Alumni Corner: Leah Rush
NORMAN – Former Sooner Leah Rush has traveled to nearly every part of the globe with her work.
After helping the Sooners to multiple Big 12 titles and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances, Rush played professional basketball overseas before turning to her career off the court. She's worked for various public and private groups specializing in crisis management and now Rush uses her platform with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to affect change globally.
Find out out more on what Rush has been up to in this edition of the Alumni Corner.
Where do you currently live and what do you do for a living?
I’m based in Seattle, Wash. and I work in humanitarian affairs. In recent years, I’ve worked for private and public-sector stakeholders all engaged in crisis response in one way or another. Currently, I work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation managing their global humanitarian relief portfolio.
Are you still involved with basketball? In what ways, if so?
Only modestly. I am part of a group that plays pick-up one Saturday each month. I tend to play primarily in the colder, rainy months though. In the summer I spend most of my weekends and free-time in the mountains hiking. Otherwise, I follow OU’s women's basketball and enjoy March Madness!
What lessons from OU — from teammates, Coach Coale, anybody—have stuck the most with you? Or put another way, which have had the most impact on your life or post-college career?
Life as a collegiate athlete is rigorous and there’s numerous people that feed into you and your development as a student, athlete, and person. The growth opportunities are tremendous. For me, the culmination of small lessons over four years were quite formative and proved to be a valuable springboard for life after OU.
The lessons that come from sport generally have been woven into my fibers – teamwork, discipline, persistence, conscientiousness, etc. Sport is such an effective personal development tool and the things I have learned through sport have, in many ways, contributed to my ability to navigate life successfully.
Learning to be mindful and present is a practice, and Coach Coale regularly emphasized ‘being where you are while you’re there.’ I always cared a lot about winning, but I came to understand that being fully engaged was the real reward. Though it will always be a process, cultivating this behavior during college has paid off considerably.
I was fortunate to have been in an active and healthy family as a kid. But at OU, I learned so much about fitness and nutrition. I didn’t fully appreciate the amazing facilities, strength coaching, and resources we had in place all to ensure the strongest, healthiest versions of ourselves. At this point however, I feel supremely fortunate to have benefited from these very tangible lessons. They have been instrumental in my life post-OU and are totally integrated into my daily lifestyle.
Which teammates do you still keep in touch with?
Those of us who spent time in the program are always connected in one way or another. After being away for quite some time, I made a trip back to Norman in Nov. 2017. Catching up with teammates was a real treat and great reminder of the common bond we all share.
Coach Coale uses the motto "Leave your story better than you found it.” How has that played out in your college and professional life?
Quite honestly, I think it’s a good reminder that we’re all expendable, but what we do matters. Be it collegiate sports or a career job, we all help develop programs in our own unique ways, but there were people before and there will be people after. I loved the saying when I was at OU, and still think of it today. It makes me focus on how I invest myself in a process, what impact I want to have, and how it will affect the next generation.
You've spent a lot of time living internationally-- what are some of your favorite lessons or experiences from that time?
I spent about eight years living abroad after college. My job as a pro ball player and then as a manager of humanitarian programming meant frequent relocations and a lot of travel! I spent time primarily throughout the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and Europe.
Living and traveling abroad means exposure to a different way of being in the world. New people, places, and cultures can open your eyes and mind. For me, it added a layer of richness to life and shaped my perspectives.
It also left me with lots of questions and a genuine curiosity about people and the world we all share. Though I live in Seattle now, I still travel frequently and have in recent years gotten to know other regions in the world, including my own country. I have spent significant time in the National Parks throughout the west and have learned the value of exploring the ‘familiar’ places. If you pay attention to what’s around you, there are always new adventures to have and lessons to learn.