It’s well known that I love running and have been an athlete all of my life. I rarely let the weather keep me from getting out, even the extreme weather we have here in Central Texas. I ran the Hill Country half marathon in Marble Falls during our first bout of cold weather back in October. It has been a season of major shifts in the weather, with highs getting up to the 80s just a few days ago. We are currently in the middle of a cold snap that will take us down into the 20s tomorrow (with a windchill into the teens). Our current weather brings back memories of my days running track in Spokane, WA for the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups. There was many a track meet where the temps could be in the 30s, or 40s. We learned to adjust to the weather back then, wearing heavy sweats when necessary. My first year at Stanford was lovely…until I went home to Spokane for Christmas. It was one of the coldest I could remember, temps in the 20s when I arrived, and down to negative 20s after a few days. I finally was able to get out and run when it warmed up to the teens. There was lots of snow on the ground, but I managed to make it a few miles. I wore a scarf over my face to avoid breathing in too much cold air. I was very happy to get back to California after that holiday. I have lived in many places with a variety of climates, but Austin’s has certainly been the most changeable. In a few months the temps will start heading back into the 80s and 90s and we’ll be back to the sweaty and muggy running days that I have learned to love. I love to run, and have managed to figure out how to do it in all kinds of weather. Running gear has evolved to the point where you can stay warm without having to put on heavy layers, and for those hot days, they can wick away much of the sweat. As a shop-a-holic, I love shopping for new running clothes and checking out the latest fabrics. So an advantage to living in Austin is that I get to try out gear for all types of weather! It has been said so many different ways, “making lemonade out of lemons” etc…its all about making the best of your current situation and keeping a positive attitude. I find that running helps me keep my positive outlook on life, and when I’m feeling down, it helps pick me up, regardless of the weather. Whatever you do, the main point is to stick with it. There are so many benefits to exercise, going way beyond the physical benefits. And when I really can’t get outside, I have all kinds of activities I can do, from Zumba on the XBox, to jump rope, even hula hoop! I do crossfit a few times a week, since I’m a firm believer in strength training as cross training. So whatever you enjoy doing, don’t let the weather get you down. Treat yourself to some new gear to help deal with the weather if necessary, or if you’re like me, just because. As the holidays approach, consider a gift of fitness for a friend or loved one. There are lots of great groups (like Fit on Your Feet! ahfcoop.org), fitness gear from places like Texas Running Company and many others. Whatever it takes, keep moving!
I have been on a bit of a hiatus from my blog, and on the occasion of Thanksgiving, I want to spend a little time focusing on some of the things I’m grateful for in this life. I was so happy to hear from my Aunt Lucille Thursday morning – she and my and Aunt Selina, who I talked to later that morning, are the last two living members of my mom’s side of the family. It put a smile on my face to hear those familiar tones in my Aunts’ voices, bringing back fond memories of my mother on this holiday. As I was cooking during the day, I couldn’t help but remember learning how to cook in our kitchen in Spokane. A friend and I were posting on Facebook the other day about our mothers’ cookware that we still use, much of it more than 50 or 60 years old. I’m still using the cast iron skillet that I used more than 40 years ago…and the broth made from the giblets cooked slowly in my mother’s crockpot. I used the techniques my mother taught me to make my apple pie. We had an apple tree in our backyard that was grafted to produce three different types of apples. I grew up making lots of apple pies, apple sauce, and I learned to use our first microwave to make baked apples.
I’m thankful that I had a mother who taught me how to cook and passed on her wonderful cookware (they don’t make them like they used to). I’m glad I can pass on to my boys all the things I learned and I hope they will some day pass them on to their children
Food is so central to our lives. It is not just a way to nourish ourselves, it is a means of passing on family and cultural traditions. As I share these traditions with friends, I smile as they rave about my mom’s mashed sweet potatoes (with the marshmallows on top!), and the pan gravy made from the giblets. I’ve had to add to the traditions as I learn how to make gluten-free cornbread dressing and pie crust.
I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and leave you with one of my favorite photos from this past summer – I give thanks for our wonderful national parks!
Some of my first memories are of camping, or playing in the sand by a picturesque lake. My father loved camping, and we would go nearly every weekend during the summer months outside of Spokane, often in Northern Idaho. My parents weren’t much for hiking or fishing – I would fish occasionally, but mainly camping meant hanging out at the lake, playing in the woods, playing games and eating food out in the open. Being the youngest in the family, I started camping early in life, and we all would sleep in one big tent. As I got older, the equipment changed from a tent trailer, to an RV and finally a fifth-wheeler parked semi-permanently in a member’s only campground with a lodge for dining and activities.
I camped a few times in college, but didn’t get back into regular outdoors activities until I met my now-husband. Some of the first activities we enjoyed together included mountain biking and skiing. We hiked and even backpacked to the top of Mt. Whitney. Mike’s love of the outdoors was definitely a mark in his favor, although I was head over heels in love with him anyway.
We have been sharing our love of the outdoors with our children since they were small, as well. Andrew’s love of animals, and snakes in particular, encouraged us to take him on hikes from the time he was old enough to fit into a backpack carrier. To this day, he is the best at spotting wildlife when we are on hikes or driving through a national park. Brandon has become a champion Junior Ranger – he has earned at least 25 badges from all the parks we have been to. I am happy that both of my boys are learning a love of the outdoors that we can share even when they are grown. We have been to Alaska, through California, and two summers ago hit most of the Southwest National Parks including the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. The photo at the top of my blog is from that trip, during our stop at Arches National Park.
Our current trip has taken us to Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas panhandle, then to Colorado and Great Sand Dunes National Park where we had a great time riding sand sleds and boards. Next stop was an amazing day of rafting on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista – our able guide Bear provided a running narrative on what we were seeing along the river as well as getting us through class III rapids without falling out of the boat. The amazingly fresh and tasty lunch was a big bonus. We are currently in Rocky Mountain National Park with its amazing mountain vistas, hiking trails, and wildlife. Hiking to the mountain lakes provides even more breathtaking scenery and our boys manage to make their way along the steep trails, and Brandon who never lacks in energy, even runs along the way. As I sit out under the stars and marvel at the heavens, including the Milky Way, I can’t help but feel humbled by the immensity of the universe and our infinitesimally small place in it. Yet I feel my heart and soul expanding in a place like this – experiencing everything from the tiniest flower in the tundra, to the immense mountains in the distance, I feel at home.
Over the next few days we will drive across Wyoming and stop to visit friends in Centennial, then onto Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I feel blessed that we can take the time and energy to put this kind of trip together for us and our kids. I admire my mother who managed to put together our weekly camping trips during the summer. I know it became a routine after a while, but I still appreciate all the work that goes into a camping trip. This time around both Mike and I have been coming off busy and somewhat stressful times at work, and those tensions showed in the first few days, but nature has its way of making all those cares go away.
I am keenly aware of the lack of diversity when I go to a National Park. I know that camping and the outdoors isn’t for everybody, and frankly, our national parks are already straining under the weight of the amazing numbers of people who want to visit them. However, even a day trip to a nearby lake or a hike on a trail within the city limits can provide a similar connection to nature. Groups like Outdoor Afro and Black Girls Run are doing what they can to get more of us outside. I can’t say enough about what getting out into nature has meant to me, and I strongly encourage all to give it a try.
Intersectionality — it’s a term tossed around in academic circles, feminist discussions, etc…however, this past few weeks has led me to see and feel my intersecting identities in a very intense way. As a woman not of, but in Texas I have been dismayed by the legislature’s attacks on women’s health, yet buoyed by the sisterhood shared in the protests, rallies, and marches. As a black mother with two young sons, I feel betrayed by our system of justice that allows a young black boy to be murdered with no penalty to his assailant– a man who carried a gun and followed him without any indication that he was suspicious, except for the color of his skin. As a political scientist, I have been fascinated with the development of a potential movement, the way that politicians on both sides of the aisle have tried to capitalize on a hotly contested issue, and the potential fallout for future elections. At times I haven’t know whether to laugh, cry, or start writing. In the end, I will do all three at various times.
I have read so many articles and commentaries about the situation for women in Texas, about Trayvon Martin and the trial that set his murderer free — in general, I’m a political junkie. In his commentary this past week, Charles M. Blow talks about how the system failed Trayvon and us — but the political system over the last few years has also failed women, particularly poor, rural women in Texas. The system has made the private political in a way that damages us all. I am black. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am an academic. I care about access to healthcare. I care about choice. I care about my sons. I care about the direction this country is taking. Yes, we must have all of these discussions about race, about gender equality, about overall inequalities…but as a political scientist I know it all comes down to power. I feel the main way to generate change is at the ballot box.
So I will work on registering voters, encouraging friends to be politically aware, and if they have the time, involved. I will continue examining my own role as a citizen of a country in turmoil. I will continue to talk to my boys about the world that we live in and how they may be perceived because of the color of their skin. But most of all, I will try my best to keep these words from the Roosevelt memorial in my heart:
On November 6, 2012, my friend Dean Lofton and I decided we’d had enough of the war on women and we wanted to start a group that would encourage women of all political persuasions to get involved in politics. Thus “Austin Women for Political Action” was born on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-Women-for-Political-Action/114614922031858?ref=hl). Little did we know that this would become the summer of women’s discontent in Austin. The legislature avoided issues related to abortion (although not women’s health) during the regular session, but then came the special session. The stories of the first special session have been well documented by people like Jessica Luther in this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/13/07/use-your-voice/277481/ Wendy Davis’ filibuster helped to mobilize a group of women, including many in our own organization, that had stood on the sidelines while the Texas legislature passed laws during the last session, like the one requiring sonograms before an abortion. Many of these women had never been involved in a political protest or rally before. I was in Europe for a conference that fateful day, but I followed the events as closely as I could and many of my friends were tweeting and posting the latest details on facebook, so in many ways I felt like I was a part of the action. Those who participated were encouraged to wear orange, and the rallying cry began as “Stand with Wendy” and has morphed into “Stand With Texas Women” (#SWTW on twitter).
I returned to Austin last Thursday and got caught up on the latest, including the fact that Governor Perry had called a second special session. I was able to join the large protest at the capitol on Monday, July 1st. It’s very likely that the abortion bill will pass but the most exciting part of all of this has been the energy that has been created. This is about much more than a law that will limit abortions. It’s about women’s access to healthcare, which has already been limited by Texas’ decision to turn down federal funds. This will impact women across large parts of Texas. It’s also about the democratic process, and allowing women’s voices to be heard. Referred to as an “unruly mob” this is much more than that. In what can only be described as a nearly spontaneous outpouring of frustration, Texas women have finally said “we’ve had enough!” Here are a few images from Monday’s rally:
In the last week I participated in a 5k run (Thursday night’s Maudie’s Margarita Run) and Austin Fit magazine’s “AFM FITtest.” Both events were challenging in their own way, but they both got me thinking about how we (in particular women) look at fitness. The first event was a typical “fun” run, with about 1500 people signed up, and a few of us who were serious enough to want to know our times, and be competitive. There were likely equal numbers of women and men, Austin is a great place to be a runner, and I often see more women out on the trail than men. Saturday’s fitness event was a different story. This event consisted of twelve tests of strength, agility and endurance, including sprints, throws, jumps and the always hated burpees and pull-ups. Since I have been doing cross-fit workouts for the last few months, I figured I would give it a try. I was surprised that there were only fifteen women competitors in my age group (40-49) while there were at least 40 men in the same age group. As my group discussed the low numbers of women, we all thought that some of the tests would be intimidating to women, particularly the pull-ups, where many women can’t even do one (I worked on this one, so I was able to do five). I freely admit that I am a bit of a masochist when it comes to working out (how else could I handle crossfit?) but it surprises me that more men than women were attracted to this event, compared to a 5k.
This all got me thinking about how I approach fitness. In fact, this blog post was prompted by my friend Leslie who was asking me about Saturday’s event on our “Black Girls Run!” page. I wasn’t really sure what to say — I managed to get through all 12 events and score reasonably on all of them. But for me the experience of the 5k wasn’t that much different from doing the 12 different tests. They are all testing me in different ways, but in some ways it’s mostly mental for me. Having been an athlete all of my life, I love taking on new challenges (a la my new obsession with body hooping), and I approach each challenge with a similar mental and physical toughness that has gotten me through everything from a 400m dash to a marathon. They take very different forms of preparation, but for me it’s pretty much all the same in terms of how I approach it. I’m sure I developed this mentality during my years of running track and other sports from grade school through college. Having been blessed to have the advantages of Title IX and having grown up with my two brothers, I was always sure I could do anything that the guys could do. I started lifting weights in junior high, and continued with it through my 20s. I recognized early on the benefits of cross training, and even though running will always be my first love, I also enjoy the adrenalin (and endorphin) rush I get from being able to lift a particular weight, or complete a WOD (work out of the day). I’m much more careful these days because of issues with my back, but I have always focused on form vs. showing off how much I can lift.
So I struggle with how I can pass on the passion that I feel about fitness to others. How do we get more women to come out and compete in the FITtest the same way they do in the 5k? I have been blessed to see the blossoming of our Black Girls Run! group — getting more black women out and running has been a wonderful thing, and we were even highlighted in an article in our local newspaper:
So if we can work on changing black women’s ideas about running – how do we go about changing women’s attitudes about other types of fitness? Does it matter? I know that I’m an outlier when it comes to fitness, particularly for my age. Do men and women like me get a fitness advantage from the types of weight bearing activities we do? I don’t feel like I have an answer at this point, but it does make me wonder…it may be a natural shift as younger women start to do more activities and see themselves as competitive athletes, just as I lived in a very different world of athletic opportunities as compared to my older sisters. In any case, I hope I can be a role model to women of all ages, because for me, fitness is forever…
Back in March I was visiting my mother’s birthplace Opelousas, Louisiana and a few weeks later the place I was born, Spokane, Washington. The two cities are about as far apart as you can get, both in terms of distance and culture. My mother very rarely visited Louisiana after she married. I hadn’t been back to Spokane since my father’s funeral, nearly 12 years ago.
Although there are no similarities between my birthplace and my mother’s, it’s clear that we both have had our own reasons for being away from the places where we were raised. I can only speculate about my mother, but I always have had mixed feelings about Spokane. I was a successful student and athlete there, it was a safe place to be a kid in the 1960s and 70s, and it has a natural beauty that is difficult to match. However, it was a place I had to leave in order to find my path in life, the same way my mother left Louisiana for Los Angeles in the 1950s. It was there that she met my father, just like I met my future husband at Stanford.
The last time I drove into Spokane I was numb. My father’s sudden heart attack and untimely death had hit me very hard. This time was very different. I was coming as a successful academic, attending a conference at Gonzaga University. I found time to visit my old high school, Gonzaga Prep, which has been improved over time, but entering those hallways brought back a flood of memories. Like any teenager, I couldn’t fully appreciate the support and education I received during that time. Now as a grown woman with a family of my own, I can better appreciate the start that G-Prep gave me that has led me to become the person I am today.
This week was the 3rd anniversary of my mother’s death. I can’t help but wonder what she would think of my trips to Opelousas and Spokane. For me, it provided insight into the life she had led as a young girl in Opelousas and the life I had led as a young girl in Spokane. I wonder if she could appreciate whatever life lessons she had learned there? I feel so blessed to have a rich family history that is part of the broader mosaic of a black America that made its way from the South to the West and Northwest. But in the end, it’s not only where you are from that’s important, it’s where you are going…and I’m sure my path will lead me back to these places, as well as others that will leave an imprint not only on me, but my boys who will some day read these words and hopefully gain a better understanding of what these places meant to me.
My thoughts have been like a billiard ball today. I wore one of my mother’s rings for the first time – even though it had always been one of my favorites, it has taken me nearly a year to put it on. I have been thinking about her nonstop since I visited the place she was born, Opelousas, Louisiana last week with my cousin, during a visit to New Orleans. I was reminded that my grandfather worked there as a sharecropper until they moved to New Orleans when my mother was 11. She finished 8th grade and went to work as a seamstress until she moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21. She met my father not long after she arrived and they married a few days before her 22nd birthday.
Despite the fact that my mom worked at home, we always walked to school, about six blocks away, regardless of the weather. I was reminded today of a time when I was in 7th grade and there was no bus to take me home after an awards ceremony at school. There was no thought of calling my mom, I just decided to walk all the way home, probably a good 5-6 miles. My parents weren’t particularly supportive of my sports activities, so I imposed on them as little as possible. Also, being the youngest of seven meant that I was rarely on their radar screen, at least not until there were only a few of us left at home…I was reminded of this by a passage in an article a student sent to me: “But women still bear the brunt of the work at home, devoting, on average, 28 hours a week to socks and meals and carpools in comparison with men’s 10. Meanwhile, insofar as this generation has adopted the Tiger Mom ethos, they have also—horribly and ironically—saddled themselves with the escalating burden of hyperparenting: monitoring Charlie’s piano practice, for example, or whisking Katie every weekend to her synchronized-skating competitions. Contrast this with the women of the Mad Men era, who were generally content to leave their less-coddled offspring to play in puddles, eat the occasional Twinkie, and even do their own homework.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2013/04/01/why-women-should-stop-trying-to-do-it-all.html
That would certainly describe my parents form of parenting – yet I hold a full time job, am an athlete, run a nonprofit, volunteer on several boards, and make sure my kids get to all of their activities every afternoon – I rarely schedule anything between 4 and 7 since I’m being the “mommy shuttle” and cooking dinner every night. I may not have organic chard, but I certainly have organic mint, chives, and rosemary in my garden. I also have a handsome and amazingly supportive husband.
How much more do I have to “lean in”? When can I say that I “have it all”? I often tell people that I have already achieved more than I ever thought I could as a first generation college goer – I’m a successful academic who will have published books with Cambridge and Oxford university presses by the end of this year. I have two beautiful boys who are bright, talented, and appreciate their mother. Why do I find myself saying at the age of 48 “is this all there is?”
The answer is clearly yes and no. I do have it all, but as a chronic overachiever, I can’t seem to rest on my laurels. But it’s laurel leaves that surround the green jade stone in my mother’s ring. I doubt she would understand this crazy world that I live in, yet I know she is proud of me. In the three years since she passed I have gained a greater appreciation of her life and the sacrifices she made for me to be successful. There was no going back to Opelousas for her – but my journey there was in many ways part of her journey. It reminded me of the distance we have come as a family. Now I have to learn to internalize that lesson, so that I am better able to appreciate my own achievements and fend off the voices that would urge me to always do more…I am enough.
A year ago at SXSW, I went to see the premiere of Matthew Cherry’s movie, “The Last Fall.” I had supported the movie via Kickstarter after a recommendation from a friend. I had heard that the movie gave a realistic view of life for most NFL players who don’t get the multi-million dollar contracts. The movie did not disappoint – it showed a side of football that is rarely seen: what happens if you are a borderline player who is let go from the team who drafted you after a year or two? I enjoyed the movie, despite the depressing theme and got to meet the director, Matthew Cherry and the star, Lance Gross.
As a football fan all of my life, I already knew that this was the reality for many players. However, I couldn’t help thinking that it would be great to show it to every parent and young man who thought he could have a career in the NFL. As a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, I had heard too many stories of players who didn’t finish their degrees, but also didn’t make it in the NFL. I often wondered what happened to these young men.
This past summer I was having a discussion with several of my nephews about recent moves by the NCAA to allow players to earn some money and other changes. As a former athlete myself (I ran track during my first two years at Stanford University), I knew the rigors of taking courses while keeping up with a grueling workout schedule. I wasn’t on scholarship 30 years ago, so I quit after two years to focus on my studies and nurse my many injuries. My nephews, who were on scholarship, complained about the fact that their coaches wouldn’t allow them to major in fields like engineering or the sciences because the demands of those majors, including labs, would interfere with practice. We all shook our heads as we realized the wasted potential.
These two experiences came to mind as I watched the horrific injury to Kevin Ware and the resulting articles about the potential costs to him and his family. When I saw an article by Dave Zirin in The Nation that Adidas and the NCAA were preparing to profit from a t-shirt with Kevin Ware’s number, I was sickened. Kevin and his family can’t claim a penny of the money that will be made from that t-shirt.
I have been angry with the NCAA for a long time, but this put me over the edge. Taylor Branch’s article in The Atlantic magazine from last year lays out in gruesome detail “The Shame of College Sports.” It’s time for sports fans to speak up – just like on the issue of concussions in the NFL, it will take action on the part of those who support these players. I won’t let my romance with sports keep me on the sidelines any longer…As a mother of two boys who I hope will be able to play college sports one day I will speak up, and I will continue to do so until we see change.
There are so many critical issues facing our country today from gun violence, to the environment. Given that it’s black history month, I wonder what leaders like Martin Luther King or Barbara Jordan would be fighting for today. I know one issue in particular that has touched me in so many ways is cardiovascular disease in the black community. I first delved into this issue when my father passed away from a sudden heart attack nearly 12 years ago. What I learned was that my father had all of the warning signs for a potential heart attack, yet he had never been given a stress test and didn’t seem concerned when he had circulation issues just a few weeks before he died. He was also under a great deal of stress, as I would later learn, but I felt helpless knowing that he wasn’t pro-active in dealing with his health.
The following quote highlights the problem:
Americans suffer more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes each year. Cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and stroke—is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease—that’s 815,000 Americans each year, or 1 in every 3 deaths. (http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/abouthds/cost-consequences.html)
Blacks are much more likely to have cardiovascular disease, and not all of it can be explained by lifestyle or genetic traits.
In 2005 my mother suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered. She passed away nearly 3 years ago. What I learned about strokes was just as bad as heart attacks, “In 2009, black men were 38 percent more likely to die of stroke than white men, and black women were 36 percent more likely to die of stroke than white women” (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/01/29/to-your-health/black-men-women-hit-hardest-by-disease.html)
Study after study I learned about showed that blacks had a much higher rate of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and death from heart disease. Health disparities are a critical issue for all communities.
I feel lucky that fitness has always been a part of my life, and the passing of my parents spurred me into action – I started Take Back the Trail to honor my parents, and in the hope that my efforts might make some small dent in the huge need that exists for fitness programs in under-served communities. There are many programs targeting children, but I found few programs that targeted adult women in particular. I feel that healthcare, from a variety of perspectives, is a top issue for our times, and many leaders, including First Lady Michelle Obama have stepped up to the task — but it will take much, much more and grassroots efforts must be a part of the move-ment.
There is hope – as recent studies have shown:
“Regular, moderate physical activity such as brisk walking can increase life expectancy by several years, even for people who are overweight, a new large study shows.
While higher levels of activity were linked to even longer life expectancies, moderate activity was beneficial, according to the study of people ages 40 and older. The benefit of exercise was seen regardless of people’s weight, age, sex and health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.” (http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/06/14976984-why-working-out-makes-you-live-longer)
If not for yourself – do it for those you love! Given the size of this issue, I consider this project one of the most important things I have ever done – if you feel the same, you can support my efforts here: http://takebackthetrail.com/donate.html
Posted in Equal Rights, Health and Fitness, Life and Family, Politics, Race Relations, Women's Rights | Tags: barbara jordan, black, cardiovascular, civil rights, community activism, Crisis, family, fitness, health, healthy-living, heart attack, michelle obama, minorities, stroke, women