Champions Among Us

By Steve Lamb, Elizabeth McCann and Elvia Valenzuela

We’ve all heard about them: elite athletes pushing the boundaries of their sports, achieving things most of us have only ever seen on TV.

Like all of us, those athletes have a story and, while no two stories are the same, they tend to have some similar themes — discipline, dedication, pride and passion, to name a few.

Those qualities transfer well to the workplace and, fortunately for Northrop Grumman, these elite athletes make just as good of colleagues as they do teammates. Below are the stories of four athletes who you may find on your next Teams call.

male catching football

Winning On and Off the Field: Derrick

There is more than one way to be a champion — just ask Northrop Grumman engineer Derrick.

For Derrick, his Division I football career was more about hitting the books than hitting his opponents.

“One of my main things was excelling off the field. I had football accolades in terms of MVPs and championships, but I pride myself the most on making the All-Academic Team,” he said.

That honor — which he achieved three times while pursuing a double major in electrical and computer engineering at Merrimack College — placed Derrick among the athletic and academic elite of the Northeast Conference, a small group of players with the highest grades. To say that it took discipline is an understatement.

“Playing college football, you’re waking up at 5 a.m. to run and lift. Doing that for four years helped me apply discipline to a lot of other places in my life,” said Derrick. “Whether it’s eating healthy, studying for school or handling an unexpected assignment at work, you just do it — no excuses.”

At Northrop Grumman, Derrick is a field programmable gate array design engineer who enjoys the challenge of work that is constantly evolving. And, harkening back to his football days, it’s the team culture that keeps him motivated.

“What really gets me going is knowing that I’m helping my team in a major way,” said Derrick. “My work impacts getting our warfighters home safely.”

women kick boxing

Engineer by Day, Atomweight Champion by Night: Janet

Three years ago, Janet felt a rush of emotions standing in the center of the ring, hearing her name announced as the new Atomweight Kickboxing World Champion.

“It was surreal. Never in a million years would I have envisioned myself winning a championship title,” said Janet, a Northrop Grumman systems engineer.

In college, Janet was searching for a fun, active lifestyle. She eventually found herself taking kickboxing and Muay Thai classes and that’s where her journey began.

“I love the ability to express creativity in movement. Through the challenges I face physically and mentally, to master techniques while under pressure in competition, I learn what I’m capable of,” said Janet.

Her view on life — both inside and outside of the ring — changed once she started competing in both kickboxing and Muay Thai. Janet developed an adaptable mindset, helping her excel both as a professional athlete and an employee.

“I experienced many ups and downs in the ring, but never let failure define me,” said Janet, recalling that, when she first competed for the Atomweight Kickboxing World Champion title, she lost. “I use failure as a springboard to find another approach. It’s your choice on how to perceive your challenge — as a stressor or an opportunity to improve.”

Janet has held several titles in her sport — including the Atomweight Kickboxing World Champion and the Atomweight Interim Muay Thai World Champion — and most recently competed in ONE Fight Night 8 in Singapore.

Ultramarathon Man: Bryce

male with mask on covered in snow

On January 30, Bryce entered the frozen forests of northeast Minnesota to test his limits as an endurance athlete. Fifty-five hours and 29 minutes later, he emerged on the other side, successfully completing Arrowhead 135 — one of the most grueling races in the world. The race is a 135-mile trek through snowy terrain where temperatures plunge to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The hard part was staying awake for two and a half days,” Bryce said. “A few times, I felt myself wander, but the snow off the trail was deeper which woke me up.”

A retired U.S. Navy rescue swimmer who joined the company in 2018, Bryce manages system documentation and product training teams for Northrop Grumman in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Bryce started running in high school for fun. His work in the Navy forced him to push himself physically and build endurance, and his training led him to try competitive distance running. In addition to many marathons, Bryce has completed five full IRONMAN triathlons, competed in the IRONMAN World Championships and finished 10 races with a distance of 100 miles or more. Arrowhead 135 was his longest foot race.

Bryce likes the “old school” nature of long distance running — the simple, stripped-down nature of the sport — and the supportive community of fellow runners.

“Whether you’re first or last, everyone is cheering you on and making sure you’re okay,” said Bryce. “Even the first-place finisher waits at the finish line for everyone to finish. I fell in love with that.”

Bryce enjoys the humbling challenge of endurance competition and credits a positive attitude to success on the trail. That approach helps at work, too.

“It takes a growth mentality to be successful in all aspects in life,” he said. “Knowing how to handle the unexpected and maintain the discipline it takes to see solutions through is so important.”

Representing Family and Culture: Kristina

Kristina stood at the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship opening ceremony in a traditional Puerto Rican bomba y plena dress, carrying the island’s flag. It was the fulfillment of a family dream spoken by her late father many years earlier.

women playing lacross

“What if Puerto Rico had a national team someday?” he had asked her. “And what if you were its captain?”

Her mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico, passing the culture and Spanish language to Kristina; growing up, their family spent several months on the island each year. Her father was an accomplished lacrosse player who introduced her to the sport when she was in kindergarten.

“I love how fast-paced lacrosse is, and I enjoy the team aspect — being a teammate, a leader, a support to those around you,” said Kristina.

Playing throughout high school, college and at the national level, Kristina learned the importance of time management in achieving balance. That skill has been invaluable to her as a human resources project analyst at Northrop Grumman, where no two days are the same and multiple requests compete for her time.

“Prioritization is one of the biggest things that I bring to my job — learning what the true priorities are and reprioritizing as other requests come up,” said Kristina.

When that chance to play for Puerto Rico finally came, Kristina was already retired from competition — but she said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate both sides of her family.

The World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship returns in 2026 and Kristina won’t rule out a return to competition. Until then, she’ll continue playing recreationally and visiting Puerto Rico to help grow the sport there.

woman in blue clean suit

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