Gillian Smith, Miami

In seventh grade, Gillian Smith made a seemingly insignificant choice that influenced the rest of her life: She took German to complete her middle school's language requirement. A few years later, at the age of 16, she earned her first Road Warrior stripes when she traveled solo to Germany. The trip sparked her lifelong wanderlust.

Gillian spent a year abroad during college, traveling around Europe and perfecting her language skills - and falling in love with the German man who became her husband. After graduation, she won a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Germany, an opportunity that launched her career in marketing, first with a post for Coca-Cola in Germany and then, upon her return to the United States, via a job managing media and advertising for Burger King.

She left the Business Class seats, big budgets and fast food behind in 2007 to join the nonprofit world working for Teach for America. Since 2011, Gillian has been the chief marketing officer for City Year, a nonprofit that provides full-time tutors, mentors and role models to students in high-need urban schools. She makes frequent trips from her Miami home to City Year's headquarters in Boston, as well as to 24 sites across the U.S. She believes that every child has the potential to succeed if given the right educational opportunities, and she plans to donate her winning miles to City Year.

Gillian and her husband have two sons who are mini-Road Warriors themselves: At 7 and 8 years old, they've already traveled to more than a dozen countries across four continents. In her spare time, Gillian enjoys recounting old episodes of Charlie's Angels with her sister, running many of Miami's 5Ks, waterskiing and snorkeling.

Challenge #1

Write an essay describing why you should win this year's Road Warrior Contest. And here's the rub, you need to include 10 idioms throughout your story if you know what's good for you.

*An idiom is the language or expressions used by a specific group of people. Example of idioms: We're pleased as punch that you decided to enter the 11th Annual American Way Road Warrior Contest! So, step up to the plate and give it your best shot . (Limit of 600 words or 3,000 characters).


How many road warriors exist who consciously choose to leave the corporate world behind to try their hand in the non-profit space? As a seasoned marketer for large brands (Coca-Cola and Burger King) who always had a mind and a heart for social justice, I crossed that bridge five years ago. I am currently the Chief Marketing Officer for City Year, a national education-focused non-profit that is working to improve the urban graduation pipeline. I knew when approached about the role that these opportunities come around once in a blue moon, but could not relocate to Boston from my home of Miami, Florida. As a result, I've become both a master at remote management and an insightful road warrior commuting up to our headquarters in Boston and visiting our 24 sites around the country. I've learned several lessons throughout my more recent years of heavy travel, including:

1)It is a small world (and you must be prepared). Rarely can I be on a flight or in an airport and not run into someone I know. I don't want to be caught napping (and subsequently drooling) when a former colleague recognizes me as he walks down the airplane aisle.

2)You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. If you are nice to flight attendants, gate agents and fellow passengers, they can be as sweet as pie (especially on your birthday, when your flight attendant Julie recognizes you from last week's flight to Boston and not only has all of the passengers of AA #588 sing to you, but gives you some special treatment). I once befriended a salesman for a high-end shoe company on a long-haul flight and have ended up with several free pairs of shoes. I guess I do know what it is like to walk in his shoes a bit.

3)Getting on the TSA pre-check list makes security a piece of cake. And, when you go through with your husband on vacation and you can go into the pre-check lane (and he cannot), you have the opportunity to feign superiority and make fun of him across the rows of metal detectors while he goes through the full body scan.

4)If something goes wrong with your travel plans, be it weather, mechanical, or otherwise, recognize that you and the other passengers are all in the same boat (or, uh, plane). Everyone has important reasons for their travel, and ultimately it isn't worth taking your anger out on others. You need to be flexible; don't be so fixed in your ways.

5)You learn to pinch pennies (even in travel) when you work for a non-profit. I used to have the opportunity to live a bit more high on the hog when I worked for big brands with big budgets, but knowing that I'm doing rewarding work helps to compensate for the lack of paid business class fares, even on cross-country flights. For me, it is the new "business as usual."

I might be different than the usual suspects who apply as Road Warriors, but make no bones about it - I'm as hard core a Road Warrior as they come.

PS: I once had a colleague who was known for mixing up her idioms, and said such things as "we'll burn that bridge when we come to it."

Challenge #2

Give us your 5 Warrior W's (Limit of 70 words or 350 characters for each answer):

Who are you?
(Please read as a poem in its entirety): I'm an explorer, a runner, a mother and wife

What do you do?
committed to my work to change a student's life (and alleviate strife).

Where do you go?
in Boston, LA, New York or Cleveland.

When did this lifestyle begin?
My wanderlust started a long time ago. 5 continents later and there's much more to know.

Challenge #3

Describe a typical 2-week time period in your life of flying American Airlines' routes, cities visited, miles flown, etc. (Limit of 300 words or 1,500 characters).

Friday departure for short family vacation: MIA to CUR. 1,192 miles. Ben learned to snorkel and even Alex put his face in! We saw juvenile angel fish at Playa Lagun. Sea turtles. Simply gorgeous. Tuesday return CUR to MIA. 1,192 miles. I regret I didn't purchase some of the Dutch cheese at Duty Free.

Back to work on Wednesday to visit to Boston headquarters - 1,258 miles. At least the weather is nice! Enjoying some great Italian food for dinner. I swear, just as good as in Italy. More meetings. Pick up some sushi at Logan and fly home (yeah!) Friday - from Boston - 1,258 miles. Weekend at home, relaxing at the Biltmore pool. Monday departure to LAX. 2,342 miles. Commercial shoot. Nice morning run - love the gain of 3 hours as I start the days so refreshed. Yummy Mexican food for dinner! Visit to Gompers Middle School in Watts. Amazing work City Year is doing there with students. Friday return home from LAX to MIA - 2,342 miles. Thank you LAX for the TSA pre-check! Glad I brought some See's candies home for the boys... and now a relaxing movie night at home with them.

Challenge #4

What revs your 777 engine?

Favorite snack food(s): The warmed mixed nuts, of course. Who knew warmed nuts would taste so good?

Favorite candy(s): The Carrie mangos that grow on the tree in the back of my house beat candy any day. They are sweet and melt in your mouth like butter.

Favorite grab 'n go drink(s): The cafe con leche from Versailles in the Miami airport (at one of two locations - depending on your departure gate).

Favorite smart phone app(s): Sound Hound. If I ever hear a song I don't know and love it, I need to know what it is (and then buy it)!