I am more than a student athlete


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Liera Bender

My name is Liera Bender and I am from Urbandale, Iowa, which is a suburb of Des Moines. I grew up with my mom, dad and younger brother, who is a sophomore here at Iowa State and also my roommate (haha). I am biracial, my mom is black and my dad is white, which has really shaped the way I view society overall. Because of this I’ve always seen the world through dual lenses. I am very close to my family; they are my number one supporters and people I can trust no matter what.

Growing up I was also very involved with tennis. I played competitive tennis starting at the age of nine and continued on through college, where I am now on the Iowa State tennis team.

Growing up playing a sport at that level also really helped prepare me for school and my role on campus. During my junior year, I had knee surgery, which resulted in me medically retiring this year, my senior year.

Transitioning out of the sport that I had played every day for the past 13 years was very hard for me and challenged me to step out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.

It forced me to see that my sport did not define who I was as a person, whereas for so long I was known as “Liera the tennis player.” I had to take time to really understand that tennis was a part of who I was, but it was not the whole picture. Figuring this out really opened my eyes and allowed me to branch out and become more involved on campus.

I feel like I do what I do so that things are easier for the next person who comes along. I grew up in a household where my grandpa was very heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. One day, he sat me down and told me  he did what he did so that his kids would have an easier time than he did and so that his grandkids would have as well. That is something I always remind myself of and hold close to my heart. I want to continue that foundation and mindset that my grandpa has instilled in my family.

I am involved in Student Government because it provides me the opportunity to broaden my reach on campus. There is something so energizing about sitting down with a student on campus and listening to them express their wants and needs and then working my tail off to make it happen for them.

Student Government has provided me that opportunity and I am forever thankful. Serving as Chief of Staff has given me the opportunity to get my feet wet in multiple different areas, which I absolutely love. I get to be involved in a little bit of everything, which gets me really excited.

I believe that my leadership style is one where I listen to an individual express their goals and then I give them the tools and guidance in order for them to achieve those goals. I never want to step in and do a task or project for someone; instead, I want to be able to uplift individuals so that they truly believe that they can perform at any level they want.

My mom drives me to overcome obstacles. She has shown me what it means to be a strong woman/woman of color and that is something that I have ingrained within my identity. She always gave me the strength to continue when I felt like giving up and the fight to continue every battle that I felt weak in.

Knowing that she has overcome so many battles in such a graceful manner drives me to overcome any obstacle that comes my way. She taught me that there is no battle that I cannot overcome, I just need drive, heart and fight. I used that mindset when it came to tennis and now I use it in my everyday life.

I want to show people that they can do anything they want to, that there are literally no limitations to what you can achieve. I remember a year ago I was so nervous to apply for the Chief of Staff because I did not believe that I would be the one for the job. I remember being nervous to pursue college athletics and I remember being completely petrified at applying for graduate school. At the end of the day, I never thought I could do those things that I’ve accomplished and here I am today looking back wondering why I ever doubted myself. I want people to see that if you believe in yourself you can do anything you want.

Inclusivity to me looks like a community where everyone’s identities are heard and respected. Individuals do not need to agree with one another, but we need to listen to one another. Inclusivity is understanding that we are all different and that is OKAY. There is so much beauty in the differences between all of us and we should honor and respect those differences.

My advice for new leaders is to GO FOR IT. I guarantee that your gut is most likely steering you in the right direction and although you may feel uneasy about it, you must follow it! If it doesn’t goes as planned, that is alright; there is no such thing as a failure when you are taking a risk and putting yourself out there, it is simply a learning lesson. My second piece of advice is BREATHE. Take time to take care of yourselves.

Being a leader is energizing and exciting but if you do not take time to step back and care for yourselves, it can become exhausting and tolling on your body. And my last piece of advice is to have fun. We are young and in college, so take this time to immerse yourself in new experiences with new people; you will make so many lasting friendships and have so many amazing memories if you just have fun with whatever you get involved with.

I am more than a student athlete.