Power of perseverence

Olympian inspires eighth-grade girls

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When Kylee Swiggart's mother broke her leg recently, her family didn't know how to react.

"We thought it was the end of the world," said Kylee, 13, a Steamboat Springs Middle School eighth-grader. "She's the builder of our family -- she does everything."

After Tuesday's Girls to Women conference at the Sher--aton Steamboat Resort, Kylee's mother likely is getting extra support.

Kylee said she gained a new perspective about physical injuries -- and about perseverance and overcoming obstacles -- from Steamboat Springs ski racer Caroline Lalive, who has undergone 17 surgeries and countless setbacks in pursuit of her Olympic dreams.

Lalive, a three-time Oly--mpian who has stood on five World Cup podiums in 10 years competing for the U.S. Ski Team, was the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Girls to Women career conference. The conference was presented by the Women's Foundation of Colorado and New Frontiers for Girls & Women, a local nonprofit organization funded by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

Conference organizer Linda Hamlet said 137 eighth-grade girls from across Routt County -- and as far as Walden -- attended the daylong event, which included career workshops, a financial planning simulation and a taste of the future.

"They get to experience a little bit of adulthood," said Gina Zabel, building administrator at Hayden Middle School. Seventeen Hayden girls attended the conference wearing semi-formal business attire as they moved from one hotel ballroom to another for workshops.

Steamboat City Clerk Julie Jordan said she was delighted that her eighth-grade daughter, Madison, could learn about a variety of careers.

"I want her to know that she can be anything she wants to be," Jordan said. "It's an exciting day."

Excitement was evident in the sometimes ear-shattering shrieks and laughter that could be expected from 137 teenage girls. But when Lalive talked about her trials and triumphs, not a sound could be heard.

On her first training run in Italy after being named to the U.S. Olympic team in February, Lalive's leg "literally exploded" in a fall that shattered her kneecap, femur and a tendon.

"That was probably the hardest time in my life so far," Lalive said about lying on the snow and realizing that a chance at an Olympic medal once again had slipped away. "Sometimes, you never know why things happen."

Lalive, 26, told the eighth-graders that although she still faces two surgeries and a year of recovery, she has her sights firmly set on the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Bri--tish Columbia.

"Whatever your dream is, know that there are going to be hard days in your life," Lalive said. "You have to be prepared to fight."

Kylee said she will bring that message to her mother.

"You can never give up, no matter what happens," Kylee said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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