Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Another Look at Serena Williams' SI Cover

In December, the Sport Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year graced one of the most coveted covers of the year.  Instead of a he, or a horse, she was a she.  The iconic Serena Williams, one of the most successful female tennis players, was the well-deserved choice.

I remember Serena and her older sister, Venus, coming up in the world of tennis a decade plus ago.  I loved their strength, their attitude on the court, their take no prisoners’ style of tennis complete with 100mph+ serves and I loved Venus’s name.  I loved that they were not from the elite, mostly white, country clubs instead learning the game on public courts in a very un-country club part of Compton, CA in the early days.  Her younger sister, Serena, emerged even more powerful on the court after following in her big sister’s footsteps.

Kudos to all your accomplishments Serena, you deserve all the accolades.

The only challenge I have with her selection is not about her resume of greatness or the selection itself, it is the cover she chose.   

I understand Serena loves fashion and likes to be involved with the creative aspects of her photo shoots.  This is the perfect cover for Vogue or Vanity Fair, not Sports Illustrated.

Here’s why….

Women, especially women in the cycling world, have enough issues with how we are portrayed in the media.  When Serena’s cover came out, I was messaging with a friend on Facebook who owns a cycling related website.  He had just shared an ad from a client on his page with a girl wearing cycling bibs and no jersey, not even a sport bra.  Something similar to this…

I can assure you, as a woman buying cycling gear, that will definitely NOT make me purchase them from your company.  Who are you marketing to?  Definitely not the women wanting your product.

I appreciate Serena’s artistic vision for her cover, but I wonder if she ever considered how women who have a more traditional view towards sexism in the media would accept it.

Apparently, according to ESPNW, it was a show of strength, a victory for women.

For centuries, black women have been demeaned and taught to value themselves less than women of any other race. Williams, specifically, has bore the brunt of centuries-old scrutiny regarding her body composition and race. And finally, after 20 years of consistency, and over 250 consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 in the world, Williams has earned the right to call the shots, both literally and figuratively. Far from an unseasoned rookie, Williams has gained the opportunity to control her image and how she'd like to be portrayed on one of the most meaningful magazine covers of her iconic career. Williams going against the grain and portraying herself as a feminine, strong and powerful woman, void of tennis props, is a major victory for all women who work tirelessly, and often thanklessly, to crash through glass ceilings in any industry.

Sorry Shana Renee, author of this piece, it is not a victory, it’s an epic defeat to all of us women who want to be taken seriously in the sport, in this case cycling.  Perhaps tennis is more evolved; women get paid the same as men.  Not in cycling.

One of the larger bike manufacturers in the market, Colnago, takes this view of women in cycling:

I have never stood next to my bike like this.  First, the bike is way too big for her and she's in socks.  Secondly, what exactly was meant by "Ready for the weekend ride?"  (eye roll)

Last night at dinner I showed Jeanne d’Arc, our sole female cyclist, and asked her what she thought.  She was embarrassed.  She had an awkward laugh and blushed and shook her head.  I asked if she knew Serena, she did.  I asked if she had ever seen Sports Illustrated, she hadn’t.  I asked if she would pose like this for a magazine.  She just kept shaking her head saying, No No No.

Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) is beautiful.  She is a stunning young woman with a megawatt smile and a sweet soul.  She is also fierce on the bike.  She may become the first Rwandan woman to medal at the Continental Championships in a few weeks in Morocco.  She is the real deal.

She has so many obstacles in front of her.  Culturally she is far outside the mores for women in Rwanda.  There is a belief in Rwanda among some women if you ride a bike when you are a teenager or older, you will not be a virgin and you will not find a husband.  Jeanne d’Arc supports her family of seven (five siblings and her parents) with the money she earns riding for Team Rwanda.

I recently heard young women (teenage years) in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda and the most progressive place in the country, were telling their school masters they did not want to do any physical activity because having muscular legs, especially calves was something they wanted to avoid.  It was not “attractive”.  These women would have loved the SI cover of Serena because it didn’t show her strength.  These women are increasingly joining the ranks of the fast growing overweight and obese population in this developing country.

Ironically, when I was searching for information about women in cycling and how we are portrayed I came across a panel discussion on “How is Women’s Cycling Portrayed in the Cycling Media?”  This is the same website which today posted a story about Jeanne d’Arc written by a recent guest at our center, Emily Conrad-Pickles.  The title says it all…. “Team Rwanda’s Only Female Rider:  I find freedom on the bike and prejudice off it.

I am one of the few women team managers on the continent.  I struggle every day with being taken seriously. I work in Africa, the land of patriarchy.  I am the only female working in cycling in Rwanda.  I fight every week to get more races for women only to be told there’s not enough women and Jeanne d’Arc wins everything anyway.  How can you build it if you don’t give the wanna be Jeanne d’Arc’s an opportunity to step out onto the road and race?  I tried to run a women’s camp and could not get any funding from the UCI.  They wouldn’t even return emails. 

Kathryn Bertine’s documentary, Half the Road: The Passion, Pitfalls & Power of Women’s Professional Cycling, still rings true almost two years later.   We are making progress, but it is slow.

So Serena, your SI cover might be fine for the US market, but for markets where women face real obstacles in sport on a daily basis, it is not. With your power and credibility in the sport save those photos for Vogue and show women who emulate you that it is perfectly fine to have muscles, show real strength and dominate a sport. 

And here's the real litmus of our riders, when shown the photo and asked if he would pose half naked across his bike just laughed and said, if they paid me a lot of money I would do it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Responsibility to Give

No one has ever become poor by giving~~Anne Frank

This quote, attributed to a woman who gave us a front row seat into her life as a jew during the Holocaust, should be embraced by all of us who hold on just a little too tightly in our scarcity thinking vs. our potential for abundant living.

Over the past year, I have been devouring books on "Giving".  I am interested in the psychology behind why we give, why we don't and what triggers some to give much while others who have much, give little or none.  I do this for two reasons, one, I'm interested in the dynamics behind my giving, secondly, selfishly, I want to know why people give to Team Rwanda and why they don't and what I can do to move them from not donating to donating.

The first book I read about "giving" was Peter Singer's book, The Life You Can Save.  In a nutshell Singer speaks to the morality of giving.  If you have enough for your basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter and taking care of family obligations, it then becomes your moral duty to give the remainder.  As you can imagine, for most people, in our very self absorbed American bubble, that sounds simply off the deep end radical.  The book keeps upping the ante on your basic giving to or saving others.   In the end, it returns to a more palatable, for most of us, level of giving based on Biblical teaching....the tithe.  10% of what you earn.  Not 10% after taxes, 10%.  If you make $50,000 you give $5,000.  

"But I can't give $5,000, I barely make ends meet."  

Making ends meet is a choice to a large extent.  None of us NEED $300 phones and $75/month service plans.  No one needs cable, a new car, a new couch, a remodel.  Those are needs not wants.  I know, tough to stomach.

I make significantly less than $50,000 a year.  I have a 16 year old Nissan Xterra with 270,000 miles, no debt, a pay as you go phone, and everything I own fits in 5 bins in a closet.  I donate 10%.  I am not poor.  I fully fund my IRA, save additional emergency cash, a must while living in a third world African country, and my splurges consist of upgrading to business when I fly.  I can do more.

The second book by Singer, The Most Good You Can Do, focuses on being most effective with the money you donate.....if you donate.  This one is more difficult to grasp for me because I am in the trenches daily with the team.  It does cost considerably more to bring a young cyclist up through the system and hopefully land them a professional contract than it does to give a kid deworming medication.  

The statistics for deworming are powerful:  increase in nutrition absorption, better school attendance, increase in school performance which all lead to potentially a brighter future.  In Rwanda you can carry them around in a PEZ dispenser and distribute all day long.  You get a lot of bang for your buck with deworming.  But I see another type of change which is not easily quantified when it comes to Team Rwanda.

How do you measure the impact of a cyclist coming onto Team Rwanda?  They represent a country still primarily thought of as the country where people killed each other in a horrific genocide in 1994.  They represent a new Rwanda, a Rwanda committed to the rise of the sport of cycling as a tool for reconciliation and peace.  They put brothers and sisters and children through school, they make money, build houses, support families and exemplify the payoff of hard work, discipline and determination.  Does it save more lives?  I honestly cannot answer that question.  As I see more and more young boys and girls coming to the center, soaking up the atmosphere, hoping the power and strength of Team Rwanda rubs off on them and they race for their nation someday.  What is the price tag?

2015 was a struggle.  Although our budget grew and we had a couple of large supporters behind us, the average Joe, gave less and gave less often.  I am fanatical about answering emails from people asking how they can help.  I send personal thank you's to many smaller donors because, I too, in the grand scheme of things, am a small donor.  

Why?  I want to know why?  What are we doing or not doing?  Why do people close to me, who really know me, know my commitment and passion for helping these young Rwandan cyclists, why do they not give?  Giving a used kit is not giving, it's giving me something you don't want anyway.  At one point you had $300 for the kit.  

One of my theories is...we're too pretty!

After winning the Tour of Rwanda in 2014, President Kagame personally pledged his support by giving us a 4,000 Euro budget per bike to purchase much needed race bikes.  Thanks to our dear friends in the industry (Reynolds Wheels, Pinarello, LOOK, Vittoria, Campagnolo, Selle Italia, Cateye), who believed in us day 1 and supported us when they knew they would get very little exposure, we were able to get a 10,000 Euro bike for 4,000.

"You have 10,000Euro bikes, you're doing just fine, are you kidding me?  I ride a $3,000USD bike."

Here's the deal....those bikes don't feed families, pay stipends, buy glasses, pay hospital bills, and generally look after the day to day well being of the 30 riders and 15 Rwandan staff under our direct care.

That takes money...lots of it.

As I watch our staff move around the compound every day, it's like watching a family all committed to helping the young achieve their dreams.  I have moments of incredible peace as I watch the care in which the day guards trim trees, bushes and pull weeds.  Not in their job description, but they do it out of care.  They feel ownership in the success of all of these young men and women.  What is the price for that?  Is there a rate of return on investment you can quantify?

Many days when it all gets too much, wondering how I will keep the money flowing when so little of it seems to trickle through these days, I realize how invested I have become.  Those of you with children would do anything to help them realize their dreams.  Try feeling that level of responsibility with a family of 45.  If I cannot make a compelling enough case for why people should donate to or invest in this team, they lose.  Have you ever been poor?  Really poor?  Living in a mud house with dirt floors and no water or electricity poor?  

A few months ago, Strangers Drowning, by Larissa MacFarquhar was published.  It highlights several cases of people who give to the extreme.  How much is too much?  Is it immoral to give so much to others and then neglect your own family?  It is a remarkable study into the lives of extreme "do gooders".  I am a moderately extreme "do gooder" who splurges on business class because it keeps me sane enough to keep doing what I do here.  Strangers Drowning is an intriguing read which will stimulate your thoughts about where you fall on the spectrum of giving.

In the last week I gave Little E's mother about $40 for food for the month for his family.  The husband/father is AWOL.  His mother packs towers of carrots for transport to the market making $1 a day.  His mother and I are only separated by the luck of the birth lottery.  Another rider had all his clothes stolen by a jealous neighbor,  and yet another rider had his clothes stolen by the young man he employs to wash his clothes.  Another rider needs glasses.  The oldest rider's oldest son we help put through school.  Jonathan's education is our responsibility. I sobbed on my yoga mat while doing child's pose. This is an average week in my world.  I give 10% and I am not poor yet.  

The other day a big safari land cruiser showed up at our gates with two guests from the US.  They were here to visit the gorillas as they were finishing up their East African safari swing.  They said they were big fans of Team Rwanda and had seen the film, Rising From Ashes.  Our compound is along the road to the Volcanoes National Park where you launch from to see the gorillas.  A gorilla trek is $750....per person...1 hour with the gorillas.  This couple saw the gorillas twice each.  $3,000.  Lord Almighty, what I could do on this compound or with these riders for $3,000.  But, that's not my deal.  This was their trip, they came to visit.  The woman goes to her suitcase and says, "We have a little something for you."  Of course I'm hoping it's money to pay for today's $250 food bill.  

She hands me a used cap...

"Give it to one of your riders."

A cap...I looked at Mr. AM and he read my mind.  We continued our little dog and pony show, they got in their $250/day land cruiser and went on their merry way.

I'm walking back to the house and I couldn't hold back, "A F&*ing CAP!!!!"

Yes...I said "f&*king" really loudly.  I have never been so angry and frustrated to the point of tears.  All that money, yes, enjoy your once in a lifetime trip, but all you could muster is your used cap?  What is wrong with the world?  Where has our sense of responsibility, duty and care for others gone?  Are we so consumed with our own wants that we cannot see the needs of others?  

And then I open my email and there's a hundred dollars from this guy in Michigan who gives every month pretty much.  He pays for a rider's monthly stipend.

I believe we can do better for each other?  Stop drinking Starbucks and you could pay a rider's monthly stipend, send his two siblings to school and help him or her build a house.  $5/day...that is it.

Why don't you give? Why do you give?  Where do you give?  What prompts you to give?  

I need to know because obviously, I've been selling this all wrong because I refuse to believe the world has gone so far south we've stopped caring.  Or maybe, it's so far gone, we're simply in denial of the sadness and tragedy around us.  Then, it's too late.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Word for 2016....FIFTY

Minimal Intent 
....and many more

There have been many blogs and articles this month about "My Word for 2016".  Resolutions are out...words for the year are in.  

I have never been a resolution maker.  It is the ultimate in setting yourself up for failure.  I'm not going to drink for 6 months after midnight New Year's.  Well, maybe a drink on New Year's Day, well, I don't go back to work until the 4th so that's when I'll start.  

I will start my diet on January 1.  Lord almighty there are so many leftovers from our New Year's Eve party, maybe after New Year's Day.  Family is still in town so how can I possibly pass up my Aunt Frieda's pineapple upside down cake.  I start work on the 4th...yes, on the 4th I start.

See my point....failure, you fail before you start.  The one day all or none deadline causes you to gorge like a death row inmate having his last meal, throughout the month of December in anticipation of "that day" when you go on the diet.  In the mean time you take on an additional 10 pounds to take off starting January 1...or 4th or whatever day you go back to your job and routine.

Resolutions reek of failure.

Words for the Year....better.  Although if your word for the year is happy you are going to be miserably crabby and frustrated most of 2016.  Why?  Because happy is not a goal, not something you can aspire to, happy comes when you give of yourself.  Happy is not found in money or material possessions.  Yes, it is easier for me when I have money, but it really does not make me happy.  Chasing happy is like a dog chasing his tail.

Sorry "Happy" worders....just my personal opinion.

Minimal Intent...okay that's two words so that simply does not work for my Type A rule follower personality.  Minimal intent sounds a bit pompous. Say it like it is...spontaneous.  I know, spontaneous makes you think you'll end up jumping in the nearest fountain, naked, singing a show tune from a Judy Garland movie because you've been dared by your best friend, whose word for the year is "Party".

After seeing hundreds of words I didn't see one of my word.


That's my word.

This year my year of fifty.  My age on June 11th is fifty.  Why Fifty?  Why's better than Minimal Intent or the unattainable rainbow unicorn named "Happy"!

When I hear fifty or write F..I..F..T..Y this is what goes through my mind....

"Good Lord Almighty how did time go so fast?"

So...when I see FIFTY I am reminded of the pace of time and how it has now kicked into 6th gear overdrive.  I just want 6th gear overdrive in a Ferrari not 6th in a KIA.  Do they even have 6 gears..the KIAs?

Time to stop thinking about doing something next week, next year, five years from now.  

I also think about this vessel called my body which God deemed fit for me to care for.  Yes....I regret the Crisco sunbathing sessions and the fact sunscreen had apparently not been invented during the late 60's through the 70's when I was in my prime tanning phase.  All in all I've aged well.  Thank you mom and dad for the good genetics as I wasn't the best care taker in my teens, 20's and even 30's.  

FIFTY...I'm going to rock a bikini at 50.  Superficial yes, vain, of course, but there's more.  I have worked out since I was a teenager.  I ate right 90% of the time my whole life.  I am more active than 20 people combined on any given day in the US.  And...I'm confident.  No, I will never have my 20 year old body but I will look the best I can look at 50.

Which...has spurred me on to the following:

  • 30 day AB challenge
  • 30 day Push up challenge
  • Weight training....ladies, those chicken wings under your arms are the most unsightly gift God has bestowed on us aging women
  • Do more riding than I did last year, just 1 hour more every month than the month of the prior year.  I did this in 2015 and rode 500 miles more and it was an easily accomplishable goal.  
  • Not drinking wine EVERY night...ok, that one's a tough one but apparently wine drinking only contributes to 5% of weight loss.  We'll see how it's going in March.
When I was in South Africa a few weeks ago I was completely stressing about a swimsuit.  I have this bikini I wore 5+ years ago I bought at a Woolworth's in Nairobi.  I asked Mr. AM, "How about a one piece?"

"What and look like a old, grandma?" not quite the answer I was hoping for.

"I'm not 25 anymore!"

"No, but you look great, why would you do that?"

Good answer Mr. AM, good answer!

But I still felt naked.  Most of that I believe comes from my years in Rwanda where you don't where shorts in public and dress is significantly more conservative.  For this I love you Rwanda. FRIGHTEN me!

And then I went to the beach.....South Africa rivals the US in obesity numbers.

I don't want to compare myself to the lowest common denominator.  Yes, I am not obese, not overweight, spot on where I should be.  On the US height/weight tables, which have been adjusted for the burgeoning society I am now "underweight".  Seriously?

A dear friend who I love just made the decision to get healthy.  Hallelujah.  See...even though I just had a complete spiel about weight, vanity and bikinis it really comes down to being healthy and being the best me I can be.  I feel a responsibility to take care of this body God gave me.  Others haven't been so fortunate.  

What I respect about her is that it's not about being a certain size or number on the scale.  It's about being healthy and being there for her amazing kids and living a long life.  This is her "bikini".  I wish her well on her more here.

I was going to do a full list of 50 things about my word FIFTY but that's a long list of "stuff" that no one wants to read.  I'm just not that kitschy.


Doing more for me this year.  I take care of 20-25 cyclists, staff, everyone's schedule and am on a constant loop of asking for funds to make it all happen.  I'm tired.  I'm exhausted.  I'm bitchy....some days more than others. 43 on my progress, take that Mr. Andy Headspace, my love / hate relationship with controlling my mind continues but I admit, and yes I give you credit, I am better.  


Embracing vulnerability.  I am reading Brene Brown's book, Daring Greatly.  Where have you been my whole life?  Although I doubt I would have been ready to listen much before FIFTY!


Friendships and relationships....that's all you have and that's all that counts when you reach the half way point.  As a consummate workaholic, I fear I have neglected this area of my life way too much.  So many people need me on a daily basis I simply shut down most days as there's nothing left to give to the ones who really lift my spirits and help me do what I do day in and day out.

My first friend I ever made in Las Vegas sent me this note when I asked if he could come to my 50th Birthday Party:

I think of you often and miss you terribly. Love you, Ciao

Another said...

Thanks for the email this morning, it made my day. After I read it, while the coffee was brewing, I wandered out into the snow in my flip-flops, underwear, coat and hat, to let the chickens out. You know what it's like to not be Midwestern anymore.

Yes....I do know what it's like to not be Midwestern anymore

Thank God my friends are still there although the distance and the years have been many.


Let it rip sister
Ride more....that is a serious bitch in Rwanda as my friends who've lived in Rwanda know.
Love more
Believe more
Pray for our ranch...long, sad story of greed and I fear, loss.
Let go more....
Do more good in the world
Highlight the good in the world and deflect the bad word is FIFTY...go find that one out on the blogging internet of goal setter word people!

Rocking a skirt on a hike up Pringle Peak in Pringle Bay, South Africa

My guys keep me young...and fit!

Monday, January 11, 2016

We Can Be Heroes...for Just One Day

David Bowie died today.  I was never a huge Bowie fan but there are songs that have resonated with me for years.  Heroes is one of those songs, today, now more than ever.  

69...such a short life as I turn 50 this year, Mr. AM is 60 how did life get so short?  He lived a long 69 years but it was over too soon.

I actually became a fan of David Bowie in the early 90's after reading he was dating Iman, the model from Mogadishu, Somalia, the most famous, stunning model to ever walk the Paris runways.  For me, enamored of all things African, it was the perfect match.  They were married 22 years, an eternity in the entertainment business and they were only separated by his death today.  

Heroes....the world simply needs more heroes.  This weekend I was with the team in Gisenyi to celebrate our 2015 Tour of Rwanda win with the Minister of Sport.  As we walked onto the beach at the Lake Kivu Serena there were several groups of Rwandans sitting at the tables along the sand enjoying the Sunday afternoon, a cheer went up, "Team Rwanda" with accompanying cell phones and people jockeying for position for a selfie with their favorite team member.  

That would never have happened even 3 years ago...or perhaps even 2 years ago...there were no cycling heroes in Rwanda.  Today, the entire team is recognized, cheered, revered...they have become heroes to their country.

In her speech, Minister Uwacu expressed how this team and the five riders leaving to join professional teams are ambassadors for their country.  She said that when they do well, not just in a race, but also in their interactions with the international community, it is a direct reflection on Rwanda, how the world perceives Rwanda. 

She sees their value not just on the bicycle, but in their role as ambassadors for their country, which transcends politics.

They are heroes.

The shouts for Bosco, one of the shyest members of Team Rwanda, to come sit and have a beer, to hang with the group of Rwandan fans were met with Bosco's hand waving, finger wagging, "Oye" (No).  Bosco knows his role, his job, his responsibility as he gets ready to leave for his first race with BikeAid in Mallorca, Spain.  He is focused on the task at hand.

Bosco is a hero to this country.  He's not the flash and extravert his teammate, Valens is, who won the Tour of Rwanda in 2014. He's a devoted mama's boy, helping his single mother provide for his family.  He is a hero to his family.

The world needs more Team Rwanda heroes...more Bosco, more Bonaventure, more Adrien Niyonshuti and less anti heroes of the social media world.

RIP David Bowie...thanks for a life well lived.

Be a hero....

Bosco after winning the 2016 Tour of Rwanda draped in the Rwandan flag