Spry is thrilled to celebrate the many successful women in the sports industry. We are proud to work with many of these men and women and can’t wait to share their stories and successes with you!
We recently had the opportunity to speak with AniSurei (Ani) Escalera. Escalera has enjoyed many accomplishments throughout her athletic career. She currently serves as the Athletic Eligibility Specialist at Mt. SAC.
Below is a summary of our conversation:
Please give me a brief history of your life/career.
“I grew up in Wilmington, CA. I was somewhat of a hyper kid who was involved in a little bit of everything. I played piano, and violin, danced, and did gymnastics. After watching the 1984 Olympics in LA, however, I was convinced I was going to become a gymnast. Like everyone else at that time, I wanted to be like Mary Lou Retton. I ended up doing gymnastics for seven years. When I was 14, I even got a special work permit to allow me to start coaching gymnastics. Eventually, I transitioned from gymnastics to competitive cheerleading. Obviously, a lot of the same skills are used in both and my goal was to go on to UCLA to be a cheerleader. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for me to attend UCLA but I did get invited to do a tryout at the University of Nebraska. I flew to Lincoln for the tryouts during my spring break and ended up being offered a scholarship to be a Yell Squad member. I was on the squad for four years and made some wonderful friends and great memories. Lincoln, Nebraska was a whole different world from Southern California, but I had a great experience there. I was even able to fulfill a lifelong dream of performing at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Nebraska was one of 20 colleges chosen to perform and that was beyond incredible.”
After graduating with a degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, Escalera moved back to California where she taught Child Development, Computer Science, and Home Economics and coached cheer at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. While at Bishop Amat, Escalera would sometimes assist the athletic secretary in anything she needed help with. It was then she began to think of looking in another direction with her career. A friend who knew the AD at Mt. SAC encouraged her to apply for a position in the athletic department that had recently become available. Escalera got the position and came to Mt. SAC, where she has remained since 2007. As the Athletic Eligibility Specialist, Escalera is responsible for overseeing the eligibility of over 700 Mt. SAC student-athletes every year.
“Eligibility is my primary responsibility, but I’ve handled a little bit of everything, from overseeing budgets to fundraising to travel, and even updating our website. A lot of these things I did not know how to do initially, but I credit my parents for always encouraging me to expand my skill set. I just love to learn new things, especially technology, and ways to make processes easier!”
What advice would you offer to aspiring young professionals?
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As women and mothers, sometimes we feel we have to do it all, but we don’t. It’s okay to ask for help when we need it.”
“If there’s something you want in life, go for it. You never know unless you try.”
Who have been your role models/mentors professionally? Personally?
“My parents have been tremendous role models for me. They instilled in me the desire to be a problem solver. Whenever I approach an issue, I always look to find a solution.”
“Professionally, Deb Blackmore, who had been at Mt. SAC for 40 years and was the Athletic Director when I began, was a great inspiration. She started several women’s programs there. She was a great role model for me, was supportive, and helped me learn. She was affectionately known as ‘Mama Deb’ because she was such a helpful presence to me and treated me like family.”
Debbie Cavion was another professional mentor. She also helped guide me. Whenever I had questions, she was there to lead me and teach me how to find solutions.
“I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my current AD, Joe Jennum. He’s been incredibly supportive of me as well and has encouraged me to keep pushing forward in my career.”
What’s something you’d love to do that might surprise people?
“I’ve always wanted to be a Laker girl. I also would have loved to be on Broadway. I went to see Hamilton live and thought, ‘it would be really cool to do that’.
What Does Women’s History Month Mean to You?
“It’s a time to celebrate the stories of all the wonderful women who have overcome and succeeded. As a double minority, I’m very aware of all the obstacles that exist. That is why we have to celebrate all these stories of success.”
Ani Escalera once had dreams of winning Olympic medals. For the past two decades, however, she has been doing work that is worth its weight in gold by teaching and inspiring a generation of students. She continues to be an inspiration to many and for this reason, Spry is proud to honor her as part of our Women’s History Month celebration!