JOHNSTOWN - In 1995, Dedra DeLilli attended the Fulton County Sports Awards Banquet as one of six student-athletes representing Gloversville High School.
On Wednesday, DeLilli returned to the banquet, only this time as the keynote speaker for the 27th Annual Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Sports Awards Banquet at the Holiday Inn.
A standout field hockey player who had her jersey retired at GHS after amassing 63 career goals, including a Section II record of 33 in one season, DeLilli delivered her message to the large crowd of athletes and parents and reflected on her journey for the past 19 years.
Dedra DeLilli speaks to the audience at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown on Wednesday at the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Sports Award Banquet. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
"You are different because you are athletes and top athletes," she said. "You have experiences that a lot of people have never had, and it is preparing you for things in your career and your life that other people don't have the benefit of experiencing. You are different and should embrace that whereever you go in your career."
DeLilli's career in sports included a full athletic scholarship to the University of Maine to play Division I field hockey, where she also coached there while working on her MBA with a concentration in marketing.
She currently is the director of corporate sponsorships and social media marketing for TD Ameritrade.
"The day that I picked up a field hockey stick, the path of my life changed and it changed in the most positive way possible," she said. "I joined the seventh-grade field hockey team and I fell in love with the sport and with the opportunity to be a member of a team. The skills that I learned as a member of that team helped me to be successful from day one of my job."
DeLilli was selected to head up TD Ameritrade's program to help sponsor and develop Olympic athletes.
"Sports again came knocking on my door again, this time in a really big way," she said. "I was lucky and things started to align for me. But I worked really hard to have this opportunity to have this come to me, but again, I attribute it to my love of sports and what I learned along the way in my career."
One of the Olympians she worked closely with, snowboarder Louie Vito, missed the opportunity to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but provided inspiration for her in his perseverance to return to the slopes and place at the X Games as well as work as a commentator for the event.
Vito sent a videotaped message to the Fulton County athletes that included words of advice, "If you are good enough, they can't ignore you."
Before helping members of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce present the awards, DeLilli offered advice to the athletes.
"What you have learned as an athlete has really prepared you for what is ahead of you. I hope you understand the advantage you have going forward," she said. "Find something that is meaningful to you. It doesn't matter if it is meaningful to the person next to you. If it makes you happy, and you have a good time doing it and drives you, there is nothing better than going into work every day and loving and having passion for what you do. Embrace sports wherever you go and spread that love. Because sports have gotten you here and will bring you even further in life."