Archive for the ‘Leadership’ category

Fit Tip#16

July 14, 2009

Do I think Armstrong will win? That game: I’ll play along. But to me what matters more: Lance is living strong.

Race for the Cure: Exercise as Service

June 10, 2007

I met Jane Hess when she interviewed me to talk about We Are All Athletes, my latest book. (How fun to meet eye-to-eye with another woman who’s six-two!)

But television host is only her part-time passion; her fulltime passion is inspiring others to “get out and give back,” as she calls it.

Recently she raised $3000 for breast cancer treatment and research while getting in shape and building community. She writes:

The last time I ran for exercise was back in 1986… So, when I volunteered to run a 5K (3.1 miles) as part of the “Christmas Fish” team for the Race for the Cure, it was like volunteering to sing the National Anthem at a baseball game – something I’d always wanted to do but for which I was innately unqualified.

Nonetheless I began training two months beforehand as if I were running the Marine Corps marathon. I charged up the iPod and started – just run until the song is over, I told myself. Then run for two songs, then three songs … and by race day, I could run 3.5 miles, dropped almost ten pounds and was back into my “skinny” jeans.

Then it was race day. Nearly 45,000 of us, outfitted in our “Race for the Cure” T-shirts, gulped water, bananas and granola bars as bands played, celebrities spoke and breast cancer survivors were recognized and applauded. When the race began, the street was as crammed with runners as a shopping mall the day after Thanksgiving.

A few times I had to run in place behind the people in front of me, waiting for a chance to maneuver ahead. Outwardly I complained that they slowed me down. Inwardly, I thanked them for the break.

Some of the runners and walkers pinned flyers to the back of their T-shirt to honor breast cancer survivors or remember the women who had lost the fight. Some flyers had pictures, with “Mommy” or “My wife” or other heartbreaking words.

My goal? To run the entire 5K without walking, and to not come in last. As the race started I turned my iPod on to Aerosmith, Van Halen and the Weather Girls (“It’s Raining Men”) to rock me to the finish line. Thirty-eight minutes later it was over. Our non-running posse met us with water bottles and high-fives. I hit my two goals and the “Christmas Fish” raised over $3,000.

And that Saturday morning, as I was surrounded by 45,000 people who raised 2.6 million dollars for breast cancer research and care, I finally understood the value of community. Every single one of us was united by someone we’d either lost to breast cancer or were still cheering on to defeat it.

I ran for Leslie, Sheri, Abby-Jill… and everyone else who’d fought or are still fighting this stupid disease. So if getting up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday to sweat like a pig for three miles is what it takes, then I’ll keep on doing it.

There are worse ways to lose ten pounds.

Get out and give back.

More about Jane’s work:

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Allison Stokke Rocks

May 30, 2007

What I love about Allison Stokke is not what Matt Ufford and other bloggers love about her. “Hubba hubba and other grunting sounds,” Ufford wrote about Stokke, the California high school pole vaulter whose life has been turned upside-down by unwanted Internet oglers in recent weeks.

Photos of Stokke — thin, strong, gorgeous — have been flying around the Internet faster than a sprinter round a track, and as a result, thousands of anonymous users are looking at Stokke in her tight track uniform and posting graphic sexual fantasies. Reporters from around the world are requesting interviews with this new young sex symbol.

Some female athletes would love the attention. Some would respond by agreeing to pose for risque magazines. Some have justified the sexualization of female athletes by claiming that they’re proud of their bodies, and eager to show them off – even if to an audience that treats their photos with as much respect as they afford centerfold “girls.”

Stokke is different. Wise, at eighteen years old. She can’t do much to stop the worldwide “locker-room talk,” as her mother, Cindy Stokke, describes it. But Allison, a 2004 state pole vaulting champion, doesn’t have to like it, and doesn’t pretend to.

“Even if none of it is illegal, it just all feels really demeaning,” she told the Washington Post. “I worked so hard for pole vaulting and all this other stuff, and it’s almost like that doesn’t matter. Nobody sees that. Nobody really sees me.”

This is the crux of the answer to the “oh, we’re just appreciating female athletes’ bodies” argument. When female athletes are treated like Playboy bunnies, they lose their individuality and their identity. They become a product to be consumed by a lustful male public.

Allison Stokke wants to be known for her accomplishments – like any other athlete. Yes, she “worked hard for her body.” But the buff body was not her goal. And as long as her body is all these men see, they are “winning” by “demeaning” her, as she put it: reducing her to a sexual object to fulfill their fantasies.

It takes courage for female athletes to Just Say No to unwanted media attention. No, she can’t stop the Internet, but she doesn’t have to buy into it either, and so far, she isn’t. (Oh, please do NOT accept that sure-to-be impending invitation from Hustler, Allison, even though it would fund your college education!)

It takes strength to define oneself on one’s own terms. Fortunately, Allison Stokke is both courageous and strong – not just as a pole vaulter, but as a person.

Those who manage to see not just the body but the person will become true fans.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

Oprah Winfrey: Embody the Message

May 14, 2007

Howard University scored big this year by landing Oprah Winfrey as their commencement speaker on Saturday, May 12. Winfrey “brought down the house,” according to, with such stories as the one about the grandmother who urged her to befriend white people.

“She used to say, ‘I hope you get some good white folks that are kind to you.’ And I regret that she didn’t live past 1963 to see that I did grow up and get some really good white folks working for me,” Winfrey said, to laughter and a loud applause.

The Washington Post asked Karen Bradley, a University of Maryland professor of dance and an expert on nonverbal communication, to examine Winfrey’s body language to explain her appeal.

Bradley described Oprah as “entirely authentic.” Oprah’s emotions and actions are completely congruent, Bradley said. “That’s what we call presence or charisma.”

The phrase Bradley used that I found most interesting was “completely embodied.” Bradley defined this as “what someone is feeling internally is congruent with what they’re expressing.”

Apparently Oprah cried when receiving an honorary doctorate – yet did not seem embarrassed by her tears, instead turning to the audience to “use her emotions to feed her message.” She raised one hand when discussing blessings, “as if bestow a benediction on the crowd.”

Manipulative? Does sound suspicious. Is Oprah Winfrey aware of the power of her presence? Of course. Has she received public speaking training or coaching? Probably.

But I don’t think “completely embodied” can be faked. We’ve all seen speakers who gesture at the “right” times, who walk purposefully across the stage (or through the audience, a technique Phil Donahue popularlized) yet who don’t seem congruent, or charismatic, or “embodied.”

In fact, their bodies seem to be lying to us: saying and doing one thing, yet shining with a certain polish that makes us wince at the glare of their harsh light.

To be “completely embodied,” one must live IN one’s body, for starters. By “coming out” as someone who struggles with food, weight, and exercise, Oprah seems to have achieved something even beyond her impressive philanthropic, media, and publishing successes: She accepts her body without shame or self-pity. She lives in her body. And thus, when she gestures with her hand, or feels moved to tears, or speaks “from the heart,” her physical message and her verbal message are congruent — which feels satisfying to an audience, and inspires trust.

Yet another reason to be physically active, and to “embody” ourselves. It’s good for our health, sure — and it’s also good for our relationships, and our effectivness as leaders.