Pasadena-Raised Olympic Silver Medalist Speaks at Vital Voices Luncheon

Lauren Gibbs, center, graduated from Westridge. Today, she is a Olympic silver medalist. Her mother, Akila Gibbs, left, and interviewer, Janet Braun, far right. Photo by Harry Yadav

2018 Winter Olympics Silver Medalist Lauren Gibbs, the brakeman for the United States Women’s Bobsled Team, was the guest speaker last Friday afternoon at the Vital Voices Women in Leadership Executive Team Luncheon, held at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena.

Gibbs, a graduate of Westridge School in Pasadena, was interviewed by South Pasadena resident and Planning Commission Vice Chair, Janet Braun, a member of the Vital Voices Executive Team. The form fitting, blue and white bobsledding suit Gibbs wore in PyeonChang was hung up on display behind her and Braun, setting the backdrop for their conversation. Her silver medal rested on the wooden table in between them.

Ellen Daigle, owner of Ellen’s Silkscreening and Founding Member of WISPPA

Also in attendance from South Pasadena was Ellen Daigle, another member of the Executive Team. Daigle’s company, Ellen’s Silkscreening, supported Gibbs during the Olympics with specially-printed shirts.

Becoming a bobsledder never crossed Gibbs’s mind, she told Braun. Recruited to Brown University for track and field, Gibbs instead followed her heart and decided to play volleyball. She graduated as team captain her senior year, the same year she earned All-Ivy League Academic honors.

After spending some time working marketing and sales jobs, Gibbs decided to pursue an Executive MBA from Pepperdine University. It was during that time that a friend casually brought up bobsledding.

When her friend broached the idea to Gibbs of trying out for the Olympic team, Gibbs’s first question was, “Are we any good?”

It turned out the US had just won a silver and a bronze. She decided to give it a shot. 

At the Vital Voices luncheon, Gibbs said she began bobsledding in part because she wasn’t satisfied with what she was doing at work. What a way to shake things up.

In PyeongChang, Gibbs and her teammates missed out on a gold medal by .007ths of a second, and that was just the beginning of her quickly rising fame. When Gibbs decided to post on Twitter a selfie photo of herself posing with Ivanka Trump and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, her trip took an unexpected turn.

Overnight, she received a storm of hateful messages. Gibbs, who considers herself socially liberal and fiscally conservative, said, “I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. But at the end of the day, I think it is important to respect the office of the President.”

Her tweet (she had only 1,000 followers at the moment) was retweeted 10,000 times and there were 20,000 comments. “I replied to as many of them as I could,” Gibbs said, “because I knew there were going to be people out there calling me complicit, saying I was the new Uncle Tom, the new Aunt Tammy.”

Unfortunately for the twitter trolls, Gibbs was the wrong person to attack. She deleted the tweet because she observed it had become a vehicle for the public to attack each other. There was another round of twitter attacks and messages, but Gibbs had proven her point.

“I found it really interesting,” she said last week, “I learned that as a society, we’ve lost the ability to have civil discourse.”

Gibbs is considering a career in public speaking following her career as an Olympian. Right now, she is planning to compete in the next Winter Games.

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