Lehning returns home, inspires students to be great





SUBLETTE — There are memories abounding when Shalee Lehning returns to her hometown of Sublette, the small southwest Kansas community where she became a high school legend in three sports, but gained most of her fame playing basketball.

It is where she helped her Lady Larks to 52 consecutive basketball victories and two Class 2A state championships in 2004 and 2005. It also is where she helped her team to the state volleyball tournament and where she competed in track and field, still holding a 2A record in the javelin.

So when the now 27-year-old returned home for a visit to family and friends, she took the occasion to speak to the middle and high school student body of approximately 180 girls and boys.

And the hometown girl had the group captivated as she wove her way through a 45-minute inspirational and challenging talk, giving examples of how to be successful in life, how to make and keep friends, and how to respect others. It was vintage Lehning, who has a degree in broadcast journalism from Kansas State University, where she starred for four years before being drafted and played three seasons with the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.

"There is power in engaging with other people," Lehning stressed to her teenage audience. "This is you now! Look around at your close friends. Look around at others whom you may not know so well. I still talk to my high school friends. They are some of my best friends. They are the ones you can rely on. But you also must branch out with others."

Lehning, who pointed to numerous teachers in the audience who had been in the school district when she was a student, emphasized the importance of her educators.

"They invest in you, and there's a lot more good than not," Lehning emphasized. "I've played a lot of sports, and by some people's standards, have had a few accomplishments.

"I can tell you that nothing I accomplished was on my own. I had a journey, but I always knew I was gonna need my teammates to be ready."

Citiing numerous examples at the high school, college and professional level, Lehning said it was important to realize that a team is only successful when it truly plays like one.

"At every next level, it is the team that matters more," Lehning said.

Lehning said her college and professional teammates were always amazed when a large segment of fans showed up for games, both in Manhattan while at KSU, and at different venues around the country when playing for the Dream.

"They (teammates) always asked, 'what are all these people doing here?'" Lehning said. "I just told them that these were people who were invested in me. It was a community thing. It wasn't just my journey, it was our journey."

Lehning said that it was important to overcome adversity as there will always be challenges in life.

"It's all about how you choose to react to those situations that counts," Lehning said. "You have to overcome your fears because life is tough. It's full of unexpected results."

Injuries through college and then into the pro ranks forced Lehning to hang up her jersey at the age of 25 and move into college coaching at her alma mater.

"We all have a choice in how we will react," Lehning said in regard to adversity. "You get to be the driver of your own (life) bus. You can invite people onto your bus. Who drives your bus?"

Lehning said it was important to remain positive in life, and to find something that separates you from everybody else that does what you do. She said it was easy to play the part of victim and saying that it's somebody else's fault.

"The things that you can control, you own it," Lehning said. "Choose your friends carefully. If friends don't bring out the best in you, they're not really your friend."

She emphasized work ethic and leadership as critical to her success, and also that it helps to find the good in all situations.

"Being happy is a conscious decision," she said. "Every second of every day. Be a light, be a positive light. Don't just have a great day, make it a great day. Be your best you."

In a follow-up interview, Lehning touched briefly on the immediate aftermath of the firing of KSU women's coach Deb Patterson, including herself, and the rest of the Lady Wildcat staff on March 9.

"It's been a challenging time — we all have those," Lehning said. "But it's been really nice to have some down time. I look back at my career and I think I pretty much went from playing to coaching. It's been a whirlwind of a life for a few years for me. So, to have the opportunity to slow down a little bit, I did a lot of traveling visiting family and friends. I started exploring different options."

Lehning said those options consisted of looking at other coaching opportunities, as well as going into motivational speaking.

"I asked myself what things in life that I think now could be next step options for me," Lehning said. "I have really truly enjoyed some time to decompress a bit."

Lehning also had been a featured speaker at a Holcomb fundraiser on Saturday for some of its student-athletes, and she likes that, too.

"It's a way to give back," Lehning said of her two talks. "I take such pride in being a kid from southwest Kansas, and I just look at these opportunites at sharing my story. There is power in your story. Everybody has their own experiences, and stories, and it's a shame not to tell them."

When asked about the immediate future, Lehning said her decision would likely be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks.

"I have a passion for coaching, and those are the options that I'm weighing heavily right now," Lehning said. "Down the road, there are definitely different passions in leadership and different things that I may enjoy pursuing. Right now, my heart's in coaching.

"I love the opportunity to impact young people's lives, to take my playing experience, and now coaching experience, and invest in these young women's lives and teach them through — it's like, 'hey this has been my experience, this is what i learned along the way.' I'm excited, I've got some really great opportunities that I'm weighing. I definitely think you're gonna find me in the coaching world."

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