Rachel Sanford '07

(203) 550-7170
Denver, CO

As a competitive athlete with a storied high school career, I could not wait to play lacrosse in college. It was the topic of dinner conversation for my entire junior year and I chose to play at Duke for a multitude of reasons. In 2003 is was rare to commit to schools before going on your official visits, but I was so sure, I made the commitment.

A big part of being a college athlete, is the instant identity that comes when you step foot on campus. You have friends, you know older students and you can confidently claim your new existence. Two months into my freshman year, I started my first fall ball game at a tournament at George Mason versus Georgetown. I was matched up for the first defensive play and the attacker juked and I felt it. My knee pop.

Tearing your ACL is pretty common among female athletes and many of my counterparts, share the scar, the memories of coming back from injury and the recurring issues that come along with it. When I graduated college my body was tired, after three knee surgeries and three final four appearances, it was time to retire. I met a Hillstone Restaurant Group recruiter at a career fair and accepted a job as  Manager in Training and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Hospitality is a great industry for athletes because every shift, every guest is an opportunity to execute and be perfect, and to be perfect is challenging when you are dealing with staffing and motivating and encouraging the team. Hillstone Management Training is rigid, demanding, performance based, exhausting but incredibly consistent. I was learning how to grease my hair back, the importance of role clarity and service while eating grilled artichokes and not fraternizing with the staff. It was a culture where you were militantly trained then eventually encouraged to make decisions and be impactful. I relinquished my position a few months shy of that Hillstone 5 Year Jacket milestone but with a lot of respect for what I had become. Hillstone brought me to Denver, it introduced me to hospitality and taught me to appreciate systems, training and culture.

I reconnected with an old friend from my club lacrosse days, who had moved to Denver to start her MBA at DU and she encouraged me to apply. I was admitted in early August and classes started in September. I was starting my masters with a little experience and a greater appreciation for managing people and relationships and a part time job at the Cherry Creek Grill.

Five years removed from my MBA program, I can say it was very much worth it. I learned a lot in a short period of time and I appreciate the knowledge and new skills it taught me. It allowed me to comfortably change careers although chasing  opportunities in “people operations” brought me back to hospitality. The athlete in me has helped me succeed because I didn't want to give up, it's active, it's fast paced, it's dynamic and challenging but it is also insane. It also makes total sense that my Husband, Darryl (former college lacrosse goalie) owns and operates an amazing Smokehouse in Kittredge, CO. 

Many opportunities have presented themselves to me because of people I have met along the way. I have taken opportunities and later realized, I didn't know what I wanted. After much soul searching and seeking, I know what I want and I feel empowered. It is amazing to wake up everyday and be my own boss and I know I needed to travel my career path to get here. As a coach, I want to help you get what you want, whatever it is. People are at their best, when they are motivated, engaged and excited about their endless possibilities. 

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