and I’ve already gotten the wheels turning. It has helped me realize that there’s a lot of opportunities that I have, and most I didn’t even know existed before.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett