Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Do Women Athletes Have to be Celebrities?

Jill Smoller, the head of the Sports/Entertainment Division at the William Morris Agency took some heat today at a lunch hosted by the Wellesley Centers for Women on the topic of Women and Sports. She talked about the need for women athletes (unlike male athletes) also to be celebrities, if they are to garner the attention necessary to get the much sought-after endorsements, which are many athletes primary livelihoods. The example she used was one of her own top-knotch clients, Serena Williams, who, she says, needs to get out in the media for much more than her tennis skills, if she is going to be noticed and command the attention (and sponsorship) that she does.

Serena's soon-to-be-announced new sponsor?--OPI. Yes, I mean the nail polish company. Serena, known for her long nails on the court, engaged in a specific strategy to highlight her personal affection for a good manicure to woo that sponsor. And Jill Smoller (who, one imagines, was instrumental in that media strategy) says that's exactly how it needs to be for women. She pointed out that corporate America (aka the sponsors) still requires that women athletes be attractive and feminine.

There was an audible rumble in the room. But as others astutely pointed out, let's not be too quick to blame corporate America, because until we women start to value women athletes more (by going to their games, by demanding more women's sports coverage, by holding out for Nike basketball shoes that are named for a woman basketball star and not a man, and by generally valuing a broader range of athletic women), then there's no reason for corporate America to change.

We have market power. We just aren't using it! Why not?

This called to mind an article I once read about a union organizer who continued to shop at WalMart, though that act went against all his union politics (Walmart being quite renowned for its union busting and oppressive supplier policies). Why did he do it? Because shopping at WalMart was easy and cheap.

Indeed. It's a lot easier to accept the status quo, than it is to change things, especially if changing things means personal, though possibly temporary, deprivation (as in, I won't buy Nike products because the company doesn't support women athletes at the same level it does male athletes; or, I'm going to a WNBA game by myself, instead of the usual NBA game with my boyfriend/husband/partner/lover/father/brother/etc...because he won't come to the women's game with me).

Instead of rumbling at Jill Smoller's possibly incendiary comments, let's make change!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Running in Africa

Of late you may have noticed a theme about trying new's one more--my partner and I have decided, somewhat spontaneously (aka precipitously and at the last minute) to join a fundraising run and hike in Kenya and Tanzania. We are embarking on this adventure to promote AIDS awareness and raise funds to build the first and largest, public children’s hospital in Sub Saharan Africa; a continent where child mortality is a modern day atrocity we need to address.

Starting on November 21st (yes, I do mean in a month!), we are going to join Toby Tanser, CEO and Founder of Shoe4Africa and our long-time friend Rodney Cutler (who we met through running more than 15 years ago), on a run from Mombasa to the base of Kilimanjaro (200 miles in 6 days), and from there hike up that mountain.

Shoe4Africa is a fantastic organization, committed not only to building this children’s hospital in Kenya, but also to the empowerment of African women, as the key to the future. Indeed!

I would be deeply honoured if you would sponsor us in this undertaking, and contribute to this important Shoe4Africa initiative.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sumo For Girls...

In an interesting twist of fate, at the same moment that women are fighting to get ski jumping approved as an Olympic sport for us (NY Benefit to raise money for the campaign is tomorrow night!)--it being the last male-only bastion in the Olympic games--Sumo wrestling is making a bid to become an Olympic sport. The rub--new sports are not allowed in unless they have men's and women's competitions. (Ski jumping was "grandfathered," and therefore not subject to that now-rule.) So...the International Sumo Federation has put its weight behind women's sumo wrestling--not the usual bedfellows. Here's more from the New York Times today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Invisible Skin

A grey morning and my first great run since August (who knows if it really was--but in my mind and body, that's what it felt like). Shorts and a long sleeve shirt pulled halfway over my hands, my favourite combination. The morning damp and cool, but once I shake off the shivers and get going, I'm encased in my invisible heat skin--that gorgeous warm envelope that develops during a good workout on a chill morning. And inside, energy reserves that feel deep and solid. A rare morning. I take note.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Moving Kind of Girl

I think of myself as a "moving kind of girl," to quote Lois, a woman I interviewed for Run Like a Girl (which, by the way, is moving along nicely toward its pub date of March 2011--yippee). To that end, as you know, I've been exploring new "moving" possibilities, some alternative ways to stir the blood around and, hopefully, get a little stronger for my first loves (and yes, I do mean that to be plural--I am not a monogamous athlete)--running, cycling, xc skiing and more.

This line of "research" has led me to quite a few fitness classes, some of which you've heard about already. There's more--my research is becoming exhaustive, if not plain exhausting. Added to the list are: Zumba and Pole Dancing. Yes. I have just owned up to taking a pole dancing class.

So, research results are...

First, pole dancing. Not for me. I'm not saying it's not a workout--it certainly can be. There's no doubt that pursued diligently, it will lengthen and strengthen. But how strange it felt to be dedicating my workout to learning moves for the Bada-Bing Club, or whatever the strip club on the Sopranos was called. As I understand it, the workout should make me feel more sexy. Not in my case (though I will not speak for other women's experience on this topic). Quite the opposite in fact. I felt like I was training myself to be even more of an object than society already imposes on women.

What the workout did do was force me to ask myself what made me feel sexy? Running fast, check. Blowing off a group of guys on the bike, check. High heels, check. Rubbing my crotch again a pole, not so much. Good things to know.

Who we are is how we move--I need to move in the ways that define me, not the way men's fantasies define.

Next fitness class adventure was Zumba--a mish mash of latin dances, which are fitness-class-ified.

The pros: I love dancing. Latin dance is especially fun. Causes spontaneous smiling. The tunes are groovy.

The cons: A gym is still a gym (it's just not my thing, as hard as I try, there's something about the smell). Hybridizing dance and workout adulterates both and improves neither. Reminded me how "stiff" I am (as in, in the middle of a workout should I really be thinking to myself--this would be better after a glass of wine?).

So, sadly, I didn't find my new BFF workout in either of these alternatives.

But I did remember how fun dancing was (note to self, must seek out dancing opportunities); and once again came face to face with the question of what makes me feel good and feel good about myself.

ps. I ran the morning after the Zumba class, and the crisping autumn air, the trees on the verge of turning and the gorgeous feeling of my legs carrying me along filled me with an enormous sense of pleasure and belonging.

Not that it's a surprise, but sometimes the biggest benefit of trying new things, is the all important reminder of how much we love the old things. What keeps life interesting is the constant dance of balance between staying open to possibility, and being true to ourselves. Sometimes the latter can mask staleness and rigidity--"Oh, I know I wouldn't like..." And sometimes the former can mask insecurity or fuzziness--"Everyone else is doing it, I should do it." But what do you really want?

Know who you are and do what you are. And know that may change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mary Carillo Won't Ask About Nails or Hemlines

I saw Mary Carillo speak at a WISE breakfast. No TV weather bunny, she defines smart, straight talking. Listening to her speak is like standing in a brisk breeze--refreshing and invigorating. Two things she talked about particularly struck me.

One--she's lived her life very much following the first rule of improv--always say "yes." (A rule I learned recently in an acting class I decided to take on a whim.) When asked why she had done such an incredibly wide range of broadcasting, Mary answered, "Because I say yes!"

Note to self--the right answer is "yes."

The second thing I loved was her attitude on women's sports. She detests, for example, that women tennis players, but not men, are now allowed to be coached mid-game. Worse still, a lot of those coaches are the players' "daddy." "The men don't do that," Mary says. (And can you even imagine some male tennis player's mother getting in on his game?) "A lot of the women tennis players need to take their sport more seriously. We only have our athletic bodies for so long. We ought to use them to the fullest while we can. I am not going ask Serena about her nails or hemlines. I want her to play more tennis!"

Oh yes.

If we don't take ourselves seriously, why should others?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Olympic Equality--the fight continues

Ski jumping is the only discipline in the Summer and Winter Games in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not allow women to compete.

The rationales?
1) The field isn't deep enough. Lame--the field will get deeper once it's an olympic sport. Opportunities to engage in a sport are necessary to build it's base (as I'm sure most of the other sports in the Olympics have proven).
2) Ski jumping might shake up our delicate "woman parts." Whatever--because men don't have any delicate parts? No need to say more.
3) Because women, being naturally lighter, might actually give men a run for their money in the sport. True--but not a reason the IOC gives, of course.

What can we do to change this situation?

Well, for starters we can attend the Join the Journey benefit next Thursday night, October 21, in New York to raise money and awareness for the campaign to get ski jumping into the Olympics.

Cool--a thing we can actually do to advance women's sports.

espnW and Walt Whitman

It's all over women's sports news, and that's the point of course--why do we need a women-dedicated sports media outlet? I'll let Laura Gentile (of espnW) answer with her opening remarks from the recent retreat espnW hosted with for a star studded group of women who love sports.

And, in case you don't have time to read her remarks, I just had to pull out this stanza she quoted from Walt Whitman's, Leaves of Grass, predicting the coming of a race of "fierce and athletic girls," who:

"Are not one jot less than I am,
They are tann'd in the face by suns and blowing winds,
Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,
They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle,
Shoot, run, strike,
Retreat, advance, resist,
Defend themselves,
They are ultimate in their own right -
They are calm, clear, well-possess'd of themselves."

We are ultimate in our own right--indeed!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why do we workout?

I've been feeling burned out--long summer of training for a long race.

I need a change, probably temporary, but a break from the usual running, biking etc. regime.

Looking for the fresh, I tried a new workout yesterday morning. It's called the Nalini method--but elsewhere in NYC (and, I gather, LA and other like locales) a similar workout is variously called Physique 57 (which I tried this morning) or Core Fusion. The workout is billed as a combination of yoga, pilates, barre work (i.e. ballet), strength and resistance training, with, it seems to me, some boot camp thrown in. All this will make me longer and leaner--I wish.

Or do I really? Is that even why I workout?

I'm not usually a class person (so is it really the change I'm resisting?), except for yoga, but somehow that doesn't feel like a "class" in the same way. The yoga I traditionally take focuses on alignment and calming the mind. For me, yoga is simultaneously energizing and soothing. So is running, and biking, and hiking, and swimming, and cross country skiing and so on.

So is that why I workout? To soothe and calm?

Or is it to be outside, rain, snow or shine? Or maybe to be strong, to test my mental and physical endurance? To forestall aging? So I can eat chocolate cake?

Or maybe it's to do something special, that I think other people can't do?

Then I get knotted up worrying that some of those reasons are vain, or arrogant, or delusional.

Until I remember the reason of reasons--joy. Too much thinking is going on, and not enough feeling. I need to stop wondering "why" and feel the answer. Do my Eckhart Tolle, Power of Now, scan of my physical-emotional being and ask, am I happy? Do I feel pleasure in my very fibers?

Then I have my answer--for me, the joys of owning this body are in all the things we do together (my body and I, that is), the places we can go together--to the little red lighthouse on a morning run, to ride over a mountain pass, to swim in a lake, to explore a new city. The sheer pleasure of propelling my body through space is what I want from my sports in the end. The other night coming home alone, after dinner with a friend, I was overtaken by a rush of profound happiness, the air was heavy,pre-rainstorm air, and the damp sidewalks shimmered, I started running--I'm sure I looked silly in my platform boots and velvet pants, handbag gripped awkwardly to my shoulder, but it felt oh so good, I didn't care.

So will I stick with these classes? I don't know yet. But I know that answer is connected to whether they will be of benefit in my sports. Will my hamstring attachments stop their constant complaints? Will I run more easily? Will I feel stronger on my bike or my skis?

I'll give it a Tolle feel, while I nurse my sore muscles.