January 20, 2022

Yearlong lecture series sponsored by Centenary University taps personal stories of Olympians to examine the growth mindset that leads to glory

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ, Jan. 20, 2022—Centenary University students are learning what it takes to succeed through the lens of the Olympic Games as part of a lecture series that seeks to unpack the mindset of Olympic champions. So far, students have attended virtual presentations by Karch Kiraly, coach of the 2020 gold medal winning USA women’s volleyball team; Nick Mayhugh, a triple gold medal sprinter at the 2020 Paralympic Games; Greg Harney, a former member of the US Olympic Committee and president of Global Sports Partners; Paula Welch, Ed.D., a former member of the US Olympic Committee and professor emeritaat the University of Florida whose research focuses on the Olympics and sport history; and Marykate Halm, a graphic designer for the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Jeanne Murphy, a retired US Army colonel who has served on several US Olympic and Paralympic Games committees, has helped to coordinate the presentations with David Perricone, associate professor of sports and entertainment management, and Ahmet Kukrek, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry, as well as members of the University’s athletics and coaching staffs. “Connecting with real Olympians—competitors, coaches, and the great minds behind the Games—is a timely and meaningful way for students to learn important life lessons,” said Murphy, who is the wife of Centenary University President Bruce Murphy, Ed.D. “The glory we see at the Games is the culmination of many years of training, both physically and mentally. Yet, it’s the stuff you don’t see that really shapes character.”

All of the fall speakers pointed to two qualities—visualizing success and remaining open to growth—as characteristics of true champions. Visualizing and preparing for anything that could happen is central to success, especially during an Olympic year marked by the worldwide pandemic. Harney, president of an internationally recognized sport consulting firm, shared that he has long subscribed to the practice of running through all possible scenarios when working on initiatives and events such as the Olympic Games.

Kiraly said his team participated in a “pre-mortem” before the most recent Games to prepare for the unexpected. The exercise became instrumental to their win after a member of the coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19. A three-time Olympic gold medalist before the 2020 Summer Games, Kiraly told students that the key to the team’s success was a strong growth mindset. “We don’t just think about the tactical skills of volleyball, although they are very important,” said Kiraly, who won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988 for men’s indoor volleyball and 1996 for beach volleyball. “It’s not about being—it’s about becoming. Staying open to growth is incredibly important if you want to be successful.”

Last summer’s women’s gold medal—the first for Team USA—was definitely a highpoint in Kiraly’s career. Yet, he also ranks coaching his sons’ high school volleyball team right up there. After several years of not winning a set or match, the team finally found success: “One of my proudest coaching moments was when they won their first set. You would have thought they’d won an Olympic medal. It was incredibly inspiring to take a group of boys who had zero success on the court and help them to learn and grow.”

A standout soccer player who has mild cerebral palsy, Mayhugh set two track and field world records at the Tokyo Games. When first invited to try running by USA Track & Field, Mayhugh visualized himself setting world records.

Perricone, who regularly invites speakers from professional sports franchises into the classroom, said, “These Olympic-themed speakers have an important message for our students: If you think like an Olympian, you can succeed in whatever you do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an athlete or working behind the scenes to make the Games happen. We’ve had Centenary students and graduates work on some of the world’s leading sporting events, including the Super Bowl and the US Open. Who knows—maybe the Olympics will be next?”

At Centenary University, Jeanne Murphy views intercollegiate athletics as central to the University’s mission to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging throughout the campus community. Last year, she helped to advance that mission, through the lens of the Olympics, when Centenary Stage Company hosted the premier of Turning, a play by Darrah Cloud about the first US Olympic women’s gymnastics team—which included Ada Lunardoni of Hackettstown—in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The play also weaves in the story of Jesse Owens, the Black American sprinter who made sporting history that summer in Berlin, but encountered systemic racism throughout much of his life when he returned home. Murphy hosted several virtual presentations on Turning to foster discussions among campus community members and Centenary alumni on current issues in the nation that continue to impede diversity, inclusion, and belonging.


Founded in 1867 by the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church, Centenary University’s academic program integrates a solid liberal arts foundation with a strong career orientation. This mix provides an educational experience that prepares students to succeed in the increasingly global and interdependent world. The University’s main campus is located in Hackettstown, N.J., with its equestrian facility in Washington Township. The Centenary University School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in Parsippany, as well as online and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey.

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