Women's conference stresses networking, personal development

By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Fri., Apr. 29, 2011
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amanda Beard was the opening speaker at the 2011 Greater Hartford Women's Conference in South Windsor. Photos by Frances Taylor.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amanda Beard was the opening speaker at the 2011 Greater Hartford Women's Conference in South Windsor. Photos by Frances Taylor.

Women business leaders, corporate executives and entrepreneurs came to South Windsor on April 27 for the 2011 Greater Hartford Women's Conference to learn tips from other professional women on achieving their personal and business goals.

The fourth annual women's conference - “Step Up, Step Out, Step Forward” - was held at Maneeley's in South Windsor and drew about 250 women from the greater Hartford area, and from a range of professional occupations. Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard was the keynote speaker, and Jane Hight McMurry, an expert in business communication skills, was the featured luncheon speaker. Yvonne Nava, of NBC Connecticut, was the mistress of ceremonies for the morning events.

Beard, a U.S. Olympic swimmer who won medals during her first games at the age of 14, went on to receive gold, silver and bronze medals in the next four Olympic games. But Beard wasn't at the conference to talk about medals. She came to tell her story of the struggles she has had personally and professionally that took her from Olympic heights to a slump in her career.

“When I won in my first Olympics, I hadn't gone through puberty,'' Beard said. “After the Olympics, I went from being 5'2 and 95 pounds to gaining almost 30 pounds and growing 6 inches. People started calling me fat, and saying I was washed up.'' Beard said her career fizzled, as did her self-confidence. “That kind of hurtful language can affect how you perceive yourself," she said.

“What I talk to audiences about is the struggle I went through to get to where I am now, which I think others can relate to, whether you are trying to make it through in school or your career or family life,'' said Beard, 29, who is now a wife and mother of a 1-and-a-half-year-old. She is in training full-time for the 2012 Olympic Games, which will be held in London. Nevertheless, Beard said, “being at the top of a pedestal is not the most important thing in life.''

The conference also included a variety of workshops on topics that ranged from social networking to avoiding business etiquette and fashion faux pas. “We have women here from many types of professions, from the corporate world to entrepreneurs with home-based businesses,'' said Shari Fiveash, executive director of the South Windsor Chamber of Commerce. “We have about 250 people here this year, and many of them have been with us in previous years, and many are participating for the first time.''

Exhibitors included Christies Fine Jewelry, Clothes Mentor, Mane Attraction Salon, and Turbo Technicians. One unique exhibitor, Jewels for Joni, creates handmade bracelets and donates 100 percent of the proceeds to ovarian cancer research. The charity was begun to honor the memory of Joni McCabe, who grew up in Ellington and died last year after battling ovarian cancer for several years. “One of Joni's passions was for women to become more aware of ovarian cancer, because it is a silent killer,'' said Nona Lunce, one of seven women who were friends of McCabe and now make the jewelry to honor her.

Milena Erwin, a physician’s relation specialist for ECHN, said participating in the conference helped her feel renewed. “It reminds you how to set goals and to do what you need to do to go after them,'' she said.

Conference sponsors included Cox Media, Eastern Connecticut Health Network, AT&T, Rockville Bank and Shops at Evergreen Walk.

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