5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Joined the NWHL, With Bray Ketchum
“Celebrate the good days. Take a moment to celebrate the successes in life, whether they’re in business or sports. Many people are too quick to move on to the next objective. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, especially in the fast moving startup culture, but as a team we’ve really tried to collectively take a minute to savor and appreciate the big and small wins.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bray Ketchum from the plant-based nutrition brand Upwild. Bray is also a professional women’s hockey player for the Metropolitan Riveters. Bray just finished her fourth season with the Riveters, who just recently won the Isobel Cup in the playoffs finals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Growing up in a family of five siblings meant that my three brothers were always getting their sisters to fill in spots on their driveway street hockey team. I quickly fell in love with the game, and at six years old found my way to the ice rink. I went on to play Division 1 college hockey at Yale before getting the opportunity to play professionally. The National Women’s Hockey league was founded three years ago and it is the first professional women’s ice hockey league to pay its players — a breakthrough for women’s hockey. The league started with four teams and I was drafted to play for the NY Riveters (now the Metropolitan Riveters). During my professional career with the Riveters, I have worked for SoulCycle, Chelsea Piers and as a substitute teacher. For the past two seasons, I’ve been working full-time for Upwild, a plant-based nutrition company founded by my brother Dylan. Upwild’s main product is a line of organic plant-based protein shakes sold in retail stores around Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as direct-to-consumer online. I’m involved in many parts of the business, but my focus is on sales, distribution and partnerships.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your sports career?
One of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had was playing hockey in Japan. The NY Riveters traveled there during our first season because our goalie Nana Fujimoto was on the Japanese National Team. It was incredible to explore different cities and to learn more about Japanese culture. The food was so delicious and playing internationally was an experience I’ll never forget.
One of the funniest and most embarrassing stories of my NWHL career happened at a NY Rangers game that I was attending with my teammates from the Riveters. During the game, the announcers started talking about our team and they broadcasted us on the jumbotron. Normally, that would have been great, except we were all happily stuffing our faces and photographing our food for social media, completely oblivious to the fact that we were on TV! The embarrassment set in when we all started receiving texts with photos of us from friends and family who had caught the whole scene on TV.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Most days at Upwild are fun, exciting and interesting since we are such a new company, but one project that we are very excited about is a new line of products. I can’t give out any secrets, but stay tuned for more updates at www.drinkupwild.com!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’ve had some wonderful teammates over the years and many of them are some of my closest friends today. The hockey community is really special. Although it might seem big at times, it is an incredibly close, tight-knit sport.
One person that has had a lasting impact on my life is Mandi Schwartz. She was a teammate and close friend of mine at Yale. In April 2011, she passed away after a 3 year battle with leukemia. She was one of the most selfless and hardworking teammates I’ve ever had. She was also an amazing friend. I now wear her number, 17, in her honor. Her legacy lives on through the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Go for it! If you have a passion, continue doing it. One of my childhood coaches always said to me, “You don’t want to have any regrets when you’re done. Keep doing what you love for as long as you can.” I always told myself that as long as I was having fun playing this sport, I would keep going.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Coaching young girls and talking to our fans after games always brings me the greatest joy. To hear those little girls telling you, “I want to be like you one day and play in the NWHL” is a very humbling experiences. We all play because we love the game, but more importantly, we play to inspire future generations to pursue their dreams.
Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
My parents. I have them to thank for all my successes. I can probably count on one hand the games that they’ve missed during my career. I am so grateful for their support and dedication. They sacrificed a lot for me and my other siblings who also played sports, and with five kids, that’s a lot of games!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I would have to say the one from my childhood coach that I said earlier. “You don’t want to have any regrets when you’re done. Keep doing what you love for as long as you can.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)
1. Look for the silver lining. In athletics, business and life, there are going to be failures, but some of the best lessons come from those bad days. I’ve learned that if you persevere through the tough times you’ll grow a lot. When I’ve changed my mindset and looked at those failures as opportunities to grow it has totally shifted the way I’ve experienced them.
2. Nothing will come easy. In today’s world of instant rewards, people expect things to come quickly and easily. Achieving life goals takes grit, determination and patience. I learned that both in my hockey career, but also in starting Upwild.
3. Celebrate the good days. Take a moment to celebrate the successes in life, whether they’re in business or sports. Many people are too quick to move on to the next objective. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, especially in the fast moving startup culture, but as a team we’ve really tried to collectively take a minute to savor and appreciate the big and small wins.
4. Share ideas, collaborate and keep an open mind. As siblings, Dylan and I have a very close relationship and we’re really comfortable being honest and open with one another. This is critical for any team. We also appreciate the differences in life and work experience that each of us brings to the table and constantly try to learn from one another.
5. Find good mentors. Upwild was our first experience in the beverage business so reaching out to industry veterans early on helped us avoid many pitfalls and mistakes of people who had done it all before. While we still made our fair share of mistakes, it was really helpful to have mentors to help us navigate those challenges.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. :-)
I would love to meet Serena Williams. She has reached the pinnacle of her sport and has been role model for me throughout my career. She really embodies the attributes of competitiveness, grit and sportsmanship that I try to bring to my game.