If you had met Tamika Catchings in high school, the self-described “shy kid” probably wouldn’t have engaged in conversation with you. Avoiding social interaction didn’t just come with the territory of being an introverted adolescent, though. Catchings learned that she was hearing impaired at the age of three. She threw her hearing aids away in third grade out of frustration. The issue created speech problems, too, but Catchings told Convene that the biggest challenge was feeling like an outsider. “As a kid, the hardest thing was being different,” she said, “and not being able to fit in with everyone else.”
Fast forward to 2019 and Catchings — who will speak on the Main Stage at PCMA’s Education Conference at the JW Marriott Los Angeles LA Live on Thursday, June 27 — continues to be in a class of her own, albeit for a very different reason: She is one of the most accomplished basketball players in the history of hoops. Her career includes four Olympic gold medals for the United States and a mile-long list of accolades from her 15-year career with the Indiana Fever including five WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, All-Star honors, an MVP award, a WNBA championship, and all-time league records in steals and free throws.
She credits her struggles with hearing loss as helping pave the way to many of those achievements. “It helped me become a more determined leader,” Catchings said. “Being made fun of made me driven to succeed even more. I knew that if I could become really good at something, people couldn’t make fun of me.”
In addition to being a top performer on the court, Catchings became an equally accomplished, off-the-court leader as the president of the WNBA Players Association. “I was incredibly nervous when I was named president,” Catchings said. “It was only my third year in the league, and I was still figuring out my own way. My role there really helped me have an open mind to see through everyone’s different situations — not just the star players, but also the rookies and those who were transitioning between contracts.”
Catchings continues to play a major role for the next generation of WNBA players as vice president of basketball operations for the Fever. However, she seems equally passionate about her role in supporting an even younger generation with the Catch the Stars Foundation, an organization she founded in 2004 to provide fitness, literacy, and youth development programs for boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18 in the Indianapolis area. The foundation has directly impacted more than 15,000 students and recently rewarded more than $100,000 in scholarships to seniors to help with college tuition.
Higher education holds a particularly special place in Catchings’ heart — she credits Pat Summitt, her college coach at the University of Tennessee, and Jenny Moshak, the university’s associate director of sports medicine, for helping her recognize that she needed to address her hearing issues. “After a couple of weeks of practice my freshman year, they sat me down and told me I needed to get back to wearing hearing aids and get back to speech class,” Catchings said. “They said, ‘Think about who you are what you want to achieve. Your story will be able to impact thousands, maybe millions of people.’”
Catchings will be able to add 900 meeting and event professionals to that tally by the end of the month. Register to be one of them at PCMA’s Education Conference.