The quote from a dear friend still comes to mind all these years later, a reminder that sometimes you’ve got to roll the dice and take a chance.
Back in 2010, the Kansas City Sports Commission recruited veteran TV journalist-turned-executive Kathy Nelson to run WIN for KC, which empowers the lives of girls and women through advocating and promoting the lifetime value of sports and fitness. Naturally, she didn’t want to let anyone down.
Said Nelson, “A dear friend told me, ‘You have to learn to shut off that sign in your head that says, ‘You’re not capable.’”
And so she rolled that dice, and the Kansas City Sports Commission – along with WIN for KC – is an even better well-oiled machine a decade later. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Nelson with the Class of 2020.
The title of President & CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation? That’s been hers for nine years, as Nelson oversaw WIN for KC for a year-plus before being promoted following the passing of then-President Kevin Gray.
In essence, she leads the non-profit in promoting sports locally and nationally with the goal of attracting, retaining and facilitating sports events and organizations. More on that in a second.
Just know the Kansas City Star ranked Nelson among the 50 Most Influential People in Kansas City Sports History, and she was one of only four women represented. Previously, Nelson landed on a 20 Most Influential Sports Figures list in Kansas City.
“It’s not just me,” Nelson said of the Sports Commission’s successes. “It’s our city, my team at the Sports Commission and our partners that have made that happen.”
Among the successes:
- The Jackie Robinson movie “42” premiering at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, with actors Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford in town;
- Kansas City Marathon’s winners competing in a Xi’an, China marathon;
- Speaking at the International Sports Convention in Switzerland following International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach;
- Organizing the 2017 Mizzou-Kansas basketball game for hurricane relief and raising $2.011 million;
- KC hosting the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships and the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships; and securing the Big 12 Conference men’s and women’s basketball championships through 2025.
- Enhancing legacy projects which fund-raised for other non-profits.
And remember the Royals’ massive 2015 World Series parade? And the Chiefs’ 2020 Super Bowl parade? Credit the Sports Commission – and it was fitting for Nelson, who in 1985 threw tickertape from the Western Auto building during the Royals’ World Series parade.
“We planned one in 2014 and thought we had it all figured out with a mile-long parade route,” said Nelson, who later phoned other cities which encouraged expanding it another mile. “That fall (2015), we planned it that way. Thank goodness.”
Nelson clearly has a gift for this.
In the first 24 years of her professional career, she worked in TV journalism and TV marketing – FOX4, Metro Sports & Time Warner Cable – and handled production, producing and event-planning.
Nelson had volunteered for WIN for KC for a decade and served on its advisory board and Women’s Celebration Award committee. When Patti Phillips (MSHOF 2015) left to run a national organization, the Sports Commission called with a job offer. Volunteering for WIN for KC came naturally.
“Both of my parents (Fred & Shirley Mueller) were known for volunteering,” said Nelson, a graduate of Winnetonka High School and Truman State University. “My brothers and I knew that was part of our DNA, to give back.”
“The moment I said yes (to the job), my daughters Haley and Hannah said, ‘You’re going to go run the organization we love so much?’”
She later received a note from Gray, prior to his passing in 2011. In effect, he wrote, “When I hired you, I knew you’d be a champion for us. You’ll do great,” Nelson said. “I think about that all the time.”
Nelson thanks many for their support, especially her husband, Lance. Additionally, she has received numerous awards, including the ATHENA Leadership Award, Buck O’Neil Diamond MVP Award from the nearby Boys & Girls Club, was the 2018 Sports Tourism Executive/CEO of the Year and the Women Who Mean Business Award. She also won multiple Emmy and Telly Awards in TV.
“People have asked, ‘What do you want your legacy to be?’” Nelson said. “My thoughts actually are, ‘What are we doing today to make a better Kansas City through sports?”