Madyson Smith, 31, took a winding path to her job as chief revenue officer of the Chattanooga Football Club.
As a kid, she never played soccer -- in fact, she was a soccer skeptic.
"I hated soccer growing up," says Smith, a former professional ballet dancer. "I did not understand it. I was like, 'Why are they just kicking a ball around?' It was not my favorite thing to watch."
Now, Smith not only has an important leadership role with CFC, but she is also become a passionate soccer fan. She and her husband, Justin -- besides being CFC fans -- are co-leaders of the local fan club of Liverpool F.C. of the Premier League, the top-tier soccer league in England.
"Needless to say soccer is ingrained in everything I do now," Smith said.
Appointed CRO in March, Smith is charged with finding new revenue streams for CFC, a professional team associated with the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), a Division III American soccer league. Previously, she had been director of corporate sponsorships for the club.
"(Now) I oversee all ticketing, merchandise and partnerships for CFC," Smith says. "I manage the revenue team, and (explore) how we can grow the club."
For the first two decades of her life, Smith had two main passions: dancing and pageantry. Her first love was dancing, and she dreamed of being a principal ballerina at one of the world's best dance companies. By age 12, she was traveling alone doing ballet training in places such as Nashville, Boston and Connecticut.
"Every summer I would spend the whole summer training with a company or conservatory," she said in an interview at Finley Stadium. "Ballet was my focal point.
"(My parents) would fly me up and made sure I was good to go. ... I was independent starting at a very young age."
As she reached her middle teen years, Smith became involved in the Miss Tennessee Outstanding Teen pageant -- winning the competition twice, partly on the strength of her prodigious dancing talent. A few years later she competed in the Miss Tennessee pageant, finishing in the top 15 twice and making friends along the way.
If her dance training had made her independent and somewhat isolated socially, pageantry opened up a new world.
"It was the the beginning of having women friendships that were empowering," she says.
At age 22, Smith experienced a family tragedy that would change her life. Her father, D.J. Foster, who operated a family-owned auto parts store in Cleveland, died after a short illness. Smith says she and her father were extremely close and his death put her into an emotional tailspin for awhile.
She had danced professionally in Tennessee and Alabama, but after her father's death she had to set aside those aspirations to help support her family. Once she began her emotional recovery, she got into non-profit work, holding development positions at Junior Achievement of Chattanooga and later at the area Girl Scouts council.
When the CFC director of corporate sponsorships job opened up in 2021, Smith jumped at the opportunity to work with a professional sports team that has always been identified with public service.
"We give back to the community," Smith says.
Smith said CFC leadership is excited about a renewed sponsorship deal with Volkswagen that will bring members of U.S. national teams to Chattanooga for youth clinics. Also, the club's relationship with Finley Stadium is strong and durable, she said.
Meanwhile, even at the relatively young age of 31, Smith can look back on her life so far and see how events have shaped her character and made her more resilient.
"Failures and hardships are what make us human," she says.
* Job: Chief Revenue Officer, Chattanooga Football Club
* Hometown: Cleveland, Tennessee
* Age: 31
* Education: Birmingham Southern University and Mercy Hurst College (Erie, Pa.)
* Family: Husband, Justin