Featured Stories – Five Community Leaders

Five Community Leaders Recognized at 5th Annual Celebrating Women in Sports Luncheon

George Diaz

By George Diaz

Five women. Five inspiring stories. Five different journeys. One common goal:


Rising up to become leaders, mentors and inspirational forces in the ever-expanding world of women in sports.


The Greater Orlando Sports Commission recently honored these women at its Fifth Annual Celebrating Women in Sports luncheon presented by Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute at UCF's Addition Financial Arena.


They each shared their stories before a sellout crowd that included featured speaker Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic Gold Medalist and pioneer of women’s marathoning.


Three of the honorees received the 2023 Women in Sports Leadership Awards: Latria Graham (GLB Media Group), Betsy Hughes (Track Shack), and Jennifer Lastik (Greater Orlando Sports Commission). The award recognizes leaders who have given their time, energy and passion to improving the industry and taking it in new directions.

"I love taking on new challenges and I can't wait for what's next," said Lastik.


As Executive Vice President of GO Sports, Lastik oversees event logistics for a four-county region while managing event operations, the state grant program and event budgets. But she draws her biggest inspiration by seeing other females emerging as leaders of the pack, and the role she plays as a mentor.


"When I started my career, I was the only female in the room," she said. "However, I was blessed because the Go Sports Board had many females who took me under their wing, and that's why it's so important for me to give back.


"My advice for women starting out in their career is to truly advocate for yourself. Be confident. Know your worth and know that you do deserve to be at the table."

10-2 2

Hughes, who has owned the iconic Track Shack retail store since 1993 with her husband Jon, has been a fixture in the Orlando racing community. But she became engaged in the sport of running long before then, running track in middle school at the age of 14.


"I've been running ever since," she said. "I ran through my pregnancies. I've run marathons. All these decades later I don't run big miles, but I've always loved the sport."


Betsy and Jon struggled at times trying to keep their business afloat, but it thrives thanks to their stick-to-itiveness. Not only are they thriving but have established the Track Shack Youth Foundation that has distributed more than $2.6 million to local charities.


"There is no choice but to be confident when racing or running a business," she told the audience. "Who knew at age 14 that running would define my life. Thanks for all you do for creating a world of confidence for young women in the sports field. How lucky are we?"


As president and founder of GLB Media Group, Graham works to build community and collaboration among brands, sports leaders and athletes.

10-2 1

“I just love the platform that us, as sports professionals, athletes, administrators and coaches have to really look at different things that are going on in our world globally and we can use that platform to advocate for change, " she said.


She also launched the first chapter of Black Sports Professionals, dedicated to accelerating the advancement and impact of black professionals in the sports industry.


But the impact starts with engaging younger bodies and minds.


"The statistics do show that if kids and young ladies are involved at an early age they are more likely to stay involved in sports," she said. "And by being involved that means playing sports, working in sports, and just developing that passion for sports."

The 2023 Rising Star Award recipient was Uneeke Armani, Events and Operations Coordinator at Florida Citrus Sports.


The award recognizes a young female professional in the sports industry who has demonstrated strong leadership, initiative, and exceptional contributions early in their career.


Her scope of work includes planning and coordinating the Florida Blue Florida Classic Battle of the Bands, Pop-Tarts Bowl and Cheez-It Citrus Bowl.


Her work method is to the point:


"Keep pushing even when it gets hard, keep doing research, keep asking questions," she said. "The people in the C-Suite, they have made plenty of misstates and they can all attest to those."


And what happens if you stumble or fail?


"Laugh at yourself and keep going.  Don't go back to the start line. Just pick yourself up."


Sari Kitelyn, Director of ESports at Full Sail University, received the WISE Greater Orlando Woman of Inspiration Award. It is awarded by local WISE chapters, honoring women who exemplify the spirit of the WISE mission and are making a positive impact on the business of sports while serving as positive role models and mentors for other women.


While building the esports ecosystem at Full Sail from the ground up, Kitelyn has had key roles in establishing the Full Sail Armada, the school’s varsity esports team, among other projects.


"The challenges don't stop once you get started," she said. "Being able to push through and persevere, that's required to really thrive. It's a challenging place to be, but a very rewarding place."


Benoit Samuelson, the winner of the first Olympic Women’s Marathon at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, reflected on her journey in a question-and-answer session onstage at the end of the event.


Her inclusion was topical for several reasons. The City of Orlando will play host to the U.S. Men's and Women's Olympic Marathon Team Trials on February 3, 2024, in partnership with Orange County, Track Shack Events, the Greater Orlando Sports Commission, USA Track & Field and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.


She harkened back to her own experience during the first ever women's Olympic Trials in Olympia Washington in 1984.


"That remains the race of my life to this day because it was 17 days after arthroscopic knee surgery, and I literally ran on a wing and a prayer and somehow I hung on long enough to win the first trial,” she said. “These trials coming up in Orlando on February 3rd, that could be the race of all the participants’ lives. You never know what is going to happen.”

10-2 3