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Life and Work with Katey Connell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katey Connell.

Katey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
This is a story about why my favorite thing to do is to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. Because that is where growth happens, and that is where you truly can become alive. I grew up in Northern California in a town near Lake Tahoe. I am extremely close to my family and we spent the weekends hiking, camping, snow skiing and learning new moves on the wakeboard. I was involved in musical theater and dance, so you could always find me on stage or in front of a microphone (little did I know this was foreshadowing my public speaking skills for later on in life). I came to San Diego when I was 18 for school, and chose SDSU because it looked pretty. I never put the two and two together that it was located 10 minutes from my childhood dream job, as I always figured I’d move back to be near my family after I graduated. During my sophomore year of college, it was time to put down the party scene and get a part-time job, so without hesitation, I applied to be an educator at SeaWorld San Diego. I’ll never forget my 19th birthday when I received a phone call in the kitchen of my sorority house, a phone call that changed my life forever. “Katey, we would like to offer you the position as Educator 3.” I am not a crier (or at last back then I wasn’t), but I had to grab the Kleenex box. I couldn’t believe that me, the girl who had every t-shirt and cardboard poster of whales and dolphins on the wall of her childhood bedroom, was going to work at SeaWorld! I couldn’t wait to tell my elementary school mates who laughed from age 4-17 when I kept telling them I’m going to be a dolphin trainer when I grow up. Who told me no, you cannot do that.

Now, this wasn’t a dolphin training position. It was far from it. But I’ll never forget orientation when I first stepped foot onto the ground of the infamous park. There – a dolphin, a sea lion, a whale, right before my eyes! And I was getting paid for this. I spent the next three years finishing school and working as a narrator at all the animal areas, telling people to take their hands out of the water, and counseling camp groups, aka yelling at kids to stop running in the park. This park and my co-workers started to become my family. My parents kept nudging me to start looking for “real jobs.” “Katey, what are you really going to do with your life?” This was a question I was constantly being asked, but it always seemed so silly to me. “I’m going to be a dolphin trainer. Duh.”

After I graduated with a degree in Sustainable Tourism Management, it was no question to me that I was going to continue to pursue the title of SeaWorld Dolphin Trainer. That to me right there, that thought, that mindset, NEVER changed, and I had NEVER questioned it. To me, there was no other option. I never asked myself the “what if” questions. To me, I saw life as an opportunity for everyone, and if I could breathe, think, and was alive, then any human job that requires a living soul, was obtainable. Period. It never made sense to me that other people in this world questioned that. And no- I didn’t have a million dollars, and no, my parents didn’t buy my way into a job, and no, I didn’t have connections anywhere. All I had was a mindset. A mindset without the thought of failure, a mindset with no roadblocks or boundaries or second thoughts or pressures from society. I did my research for what it takes to become a dolphin trainer and grabbed an internship in Kahala, Oahu.

After working there for four months, I moved back to California and interned for the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program in San Diego. This wasn’t paid so I worked a second job at the local animal hospital in Ocean Beach. Finally, a position opened up back at Sea World where I did Pelican Rescue and worked on the Animal Ambassador Team. Finally, my resume was built up enough to apply for ‘the swim test.’ This was my 3rd time taking this rigorous test in the cold pool during the winter season, and I finally passed. I got a seasonal position working with Swim with the Dolphin Programs other encounters. I didn’t get hired on full time that summer and I thought about giving up and becoming a ski instructor in Lake Tahoe, giving up all of my San Diego dreams. But that is not who I am. I am known as a dreamer, a go-getter, and a believer in life. So, obviously, I tried out again the next year and landed a full-time dolphin trainer job at the dolphin stadium in 2014. “I did it,” I told myself. I landed my dream job. It IS possible, what they say in all of those children’s books. Dreams DO come true! I spent the next six years of my life devoted to my animals, living the dream every single day, getting paid to swim with dolphins, perform in shows, use my public speaking skills, and educate others about sea life and conservation. It was truly a dream.

I turned 29 years old and started to realize my dreams and priorities were changing. I wanted to spend more time with family and friends and finally be home for the holidays and attend weekend weddings. I started to think about what my other dreams in life are. I had always wanted to be a fitness instructor, motivate and encourage others, and to get involved in health and nutrition. These passions led me to my next venture- to become all of those things! First, I decided to get certified to become a group fitness instructor, leading students through a class called Yoga Sculpt. Here, I started to get in touch with my gifts of motivational speaking and pushing people to be their best selves. Words of encouragement just started coming out of my mouth during classes that I never would plan out. I started to realize that when I want something bad enough, I go and make it happen. No questions asked.

Then, in March 2018, my entire life started to fall apart.

It all started when my roommate moved away and I needed a new place to live. In a panic, I took the first thing that came my way. I moved in with someone who 100 of my friends told me not to live me. Naive little me who thinks she can be friends with anyone, ignored all of the red flags and took the room. During this time, my car got stolen, a relationship crumbled, my wallet was stolen, my health took a downhill turn, I moved to a lonely studio apartment, and two of my grandparents had just passed. I was feeling pretty low. I knew I needed a change and started looking for other jobs and places to live outside of San Diego, which made no sense to me because where else would I surf? During all of this confusion, I thought it would be a good idea to mask my chaotic life and emotions with an online dating app. (Way to go, me.) (Major sarcastic tone there.) I ended up meeting an incredible man, at the worst time in my life. My friends were right about the bad roommate, and after a few scary events, I needed to move out ASAP.

Without thinking, I moved in with that boy while I waited for another room to open up. What seemed like a good idea at the time, couldn’t have been a worse one. My car finally died and I sold it for cash in a dark alley. The stress of not having a car or a home turned my gut-related health into a terrible condition that I ignored for way too long. I was living out of a suitcase also, wearing wrinkled clothes and trying to show up best for this man who was putting me up. One day, I walked into work hyperventilating, not able to breathe, and found myself on the floor of the locker room with my SeaWorld wetsuit halfway up. I realized right then and there my entire life was falling apart, and I was scared. I didn’t even recognize myself in the mirror. Where was the positive, optimistic, beautiful, happy, cheerful Katey that I once knew? It got worse and I found myself sleeping on friend’s couches and air mattresses and Ubering to work and back. That week, that boyfriend broke my heart. I had never felt so alone like I had finally lost everything in life. I literally had nothing, or at least it felt like it. My depression started to spiral downhill. Have you ever hit rock bottom, then realized that wasn’t rock bottom yet? I started to sink down deep. I lost all faith in the world and started thinking about suicide. I finally understood why people do it. The world in my eyes just didn’t make sense anymore, and getting out of bed started to become a chore. I decided I was finished. It’s too hard to keep going. Then, one day, I woke up, and realized, this DOESN’T have to be my story. This ISN’T me who I know. God change my direction and gave me enough strength to start getting out of bed. It all starts with making one decision at a time. I started applying for jobs. I started substitute teaching to see if I liked it. I started seeing a doctor. I started breathing again. Then, I started to make the next big decision that would alter my life for the better.

I left SeaWorld San Diego after 10 years. This was the hardest goodbye, but I’ve never felt more clear on a decision. I was offered a full-time position to work at one of the top health and wellness companies in San Diego, soon to be the world. I couldn’t believe it. It was one year later, March 2019. It all started to make sense. My story, I learned, happened for a reason. Not only did it make me stronger, not only did it make me grow, but it made me realize I am stronger than I think because I chose not to give up. My story has allowed me to be able to relate with so many other men and women of the world who question their life, their purpose, and their path. Who have also looked at themselves in the mirror and thought “this isn’t me.” I knew it. I KNEW this wasn’t how my story was supposed to end! I started looking at life as if every day was a new day. As if God wanted me to understand how other people feel- to empathize with them, to become relatable, to tap into the one thing that has always been in me- a gift of encouragement.

Since starting my new job, everything else started to fall into place. I live in a beautiful home with incredible women. I drive a new car. I teach Yoga Sculpt at San Diego’s #1 voted yoga studio. I am excelling in my career, with promotions and raises consistently in my direction. I am closer to my friends and family and spend more time with them on my newly found weekends. I am getting my health and stress in order. Every single thing in my life is different, all for the better. All because I didn’t give up. All because I decided to change my story. But, most importantly, I am different. No, not different. I am back to me. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me I’m GLOWING lately. Not because I put any special thing on my face. But because I am finally feeling like I am Katey again, the Katey God created me to be! A few months ago, my new CEO asked me what my parents and close friends have said in all of this, and I told him they all say “Katey is back.” He retold this tear-jerking story to my company during a quarterly meeting recently, making it all come full-circle to me. It was at that moment that I felt alive, and at that moment, I knew it all had a purpose.

As I am continuing to excel at life (in the most humble way), I want to use my story to show others who are struggling with how to fully become alive. I founded the IG account: ‘be.come.alive’. I’m not sure where this will lead, but all I know is I want to create a space for people who don’t believe in themselves, and who need a little bit of encouragement in their life. I want to use my passion for movement and create bootcamp workout events that will lead to motivational speaking. I want to create a movement called “The Airplane Mode Movement,” where people can use their phone for photos only and actually create a deep community. I want to bring back photo albums you put on a coffee table instead of posting them for the world to see. I want to use my God-given talents to change the world, one positive thought at a time.

Has it been a smooth road?
Heck. No. But I guess that’s why they say smooth seas don’t make a good sailor. I struggled with so many people telling me I could never become a dolphin trainer. I struggled with so many rejections when I kept applying for dolphin training jobs all over the world. I struggled to pay rent while I worked unpaid internships to follow my dream. Then, I struggled to move towards my next dream. There was always a struggle and will always be one in the future, but life isn’t about the struggle. It is about how you get up from it. I always found myself getting stronger, realizing you get to make any decision you want when it comes down to it. You can literally create your own path, no matter what people tell you. My struggle is what has gotten me here, and I couldn’t be happier. Advice? Stop telling yourself you can’t. When you put your head on your pillow at night, it’s just you, and no one else. You get to make your decisions, so make some good ones. Most importantly, make scary ones. It’s the scary ones that get you to your goals.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with be.come.alive – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Recently, I learned you should have three funnels of income (shoutout to the Angie Lee Show for teaching me this). So, I work in the health and wellness world at one of Forbes Magazine’s top workplaces, Organifi, where I am on a mission with the rest of my company to unite the world through health and happiness. Outside of my 9-5, I use my talents to teach Yoga Sculpt at Yoga Box, where I specialize in physical growth and mental growth. I am known for creating what some of my students call “the Katey experience.” In my classes, you move, dance, sweat, and get pushed to become your best self, on and off the mat. My most recent accomplishment is my launch of “be.come.alive”! As a life and mindset coach, I am on a mission to tell others that they are enough and to teach people they have the power in themselves to fully become alive. I am going to change the world through “the airplane mode movement,” where I will set the course to stop negative comparison on social media. What sets me apart from the rest? Me. I am the only strawberry blonde, happy, energetic Katey in the world, and that is enough.

Who have you been inspired by?
Where do I begin? My Mom. She has always believed in me. She told me I can do anything, and even when she was scared, she kept her fears to herself and let me fly. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for her unconditional love. My friend Tori. She has been with me on my journey for the past eight years, and I owe a lot of my dreamy life to her. She has told me to always go for it, even when I wasn’t promised a good ending. She has taught me that singing Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ at the top of your lungs can heal any bad day. My friend Kristina. She constantly tells me how much she believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself. My friend Maria. She’s a badass boss lady herself, and she has taught me that I am worth it.

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Image Credit:
Jordan Younis

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