Britt Arnold (neé Tegeler) attended UConn from 2005-08, playing four seasons for the UConn women’s soccer team. The Huskies competed in three NCAA Tournaments and two BIG EAST Championship finals during her time in Storrs. Followign graduation, Arnold briefly played professionally before pursing a career in construction. She founded and is President at Tegeler Construction & Supply in Baltimore, Md. We caught up with Arnold to discuss her time at UConn and her transition into successful businesswoman.
How did you decide on UConn?
I was one of the few from my club team that decided to wait to commit to a college until after going on all five of my official visits. For the most part, the rest of my teammates committed verbally well before officials. While I felt the pressure to commit early so I didn’t “lose out” on a spot, I was confident in my capabilities and felt strongly that if a college really wanted me on their team, they would respect my timeline. I lined up my official visits to UNC, UVA, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and UConn. UConn was the last official visit on the schedule, and truth be told, at that time, I almost felt inclined to cancel it. I loved the other four schools I visited and couldn’t envision myself finding a better option in UConn. I was also certain that I wanted to go South and get into warmer weather. With the encouragement of my parents, I “stuck it out” and took my last official visit to UConn. I can’t quite explain the feeling, but within minutes of being with the team and coaches I knew I would be attending UConn. There was a comfort and chemistry within the team (player-to-player and player-to-coach) that was tangible and dramatically different than what I had experienced anywhere else. I had also discovered during that official visit, that Coach [Len Tsantiris] was not aware that I had torn my ACL. He had seen me play relatively soon after returning to the pitch, recruiting me based on that performance. I had the same question every athlete does after returning back from a major injury, “am I the same player I used to be?” It brought me a peace of mind that UConn believed in my ability, post-injury. All other things being relatively equal (great soccer programs, facilities, academics), that is what ultimately solidifed by decision to commit to UConn. While not as big of a deciding factor, it also helped that at that time, UConn had the No. 1-ranked Kinesiology program in the nation, which was the major I pursued.
What’s your favorite memory from playing soccer at UConn?
In no particular order:
- We were in the playoffs and facing off against Wake Forest. I believe going into that game we were the underdog. As we left our locker room and were making the walk to the field, we were singing our team “theme song” at the top of our lungs, “Sweet Caroline”. Soon after, as we stood in the center of the field listening to the National Anthem on the stereo, it suddenly stopped per technical difficulty; our team, without missing a beat, picked up where the song left off and finished it. The energy was palpable and everyone around us felt it, including Wake Forest. We knew we were going to win that game even before it started..and we did.
- Playing Florida State at Florida State in the Elite Eight. We ultimately lost the game in double overtime, but it was an incredibly hard-fought game and we were an undeniably strong team that season. FSU went onto the finals. We left the field that day (or perhaps a few days later when cooler heads prevailed) knowing we were undoubtedly top 8 in the nation and more than worthy of a top 4 finish, which is a feeling that any NCAA athlete would treasure.
- When our team came to my parents house the day before our pre-season game against UVA. I will never forget our big bus pulling into the court and peering out of the window at my childhood home which holds my fondest memories. I got to show 20+ of my best friends where I grew up, my roots, as my parents showered us with lots of food, hospitality and love. We ran around in the back yard like kids playing kick the can and spud like I used to do with the neighborhood boys. It was truly a special moment to have two of the biggest parts of my life, my team and my family, collide in the most beautiful way.
- Lastly, aside from all of the “big” moments, it is so many of the smaller moments spent with teammates on and off the field that are my fondest. Breakfasts at Track 9, Sunday nights at Ted’s, tailgates after home games, seeing my parents and sister every game in the stands, team Thanksgivings, and everything in between.
After graduating, you played soccer professionally. What awas your experience as a pro like at that time?
I graduated a semester early from UConn and finished out my collegiate academic career with an internship with the Communications Team for the Washington Freedom (now Washington Spirit), while also playing for the team. I was not drafted to the team, but invited into pre-season camp after having a strong season with their feeder amateur team I vividly remember this season of my life because it was one of the most challenging. I had moved back home with my parents, was making a long commute back and forth to practices every day, and enduring absolute mental and physical warfare.
Aside from the obvious physical exertion required to compete among the best players in the world it was an emotional and mental battle. Was I going to make the team? Was I worthy? Did I really want to have to face Abby Wambach in another head ball situation? Would I be able to continue to pursue my biggest dream? Was this even my dream anymore? Was I willing to make the financial sacrifice? Did I want to further delay pursuing another profession? Who would I be without soccer? All questions brewing around in my head at record speed with no definitive answers to any.
Luckily (in retrospect), one moment dictated my course and resolved all of those open-ended questions. The coaching staff presented me with a three-day window to pick up and leave the country to play for Paris Saint-Germain in France for a pre-determined about of time to get the experience and training they felt required to bring value to the team. While an honorable and intriguing opportunity, as I digested and vetted through it, it became crystal clear in that moment, that I was ready to transition into my business career. Aside from having no desire to move, there was a much deeper reason. I was finally able to recognize and embrace this overwhelming feeling of fulfillment. I had played soccer at every level and gotten everything out of the sport (and more) than I could have ever imagined. I was ready to dig into the next challenging stage of my life. Which is a perfect segue into the next question…
What was the deciding factor to transition from soccer to a career in construction?
My trajectory from soccer to construction wasn’t linear, but I got there pretty fast. After dabbling in a few things in between, my uncle approached me one day and told me he wanted me to come work alongside him. My uncle, to this day, runs Grasmick Lumber, one of the biggest lumber yards on the East Coast (and beyond). Grasmick Lumber has touched many of the largest projects in the nation, like the rebuild of The World Trade Center. He said, “Britt, I know you don’t know much about construction and hell, probably don’t care much about it either, but hear me out. We are looking for someone to be the “face” of our company, to engage with our customers and stakeholders, and to get us out into the community. I want that to be you. I can teach you all the technical aspects of the lumber world; that’s the easy part.” With nothing to lose and all the trust in the world in my uncle, it was a quick “yes” for me. Little did I know, a $40,000.00 entry-level job in construction was exactly where I was supposed to be at that time.
How did you decide to start your own business? Did you have any reservations?
I never expected to work in construction prior to my uncle’s offer, but much to my surprise, I quickly fell in love with the industry. The people were up early, hard working, brutally honest, raw. It was blue collar and that felt very familiar and comfortable, given my childhood. I spent 4-5 years working in the construction and real estate industry soaking it all up like a sponge, but even more importantly, developing and creating a network of colleagues, trusted partners, mentors, and everything in between.
There were three main reasons why I started my own business. Firstly, I had always told myself I would start my own in business while I was in my 20s. No particular reason why, it was just the plan I had always envisioned for my life. Secondly, at the time, I was working for a construction and real estate company that was very successful, but very old school. They ran like a well-oiled machine and had little reason to change anything about how they operated.
Needless to say, they were not impressed with my creative ideas, opposing perspectives, and persistent (bordering on aggressive) approach. I rocked the boat in what had always been calm waters and it was not entirely well liked or accepted, which they made clear. I was, in a way, forced into entrepreneurship, but I also knew it was the only career path that would ever work for me, personally. I need the autonomy to explore every creative opportunity, to “eat what I kill” (and to share it with my team), and to know there is no cap, no ceiling, no limit. Thirdly, timing! There were massive projects that were going to soon be breaking locally and they required massive minority/woman-owned participation requirements. I also felt strongly that the minority/woman-owned world (at least locally) was weak and that I could exploit it. I had my purpose. I could build a strong woman-owned building materials business, add value to our partners who would need to fulfill the participation requirements, and could potentially run an entire business off of these couple of contracts, alone. This gave us leverage and advantage in the market; both of which are imperative to running a successful business.
It goes without saying that I had my reservations. I bootstrapped my business. I had no safety net of any kind. I had no other choice, but to succeed. However, in retrospect, that may have been just what I needed. I truly believe sometimes it takes feet to the fire, back against the wall, sink or swim moments to push us to take the leap of faith, to execute, and to succeed.
What advice do you have for young women who want to get start their own businesses?
You can let the fear of starting paralyze you or you can dance with it and let it push you into action. Accept that you will never be ready. Your start will be messy and you will make every mistake possible, but you will have started and it is the most rewarding thing you will ever do in your life.
Once you find a problem, know how to exploit the opportunity, and identify your advantage/leverage point, then, get started. READY, FIRE, AIM.
**Check out my 17 tips for starting a business**
Any advice for players who are transitioning to the “real world” after college?
This transition is harder than most can ever understand. As high-level athletes, we spend our entire lives committed to, focused on, and centered around this one thing, our sport, and just like that, it’s gone. We build a life and identity around being an athlete, so chances are, much like me, when it ends, you will feel like you have lost your identity. When you feel lost, scared, confused, please understand, these feelings will subside, but it is going to take some self-navigation, reflection, and awareness. When I finally made the decision to move on from sport and into the “real world,” I knew, like most athletes, there was a competitive void that I would need to fulfill inside myself to truly be happy and to stay motivated. As time passed, it suddenly dawned on me that business could do just that. As I slowly poured myself into business like I did soccer, all of those open voids slowly filled in; my spark was reignited, my purpose renewed, and my motivation activated. I no longer play the sport of soccer; I have transitioned into the sport of business.
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