On a Fast Break: Turning Personal Passion into a Career

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Ask Peggy Keiper to name the most influential person in her life, and she doesn’t hesitate: It’s her mom. She taught Peggy about the power of education, working hard, and following your heart—lessons that brought Peggy to the West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) as national sports sales manager. 

“I had the ideal childhood,” said Peggy, who waxes poetic about growing up in a remote area in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. “My parents got my brother and me involved in the outdoors and sporting activities early on.” 

Peggy recently joined the sports commission to fill a newly created position that signals strong growth for the non-profit economic development organization, which has already booked 280 events (including the recent 2013 NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Midwest Regional Championship) and generated $100 million in visitor spending since 2007. A Michigan native, Peggy has been away for eight years and is relocating from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she held a similar role with the convention and visitors bureau.

“I am so excited about this position. Not only am I coming home, but I am contributing to this incredible team,” said Peggy. “They’re a young, ambitious sports commission, and they get things done.” 

Peggy will help lasso in more national youth and amateur sporting events to add to WMSC’s roster. This includes fifteen U.S. Tennis Association tournaments throughout 2013, a Pro Wakeboard Event in August, and NCAA Division II National Golf Finals in 2014 and 2015. Perhaps Peggy has been building toward this role her whole life, though it was a circuitous path beginning in her childhood. In addition to hunting and fishing with her family, she started playing basketball in the third grade. “I fell in love with the game,” she recalls. 

Peggy played through high school and college—first at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, where she broke the season and career three-pointer record, then at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where she was an All-NAC (North Atlantic Conference) player and team-leading scorer. Following graduation, she took a position as assistant women’s basketball coach at Louisiana State University-Eunice.  

“I loved science and math and planned to be an engineer,” Peggy said. “A few knee surgeries during my basketball career made me realize I still wanted to stay in sports, which led me to coaching. Luckily, I had parents who supported this notion.” 

Peggy’s next assistant women’s basketball coaching job was at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, where she received her MBA. “My mom was an advocate for higher education. She was the only one of six kids to graduate from college and she did it the hard way, when my brother and I were in elementary school.”

From Lynn, Peggy went to the University of New Mexico to pursue her Ph.D. in Sports Management. While there, she became director of business management for NBA D-League team New Mexico Thunderbirds. “It was such a neat job,” recalls Peggy. “Working with the Tbirds made me realize I liked the professional side of sports."

The Thunderbirds eventually folded, and Peggy became a teaching assistant at UNM. A year later, a sports sales position opened at the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. She got the job, and found herself working with many sports. “It was my first time working at an entity that dealt with more than basketball, and I liked it!” 

Among the unique events Peggy helped attract were the 2013 USA Synchro Masters Championships and the International Distance Skateboarding Long-board Championships, taking place in May. She won’t see the fruits of her labor now that she is with the WMSC, but she’s not looking back. “Grand Rapids has endless possibilities for sporting events,” she gushed. “The downtown offers an incredible opportunity because it is well connected. Most importantly, community collaboration here is huge—there is such a great support system.” 

So, what career advice does a U.P. native who has lived in eight states and built a career for herself based on a personal passion offer? 

“Don’t be afraid of taking chances. Follow your heart, if it’s something you love to do. But don’t expect anything without a lot of hard work. Work hard, laugh often, and you’ll do well.”

And listen to your mother.

Written by: Kim Skeltis is a freelance writer based in West Michigan. She owns a solo public relations consultancy, Blue Blaze Public Relations, LLC, where she represents organizations throughout the region, including the West Michigan Sports Commission. [email protected]. Photo: Peggy Keiper at the 2012 Gildan New Mexico Bowl with the University of Nevada mascots, Alphie, and Wolfie Jr. 

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