Kriti: [00:00:00] Hey guys, welcome to WhyFI Matters. As, we learned about in last weekend's episode, the NCAA is finally changing their rules of making money off of "NIL - name, image, and likeness". And for college athletes around the world. This is really big news for them. And I figured now that a bunch of athletes are going to be making more money and starting to make money even off of their personal brand, it would be a really, really interesting topic for the podcast because it's the intersection of personal finance, but also being entrepreneurial and harnessing that spirit as more athletes need manage their money properly and responsibly, but also in a way, become entrepreneurs as they build and craft their personal brands. So, I'm just super excited to talk to gymnast, student athlete and entrepreneur, Leah Clapper, who's a rising senior at the University of Florida and setting at the college of journalism and communications.
Leah describes herself as a four foot eleven girl with a big personality, and I'm just super excited to talk to her. She seems really fun. And in addition to her amazing gymnastics ability, some of her videos are on YouTube and she's really good guys. Leah is the founder of "Zest and Finesse", which is a healthy food blog, dedicated to inspiring others to live a balanced lifestyle and her chia seed pudding with like pomegranate in it! It just looks so good that my goal for this week is to try and make it. I'll let you know how it is if I am able to do it. And you guys should try it to make it yourself to it. It's probably not that difficult, but I'm sure it just tastes really, really good. And it's really healthy for you. So yeah, I'm going to try to do that this week.
And in addition to her healthy food blog, she is also the host of "Zest and Progress", which she uncovered. It's a podcast. So she uncovers athletes, stories of resilience and energy, and self-confidence. She was recently featured in the wall street journal and actually last week's guest Lane Higgins interviewed her for the publication.
So I'm just super excited to learn more about her entrepreneurial endeavors and Leah's projects and how they're impacted as a result of the NCAA rule change, but also to get to know her a bit, because if you can't tell, we seem to have a lot in common besides the fact that I still can't do a Cartwheel or handstand or a somersault, even I used to when I was little but not anymore, but still. I'm just super excited and I hope you enjoy the interview.
Hi Leah, thank you so much for coming on WhyFI matters today. I am super excited to have you on the show. I reached out to you and I was actually really thrilled that you responded and you are interested. And I'm super excited to learn more about your plans now that the NCAA has allowed you to make money off of your name, image, and likeness.
And also just, you're an inspiration to a lot of us. I'm also an athlete, but I don't do gymnastics. I play tennis and you're also very like entrepreneurial. And I think I'm entrepreneurial. So it's really inspiring for me to talk to you today. So I'm excited.
Leah: [00:03:51] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on.
I'm super excited to be here and that's awesome. We have so much in common, both athletes, both have an entrepreneurial spirit and you definitely are an entrepreneur. Just have loved getting to check out your podcast and everything that you're doing, it's just totally amazing and can definitely help so many people.
And even the name of your podcast is awesome. And just the whole mission behind it and helping people achieve financial literacy and especially among teens. I think that's so awesome. As we were chatting before the pod. So excited to be here really glad that you invited me on.
Kriti: [00:04:36] Yeah. Thank you so much. So I think we can just start off, let the audience know a bit more about you, especially when you were a teen but also like balancing being a very good student and athlete at the same time and how you kind of navigated that.
Leah: [00:04:55] For sure.
So I'm 20 years old now. So I'm not far from my teen years. I still feel like I'm 12 sometimes in some ways, but I would say throughout high school, I really had two big components of my life besides eating and sleeping. And that was school and gymnastics. I would wake up, go to school for six hours, whatever it was, and then eat really quick, go to the gym for six hours.
I was training as an elite gymnast. So, it was about 30 hours a week and really lived at the gym. And I loved gymnastics, still do I'm on the University of Florida gymnastics team now. And just gymnastics played such a ginormous role in my life. I started when I was a toddler and I never looked back.
So I think it, the sport definitely shaped me into who I am today and taught me so many life skills, determinate learning from failure, just being ambitious and going after big goals. I think from a young age, I always wanted to reach the next level or get to be a college gymnast someday, which is, I'm just smiling here thinking about it because I have achieved that goal of being at college gymnast just going after those goals.
So as a teen, as I mentioned, I, was in school gymnastics, but I always love to stay busy and throughout the summers and on the weekends, I would always just have little passion projects on the side, or just doing random things. And my sister, she's a few years younger than me. We would always work together on random projects and just come up with cool stuff as I think a lot of people do. But it's a little bit about me and.
As I know you mentioned balancing my time as a student athlete. That is such an important thing. And I honestly think it just was ingrained in me from a very young age.
Kriti: [00:07:00] You didn't know anything else. I see. Yeah, no, I totally get it. And, you touched a bit on your like entrepreneurial spirit, even when you were like very little, always trying to create things.
So, I want to talk a little bit about some of your entrepreneurial ventures. So you started "zest and finesse". So do you want to like talk a little bit more about your food blog? And I was looking through your food blogs, Instagram, and I was salivating. The stuff looks really good.
Like it looks, and it's not, it doesn't look like it's Michelin star. Like it's out of reach that I can't do it too, which is what I really enjoy. Like I just have to. Channel my energy towards creating very healthy snacks for me. So can you tell us, like, why did you even start this blog?
Leah: [00:07:54] Well, I'm so happy to hear you say that and I'm so flattered, but you kind of said it. My mission is really to show that clean eating can be delicious and it can be fun and it doesn't have to be hard. You don't have to go out of your way to eat a balanced diet. And, that was the purpose from the beginning. And it really started in 2018. So I've been running my food blog for about three years now.
But it was after my senior year of high school. And I had a little extra time on my hands before I went to college and just wanted a project. And I loved experimenting in the kitchen. Me and my sister would cook things all the time, create recipes. And since I was looking for this project, I just thought, Ooh, let's start a food blog.
You know, that would be fun. A little thing to do. And, maybe I kept seeing things on social media or wherever, like ways to make money as a teen or things like that. And that has jumped out me. And blogging was, you know, at the top of every list, like start a blog, you can make money from blogging. And so that was another push to do it for sure.
But then I realized that you can't, I know we're going to talk about this later, but I quickly realized you're not allowed to have any advertisers or work with brands and get paid for things like that. If it's tied to your name, image and likeness, because that will jeopardize your NCAA eligibility as a student athlete.
So, I was about to go to college and that was like a huge no-no. But I still wanted to create this blog because I wanted to help people, you know, eat delicious and nutritious food and it was fun for me. And it just became this amazing creative outlet. And just felt good sharing the recipes that I enjoyed and learned so much along the way from like building a website and food photography too connecting with an audience and managing social media accounts and all that good stuff.
Kriti: [00:10:04] I think it's really great that you continued to do it because money wasn't like the motivation necessarily, like it was mainly to create. So I really love how you just continued and pursued that.
But I guess going into the whole NCAA thing.
So basically for the audience. I'll do a little plug in here, but go listen to the previous episode with Laine Higgins. And you can learn more about what happened in the NCAA and how they changed their rules.
Can you tell us some stories about how, because the NCAA had not changed their rules on making money off of your name, image, and likeness. Did you have to decline some of these offers from your entrepreneurial endeavors and from your work off of the mat.
Leah: [00:10:52] Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Because I knew that I couldn't have advertisers or really affiliate links. Like those could potentially be a problem, for my NCAA eligibility. And that was a priority. So priority for me was competing for the Florida Gators and being the best student athlete that I can be in this food blog product.
Was kind of a fun thing on the side, like when I have time to do it, but that said, I did spend a lot of time working on my food blog. It took many hours, like every weekend. You know what, I'm not practicing or hanging out with my friends. Like I was dedicating a lot of time, to learning about food blogging and building a online presence and listened to podcasts and reading articles and just playing around with my camera and tweaking my website and making new recipes. You know, it was hours upon hours.
And but not that many because I knew that like it wasn't going to be worth it for me to go out and try to find brand collaborations, because I couldn't do that even though everything that I heard. That's a next step in having a blog. Yeah.
Kriti: [00:12:08] You couldn't take the next step because of rules
Leah: [00:12:12] Exactly.. That was a really interesting thing.
But to give you like a concrete example, the one time I got reached out by a local sushi restaurant, last year before the rules changed and they were like, we'd love to do a collaboration, come into our restaurant. We'll give you free food and we'll pay you to make a taste test video at a restaurant.
And I was like, oh, this is something I would totally love to do. I love sushi. This sounds like so much fun. Creating content is my jam. Let's go do that, but I can't. So, I had to tell them, you know, sorry, hopefully sometime in the future and then the rules change. And that was my first brand collaboration that I've done.
And I finally got to do it and it was a great time. So yeah now starting to get my feet wet. In that NISL era and really focusing on this internship that I'm doing this summer. But in the next several weeks, my internship will be over and I'm going to put a little bit more of my energies into continuing, expanding on my business that I've created and my brands,
If you don't mind me asking what's your internship?
So I'm working with Nike this summer. I'm on a global team that sets strategy for training retail employees. So, it's been an incredible experience and I've absolutely loved it. Yeah. But it is full-time. So leaves a little bit less time for other fun things that I would like to do creating content and working on my blog and stuff like that.
Kriti: [00:13:48] That's cool.
So, last episode I interviewed Laine and in the article, which you were featured in the Wall Street Journal, which is really cool by the way, She said "the rules changes may be just as profound for athletes like Clapper, who are not household names, but whose platforms will never be bigger than when they are undergraduates". So, can you expand a little bit more on this? Cause I remember you were saying how the food blog. It's not your number one priority because your priority is being a gymnast and a student first, obviously, but now that when you are in college gymnastics, you're you said that your platform won't be as bigger, right?
So can you expand on how your food blog and what you've built on, like social media and this online presence you have, how that might actually be very helpful now that the NCAA has changed their rules on NIL.
Leah: [00:14:52] Yeah, so. Well, lots of things to unpack there. And I could probably talk about this for a long time, but, first of all, I was so honored to be here.
Interviewed by the wall street journal. That was just so cool. I can't believe that there was an article that featured me. But anyway, about that, whoa. So it's a really interesting phenomenon because a lot of people think about the big names when they think about NIL and like the quarterbacks and the star running desks, the star players.
Yeah. And so like all those players. Even some of my teammates have almost a hundred thousand followers, but and stuff like that. So there's all these popular players that have huge social media followings in the hundreds of thousands.
Kriti: [00:15:41] Yeah. I know, like I, for a gymnast, the person from UCLA named Katelyn.
Oh, I forgot her last.
Leah: [00:15:50] Ohashi.
Kriti: [00:15:51] She had probably would be like that then.
Leah: [00:15:54] Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And, the gymnast that everybody always talks about. Livy from LSU.
Kriti: [00:16:01] Yeah, LSU. I found her on my TicTok or.
Leah: [00:16:07] 4 million don't quote me on that number, but.
There are athletes out there that are, have huge followings, which is totally amazing. And people have, yeah. Have look up to them and they have these huge platforms. And so brands are totally going to want to work with them because they have huge followings and great brands and they can make a lot of money from this new rule chain throughout sponsorships, you know, just endorsements in general and brand collaborations and commercials or advertise. Do you know, there's so many possibilities. But other people like myself included are a bit more in the micro influencer space. So I personally have about 5,500 followers on Instagram right now, a few more on Tik TOK.
But it's more of a attainable follower count. And that's a huge thing right now. So many brands are interested in micro-influencers because they often have great engagement. Really interested in what they're doing and they have a niche. So with a smaller following, it might not seem like, it would really be that beneficial to create that be an influencer because you don't have these huge followings. But there's still like a market for micro influencers and building something that will not last. My gymnastics career is really important for me to like, in that quote from the wall street journal in the article, it mentioned. We have platforms that are never going to be bigger than they are now. And pretty sure I'm not going to be a professional gymnast. Most gymnast's aren't. There are some other sports like that, but you know, football, basketball, running there's opportunities to go pro, but not so much in gymnastics.
So I know that once I retire from the sport, Like relevance in the gymnastics world is going to drop off super fast. So, that being said, I need to have a brand that's going to continue to attract people and people are still going to be interested in following me both literally on social media and figuratively with what I'm doing in life.
After I'm finished with gymnastics. And so that's been a really big focus for me, um, because I know I have this platform now. It's not the hugest, but it is definitely a platform like 5,000 people. That's a lot of people, if you can visualize that, that's a lot of people that you can inspire or motivate, or just make them entertained in some way.
And that's what I want to do. And just using my platform now and making the most of it, is important, but also building something that, that will continue after gymnastics. So that's where my food blog comes in and my podcast, like people can still care about those things years from now.
Kriti: [00:19:15] Right.
Leah: [00:19:15] I don't know if I'm still going to be working on them.
We'll have to see. I, I continue to, uh, just come up with new ideas. I think that is a theme of my life, but cool. Having those things, and being able to, to capitalize on them. It's just a really cool opportunity for me. And I'm really excited about it.
Kriti: [00:19:36] For sure. I think you bring up a great point. For me personally, like tennis has been a very big part of my life, but trying to acknowledge that there's more outside of it. It's not the defining box. However, your successes, your failures in tennis is not like your worth or whatever. You have so many different other facets of your life that you can do better or you can learn more and improve in. I think that's what you're talking about and how you're kind of going through a transition where in a few years you might not be doing gymnastics and you have to build up these other parts of your life that you're very interested in, but, and it's like interesting how you're like realizing that you're more than just an athlete or whatever, you know what I mean?
Leah: [00:20:25] Yeah, exactly. And used to set it so beautifully. That was so inspiring.
Kriti: [00:20:31] I've had a talk, I, that this talk with my parents all the time. You're you're not tennis doesn't define you.
Leah: [00:20:40] for sure. And I can totally relate to that in gymnastics. Like I've been a gymnast since I was one and a half years old.
So, when I introduce myself, I'm Leah, I'm a gymnast. It becomes such a huge part of your identity. And I am not at that point yet because I have a couple more years, but I I'm sure that's going to be a challenge for me. Not being a current gymnast anymore, being a retired gymnast. When I do finish with my college gymnastics career, I love being active.
Like I'm just a workout junkie. So I'm sure, I would love to go into another sport or just staying fit in general. I always want to be an athlete. But being a gymnast is, has been such a huge thing in my life for so long that it's really. It's tough not to like, put your worth on that in gymnastics accomplishments, but branching out in my life and trying new things and just being open to other opportunities and making time for things that are not just my sport, it's so great for personal growth. I've heard so much and just branching out. I'm sure I have a lot more branching out to do, but yeah. Knowing that my worth is not my gymnastics accomplishments is so important just for mental health in general and staying confident.
Kriti: [00:22:11] And I wanted to talk about this, because obviously. Like a lot of athletes right now are prioritizing their mental health. In gymnastics, we've had some Simon Biles last week. And like in tennis, you had Naomi Osaka who did not play a bunch of tournament to prioritize her mental health. So what are your thoughts about this?
Leah: [00:22:31] Yeah. Mental health is such a huge issue in the world. Athletes are not exempt from it. And I know in my sports training, the mental aspect of it. And the mindset is such a huge, huge, huge part of your sports performance. Like if you're not at the top of your mental game, your physical isn't gonna go well. But also mental health, like your mental health is your life and your sport is your sport .
Kriti: [00:23:05] And so good points.
Leah: [00:23:07] Yeah. And as you were talking about before, your life is more than just sport. So being able to prioritize mental health is so important, I believe. And just to tie up with everything that we've been talking about. I think it's a really interesting thing to think about how these new "name, image, likeness" rules will impact mental health of college athletes and athletes in general. Amateur athletes before college, because now they're in on it too. But it's also bringing in time management because I think a huge thing. Yeah. Being a student athlete is a full-time job. Being a student is a large like portion of your week. You got to spend a lot of hours being a student. I mean, that's a given. And then you add, being an athlete on top of that 20 hours of practice, plus, you know, 10 hours of treatments and meetings and massages, which are amazing. You know, other athletic things. And then you have traveling to competitions, gymnastics. We don't travel too too much, but other sports, travel all the time and it's just being a student athlete is a ginormous time commitment.
But then you have additional opportunity that you can take advantage of to work on building your personal brand and then eventually capitalizing on your name, image, and likeness. And that can add a lot of stress.
I mean, that's just a whole another, pretty much a job that you can be taking on. And it's such an exciting opportunity, but I really believe that it's so important to prioritize your mental health in that, because.
You're struggling, then all three of those things are going to feel difficult. And I'm sure that's something that I'm already, you know, thinking, thinking about as a challenge and how am I going to prioritize my mental health through all these things that I want to do, because I want to be the best student athlete that I can be.
But I also want to take advantage of my time as an athlete and be able to build my personal brand and do entrepreneurial things. I'm building businesses and it's just a lot of time commitment. I have to think about really what is most important to me and prioritization is so important and just making sure those things that you're spending the most time on are your priorities and mental health being just wellness in general.
And for me, like eating healthy is really important. Spending time talking to my family. And obviously I stay active because of my sport, but just physical, working out, staying fit like that is number one for me, way above, making a few hundred dollars from a sponsored Instagram post.
Kriti: [00:26:12] So you're talking about how this added opportunity can poses as almost a difficulty in some cases. So do you think that all every student athlete is now pressurized to start capitalizing on NIL and start making money and growing their social media and getting all these brand deals or student athlete will have FOMO from not capitalizing on it?
Right. Or like, what do you think? Yeah.
Leah: [00:26:42] Oh, that is such a great question. And something to think about. And I mean, I can't speak for all athletes. I can only speak for myself. Um, But personally, I see it as a really amazing opportunity that I would love to take advantage of, but I can see how it's, it's not as easy as it necessarily sounds, especially when you are a, not one of those super duper well known players that has hundreds of thousands of followers. It's worked to go seek out these opportunities and I find a lot of joy in it. I think it's exciting. I think it's a challenge. I get to use the knowledge that I've learned in my classes at school, because I was an advertising major and now I'm doing my mass communication.
So like just using these things that I know and utilizing my connections. Is really fun. And I am one that just wants to make the most of every opportunity. And sometimes that means I take way too much onto my plate, but I think that saying yes to a bunch of things gives you open so many doors and then you can always go back and whittle down and decide what your priorities are really focused.
Kriti: [00:28:10] like keeping your doors open kind of. Yeah.
Leah: [00:28:14] Exactly.
Kriti: [00:28:15] I guess, because you've chosen to really go down like this NIL path or, and, um, I want to know like what kind of steps and how have you systematically and like consciously built up your brand?
Leah: [00:28:31] I think the first thing is deciding what your values are. I think that's first step in anything and it goes for. I mean, just like the theme of your podcast, it goes for any financial decision that you're making, you got to, think about your values and same thing with your brand.
So when you're building a brand or a business, you want to think about the purpose behind it and how you want it to show up to other people. And that has to be rooted in your values. Otherwise it's not going to feel true to you. So being authentic is important to me. And, so figuring out what's most important, like I care about healthy eating and.
A value of mine is having a balanced diet where I eat mostly healthy things, but also having fun foods in there and like not constricting myself and eating delicious desserts on occasion, that kind of stuff. That is a value for me. And that's something that I want to show up in my brand and that's the message that I want to give to people through my social media accounts and through my website.
And so really first step thinking about your value, same thing with my personal brand on my personal Instagram, like Leah Clapper, the gymnast. I care about enjoying the sport. I have had an amazing gymnastics experience. I grew up in a really positive environment in the gym and not everyone has that. I am very thankful for that.
And I want to show that you can enjoy the sport and still have success. And so that's one of my values. Picking your values and adapting them to how you can, um, create content and push that message out to people I think is something that you always want to consider from the beginning. And then second creating goals, setting a goal, to help you get to where you want to be. You want to find out where you want to go.
Because otherwise you're just going to be like going everywhere. I do that sometimes I'm, sometimes just like trying all these different things and whatever, not having theater direction, but having a clear direction. You can always change course. But if you have an idea of maybe this is a direction I want to go at the beginning, I was like, maybe I want to be a food blogger. I don't think I want to be a full-time food blog any more. But thinking about steps that I would have to take to get there and what's next. And then that will help you make a roadmap of what you're going to do. So for me, I w if I wanted to be a food time, full-time food blogger, maybe step one would be looking up how to start a food blog and starting to learn about that stuff.
And then step two is, you know, Starting to make a website or starting to create recipes or. Like creating that name or that Instagram handle, whatever it is. Setting those goals and then figuring out where you want to go from there. Those are my two steps.
Kriti: [00:31:44] So I want to talk a little bit more on like the personal side of the NCAA decision and like that's where financial literacy I think definitely comes into play. So, NCAA athletes like yourself, you guys can benefit from NIL, why is being financially literate right now ever so important because there's so many stories of like professional athletes, not able to handle their money. Well, and they ended up like bankrupt. Why is financial literacy just really important right now?
Leah: [00:32:20] Oh, my goodness. It's so important. And I think it's important for everybody. Of course, that's a given, you know, this. Not just the college athletes, but it just overlays everything.
And when you're trying to have some sort of income from your name, image, and like this, I mean, there's money involved. And when there's money involved, that means you have to be financially literate or things might not work out so well. And I'm so thankful for the personal finance class that I took in high school and just learning basics of personal finance and then just, I don't even know who told me, but I need to have an LLC kind of thing. Knowing how to file and create an LLC and open a business bank account. Those are the things that I did earlier this summer. Um, figuring out how I want to allocate my money and what I want to do with it when money comes in and all of that good stuff.
It's a huge part of it and something that is going to be really interesting for a lot of athletes. I think because a lot of people don't know that considering it's not necessarily something that's taught so much in schools, and this is a very specific situation. So what I'm really hoping is that, Colleges around the country create programs or courses for the athletes to learn about financial literacy.
And that's something that University of Florida is doing. I'm really thankful. That's like a webinar series about that kind of stuff. And I'm really excited to learn some things from there. I like to think I'm more financially literate than a lot of people my age. But I still know there's things that I probably don't know about and that could improve what I know.
Kriti: [00:34:19] Yeah. What would be like cool would be, like not only just teach student athlete like your sport but teach financial literacy, .
That maybe the NCAA or just colleges also implement it as part of their athletic curriculum or like part of being on the team. You have to be financially literate.