Heather Lyke: The sporty type
Eastern Michigan AD built her career on strong foundation rooted in athletics.
By Amy Lynch, NCAA.org, 9-13-16
On Sept. 13, 2016, the NCAA website featured Eastern Michigan University Vice President/Director of Athletics Heather Lyke on a special section called NCAA After the Game™. The area celebrates the success of former student-athletes who, like you, have achieved success after college. To view the complete story written by Amy Lynch, click here
Heather Lyke may have been destined for a career in sports. Now leading a Division I athletics program at Eastern Michigan University, she gained years of preparation earlier that positioned her for success in her life's work.
Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, Lyke grew up in a town that lives and breathes athletics, especially when it comes to rooting for the home teams.
"They really followed and kept track of high school sports," she said. "It was and is a very athletically minded community."
Lyke's dad, Jerry, owned an investment advising company; her mom, Marilyn, is a retired assistant superintendent of schools. Both parents, as well as her older brother, Trevor, were college athletes, which inspired and influenced Lyke at a young age to pursue her interest in sports.
"I swam and played tennis competitively as a young kid," she recalled. "When I got into school sports, I realized how much I enjoyed being part of a team."
Lyke found herself in a tough spot when it came time to consider colleges, as she was being recruited by volleyball, basketball and softball teams. Deciding which sport to pursue, and which school to attend, boiled down to several factors.
"I was looking for the best combination of academics and athletics that I could get as a young woman," she said.
While the University of Michigan was relatively close to home and the quality of the institution impressed Lyke, the opportunity to play for Wolverine softball coach Carol Hutchins was what clinched the deal.
"It was a phenomenal experience," Lyke remembered. "As a coach, Hutch made me a better player and a better person, and what I enjoyed most was being in an environment of such great expectation."
After earning a bachelor's degree in education in 1992, Lyke went on to attend the University of Akron School of Law, receiving a law degree in 1995 in the hopes of distinguishing herself in the job market.
"After my first summer in law school, I clerked in a firm and realized it wasn't really what I wanted to do," she admitted. "So I started researching potential opportunities to work in college sports."
Lyke landed a yearlong postgraduate internship at the NCAA national office in Overland Park, Kansas (before its relocation to Indianapolis), working in the enforcement and student-athlete reinstatement department.
"I was so excited because I knew it was an opportunity I was going to love and was passionate about," she said.
In 1996, Lyke joined the University of Cincinnati as assistant athletics director for compliance. A 15-year stint in a progression of roles at The Ohio State University followed, culminating in an executive position that entrusted her with overseeing 10 of the school's 36 athletics programs, along with the responsibility for assessing, designing and developing the athletics department's strategic plan.
Contributing to yet another facet of sports, she provided softball color commentary for the Big Ten Network from 2009 to 2012.
Opportunity came knocking again, and in August 2013, Lyke accepted an offer to serve as the vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics at Eastern Michigan University, the first woman to hold the position. Her duties include steering one of the most comprehensive and successful athletics programs in the Mid-American Conference.
Lyke credits her college sports participation at the University of Michigan with instilling a profound respect for the challenges student-athletes and coaches face today.
"I can appreciate the demands of academics, athletics and personal life, and what our students are going through every day to balance them," she said. "And I understand the pressure that college coaches are under to build a program and sustain success."
Even today, Lyke still relies upon lessons she learned as a student-athlete.
"Discipline, accountability, the ability to work as a team member, the capacity to respond and adapt to adversity when things don't go perfectly are all traits you pick up as an athlete," she explained.
Lyke urges current student-athletes to work hard, not just on the field or in the arena, but at building meaningful connections.
"It's tremendously important to connect with your team, and also to have broad-based experiences and relationships with other people," she said. "Life is all about balance, and you're probably not going to be an athlete your whole life. Get to know the people in your department who do so much to provide you with a great experience – faculty and staff members."
Lyke can attest that relationships and personal connections are what provide her the greatest professional fulfillment.
"To me, it's all about the people in your organization you have an opportunity to make an impact with," she said. "Maya Angelou said, 'People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.' I want to make people feel connected. Success is doing something better today than you did yesterday, and how you do that is through your relationships with other people."