Meet the Women of the Year honoree who helped bring World Cup, NFL Draft to Kansas City

Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait on GEHA field at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait on GEHA field at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kathy Nelson is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program launched in 2022 as a continuation of Women of the Century, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.

Alongside a group of FIFA executives observing World Cup operations in Qatar, Kathy Nelson was eager.

The president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission was a key figure in securing her Midwest city's 2026 host bid, but Nelson had yet to truly experience the cultural and logistical magnitude of the world's foremost sporting event.

An intimate five-day World Cup experience in November was an eye-opener.

"The energy and the passion was so intense. The scale of it was like nothing I have ever seen," Nelson said of the Qatar visit. "It was great to see so many people of different languages speaking to each other in the name of soccer. It's a little nerve-racking and exciting to think (Kansas City) will be one of the host sites."

Nelson, a former veteran TV journalist who made the move to the Kansas City nonprofit in 2010, has helped spearhead some of the city's most prominent sporting events, including the 2023 NFL Draft in April.

Helping bring the World Cup to Kansas City — one of the North America's 16 host sites in 2026 — is the latest crowning achievement for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

Nelson's fervor for public service, Kansas City and the Midwest is palpable. For her accomplishments, Nelson has been named USA TODAY's Women of the Year honoree from Missouri.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait in the locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait in the locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.

What’s your definition of courage?

Courage, to me, is not being afraid of failure. Courage in my role is not being afraid to fail publicly. We didn't know we would be afforded the World Cup when we hosted a very public (selection show) watch party. I think that was courageous because Kansas City may not have been selected, and we were prepared to fail.

What is your mantra?

Tennis star Billie Jean King had a saying "Pressure is a privilege", and it's something I think about every day. Whether it's the pressure of being a leader, pressure of being a mom, pressure of working with elected officials or making sure our interns have the best possible experience, I embrace it. You have to approach pressure this way or it will crush you.

Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait in the locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait in the locker room at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Is there anything from your career you’re most proud of?

I would love to say bringing the World Cup and NFL Draft to Kansas City, hosting multiple NCAA events and keeping the Big 12 (conference basketball tournament) here long term. But I'd like to think it's the team I built around me. I have some of the most talented people in the industry that I consider my work family and that's what makes our city shine.

Who inspires you?

My mother. She had a very active professional career, as did my father, and that wasn't always common when I was young. I was taught there was no work-life balance, but work-life integration, because they never missed a school event or game of my mine. I never felt like I missed out because my parents were at work, so I have really taken that to heart.

How do you approach adverse situations?

There's a book called "Champions Adjust" that I like. There are certain things that in life that aren't going to go our way and we're going to miss out on, or fall flat. We have to have a mindset that champions adjust, and that we'll get through it, and tomorrow is another day.

Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kathy Nelson poses for a portrait at Arrowhead Stadium on March 13, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Any advice you’d give your younger self?

Look at each day as a chance to lead and a chance to learn. Looking back I may have taken some of that for granted, but I certainly apply it today.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: She brought NFL Draft, World Cup to Kansas City. USA TODAY noticed.