Juliane Leyva Gonzalez, European College of Sport Science

From skiing in diapers to juggling with logistics

As a baby Juliane Leyva Gonzalez was fitted with skis at the same time as diapers. The self-confident congress manager at the European College of Sport Science couldn’t live in a world without sport, Rob Spalding reports

RS: Ten years ago I don’t suppose you saw yourself organising congresses for the ECSS?

JLG: Oh no, I didn’t expect that at all, actually. Ten years back I was in the middle of my sport science studies focused on a very different area than organising big congresses or events. The only connection I had to a congress was working at two of them – as a hostess.

RS: The head office of ECSS is in Cologne and that’s where you live. Were you born there?

JLG: I was born and brought up in a small city close to Frankfurt. In 2003 I came to Cologne for my studies and haven’t left since, except for a 14-month work and travel year in Canada. Cologne is a very lively and friendly young city where it’s very easy to feel at home and connected. I graduated eight years ago from the German Sport University Cologne.

The ECSS head office in the University was much smaller in those days, with only two employees, and I worked there for about two years as a student assistant part time office secretary. The ECSS Office is not on campus anymore but still only a 20-minute bike ride from my home. I should say ‘our’ home since I’m married to a lovely Mexican guy who I met when we worked together at the Institute of Sport Economics and Sport Management. This is how I got my two beautiful Spanish last names.

RS: Did you specialise in any sectors of sport science before becoming an organiser?

JLG: Yes, in rehabilitation and prevention and focused on sports therapy in different sectors like orthopaedics, cardiology or neurology. When I came back from Canada in 2010 I took a part time job as a sport therapist for a neurological rehabilitation centre here in Cologne. After a year and a half I applied for a part time position as Office and Membership Manager at the ECSS. Having worked there before, I knew I would enjoy it and was excited to explore more about association life. I thought it was a perfect match of part time jobs, both very different, but in both you have to be communicative, flexible and open-minded.

RS: Then what happened?

JLG: I didn’t expect anything to develop in any specific direction, but over the last three to four years the ECSS has developed quite well and quickly – and so did I. I would say we grew together. Inevitably, I decided to take up a full time position at the ECSS and leave the rehabilitation centre. I had no doubt it was the right decision. We have an awesome team here in the office and I feel a very special part of it. I grew into the job. It is particularly satisfying that it combines my two favourite occupations – sport science and organising meetings. Now I can promote sport science all around the globe.

RS: What took you to Canada?

JLG: Skiing and curiosity! After my studies I thought it was time to explore and experience different places. You learn a lot about yourself, other people, and cultures leaving your home country for a long time just by yourself with a ski bag and a suitcase.

When I left the ECSS as a student I never thought I would end up there again. Life never goes the way you expect, so why try to plan your way?

RS: You had early hands-on experience in meetings organising?

JLG: Yes.  Back from Canada I did half a year with the Institute of Sport Economics and Sport Management and planned and coordinated the European Conference in Sport Economics at the German Sport University which was my main project there.

RS: Were you sporty as a little girl?

JLG: Oh yes, sport has always been a part of my life. My family is very sporty and active. Before I was two years old I was on skis – in diapers! Skiing is my passion and nature my playground. From the age of four gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, and tennis have become a part of my life. But a sports career was not really something I was aiming for and nor did my parents push me towards becoming a top athlete. I competed in the national championships in gymnastics and enjoyed that a lot up until I was 24, but then, as an all-round athlete, I didn’t specialise in one discipline exclusively enough to make it my career. I could not imagine a life without sports and movement and it will always be a part of my everyday routine. I’m still very active with Yoga, jogging, skiing, and surfing or riding my bike every day.

RS: What comes next? Do you expect to find yourself as CEO of ECSS some day?

JLG: I don’t know yet but I’m excited to find out. A lot of things just happened and I followed. As a junior congress manager I often come across challenges in this constantly changing huge congress and meetings industry. I’m two years into the job and there is still so much to learn, explore and experience. And with my positive attitude and open-minded character I think I will be able to cope with all the challenges that come my way.

RS: And what are those challenges at the moment?

JLG: To maintain a reasonable financial framework every year. Our congress is a huge contributor to our revenue and is held in a different destination every year, with different rates, and our registration fee has to cover all of it and more for an increasing quality and value. As congress manager I negotiate with the suppliers and am therefore able to direct our expenditures the best, most positive way.