Category: Get Inspired

Keila Merino Runs Across America

This past Sunday, the New York Times ran a great article about Keila Merino, a fourth grade teacher who also runs ultramarathons. While she clocked great times in high school and ran her first marathon in college, Merino hit her stride (quite literally) when she started smashing longer distances. While she dropped out of her first 100 mile race at mile 8, she returned with a vengeance the following year and won the Great New York 100 in 21 hours. (The 2015 running of this race just happened last weekend.)

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Photo credit: Joseph Vigar. Image courtesy of Keila Merino

This summer, Merino’s gunning for a bigger challenge: she’s running across the United States. Starting July 2, she’ll clock miles from Los Angeles, California, back home to the Bronx, New York. But in addition to simply achieving this goal, she’s got records to break. In 1978, South African ultramarathoner Mavis Hutchinson set the trans-American running record with a time of 69 days, 2 hours and 40 minutes.

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Image courtesy of Keila Merino

In addition to her impressive goal, Merino’s also running for a worthy cause. As she logs miles, she’ll also raise money for Back on My Feet NYC, a non-profit organization that promotes self-sufficiency through running for the city’s homeless population. Anne Mahlum founded the organization in 2007, but it has since expanded from its flagship Philadelphia chapter to 11 cities across the United States. Merino wants to to establish a women’s shelter with the money she collects.

As she treks across the States, show Keila some love! Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to track her progress and send some inspiration. If you’re able, make a donation to Back on My Feet and help support her dream of bringing a new women’s shelter to NYC.

Badass Bodies: Women’s World Cup 2015

We’re riding a sports wave over at LC: from gritty marathon runners to inspirational yoga instructors, these awesome women make us want to push harder. In honor of Saturday’s Women’s World Cup kickoff, we take a look back at the history of women playing the beautiful game: soccer.

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Image courtesy of CNN

Although it was not formally acknowledged at the time, women have been playing soccer since the English Football Association standardized the game’s rules in 1863. In 1920, two women’s teams in Liverpool played in front of a crowd of over 50,000; threatened by the popularity of the game, the EFA banned women’s teams from practicing on the same fields as men’s teams. After other European states founded women’s teams, England finally lifted the practice ban in 1971, a year before the United States passed Title IX calling for equal funding for women’s sports.

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While the inaugural men’s World Cup took place in 1930, women waited to participate until 1991. At the time, FIFA president João de Havelange organized the tournament with twelve qualifying teams instead of the men’s 24. But women’s soccer grew more popular, the rounds eventually expanded to support a 24-team structure. Just because women’s teams were allowed to play didn’t mean the path to the tournament was the same as men’s teams. When former striker Marieanne Spacey earned a spot on England’s 1995 team, she had to scramble to cover her shifts at her job. It’s doubtful that Cristiano Ronaldo has the same problem.

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Image courtesy of CNN

Frustratingly, it seems that no women’s competition can exist without scrutiny. In 1999, after scoring a cup-winning penalty kick against China’s goalie, American defender Brandi Chastain took off her jersey and waved it about in celebration. While male soccer players perform this gesture on a regular basis, the media didn’t know what to do with a woman “stripping down” in public. (Guys, she was wearing a sports bra.) Perhaps this time, it will come as less of a shock when a woman celebrates a fantastic athletic achievement like a boss.

Best of luck to Cameroon,  Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Australia, China, Japan, Korea Republic, Thailand, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, New Zealand, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States as they battle it out for the ultimate prize. Check back with FIFA.com for all the stats, scores, and updates.

 

 

 

Badass Bodies: Jessamyn Stanley’s Love for Yoga

Google images of “yoga teacher” and you’ll see society’s narrow interpretation of the term: lots of fit looking white women wearing tight yoga pants smiling tranquilly as they bend into boat pose. Never mind that the practice itself developed in India during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE or that Western versions typically dilute the original blend of physical, mental, and spiritual practice down to a slim-centric fitness routine. With the history and goals of the practice stripped away, people frequently associate yoga with what Lululemon’s CEO preaches: a means for white, thin women to maintain their figures.

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Image courtesy of Jessamyn Stanley

As a curvy, black yogi, Jessamyn Stanley defies the yoga teacher stereotype. But don’t get it twisted: if you take a class with her, she will wear you out on the mat. The Durham, North Carolina-based teacher admits that when she tried Bikram yoga at age 16, she utterly hated it. But as a graduate student, she returned to the practice and decided to give it a second try. Without the pressures of teen angst distracting her, Stanley was able to throw herself into the sequence and left feeling exhausted and content. Since then, she’s incorporated Bikram-style poses with other forms of yoga to develop her own style.  In her classes, Stanley encourages students to be themselves, experiment with the poses, and try new modifications without fear of failure or criticism.

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Image courtesy of Jessamyn Stanley

In spite of her body-accepting style, people constantly ask her, “Will I lose weight through yoga?” In Stanley’s opinion, losing weight does not naturally equate good health. She explains that, while weight loss may occur, she chooses to focus on how students feel rather than the number on the scale. Stanley adds, ” used to suffer from near constant mild lower back pain- this pain is essentially nonexistent now. Also, I have much better muscle definition, stamina, endurance, and my breathing has improved dramatically. Not to mention that my mental clarity has improved greatly, and my mood shifts (which used to be a little unpredictable) are much more stable.”

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Image courtesy of Jessamyn Stanley

Want to take a class with Jessamyn? You don’t have to trek down to Durham this summer; she and her friend Dana are gearing up for a fall tour. If you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, check the photo above for upcoming tour dates and be sure to follow her on social media for future updates.

Bouncing Back: Creating Jobs and Second Chances

Difficult times are inherent to the human experience. It’s impossible to live a full life without wrestling with some kind of tragedy: the loss of a family member or friend or coping with a physical illness are both incredible common traumas that tend to leave the affected feeling isolated. Yet, with a strong support network, it’s possible to recover. But some life experiences carry accompanying stigmas that make it more challenging to bounce back. Histories of incarceration, substance abuse, or homelessness create additional barriers for women seeking to gain employment and reintegrate back into their communities.

Fortunately, organizations like Road Twenty-Two recognize that every person has a story and seeks to listen instead of judge women about their pasts. Fif Ghobadian and Alice Larkin Cahan started the San Francisco-based company as a way to empower women in their community. As a child, Ghobadian learned the power of a second chance when, at age 15, she and her family fled Iran after the fall of the shah. She watched her father lose confidence in himself as employers snubbed him.

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Photo courtesy of Road Twenty-Two

Today, Ghobadian and Cahan channel that empathy into creating opportunities to women looking for a second chance. The company gets its name from the road that leads to Central California Women’s Facility, California’s largest all-women prison. Ultimately, Road Twenty-Two hopes to help women transition from the prison system to sustainable full-time employment and safe housing. The company is not only transparent about its products (all items are sourced and made in the USA), but it also encourages employees to share their stories. Kimberly, pictured above, lost her son to an act of gun violence and turned to selling drugs as a way to make ends meet. Eventually, she was arrested and incarcerated. But when she was released, Kimberly began working with Road Twenty-Two. Today, she has a steady job and a place of her own.

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Photo courtesy of Road Twenty-Two

Kerrigan’s path to Road Twenty-Two was also paved with hardship. As a teen with little supervision, Kerrigan delved into drugs and alcohol and, at age 15, ended up on the streets. But during this dark period, she embraced her love of graffiti and visual arts.  Today, she works as an in-house designer for the company; the logos on the tee shirts are her own designs.

In addition to ready-to-wear jewelry and tee shirts, the company also worked on commission to create tote bags and custom tees for the 2015 Democratic National Convention. Check them out on the web, pick up a shirt if you can, and follow them on social media to keep tabs on their progress. Big thanks to Monty for  telling me about these amazing women!

Label Launch: Citizen’s Mark

With a background in diplomacy, Citizen’s Mark CEO Cynthia Salim understands the importance of women’s professional wear. As a management consultant for the United Nations, Salim found it difficult to find fashion forward and ethically sourced pieces. Instead of lowering her standards, she raised the bar and developed her own line. After establishing its headquarters in WeWork’s Madison Avenue co-working space, the brand is proud to announce its launch.

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Image courtesy of Citizen’s Mark

Salim officially founded Citizen’s Mark in January 2015, but the careful planning, relationship building and execution took over two years. Salim and her team collaborated with craftsman and factories to develop a workflow and product that was fashionable, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable for the workers who produced it. Ultimately, Salim created a garment for women making moves that helped the people who crafted it rise, too.

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Image courtesy of Citizen’s Mark

A major tenant of the company’s philosophy is transparency. From Italian wool to upcycled Nepali horn buttons, Citizen’s Mark commits to using fairly trade materials. The Portuguese workers who sew the garments earn a living wage and receive health coverage and additional benefits from local business partnerships. At the beginning of May, the team traveled to Portugal to shoot a forthcoming video highlighting the factory’s daily workflow and the people who make it possible.

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Image courtesy of Citizen’s Mark

This Thursday, May 21st, Citizen’s Mark celebrates the premiere of its first collection, a line of meticulously structured blazers in four distinct colors. Salim and her team love meeting their customers, so they’ve organized a party at Impact Hub New York. Space is still available but going fast, so RSVP today and get in on the ground floor.

Alarm Call: Björk’s “Songlines” at MoMA

Last week, I impulsively took the day off and went to the Museum of Modern Art. Back in high school, I fell hard for Björk’s musical and visual aesthetic. I played all of her albums on repeat, crafted my own DIY tee shirts in her image, and subjected countless party-goers to her remixes regardless of the crowd’s taste. When her retrospective at the MoMA debuted in March, I tried to keep an open, review-free mind.

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However, this goal was nearly impossible to achieve. Media outlets ripped the exhibit to shreds from the start, billing it as “a box-office-driven carnival” and the harbinger of curator Klaus Biesenbach’s professional downfall. Opting for spectacle over artistry, MoMA’s presentation left reviewers gravely disappointed and wanting more. It speaks to Björk’s experimentation and constant reinvention that each reviewer insists the onus lies on MoMA and not the artist herself.

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So perhaps it wasn’t surprising to note that people also neglected the “experience” portion of the exhibit in favor of selfies and digestible GoPro moments. “Songlines” is divided into seven small rooms, each dedicated to one of Björk’s albums. Upon entry, each patron receives a queued-up audio tour to guide them through at a given pace. The tour intersperses a campy mythology about “a girl and her heart” with snippets of Björk’s music. In total, the whole tour is supposed to take 40 minutes.

Yet as I slowly made my way through the rooms, I couldn’t help but notice how people completely bypassed the instructions and ran right through. Granted, I agree with the reviewers: there simply aren’t many objects to look at. But as I rode waves of flashbacks with every track, the patrons surrounding me plowed right by. Swan dress? Check. One woman, in her attempt to take a photo with plaster Björk, nearly knocked the bell dress right over. While the exhibit was intended to be more of a meditation on her music, the predominate patron behavior seems to capture, compartmentalize, and move on.

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A large part of the problem stems from the exhibits inability to communicate its own relevance. For longtime fans like myself, the answer is obvious, but why should newcomers care about Björk? As I left the music video retrospective, a 17 year-old turned to her mother and said, “That was weird.” No argument there; “Pagan Poetry” is a bit disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. But the video portion is perhaps the best part because it’s the only time Björk’s work speaks for itself. The visual portion and subsequent tour feels ripped out of context and unable to justify itself. Maybe it’s the very lack of cohesion and narrative that led patrons to treat it like a commodity instead of an experience. In the future, MoMA might consider focusing on an artist’s creative process to teach patrons something new instead of rehashing cultural touchstones of the past.

Print Inspiration: The Great Discontent

Every day, in so many ways, we sabotage ourselves and others. Maybe we rationalize sleeping in instead of exercising before work. Or perhaps we convince our partners to skip working on a project and opt for an evening of wine and Netflix. The short term satisfaction may feel like a relief, but over time, an ignored goal surfaces in the form of guilt, boredom, or, in Tina and Ryan Essmaker’s case, a great discontent.

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Tina and Ryan Essmaker. Photo courtesy of Mailchimp.

Early in their careers, the Essmakers lived in Port Huron, Michigan, a predominantly blue-color town outside of Detroit. Ryan, a self-taught web designer, worked as a technical writer while Tina spent 12 years in social work. Over the course of their marriage, the two fell into a routine of coming home and vegging out after work. But five years in, they decided they needed a change. Feeling stifled by the lack of creative community in the area, they embarked on a project to build one virtually. In 2011, the pair drafted a series of interview questions centered around the theme of “risk” and propositioned creative folks they admired. And with that, The Great Discontent (named for their professional and creative frustrations) was born.

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The Great Discontent, Issue 2. 

Over time, the project changed the Essmakers and inspired them to take leaps of their own. After they converted their apartment into a studio work space, they spent their post-work hours hammering away at the project. A quick trip to New York left them smitten with the city and, after Ryan received a job offer from design firm Crush, prompted a move to New York. One and a half years later, when they still felt that nagging goal itch, the Essmakers took the biggest risk of all. Committing to bringing TGD to life in print form, they launched a Kickstarter and dedicated all their time to the the project.

But, as they explain in an episode of the podcast Design Matters, the road from proposal to print was incredibly difficult and stressful. After a stellar 72 hours, the campaign lagged. During this self-proclaimed “desert walk” period, the Essmakers had little confidence that they would reach their financial goal. But on the last day of the campaign, the total squeaked across the line and gave TGD the green light for publication.

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Tavi Gevison. Photo courtesy of The Great Discontent.

 

Thank goodness, because these interviews are incredible. From Roanne Adams starting her own studio to Tavi Gevinson’s teen blogging days and Elle Luna’s 100 Days Project, the magazine delivers introspective long-form interviews in a beautifully designed format. Each intimate profile illustrates the challenges and payoffs that come with risk-taking both personally and professionally. They serve as a reminder that even people with established career paths continue to get nervous, experience failure, and reevaluate their game plans. But, as Tina’s mentor always reminded her, it’s important to “run towards the roar.” In spite of any fears and hang-ups, progress only happens after a leap.

From those early days of financial anxiety, it appear that TGD has made significant progress. With Mailchimp as a financial backer, the Essmakers plan to publish four issues of TGD in the coming year. Snag yourself a copy and add their digital version to your blog queue for periodic updates.

Amy Dixon’s Vision

After Sunday’s Los Angeles Marathon, I’m a slow moving vehicle. Physically, my calves and hamstrings are shredded, making going down stairs a dreadful process. (My apologies to the people behind me who need to get on the subway.) But to some degree, there’s also a great deal of mental recovery that needs to happen. Running a marathon takes a tremendous amount of concentration and focus. As I ticked off each mile, I looked ahead to see the next marker in the distance. This visual cue helped me compartmentalize each mile and allowed me to bargain with myself: “just keep moving to the next water station.”

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Photo courtesy of Amy Dixon

But what if you couldn’t see those markers up ahead? Triathlete Amy Dixon does not have the luxury of these visual cues. At age 22, Dixon was studying pharmacy and working as a sommelier when a rare eye disease took 97% of her sight. Ultimately, the loss of sight forced Dixon to give up her studies. But over time, Dixon sharpened her senses to focus her attention and tune out distractions. Through this practice, she improved her skills as a sommelier.

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Photo courtesy of Amy Dixon

In addition, this tremendous focus lent itself to triathlon training. Eager to shed weight gain caused by chemotherapy and steroid treatments, Dixon embraced her childhood love of swimming and hopped back in the pool. Over time, she added cycling and running to her skill set. After a guide noticed her workouts and encouraged her to compete, she signed up for her first race. 18 months later, Dixon is an unstoppable force on the course. Last year, she placed second at the USA Paratriathlon National Championships. Ultimately, she hopes to make the Olympic team in 2016.

On race day, she doesn’t go it alone. Pilot Lindsey Cook brakes, steers and shifts the tandem bike while Dixon provides power from the back. Most recently, she started racing with her friend and fellow paratriathlete Colonel Patty Collins. As a colonel in the Army, Collins lost her leg as a result of a cycling accident. The pair completed the NYC Triathlon together last summer. No matter the race, her guide dog, Elvis, is always waiting for her at the finish line.

But while Dixon races with friends, the cumulative expenses of elite triathlon training, fall squarely on her shoulders. Currently, Dixon rides a borrowed bike that doesn’t fit her; purchasing an elite bike that fits will set her back $15,000. On average, Ironman triathlons cost about $1,000, and when she travels, she must book accommodation both her and her guide. All together, a weekend of racing costs roughly $1,500; in order to earn enough points to qualify for the Olympic team, she competes about eight times a year. With no outside funding, Dixon foots the bill herself, but she could use a little help. If you’re able to help, consider donating to her racing fund and keep an eye out as she competes her way to Rio.

Ladies Run LA

Early Sunday morning,the 30th running of the LA marathon ushered crazy, driven runners from LA’s city center to the ocean.  In addition to the elite competitors, there was also an amazing crew of legacy runners and plenty of first timers. While talking to strangers makes me nervous, I decided to push myself and ask some folks about their marathon plans. My efforts paid off because these women are fantastic.

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First I met up with Arlene, Carolyn, Christine, and Cheri. These LA-based ladies run with SoCal Pacers out in Chino Hills. Training went well and now they’re looking to have a blast on Sunday. I apologize to them because, in addition to getting incredibly nervous when I talk to new people (see shaky photo above), I was also wrestling with a new dictation app. Thank you for being so wonderful!

Then I ran into Lorraine and Denise. Both of them were born and raised in LA, but the marathon allows them to appreciate their city in a new way. In 1987, Lorraine staffed a water booth around mile 18. She remembers how the wheelchair athletes made a huge impression on her. “One girl had cerebral palsy and she was at mile 19. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, if she can do it, I can do it, too!'” Lorraine ran her first marathon in 1988 and dedicated the race to her first grandchild.

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Denise also had a conversion experience when she staffed a marathon water station with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. She recalls seeing people that she knew go by and she started following along on the route. But before long, she figured, “If we’re walking this thing, we might as well do it!” And do it they did: 2015 marks Lorraine’s 6th running of the marathon.  Sunday was Denise’s 21st year running the race; she and her daughter run it together.

Huge congrats to all the runners for braving the heat and kicking butt. If I’m able to post on Wednesday, you’ll know I survived it, too!

Oakland’s Radical Brownies

Last year, the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and too many others black men featured prominently in the media. While instances of police killing people of color happen all too frequently, the proceedings following these deaths coupled with the non-indictment of the officers led to intense conversations about racism, police brutality, accountability and the fight for justice. Although most of the conversations occurred between adults, children observe the news but rarely have an outlet to express their opinions.

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Radical Brownies. Photo courtesy of The Guardian

For the Radical Brownies, it’s never too early to start the conversation. Based in Oakland, California, the group provides a safe space for girls ages 8-12 to discuss these complex issues. Drawing on the region’s rich tradition of activism, Radical Brownies pay homage to the Black Panthers’ history of community activism by engaging in Black Lives Matter marches and participating in sustainable agriculture initiatives.

Radical Brownies Chat with Co-founders Marilyn Hollinquest & Anayvette Martinez from Renee Marchol on Vimeo

Founders Marilyn Hollinquest and Anyavette Martinez recognize that while children may not have the life experience of adults, they are capable of being empowered and creating social change. The pair developed a curriculum designed to spark conversations about gender roles, LGBT acceptance and the media’s narrow depiction of beauty.

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Radical Brownies. Photo courtesy of Radical Brownies

While the group garnered over 10,000 Facebook followers, the Radical Brownies also received their fair share of criticism. Haters are always going to hate, and this particular faction expressed fear that this “Marxist group” brainwashes its members. But in a world where the media oversimplifies so many complex issues and whitewashes whole swathes of history, I feel as though Radical Brownies serves as a holistic counterpoint. After all, adults tend to forget how perceptive children are. If you’re old enough to experience racism and sexism, shouldn’t you have the opportunity to talk about it? Sometimes the very experience of finding the language to express how you feel can be a transformative experience.

As a volunteer-run group, Radical Brownies could always use a little help; that’s why we’re making them our March donation recipient. Visit their site to see how you can support their efforts.