Two-time Emmy award-winning sports broadcaster Lauren Sisler addresses an audience of students and adults at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday as part of the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club’s Pillars of America speaker series. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Two-time Emmy award-winning sports broadcaster Lauren Sisler addresses an audience of students and adults at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday as part of the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club’s Pillars of America speaker series. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A Pillar in the face of loss: Lauren Sisler shares tale of resilience amid tragedy

Talk part of sunsetting Pillars of America series.

Addiction took a lot from Lauren Sisler’s family, but the award-winning broadcaster now uses that story of loss to give insight and inspiration to those who hear her speak.

Sisler, who has won two Emmys as a sports broadcaster and is a former collegiate gymnast, lost her mother and father within hours of each other in 2003 after both died from drug overdoses. Thursday, she told a rapt audience of mostly students in the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall that the main reason she was able to finally feel comfortable with sharing her own story without a sense of shame was through her career in broadcasting. She said if it hadn’t been for her experience of helping others share their personal stories, she’s not sure if or how she would have realized the importance of her story.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire 
Lauren Sisler shares her personal story on Thursday of growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, and learning how to persevere during life’s hardest moments following the death of her parents. Sisler’s speech at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall was hosted by the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club as part of its Pillars of America speaker series, which will conclude on Friday, April 7 with guest speaker Tony Hoffman.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire Lauren Sisler shares her personal story on Thursday of growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, and learning how to persevere during life’s hardest moments following the death of her parents. Sisler’s speech at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall was hosted by the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club as part of its Pillars of America speaker series, which will conclude on Friday, April 7 with guest speaker Tony Hoffman.

“I think the biggest thing was recognizing the impact that story has,” Sisler said. “As a sports reporter that became my ultimate job and goal, and so they’re entrusting in me, coming to me every day saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this story,’ and in sharing their story I’m seeing the ripple effect that it has but then at the same time, I’m still afraid to share my own story and lying about my own story. So, I thought if I’m going to be a true journalist that has integrity, how can I not share my story of truth if everyone around me is?”

The speech was part of the Pillars of America speaker series presented by the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club. The series has long shared the stories of distinguished Americans overcoming tremendous adversity with local youths and the general public. Thursday’s presentation was both the first talk in the series since the pandemic and its second-to-last installment.

A Friday, April 7, event featuring Tony Hoffman, who after being paroled from prison in 2008 found great acclaim as a BMX pro and an Olympic coach, will be the last presentation.

Glacier Valley Rotary President Marc Guevarra said youth related projects will continue to be a focus point for the club, but will seek new ways of engaging beyond the Pillars of America series.

“Our main reason for sunsetting the program, partially was due to COVID, but we as a club are always looking to do different things for the community,” Guevarra said. “We just felt that it was probably the right timing for ending this great series, but first giving it one last great showing for these last two speakers, just one last great final showing and then we can move onto some other opportunities and other things to help support this community.”

Emmy award-winning broadcaster Lauren Sisler shares her story of personal on Thursday to a pack audience at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall of attending Rutgers University for gymnastics while also weathering the tragedy of unexpectedly losing both of her parents within hours of each other due to a concealed battle with addiction. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Emmy award-winning broadcaster Lauren Sisler shares her story of personal on Thursday to a pack audience at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall of attending Rutgers University for gymnastics while also weathering the tragedy of unexpectedly losing both of her parents within hours of each other due to a concealed battle with addiction. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

In Thursday’s talk, Sisler said she had considered a career in medicine when first arriving at college at Rutgers University,, but after navigating through the loss of her parents, she reassessed what she was doing and where she was going in life. Sisler said when you’re younger it’s easy to have dreams to the point that sometimes those dreams can be difficult to let go of. Sisler said while pivoting plans can sometimes feel devastating, ultimately, you have to allow yourself to step past the disappointment you might feel in yourself for going in a different direction and accept that there might just be alternative paths better suited for you that you’ve never allowed yourself to consider.

“The biggest reason I changed was because I was failing out of school,” Sisler said. “Really, it was about taking a step back and evaluating, I wasn’t something that I was as passionate about, obviously I was struggling with the curriculum side of things. I just needed to realize how to connect the dots, I love sports, I love people, I love relationships and storytelling, so I can still stay in the sports world, I can still impact people, but now instead of working on them and getting them healthy, I’m able to hopefully make them more healthy in their mindset than obviously from a medicine standpoint.”

Lauren Sisler signs autographs for Malinda Linstid’s two daughters, Anika and Megyn, along with classmate Alanna Zellhuber on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall during Glacier Rotary Club’s Pillars of America speaker series. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Lauren Sisler signs autographs for Malinda Linstid’s two daughters, Anika and Megyn, along with classmate Alanna Zellhuber on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall during Glacier Rotary Club’s Pillars of America speaker series. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

Raven Homeschool students Anika Linstid, 13; Megyn Linstid,11; and Alanna Zellhuber, 12; were among the young people who heard Sisler’s speech. Malinda Linstid, who homeschools her two daughters, brought them and their classmate in hopes that they might be inspired by Sisler’s overall message of perseverance.

“What I took the most from her speech was to just keep going,” Anika Linstid said. “You have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter if you fall down, just push yourself back up.”

Zellhuber added: “She lost everything, and she wasn’t doing so well after that, but she got herself back up and kept going. She didn’t let it control her entire life. That’s really inspirational to me because I lost my grandpa last year, and I was kind of not doing well after that.”

Megyn said for her the most profound takeaway from Sisler’s speech was just the reality of how life is full of so much uncertainty despite any amount of effort or planning.

“I thought it was really interesting and powerful how you can train for one specific moment for your entire life and you can still mess up,” Megyn Linstid said. “And then your only choice really is to just try again.”

Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire 
Left to right, Lauren Sisler, Megyn Linstid, Alannah Zellhuber, Malinda Linstid and Anika Linstid pose for a photo after Sisler’s speech at Peratrovich Hall on Thursday during the Glacier Rotary Club’s second to last Pillars of America speaker series.

Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire Left to right, Lauren Sisler, Megyn Linstid, Alannah Zellhuber, Malinda Linstid and Anika Linstid pose for a photo after Sisler’s speech at Peratrovich Hall on Thursday during the Glacier Rotary Club’s second to last Pillars of America speaker series.

In addition to sharing her message of making the best out of life’s unexpected setbacks, Sisler said she’s constantly reminded of the parallels between gymnastics and broadcasting, how they both require hard work and determination, and how her early years of competing ultimately prepared her for the rest of her life.

“Gymnastics is such a gritty sport and obviously requires so much dedication but also there’s no margin for error in gymnastics,” Sisler said. “I think that was something that I was taught and learned along the way is that you truly have to be able to be resilient and push past it because you’re going to make mistakes and there’s so little room for error that errors happen all the time,” Sisler said. “The team aspect was also a big part of that, being around those people, recognizing how big that support system was because if I didn’t have Rutgers and I didn’t have those teammates, I never would have survived, I never would have been here today. I look at that now in my career as a broadcaster, it takes a village, it takes a team to truly have an impact and to do our jobs.”

• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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