Kelly Chandler ’12 on Turning Setbacks into Success

Kelly Chandler ’12 recently returned to The Holy Hill to address spring athletics captains at the semiannual Captains’ Dinner. The standout athlete captained the field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse teams while also serving as a monitor and cheerleader. Chandler earned multiple All-ISL, All-State, All-Met, and All-American honors while wearing the maroon and black and went on to play Division 1 lacrosse at Vanderbilt University, where she held team records for draw control and goals. 

Chandler began her talk by telling students why she chose Episcopal. She did not just want a challenge; she also wanted recognition. “My goal was to get another banner hung in Centennial Gym so that when I returned ten years later, I could say that I was a part of that,” she said. Anything short of this goal would be failure, according to her. “By the time I got to my senior year, all I wanted to do was win, and win everything —whether it was individual or team related,” Chandler continued. 

Despite Chandler’s goals, her athletic career  took an unexpected detour when she injured her knee and back during basketball season and was told that she could no longer compete in the basketball or lacrosse season. “If I could no longer play, I could no longer receive the recognition I needed. The one area I felt that I could succeed, where I was seen, that I built my identity around, was taken away. I was lost,” Chandler shared.  

Struggling to find her footing and purpose, Chandler ultimately realized she could write her own story, thanks to the help of her coaches. “Recognizing my situation, my basketball coach gave me the ‘job’ to walk her dog during basketball practice,” she explained. This new-found responsibility taught her she could contribute to the team in myriad ways, despite being injured.

Simultaneously, Chandler enrolled in an English elective called Leadership in Literature, taught by Mason New, which challenged her preconceived notions about how to be a leader. “These two experiences are where my healing began,” she explained to the students. “I realized that my idea of success and happiness was based around all the recognition and awards I received. I had fallen into the trap of letting others’ views of my success become my measure of my own value.” She began to change her mindset, thanks to her coaches Jen Fitzpatrick, Ashley Taylor, and Kathleen Caslow who helped her realize that every single player on the team has the chance to make positive change, regardless of playing time.

The lessons from her time at Episcopal carried over into her athletic career at Vanderbilt, where Chandler faced a number of injuries during her seasons. This time, Chandler was prepared. “I would ask each player on my college team what they wanted to focus on that practice, and I would watch and give feedback to them every practice.” She emphasized that being a leader is not just scoring points and winning games; it is about consistently bringing out the best in your teammates.

Chandler said it best in her closing remarks: “A great leader is defined by how other people experience themselves in your presence. I hope you choose to begin writing your story, and show up in a way that makes other people want to grow, share, work harder, and reach their own potential.”

Ingrid Boyum, Episcopal’s head girls’ varsity lacrosse coach and a close friend of Chandler, said of the visit: “Kelly is an amazing leader of the highest character. Her willingness to tackle the hard conversations, hop into any drill, and share her story with the next generation of EHS leaders was truly inspiring. We are already planning her next trip back!”

View the photos from the event here.