Rutgers University grad Lauren Sisler overcame family tragedy to succeed in sports broadcasting
Growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, Lauren Sisler said her family were sports fanatics with college football on Saturdays and on Sundays either the NFL or NASCAR. When it came to choosing a career, she thought in her mind it would be as a sports doctor since she wanted to help people rehabilitate injuries.
“As a gymnast always going to see an orthopedic doctor to work on an injury and physical therapist to help me get back on my feet,” said Sisler. “Thinking this was a passion of mind to do so when I went to college as a freshman.”
When it came to making a decision which college to attend, Sisler made the bold decision to head north and attend Rutgers University on a gymnastics scholarship where she ended up being a team co-captain.
“As a girl from the south picking up and moving north it was a complete shock for me,” Sisler said. “I grew up in a small town and graduated with 100 kids. I didn’t understand what this country and world had to offer in terms of religion and ethnically. I get to Rutgers and it’s a melting pot with so many people from different countries that blend together and really opened up my eyes to this world and being so compassionate and allowed to me to see people from a different lens.”
Flourishing on the gymnastics mat, working for the Rutgers University Television Network as a sports reporter and segment producer and internship at CNBC where she learned about the financial field everything seemed to be working perfectly for Sisler until tragedy struck when learned the sad news from her Dad that her Mom had passed away. Even more difficult when Sisler returned home her father passed away.
“A real and big defining moment for me in my life because I had all my goals, dreams and aspirations,” said Sisler. Living the dream as a collegiate gymnast but the rug was pulled out underneath me. Both of my parents’ gone now and I had to re-evaluate myself, find my new identity and who I wanted to be and spend the rest of my life. I realized I had a passion in different areas, connecting with people and sharing stories.”
“My family helped me keep it together, an aunt and uncle said Lauren you can’t change how life plays out and what happened and change the path you take and keep moving and not stop. I have a brother that I love very much and to this day our relationship has grown. He spent 12 years away in the Navy and since he returned we came full circle and re-connected. He is a big part of my life and we inspire and encourage each other.”
“I truly believe Rutgers saved my life two weeks after burying my parents. I wear Scarlet Knights on my sleeve through and through. I pretty much went right back to school and dove back into the curriculum and gymnastics. There was a lot of support from university and teammates. I did not get a hall pass and grace period from coaches and academic advisors but people encouraged and pushed me to that next level.”
In 2006, Sisler graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor of arts in communications and honors from the School, Information and Library Studies (SCILS). In addition recognized by the National Association of Academic Student-Athlete Development Professionals with the Wilma Rudolph Student Athlete Achievement Award.
“As a sports reporter/journalist and someone on that platform I’m able to share other people’s stories that have an impact on the lives of others,” Sisler said. “It all started at Rutgers and make that transition from pre-medicine to sports to journalism to broadcasting/media studies and really setting the wheels in motion. I did an internship while I was at the school, worked for the Rutgers University TV Network and learned the foundation of television. At CNBC learned from the ground up to all the behind the scenes stuff.”
“Going from being behind the shadows of tragedy and walking into the light helped me propel me into the chapter of my life and to earn that award meant a lot to me. Only given to a handful of student-athletes in the country. These are academic institutions and advisors that basically vote and based on perseverance and overcoming resiliency and just overall work ethic and hard work. Losing both of my parents, a complete shock and still graduated on time and continued to work on scholarship and fulfill my dream as a college gymnast.”
Returning to her hometown of Roanoke, Virginia Sisler found a job at WDBJ7 where she worked as a photographer and editor covering local high school and college sports before moving on to WTAP in West Virginia as a weekend sports anchor.
“I made the move back to my hometown station where I was able to tell a story through a lens, shoot, edit and learning the foundation of a local TV journalist,” said Sisler. “I started to hone in my skills to be a reporter on the scene and be at a game telling a story through a camera but deliver on television.”
Sisler has also worked at WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Alabama as a sports anchor and reporter where she won the ABBY award in 2013 for sports anchor of the year and named best sports anchor by the Alabama Associated Press in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, Sisler was named NSMA Alabama Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and won the award again in 2018 and set to receive the award for a second consecutive year in a row.
These days Sisler works for the SEC Network/SEC Nation/ESPN covering gymnastics and college football as well as a sports reporter and host at AL.com. Sisler won a Southeast Emmy Award in 2017 for best interview/discussion, a One-on-One with Charles Barkley interviewing Nick Saban.
“As a female in this industry, so male dominated and I work with men day in and out I have never felt disrespected and felt very welcomed,” Sisler said. “People have taken me very seriously and allowed me to develop and create an identity. Not falling into that trap of what society wants you to be, found who I am for a reason and proud of that identity. I have my good and bad days and very thankful for whom I have become.”
“A key is the preparation once the red light is on. In reality spending hours and days compiling the story for game day Saturday, getting ready by 6 a.m. and on the road by 7 a.m. You are in Tuscaloosa or Auburn for an entire day and you don’t pack up until midnight and go off the air until 10 p.m. and not back in your bed until 3 a.m. You are talking 20 plus hour days and while everyone is out tailgating we are grinding but getting paid to cover sports. I can’t imagine being behind a desk everyday and not on the field covering sports.”
“You walk on a production set and people have been working for hours and hours before you step out onto that field and have put in the time to build that set and surveying the site weeks ahead of time.”
“You get into this business and say it’s TV and go out covering games but to come to find out it’s so much more than that. It’s the story, people, fans and athletes. Receiving the National Sports Media Association for a second time that is voted amongst your peers and colleagues is a tremendous honor. I’m not someone that enjoys the spotlight or term celebrity”, I’m just doing my job and having fun.”
“Nick Saban and Charles Barkley are two of the most polarizing figures in sports, a tremendous coach in Saban while Barkley a great basketball player who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. I reached out to the SID (Sports Information Director) of Alabama and said I’m interested in doing a special for AL.com. Charles and I rode up to Tuscaloosa together and they ended up having a great conversation and just not about football. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of it, produced it and added an Emmy.”
Adding to her responsibilities, Sisler has been traveling around the state of Alabama speaking to numerous organizations and people about her story and parents and planning a wedding.
“The opportunity to go out and speak has been tremendous,” said Sisler. “It took me years to be comfortable with what happened to my parents’ and the fact they both died from drug overdoses and I could use the word addiction or overdose in the same sentence with my parents’ because I felt shameful and people would judge their character for who they were and reflected ultimately on me and my family.”
“Everyone has something they are going through and a story to tell whether it’s alcohol, addiction or gambling. I don’t care if it’s five or 5000 people I’m standing in front of a room but if one person walks away and finds hope in my story. I feel when I’m standing in front of these people my parents’ are right up there and applauding me. I get choked up because my parents’ will not be able to participate.”
Sisler also has a message for aspiring female sports broadcasters and journalists in general, “Find you identity and purpose. We get stuck in this comparison world where social media has drawn the comparison and see everyone’s social media feed but we’re just seeing the highlights not the lowlights and paint a picture of what we should be, unique, special, prettier or flashier.”
“Fostering those connections when dealing with coaches who suddenly become your best friend. It’s not that gotcha moment, maintaining that integrity and ultimately building that trust with that person who is going to want to talk and spend time with you and not just consider you another media source. Be okay in your own skin, put the pen to the paper and write your own story and never forget to say thank you in the TV world.”
Sunil Sunder Raj
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