Achievements Editor's Note Team in Training

Proud of My Blisters

20140113-113901.jpgWe did it!!

Despite my fears of being last, a recurrent neck injury and my truly messed up final month of training, Roberto and I finished our first half-marathon. Yep. I said our first because it probably won’t be our last and we are already planning to be part of the Parkway Classic in April. The blisters that emerged somewhere between miles six and eight are going to have to be popped soon to prevent real trouble, but they don’t hurt much. I’m still glowing and a bit high from our accomplishment. We had set a goal of finishing in 3 hours and 30 minutes and made it with 42 seconds to spare, crossing the finish line together.

The Team in Training inspiration dinner proved to be both funny and heartwarming, partly because one of the presenters spent a good deal of her time photo-bombing. That might sound rude, but eight year old Emily Whitehead is a survivor whose parents shared the story behind the amazing film “Fire With Fire” and the hijacked-HIV cure that Emily was the first child ever to receive. Watching Emily give her parents bunny ears while her father talked about his frustrations and fears during the process underscored the importance of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s mission of funding researchers and supporting families. Thanks to our donors and the donors before them, Emily is now a pretty normal child with an extraordinary story.

There were more immediate, selfish pleasures too. For the first time since going gluten-and-dairy free, there was something for me to eat everywhere we went with a minimum of fuss. All I had to do was ask. In fact, I even got a free lunch because my post-race pasta took longer than the kitchen felt was right.  


The weekend was not perfect by any means — in fact it was raining when we landed in Orlando and headed over to the expo to collect our race materials. I chickened out of my impulse to carry Donald Duck along for the race in the spare water bottle slot on my belt, a slot that was there because one of my water bottles went missing the night we packed. The back of my race tee wound up a bit more stylized and urban than I intended when it slid to the ground right after I decorated it with glitter glue. On race morning, I felt significantly less than 100%. Those white shorts may never be truly, perfectly white again.  But never mind perfection — there’s still a medal at the finish line no matter how much chocolate fuel you spill in your pockets.

It felt great to be part of such a huge community of volunteers, athletes and families that converged upon Walt Disney World and woke up insanely early for the sake of a race. Perhaps there’s something deeply ancient within us that calls us to achieve beyond our known limits, to challenge ourselves and give witness to the extraordinary.

Tomorrow is another day, a return to work and deadlines and the rest of life. It is also a new day, and each day forward will glow a bit brighter for me with this medal in my heart. 

Achievements Editor's Note Reflections

Jane Addams Perks Up My Friday

I had a challenging but fun and very busy week, and about three this afternoon I was ready to crawl into bed with a good book. Trouble is, everything on my nightstand at the moment is either work related or deliberately somnolent. Not the best reading for refuge.

GoogleDoodleJaneAddams Then I discovered that today’s Google Doodle honors Jane Addams. As a native to the Chicago area, I’ve known about Hull-House and many of her contributions to social justice here in this country. Only recently did I learn from the podcast Stuff You Missed in History class that she was also an author and peace activist who was so committed to her cause that the FBI investigated her and J. Edgar Hoover labeled her “the most dangerous woman in the country.” A national heroine for her work on child labor and other causes, Addams was greatly beloved until she dared to suggest that the United States should not intervene in what was inconceivably called the Great War, the war that introduced the world to the horror of chemical weapons.

The introduction to the Illinois edition of her 1906 book Newer Ideals of Peace establishes that she was thinking about peace as more than the absence of war long before other 20th century philosophers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Like him, she recognized the relationship between poverty and conflict and the dangers of a militarized society. I’m looking forward to reading Newer Ideals of Peace this weekend as the world considers what to do about the situation in Syria. It seems fitting to see what this wise Nobel Peace Laureate has to say, and how it could apply today. Maybe it’s not that supposedly scintillating novel everyone talked about all summer, but I’m looking forward to it.

English: American social reformer, Jane Addams
American social reformer, Jane Addams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Achievements Team in Training

Setting Records and Snapping Monuments

today's runkeeper screenshot with my 15:50 time
Runkeeper Screenshot

Yesterday at our Team in Training session I set a personal best, walking an average pace of 15:50/per mile — shaving nearly five minutes off my previous best time over 3 miles. When I started this quest, walking a mile in less than 16 minutes may as well have been walking on the moon. Now I’ve walked four and because this is called training, I’ll be walking a lot more. Roberto also had an awesome run; no one will be confusing us with the medal-winning Eatons but it’s great that we can share this experience.

It helps so much to have teammates, mentors and coaches encouraging us. One of the mentors will be racewalking the full Disney marathon, and today she gave me some great pointers about form and speed. She also set me on a good pace that I could maintain for most of the walk; it seemed a bit brisk at first but I got into the flow and eventually became impatient at cross walks. I’m jealous of her speed, her endurance, and her fabulous running skirts. Seriously. My walking shorts are great, but sporting fashion has improved immensely with the advent of new fabrics and smarter designs.

Today we had a turnaround route, which meant we could yell Go Team at each other from opposite directions. I snuck over to kiss Roberto when he went sailing by on the other side of the street. It was really encouraging to see other team members along the way. Our coach was waiting just past the three-mile mark and walked that last stretch with me; we met up with Roberto along the way because he was sweet enough to come back for me. That was a great help; the company and the pace they set kept me from stalling as minor workout twinges set in.

And those twinges are real, so it was doubly helpful that we had another TNT coach who talked us through the issue of stretching. She’s an expert on how people hurt themselves because she fixes them in her professional life as a physical therapist. She gave us some great dynamic stretches to get us started (including some in this video), showed us essential warm-down stretches, taught us the joys of a foam roller, and helped each team member troubleshoot particular twinges. Sometimes during my walks I get a sharp but temporary pain around my inner knee, so I got some tips about stretching my hamstring and doing some butterflies after my workout to target that.

Today I definitely feel like I accomplished something yesterday; we did our twenty-minute easy walk in the mall due to rain and then my legs announced that it was time to go home. Check out the cool pictures of our Capitol Hill route and make a donation on our team page — any amount helps!


Achievements Editor's Note

A Capella Glorious

Congrats to Caroline Shaw on her Pulitzer for music… Ashley Fetters at the Atlantic has a nice write up with some good links. A capella groups amaze me with their power, and it’s nice to see young musical talent recognized for daring, avant garde work.

I’m quite aware of the irony of writing this post about vocal music even as I skip choir practice. But my neck and shoulder pain have flared up so I’m going to spend the night stretching out kinks, and reading.

I’ll have more soon on all the female Pulitzer winners and runner ups…

Achievements Biography Scientists

Meet Mary Leakey

Google Doodle of the Day, February 6, 2013
Google Doodle of the Day, February 6, 2013

Apparently I need to bone up on my paleontology because I had no idea why the Google Doodle of the Day would feature a woman digging in the sand, pointing her trowel at footprints. A quick peek in the Doodle Gallery told me that artist Besty Bauer really cared about this person who was tremendously important for some reason, but I was still mystified. What the heck were Laetoli footprints and why were we celebrating their discovery?

I asked my husband if he had ever heard of Mary Leakey and he asked if she was related to the famous anthropologist Louis Leakey. The answer is yes, by marriage. She was a young artist with a passion for anthropology, he was a professor at Cambridge who needed a book illustrated. They fled to Africa together and married once he obtained a divorce. The rest is literally our history as a human race…

Mary’s many fossil discoveries shed light on how we evolved as a species. The Laetoli footprints strongly resemble modern human footprints and helped to establish that the ancestors of early humans learned to walk upright before their brains evolved to the present size, a matter of great debate in scientific circles. What’s more interesting is that she made so many notable discoveries as her husband’s partner while they raised three sons — in fact, their family has now dedicated three generations to the science of paleoanthropology.

I look forward to reading Virginia Morrell‘s book, Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnings, so I can learn more about this fascinating woman and her impact on our world.

Achievements Editor's Note Poetry

Happy 100th Birthday, Rosa! Have We Walked Far Enough Yet?

Several years ago, I wrote a poem called “Rings Around Rosa” which was published by poeticdiversity. It was inspired by the reading I did about Rosa Parks following her death and I offer it today in humble tribute to her:

Her casket the size of a child,
she lies in the Capitol rotunda
honored by a country that did not
welcome her quiet rebellion,
her reminder of what children
already know – that we are
all born free.

later, presidents and priests
sing her praises while children
retell her story on classroom stages
and millions weep gratefully in
their hearts for her life of courage.

She had no children of her own
but everyone needed her
for their mother,
from kings to country women:

She gave us faith
She gave us hope
She gave us love

and these three rings around Rosa
grew into pillars of freedom.

Sometimes it seems those pillars need to be shored up. Too many of our children live surrounded by poverty or violence. Too many of their parents struggle against discrimination and inequities of opportunity. Yet Rosa Parks inspired the people of Montgomery, Alabama to walk to work and school for 381 days. Her dedication and perseverance are sustenance for all of us.

Achievements Biography Editor's Note

The Lady: Patience and Persistence Win the Struggle for Justice

Today happens to be the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and so it seems appropriate to celebrate one of the fruits of his lifelong dedication to nonviolent social change. According to The Atlantic, his philosophy strongly influences Burmese member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi and she often quotes him. Her father was the commander of the Burmese Independence Army and was assassinated when she was two. Her mother was a much loved official who eventually became ambassador to India. Inspired by her parents, Aung San Suu Kyi dedicated her life to the people of Burma and spent several years under house arrest due to her activism against the military junta. Like her mother, she is affectionately called “Daw,” a title of respect, and known throughout Burma as “The Lady” due to her grace and persistence.

As her native Burma continues its slow but definite progress towards a thriving democracy, the Nobel peace laureate has used part of her recently won freedom to tour the United States. She has persevered through decades of oppression, house arrest and political struggle in the name of her people. Her opposition to the military junta is rooted in a firm belief that “democracy offers the best balance between freedom and security,” which are both essential human rights.

You can watch part of her Congressional Gold Medal acceptance speech on C-SPAN and read more about her accomplishments and recent travels on CNN.

Achievements Biography Editor's Note

A Legacy of Laughter

Phyllis Diller left our world today at the age of 95, and we are better for having laughed with her.

After several other careers, including raising five children, she became a comic in the mid-1950s on the rising edge of the feminist movement. Until Joan Rivers came along, Diller was mostly alone among the male wolves that prowled the top stages for laughs back then. She defied every rule. At a time when most comics wore suits or at the very least button down shirts, her wild costumes and outlandish wigs made a statement. She wasn’t trying to be one of the guys; she was an uber-woman despite having “two backs” and “chicken legs.” Self-deprecating and witty, she said the things many women were thinking, and laughed along with her audiences.

Boy, did she laugh.

A brilliant gag writer, she maintained a joke file better organized than many libraries. She honed her craft constantly and let the audience be the judge of a joke. If they laughed, she kept it. If not, onto another joke. Her rat-a-tat-tat delivery came with a smile and she was proud of being able to deliver twelve jokes in one minute.

She earned every laugh.

Ok, yes, she dressed like a clown and her costume had the same counter-instinctual purpose. It made the audience drop its expectations and listen. It takes a confident woman to mock herself as relentlessly as Diller did, and smart one to mock the world around her. Diller’s daft housewife comedy wasn’t necessarily social commentary but it pushed boundaries and implied that it was ok to ask questions and forget washing the windows.

Thanks to her, women like Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Whoopi Goldberg, Roseanne Barr, and Samantha Bee built their careers on being female and funny. She was known to encourage rising comics, though she never forgot that “the audience will let you know if you’re funny or not.” One of her best lines was “Aim high and you won’t shoot your foot off.”

Go ahead, laugh with her tonight. The angels are.

(Via 89.3 KPCC,

Achievements Scientists

Where is NASA’s Mohawk Girl?

I’ve been loving all the fuss about the Mars Curiosity rover. NASA and JPL have done a great job of publicizing the event given all the competing news events this week. The writers for Curiosity’s Twitter account have struck just the right mix of funny and real. They’re clearly overqualified to do late night comedy so I’m glad they’re finding an outlet between developing algorithms or conducting experiments. Like Andy Borowitz and so many other people, I’ve taken a poke at the event myself on DonBac Forever, where my husband and I maintain a public record of our married fun. For the record, he is from Tuscon, not Mars, and he believes air conditioning is a natural right.

The surprise star of the mission turns out to be flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, aka Mohawk Man. Scientists with a sense of humor and an ability to communicate are worth their weight in lutetium. Cute scientists with a sense of humor are invaluable. To Bobak’s credit he has flavored his ride on Spaceship Media Frenzy with encouragement for more people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. What he’s gotten in return are some pretty funny pictures, and a lot of marriage proposals. I hope his girlfriend has a good sense of humor too.

Of course the proposals are just jokes and teasing, but lost in all the giggles is the sad reality that Bobak doesn’t have many female coworkers. Pictures of his team feature row after row of men in powder blue t-shirts with only a the occasional woman. This jubilant video illustrates the issue:

Tara Tiger Brown has been working with JPL to compile a list of women who dare mighty things for the Mars mission, and so far the count of women in the flight room is seven. One of them is Ann Deveraux, Deputy Lead for Entry, Descent and Landing. So basically, she was totally in the middle of the Seven Minutes of Terror. I’m not sure about the hierarchy of mission control, but I’m betting she’s one of Mohawk Man’s bosses. While not quite the same media phenomenon as her creatively coiffed colleague, she has done some local television and radio interviews. She was also featured on the Women@NASA site, where she was asked about gender discrimination:

I went to school and now have worked in very male oriented disciplines (communications and electronics) and many times – even now – I can go into good sized meetings and not see another woman attending! But I’ve always considered myself to be just an engineer, and I find my male colleagues have treated me accordingly.

It’s great that a talented woman can rise to a position of responsibility at NASA and be treated fairly. The final head count of women working on the Curiosity mission will surely rise if this press conference is any example. Yet unfortunately, it seems like more women would still prefer to marry a flight director than become one. What can we do about that? I know that NASA has a Women and Girls Initiative and that Sally Ride dedicated her life to encouraging girls to consider science, technology, engineering and math careers. Let’s hope that Ann isn’t the only woman in meetings much longer.


“This is what dreams are made of, people.”

View of Niagra Falls from American side, courtesy Wiki user விஜயஷண்முகம்

Last night Nik Wallenda awed millions around the world by crossing Niagara Falls on a wire. When he arrived on the other side of the river, Canadian officials treated him like every other tourist. They asked for his passport and his purpose. From the heights of cloud nine he responded, “To inspire people around the world.”


The pictures and videos are riveting.

Wallenda first dreamt of crossing Niagra Falls on a wire when he was six and visited the site with his family, the world famous Flying Wallendas. Funambulism is the family business, so such a feat might be the natural aspiration of a boy who began learning to walk a tight rope at the age of four. Twenty-four years after seeing the falls, he’s finally done it. That was a long quest, but it’s not supposed to be easy to walk 1800 feet across an international border on a wire. At night.

A Guinness world record holder, Wallenda faced years of negotiations to change the laws in two countries in order to get permission to cross the falls. ABC was willing to fund part of the feat and broadcast it live, but required Wallenda to wear a ten pound tether that trailed behind him. Even though several members of his family have died during their high wire stunts, Wallenda doesn’t wear a tether while performing and didn’t like the idea. Yet given the choice between either wearing a tether or not crossing the wire, he stuck to his dream.

Once the stunt was arranged, Wallenda prepared himself and his equipment, including wind and water practice sessions in a parking lot to imitate possible conditions over the falls. Though he objected to the requirement for a safety harness, he trained with the tether. He worked with his uncle, an engineer, to develop pendulum anchor weights since the wire could not be supported by stabilizing cables. He chose clothing that would keep him dry and wore shoes that his mother made for him. His father served as his safety coordinator. A born-again Christian, he prayed with his wife and children before the stunt. Though the wire walk was ‘only’ expected to take 30 minutes, the physical and mental challenges were immense.

Achieving this dream meant preparation, perseverance and compromise. There’s a lesson for all of us in that. It’s not the television special or the world record that put Nik Wallenda on cloud nine Friday night. It was the culmination of working so hard and having a transcendent experience. Often we only live on the edges of life, in the safe places. We forgo the challenges for the sure thing, or we get discouraged when life takes an unexpected turn. Trapped by expectation or fear, we linger where we are instead of moving forward. We hoard our dreams instead of planting them like seeds, and then we wonder at the dearth of flowers or fruit in our lives.