Category: Interview (page 1 of 2)

Using Love & Intention As Tools For Activism

Everyday Activism: Love & Intention

I had the pleasure joining Mercedes Samudio, LCSW on her virtual couch as we talk about family, parenting and Intentional Justice™

We dive right in to discuss what it means to be an activist today….and what it means to bring this activism into the family.

⇓ Watch the episode below ⇓

Resources Mentioned:

Transcript Courtesy of Shame Proof Parenting

Roth believes work begins with one’s self and expands outward.  It’s a continuous process.  She explains that in her journey to becoming a mother, and being a queer family, she had to go a nontraditional route.  Her identity was central to that.  She and her wife chose an anonymous donor whose identity will be released to their daughter when she turns 18.  This was important to them because they didn’t want to take away that part of who she is.  They have had conversations with their daughter about being a two-mom family and discussed what the difference looks like compared to other families so she can discuss it herself.  Roth feels that the best way we can love and honor ourselves is knowing who we are.   We next discuss how one can be an activist in her community on top of the demands of being being a parent. Roth explains that if it feels like a struggle, you can make it a long-term goal, and suggests tapping into what your heart is telling you-you want to do at this time.  Creativity flourishes in despair, and we can choose how we want to show up.  She suggests thinking about what it is you want for your family.  If you want more intentional conversations about culture and community, bring it into the home.  Roth suggests books as a way to do this.

For over a decade, Roth has been engaged in social justice work, and she reached a point where it felt like a grind and wondered at what point she would get to celebrate something that felt like justice.  She feels that there is justice in setting a goal or intention and moving toward it.  Her background is in sports psychology, so she really relates to setting a goal.  Roth defines Intentional Justice™ as bite-size  +deliberate daily action.  This means you take baby steps to get closer to your goal.

We shift into discussing how privilege can be a barrier to  Intentional Justice™.  Privilege can help or hinder attempts for  Intentional Justice™.  Roth advises that there doesn’t need to be shame around it–-own your story and know where you stand.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.  She poses the question of if you raise your consciousness and you know something can be different, will you choose to be different or settle and let it serve you?

Next, we talked about how you can model Intentional Justice™  for children.  Roth suggests going through an exercise that you can sign up for through her website called the  Intentional Justice™ Identity Table. She recommends having the parent or professional do it themselves first, and then as you get comfortable with your own identity, you can expand into a family identity.  It is appropriate for approximately fifth grade and up.  She feels that by this age you have a sense of who you are and how you want to show up to your classmates.

Finally, we discuss how to maintain  Intentional Justice™ when people in your support circle don’t understand your viewpoints or how to accept or respect your perspective.  Roth doesn’t feel like an expert.  She has had to make difficult choices and is currently not speaking to a few family members as a result of having to claim where she stands.  Roth gets support from a couple’s therapist, a support network of mentors, “besties”, and her tribe.  She explains that she can’t expect her wife, bestie, or other parents to show up at drop of a hat, though, and advises that you have to also love yourself like a mother.  It’s important to have a community but there are moments you’re by yourself, which can be empowering.  Intentional Justice™ doesn’t always mean you have to agree and stay around people who only agree with you and respect you.  Going through your own journey helps you turn the injustices into moments that are opportunities for learning, healing and growing.  It’s an upward spiral–as you get to know yourself, you may have some breakthroughs but the work does not end.

Thank Mercedes for the opportunity to chat with you!

Now let me share more about Shame Proof Parenting…

What is Shame-Proof Parenting?

When you’re led by shame-proof parenting, your family will understand each other enough that when people come against you, you won’t buckle under the pressure and you won’t turn on each other. You and your family can feel confident in saying, “This is our journey, this is where we are right now,” without worrying about others’ judgments.

~ Mercedes Samudio, LCSW

Mercedes is on a mission to #EndParentShaming and I accept! Will you join me?

In the Award-Winning, Amazon Bestselling book, Shame-Proof Parenting: Find your unique parenting voice, feel empowered, and raise whole, healthy children, Mercedes bravely and vulnerably shares opens the book by sharing her story to highlight the impact intergenerational shame has on our lives both as children and parents. Then with compassionate bite-sized + deliberate action, you are walked through 5 Ways Parents Recreate Shame for Their Children, which since has provided this mama with a powerful lens for Intentional Justice™ in my own life.

In an easy to read format, Mercedes guides us in unraveling the parenting style gimmick and the trap of the Dr. Parenting Expert with a first-class permission slip to choose our own adventure as parents by creating our own elusive parenting manual. I appreciate the thoughtful approach to talk about the underlying issues that stop the process of shame-proofing. I appreciate the thoughtful approach to talk about the underlying issues that stop the process of shame-proofing before diving into the how-to of bringing shame-proof parenting into our lives. Plus, there’s an entire chapter on the Shame-Proof Emergency Kit and our need for Shame-Proof Village. I love, love, love that Mercedes doesn’t shy away from addressing the gender divide with this inclusive intro…

For the purposes of this book, we are looking at gender as both biological gender classifications and how you identify your own gender.

The book wrap with a chapter on “Bursting The Shame-Proof Parenting Bubble,” which further highlights cultural influences as the most important aspect of shame-proofing parenting and protecting families from shame. In this section, I appreciate the simple yet practical paragraph on Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation. All this is to say that I felt included and seen in this book as a queer mama.

As I wrap my review of this book, I’ll share that my favorite part was the timely quotes sprinkled throughout. My favorite is how the book ends with Mercedes own words of wisdom…

Being wholly, authentically human is a lifelong journey that no one ever truly masters. Give yourself space to be imperfect, and make a commitment to shame-proof your parenting identity so that you can give that same space to your children.

Intentional Justice™ in Your Life

Now, it’s your turn. I invite YOU to consider:

  • Where could you give yourself to be imperfect?
  • Will you join me to #EndParentShaming ?
  • How has shame had an impact on your life?

?Please share your thoughts below in the comments ?

It’s one way YOU can take bite-size + deliberate action TODAY!

In lovelution ?

⇓ Ready for Intentional Justice™ in Your Life?! ⇓

“I’m Dead Sexy.” Better yet, …“People Like Me.”

Are you wondering who said these two contrasting statements? No clue. Let me give you a few hints…

She’s a 4-time All-American while at Stanford; 3-time Olympic medalist; 2-time World Cup champion; a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team , the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and the 2002 Title IX Commission on Opportunity in Athletes; plus, served as President of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

If you guessed Julie Foudy, then “ding, ding,” you are correct!

I had the pleasure of interviewing this “phenomenal role model and American icon for what she’s accomplished in women’s sports, as well as just women’s business and leadership.” Which is how Amy Love—Equal Rights Advocate’s (ERA) first Title IX client—described Julie prior to me sitting down with her. I must admit, it feels odd referring to this woman I’ve admired for years— starting as a 9- or 10-year old girl though my formative undergraduate years when my advocacy work for Title IX began—in such an informal way, yet this is the energy and presence she exudes—comfortable, confident, curious, and conscious.

In fact, as I introduced myself, it was clear the commonalities we shared:

Jillian (JR): I did an independent study in my undergrad creating a program called Backyards & Beyond…because I felt like my generation had no idea what it was.

Julie (JF): That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

(JR): That actually leads me to my first question, how are you feeling about today’s event and what message do you hope the audience takes away from your keynote?

(JF): Well, I’m totally pumped to be here for ERA because I just think the world of what they’re doing. We need groups like them…. When I read what they’re doing, I just think, “Ah, the world’s a better place because they exist.” When they asked me to come, I said, “Of course, I’ll come, it’s a great honor and that it’s the 40th anniversary of Title IX is huge.” It does sadden me that more kids don’t know what Title IX is and I don’t blame them. I just don’t understand why…it’s not more a part of the curriculum….I think it’s one of the most profound civil rights laws we’ve had in this country. And, the fact that kids don’t know about like they know about their civil rights pioneers in this county, I get a little bit madden by that and frustrated.

There you have it, one item on Julie Foudy’s self-proclaimed bucket list—getting Title in the K-12 curriculum. In the meantime, she shared with both the crowd of 600+ at ERA’s Annual Luncheon and I, “Title IX has been such a gift for me, the [U.S. Women’s soccer] team, my career, [which] why I will always advocate for girls playing sports.” This felt like a good transition to my next question, which was actually created by Haliee Kaliban—friend, former professional soccer player, and owner of City Gym.

(JR):  How do you think Title IX has fostered the sisterhood experienced in women’s professional sports between the athletes and young women who hope to be them? For example, staying longer after the lights go off to sign little girls’ soccer balls, being accessible to the younger generation, etc. since you’ve really been known for this throughout your career?

(JF):  That’s a great question! We’ve never taken it for granted. The fact that we have the opportunity to play at that level—[at the Olympics and professionally]—and the importance of being a female role model…I grew up when there weren’t many [female role models] you could watch on television, certainly not any soccer players. I grew up thinking I would be an eight foot tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and I was 5-5, 5-6 on a good day. I wasn’t going to be a 300 pound lineman for the Los Angeles Rams, so those were kind of the guys I was watching.

We always felt with the [U.S. Soccer] National Team that here’s this wonderful opportunity to touch someone’s life and it doesn’t take a lot of time and to show them they could be out here someday, we got that. I think women athletes, in general still, even those who didn’t have to fight as hard for the right to play…still get it and don’t take it for granted and understand the value of touching a young girl’s life.

This understanding still resonates, as Julie took photos with admirers and fans, as well as signed programs, balls, etc. for anyone that asked, especially a young girl. Curious if her perspective of being a mom has changed or affected her advocacy work, I asked and she immediately lit-up and revealed:

JF): It’s great because I have one girl and one boy, so I have the full set. People ask, “do you want your daughter to play soccer or do you want your son to play?” Yes, of course, but really I just want them to play. I just want them to experience sport…, it’s not like I’m advocating more intensely (laughing).

(JR): Right.

(JF): I’ve always been a die-hard for playing sports, but it just makes me realize that I want Izzy, my five year old, to not only have the opportunity to play but to understand the historical perspective of it—that girls did not always have this opportunity and not to take it for granted. I just hope Izzy knows when mommy was playing, she played because of pioneers like Billie Jean King, Donna de Varona, Nancy Hogshead, ERA, and the National Women’s Law Center, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Senator Bayh, Patsy Mink, and all these people that are not household names and I think they should be when it comes to women’s sports.

(JR): Sounds like all great names to be included in that curriculum.

(JF): Exactly.

Nonetheless, there are still plenty of skeptics—pre- and post-Title IX, male and female, revenue sports and non-revenue sports. Some would even argue that Title IX is non longer relevant and should be updated. That led me to ask Julie, “how is Title IX still relevant and how would you respond to such an argument?”

(JF): I think it’s incredibly relevant and it gets a bad wrap. Unnecessarily so, because schools are escalating the funding they’re giving to certain programs and hoping to get a return. Unfortunately, over 80% don’t get a return and they pour millions and millions into football, basketball, or the higher revenue sports. I understand why, [yet] Title IX doesn’t dictate how they should spend their money. Don’t turn around and blame it on Title IX and use that as an excuse to not manage the budget well and not getting the return on your investment. Because of Title IX, they’re not able to cut the women’s sports. Unfortunately, which is something we never want to see, the men’s minor sports get cut to make more room for spending on the revenue sports because they can’t cut the women’s sports legally…I think it is still vital because there would be a lot less women’s teams at the collegiate level now, if it weren’t for Title IX. Unfortunately, that’s where collegiate sports at the Division I level are going. Where there’s just fewer and fewer [with the focus on revenue male-dominated sports]] instead of this broad based approach, which I think is sad to see.

I had to play the devil’s advocate for a moment, which then led me to a question that I had pondered since the release of the 2002 Commission on Opportunity in Athletics’ Minority Report by Donna De Varona and Julie Foudy. I asked,

(JR): How did it feel when you put that report out in the universe? What was your big hope and did it ultimately accomplished?

(JF): It was a bit nerve-racking actually because during that whole Commission we were the dissenting voice, and it was a rapid-fire tutorial on D.C. politics…But it was a great lesson for me on being okay with being the minority voice and having the courage and strength of conviction to say, “I know that there are all these people who think I’m nuts by saying this, but I know also that there are millions of young girls out there, dads and moms, that support what we are saying and there is value to what we are saying. When we [she and Donna] came out with the Minority Report, we were branded the problem children on that Commission, but it wasn’t for lack of effort and trying to incorporate [our voices] into the majority report…, we tried. I’m not just one to take a minority voice just to stir things up, but we just felt in the end, it [the Majority Report] didn’t get accomplished so we needed to do a report on our own.

Listening to Julie firsthand perspective was inspiring and reminded that the greatest power we each have is our voice. Yet in order to raise your voice, we each have our own way of making ourselves feel good or affirming our strengths. That said, my final question was what I call a “fun” one,

(JR): What do you say to yourself in the mirror when you need to feel amazing?

(JF): [Big laugh] You know that Saturday Night Live skit, “I’m good enough, I’m strong enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.”

(JR): Yep, absolutely. Because we all have those days, right?

(JF): Yeah, that’s a good one, what would I say in the mirror? You’re dead sexy.

(JR): Awesome.

(JF): No, I don’t know. I think I would say, “people like me.”

I find Julie’s response a perfect mix of each of our realities: what we tell ourselves (and hope) and what we know to be true. On this day (and everyday for that matter), honor both of thees realities and raise your voice for what you believe in!

~ One Love

CALL 2 ACTION: Let’s Show the Mags What Real Beauty Looks Like. Take the #KeepItRealChallenge on Instagram!

*Miss Representation in partnership with Endangered Bodies, we take the best photos of the day and display them on a billboard in New York City—the heart of the magazine industry.*

Big THANKS to Julie Foudy for sitting down to chat with me!!

Part 2 of 2 | My Interview with Alana Nichols: Mastering Whatever It Is, One “Ridiculous Dream” at a Time…

Now that I have shared Alana’s story prior to the 2010 Winter Paralympics, what follows is the remainder of my interview with her, which focuses on her journey to the games, her experience of winging her first gold medal of the games, and what’s next…

Jillian (J): Switching gears tell me about your road from the court to the slopes.

Alana (A): That was a wild ride … I can’t say exactly when I had this ridiculous dream of going to Beijing and then immediately turning around and trying to go to Vancouver. I can’t pinpoint the day that it happened but I remember the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino were happening and while watching … having that itch to be a part of it. I had always kept it on the backburner since I’ve always gone skiing while I was playing basketball … I would maybe get 5-7 days in a season. In my mind, I was working toward the Winter Paralympics every time. I wanted to get better right then and that’s just the athlete mentality in that I want to master this [ski racing] or whatever it is.

And so, that’s when I think the whole road started to the Vancouver Games started. The journey officially began immediately after Beijing, when I called up the coach—Erik Petersen at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park and I shared that I wanted to come visit because I wanted to be a ski racer. He was like, “Well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If you can make it out here, we would love to have you in our program.” I actually … did a visit out to his program right before I left for Beijing and we sat down for lunch. … It was then that I told him I had never even seen ski racing, I mean technically I had but I didn’t know anything about it; however, it was my goal to go to Vancouver in 2010. And he looked at me and said, “Umm…are you sure about that? You might want to set your sights on the 2014 Games in Sochi. I was like, “Nah, I think I want to go to Vancouver.” And [I could tell he was thinking], “this is girl crazy.” And he hadn’t seen me ski or anything at that point.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what I was doing but I did know that I had set the bar really high and that I had this ridiculous dream. I say ridiculous because if you look at it on paper it’s ridiculous. You can’t just do that, but it turns out that everything I was doing athletically for wheelchair basketball was preparing me to be a monoskier. My core, my obliques, my upper body, and some of the hip movements you have to have in wheelchair basketball is exactly like mono-skiing, so I was technically training for the Vancouver Games when I started playing wheelchair basketball in 2003.

My coach pretty much shut me down and I was like, “Well, we’ll see how that works out.” It was a year and half ago, … October 2008, when I first started monoski racing and I was not even getting on the lift by myself. I was falling off every time—I’d fall, get back up, fall, etc. I had skied a fair good bit before I moved to Winter Park, but I had never skied independently because I always had an instructor that skied behind me at the very least. I was really just a big pile of rawness. In fact, … the first day I went skiing with my coach—the coach from NSCD—he didn’t really know where I was at as a skier and basically said, “Okay, go ahead a take a couple of warm-up runs and we’ll see you around noon.” And, I was like, “Wait a minute, what do you mean? By myself, right now? Like get on the lift by myself? I can’t, what are you doing?” He pretty much threw me out of the nest and that was probably the best thing I could have asked for/had done for me because it really forced me to fend for myself and learn how to get on the lift after I had fallen off six times a day.

In other words, my first season in Winter Park at NSCD was a whole lot of work. I was fortunate enough to have huge support from my grandma as well as a good family friend that gave me the money to be able to ski five days a week, not have to have a job, and be able to still pay rent. We train five days a week for about four hours a day, making it a hugely elite program, so it just all came together for me to get good as fast as I could. Then last May I was nominated to the US developmental team that was just like, “This is crazy. This is happening.”

It’s crazy because my first season I had to win a certain number of races to make that team, and being such a rookie I didn’t have any idea I needed to win those races I was just skiing. I really give a lot of credit to my naiveté, if you will. Just being naïve to everything I was like, “I’m [just] going to race.” And, I ended up winning two national titles my first season of racing. I just won the races that mattered, so I got named to the US team and then this season I ended up traveling for the first time internationally. This January 2010 I went to Europe for the World Cup and it was ugly. I was kind of a wreck. Our first races were in Austria and Austria’s snow is so different then in the US and being from Colorado powder and soft snow is really all I know. Well, I got to Austria and they ski on ice … I ended up falling and not finishing four out of my five races in Austria, so that was a huge learning experience.

I liken it to getting kicked in the teeth everyday but you get up. To be honest, I cried every single time, which I’m not embarrassed to say because I’m passionate about it and I don’t want to lose and I don’t want to not perform at my best. Racing is so different from basketball in that you have one chance—one minute maybe a minute and half, if that, to perform at your highest without making any mistakes. In basketball, if you turn over the ball or miss a free throw you didn’t just lose the game. In ski racing, you make a turn a little wider than the other girl you lose by a tenth or a hundredth of a second, so every day in Austria I would wake up and try to shake it off. I say, “You know what that was yesterday. Today is today. I learned something from that and I’m going to apply it.” So, super frustrating but a big learning experience for me.

And then, we went from Austria to Italy for the speed races, which is more my forte, and I ended up getting third in the first race and I won the second and the third race. Then I was like, “Okay, I’m feeling good about this world competition thing. But still, I didn’t have it in my mind that I’m going to go to Vancouver and win two gold medals, silver, and a bronze; no way!” I left Europe with a really good feeling of “I think I can do this. I think I can be really good.” I didn’t have any expectations, especially since I left thinking, “… [what a] really cool experience waking up every day and riding the lift and seeing the Alpine glow and the Italian Alps. I don’t care if I suck at this sport, I want to keep doing it.” Plus, for me, it’s so beautiful and a really cool concept getting people with severe disabilities up on a mountain and then racing down …

Anyways, getting to Vancouver was just like a real whirlwind because I was still just learning and refining my skills. Going into Vancouver we had our World Cup Finals, which is the culmination of the European races. I did really well there—I won two globes, which is an overall title for winning or competing the best in the five events—Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, and Super Combined (more info). That was like, “Wow. Okay.” I started proving to myself that I wasn’t just getting lucky. I was consistently skiing well. I got two globes, so there’s no denying it. … It was like this dream come true. It was all coming together.

I was skiing really well really fast, my athleticism from basketball transferred over really easy, and the biggest thing and the thing I think is so fortunate—I don’t know if I give it up to God or to the universe for making this a fortunate experience—I didn’t hurt myself. Ski racing is very dangerous. My first season I ended up breaking two ribs and injuring my shoulder, but my season going into Vancouver, I skied fast and I didn’t have any hard crashes. Going into Vancouver, I was like, “Well, let’s see what happens here.” And I think part of the reason I was so successful was because I didn’t have those expectations and I just started skiing. In my mind, I thought it would have just been cherry on top if I could medal in Vancouver; however, I had personally set a goal of winning gold in the Downhill and the Super G. The technical races—the Giant Slalom and the Slalom—aren’t really my thing, so I said to myself, “Well, I’ll do my best but I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” And it turns out the first race, the Slalom I actually fell on my first run, so I didn’t have any hope on the second run to medal at all but it was a good experience to get the jitters out. I was like, “Okay, I did that fine and it can’t get any worse.”

(J): It’s just going to go up…

(A): Exactly, so, my second race was the Giant Slalom (GS)—in GS, you have two runs and the culmination of the times from the first and second run are added together and if you have the least amount of time you win, basically. Like I said, it wasn’t my strongest event but the day we raced it, it rained from morning til night. It was just such a crazy experience because I had never skied in the rain. Although I think that’s what really helped me win because I realized and thought to myself “Everyone else is skiing in it. I’m just going to throw down.” It would have had been a harder race for me if the conditions were perfect. The snow was crazy—it was like slushy and hard and icy and weird.  After my first run I was up by a second and a half. As I go into my second run, … I am getting ready … knowing I have a second and a half lead and that I need to throw down a consistent run, but I can’t have any major mistakes, it raining, and I’m at the Paralympics with a chance to win a gold medal right now. It was really cool because if you win the first run of the GS or the Slalom you get to go last for the second one, so I knew if I made it down that course all I had to do was look up and see if my time was on top. And sure enough, I got through that course and saw my name up top and just glanced at it and exploded into a whaling cry with tears and it was an unpredictable response for me.

It was a very emotional experience because I lost my brother this summer and the only reason I was skiing at that point was because I knew he wanted me to and there were days that I was like, “I hate this!” I was filling my goggles up with tears because I didn’t want to even keep living at that point. I didn’t want to be losing my brother and missing him so bad, but there’s just no doubt in my mind that he would want me to do it. So, I knew that day after feeling like that and all the pain and anguish I went through I had to keep skiing because I knew he wanted me to and I hated him for that [laughing] still thinking, “I don’t want to do this. It sucks.” He was such a big fan and that was the reason I was even at the Paralympics. Then for me to have that happen, everything, it was just the perfect day. And when I crossed the finish line, those tears were not for winning a gold medal. Those tears were for my brother and for the fact that he’s present and still very much a part of my life. It was undeniable that day that he was there. Click here to see highlights (at 1 min) of the race.

I just lost it emotionally that’s what it was, winning my first gold medal as an individual athlete, and then going to the medal ceremony, I was crying before I even got on the podium. I was balling because not only was it my first gold medal [of the Games], but it was the first gold medal for the United States in the Games, so I got to let my whole delegation hear our national anthem for the first time. There was this unbelievable sense of pride and it was an honor. It was such an honor for me to be on the very highest podium and to be respecting our national anthem. I literally wore my gold medal everywhere I went, all night long. I went into this restaurant and everyone there was like, “Oh my god, let me see it. Can I have your autograph?” I went to bed and I set my gold medal next to me on my nightstand and I woke up, no joke, I was like, “Wait a minute. Did that really happen? Did that really just happen? Did I win a gold medal?” And, I looked over and it was there and I was like, “Oh my god that happened. This is so much to process. Whoa.”

(J): And I’m sure still processing…

(A): Yeah, absolutely.

(J): Because that was just the first of four to come.

(A): Yeah, I was just skiing in the moment and that was one of my goals I set out to do and that’s what you have to do with ski racing. If you fall in a race before, you cannot carry that to the next race. You can’t carry that fear of what if you hurt yourself. You can’t carry that disappointment. You have to be forgetful and that’s one of my best qualities. I have a terrible memory. I was able to ski in the moment and without those expectations I was able to just perform and I did. I won the gold in the Downhill, silver in the Super G, and the bronze in the Super Combined, and I’m the most medaled athlete of both the Paralympic and Olympic Games. And that’s kind of a lot to process too.

(J): Yeah, I was going to ask, how is that feeling for you? Without a doubt, you’re still processing, yet I see this as an opportunity to capture what you’re feeling now [May 3, 2010] because maybe one day we can talk about it in a different space. So, how does that feel?

(A): It’s been an interesting dynamic to understand what it all means. I did perform well but I feel so blessed. I was fortunate. I skied well. Everyone wants to go to the Paralympics or the Olympics and have their best run but there are no guarantees. For me, not only did I feel blessed because I was there but I also won the Downhill, which was the ultimate accomplishment for me because that’s my race, that’s what I love, and that to me is the most challenging because you go the fastest and you scare yourself to death, but it’s always like you’re riding that line. And, I was able to have my best run. I won that race by four seconds. Nobody was even close and that was amazing to feel that athletically accomplished.

To win four medal [pauses to ponder], you know is just so hard to process but one of the things I have been really working on is taking ownership of that and remembering what it took to win those and what I need to do to  get better … —even the gold medal runs I can look at and be like, “Okay, I can get better at these things.” And, it’s not about the medals themselves. It’s about being the best you can be as an athlete, and I feel so thankful those are mine and nobody can ever take those away from me, but I also feel like I have a lot of work to do still to reach my peak. I mean winning the gold medal is not the ultimate goal in my career. I want to be the best that I can be and if that means being the best in the world that’s cool too [we both laugh].

I think I still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing but one thing about being a Paralympian is that there is this underlying sort of assumption that because we’re Paralympic we’re less than Olympic caliber athletes. We’re second, we go second after the Olympics. We use all the same venues, we’re the second largest sporting event in the world next to the Olympics. It’s huge but there is this sort of an assumption that because we’re Paralympic we’re less and that’s been a huge goal of mine to prove to people that because what I do differently doesn’t mean it takes any less work and it doesn’t mean it takes any less dedication or discipline, so by owning these medals, which is hard because I’m kind of a modest, humble person but it doesn’t help our sport for me to be modest. Yet, it obviously doesn’t help our sport for me to be overly confident either. That’s why I have definitely been trying to take ownership of the fact that I earned these medals and because I’ve put the work in and even though it took me a year and half to do it I did work in that amount of time. I’m just really trying to change the stereotypes of Paralympic athletes that are out there. It’s not this huge stereotype but there are some people that are like, “Oh, it’s just the Paralympics.” And, I’m like, “No, it’s the Paralympics.” That’s not where I’m at.

(J): Okay, so what’s next for Alana Nichols?

(A): Well, I decided to not try out for the basketball team for the 2010 Worlds’ for a competition later in September. That was a really hard decision for me to make but I’m still healing from the loss of my brother. Plus, I’m sort of using the momentum that I got from the Vancouver Games—being a four-time medalist—to help progress my career as a ski racer. I’m doing a lot of public speaking. I’m still trying to find my message there. My story is what people always want to hear, but I also feel like it’s important to be intentional about my message, so I’m working on that a lot. We started training for ski racing in June 2010, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time off and I look forward to possibly making the 2011 Para-PanAmerican Team for basketball and then possibly the 2012 basketball team. It’s still the love of my life, I’m just taking a breather and I’m absolutely looking forward to the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

(J): So, still competing in both sports?

(A): Yeah, I can’t say that’s what I will do for sure, but I’m going to try and I would never compromise one sport for another because I just think that’s a waste of time to split yourself. But, yeah, no job in the future that’s for sure [we both laugh]. I have my master’s in kinesiology and I’d love to use that someday, but I’m definitely just riding the wave of being an athlete, which is great.  I love it—getting to travel, getting to do what you love, and getting to meet really cool people. I couldn’t ask for more really.

(J): And, it’s not going to last forever…

(A): It really isn’t. I’m ridin’ it.

(J):  I’m going to end by asking, what has been the most amazing part of your journey so far? And please, feel free to interpret however you want.

(A): I see what you’re saying about that question, it’s like she won gold medals, isn’t that enough?

(J): I didn’t want to assume you know.

(A): Yeah, I understand. Like I said before, the medal is the outward expression of the work that I have done. The hardest thing I have ever done was continuing to compete after my brother passed away. Beforehand, it was easy for me to compete as an athlete, I love it. It’s easy. Not the work, being in the gym everyday, it’s tough, but I love to do it. I love to make progress and all that. But when I was faced with such a different type of adversity, something that was more emotional and mental that I had to overcome … there was a moment when winning that gold medal, my first gold medal that was the moment that I was like, “I did that and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” And so, I think that’s one of the most amazing parts of the journey but… [pauses to gather her thoughts] I’m just so thankful that I get to go out…oh! I have so many different amazing moments, but one of my huge goals and I’ve had to look for a purpose in ski racing because it’s an individual sport and it’s not enough to me to get all the glory and that be it. That doesn’t matter, I don’t want the glory. It’s great or whatever and it’s a lot of fun to get all the attention—it really is, but for me, I really needed to find something else. When I first broke my back I remember how lonely it was and how lost I was and how bleak and dim my life looked at that point and sport is what gave it to me. And so, I hope I inspire other young women with disabilities because it’s going to be a long life if you can’t find purpose or meaning or confidence and that’s all the things that sport gave me.

And so, I meet this young woman in Vancouver and she was probably 5 or 6 and she was in this tiny little wheelchair and she met me and she was so shy but said, “Oh my god, I’m meeting a gold medalist.” Afterward, I was really sweet with her and everything, I put my gold medal around her neck and she looked at me, this sounds really dramatic, but she told me, “I want to be just like you.” And, to myself, I was like, “Whoa, that’s why I do it.” While I told her, “That’s amazing and I hope that you do. I hope you go out and do whatever you can with whatever you have. If you want to be, you don’t have to be a ski racer, you can do anything. Just go out and do it. Try your hardest and have fun.” And, that was one of the most amazing moments. It was really like one of those full circle moments where I was like, “Okay, that’s why I do this.” And that meant more to me than the gold medal. I’ve heard this from a number of people. They’re just like, “You don’t know how many people have seen you and know what you’re doing and you’re inspiring. I’m just like, “Okay, that’s a lot to process.”

(J): Before I turn off the recorder, I just want to ask, is there anything else you want to say?

(A): … I just hope that other people can experience what I’ve experienced—not as a person with a disability but as an athlete that loves what they do. I love you’re [IOU Sports] website as it’s taking ownership of being a woman and taking pride in that while competing in sports. I just hope my message comes across in that way.

What’s clear as I share this interview with you as well as reflect on my time with Alana then and since then is that she’s on a journey of taking ownership of not only what has happen to her along the way— both good and bad, but she is also taking ownership of her role in the adaptive sport movement. I don’t feel like it’s my place to say what this role is since I think Alana does this well and is still in the process of figuring that out. I’ve always been a believer that action speaks louder than words, despite my love for them and my passion of composing them together. However, I think the best compliment is when others notice. And, believe me, others are noticing. In fact, Alana was just nominated for a 2010 ESPN ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability. Even as a friend of Alana, I was humbled by the experience of interviewing her. It was powerful, motivating, and emotional. I feel honored to tell her story. I leave you with a poem I wrote shortly after our time together:

With a smile that illuminates the room, Alana glides…

With an energy that is infectious, Alana glides…

With a perseverance that won’t die, Alana glides…

With a spirit that shines, Alana glides

As she glides through life, Alana is a woman that reminds us that setting the bar high is what life is all about!

Click here to see Alana’s advice to young girls and women.

CALL 2 ACTION: Vote for Alana as the 2010 Best Female Athlete with a Disability here. An then, watch the ESPYS as they broadcast live on ESPN from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 14 at 9 p.m. ET.

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