Saturday, April 28, 2012

145: The Self-Empowered Woman: Sue Falsone

Dear Followers,

Earlier this month, yet another woman made history - and she did it in the world of major league professional sports. On what was - to the day - the 50th anniversary of  Dodger Stadium (April 12, 1962), a 37 year old woman became the first female to ever hold the title of head athletic trainer of a Major League Baseball Team.

The photo above is of Sue Falsone, who laughs about the fact that she thinks she was able to swim before she could walk, but (because of synchronized swimming) she spent so much time in the pool that her hand-eye coordination and balance development were not good enough for other sports.  "When I got to high school, I ran track one year.  I played soccer a couple of years - I was terrible at all of it.  I enjoyed being active [but] I wasn't a great athlete."

When she pulled her hamstring while playing soccer in high school, she had to go to physical therapy and thought that "...the stuff they were doing was so cool."  She had originally planned to become an orthopedic surgeon, but she realized that surgeons don't get to spend time with patients and help them work their way through the healing process. That's why she changed her career path to physical therapy rather than pre-med (2: An Early Sense of Direction). 

She grew up in Buffalo, New York, where hockey and football reign supreme.  She started her professional career at a clinic in Raleigh, N.C., and watched other trainers work with high school and college athletes.  In her words, she decided "Man, that's what I really want to do."  And from that moment on, sports injuries became her passion (8: Magnificent Obsession).

At a pivotal moment in her life (she had just broken up with her boyfriend and "needed to make a complete change"), she and a girlfriend packed up her apartment, put everything in a truck, drove to Arizona, and took the first exit that said "Phoenix" (14: Selective Disassociation).  She received her PT license in Arizona, and began working part time at a clinic.  When she read an article in Sports Illustrated Magazine about a batting champion who trained at Athletes' Performance (a training/rehab center in Phoenix), she began persistently "hanging out" there. 

Finally, the owner "realized that I was not going to go away" and offered her a job; today she is still a vice-president (8: Turning No Into Yes).  Falsone's background became more baseball oriented after working with Mark Verstegen (founder of Athletes' Performance) on practically every type of baseball-related injury.

The Pittsburgh Steelers was the first team in any sport to hire a female trainer (Ariko Iso, in 2002), and the  San Diego Padres hired a female massage therapist (Kelly Calabrese) in 2003.  In 2011, Nancy Patterson became the first female assistant athletic trainer for the Dodgers.  As head athletic trainer for the team, Falsone's office includes staff members that include massage therapists, physical therapists and  athletic trainers.

Falsone brings a level of perfectionism to both the players and to her job.  "My goal is getting these guys to feel good, given the level of performance they need to have every day.  It's not good enough for them to just feel OK.  Every injury is like a puzzle.  What is the optimal combination to make a player feel better?  Just figuring out that puzzle is what gets me fired up" (10: The Critic Within).

Falsone hopes that more women will be accepted within the ranks of professional sports teams.  When asked if the guys ever make sexist comments to her, she answered "They don't.  When people are in pain, they just want to feel better.  They're not thinking 'this is a girl, this is a guy.'  They're just thinking 'I trust this person.'"

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

144: The Self-Empowered Woman: Trish Vickers and Kerry Savage

Dear Followers,

Every now and then I like to share an unusual story about women that inspires, and does so in a gentle, non-competitive way. The following story is sure to remind you that great (if seemingly small) acts of courage and kindness happen every day.

In a small English village (Charmouth) near Lyme Regis in Dorset (best known as the countryside made famous by novelist Thomas Hardy) a small, minor miracle recently took place. Trish Vickers, 59, who became blind as a result of diabetes, looked for a way to fill the void in her life that had occurred after the loss  of her eyesight.

At first, she tried to write poetry, but then she decided to try her hand at writing a novel..  She used a pen that was guided across the paper by a system of stretched  elastic bands.  Her novel (tentatively titled "Granmifer's Legacy") is about a woman named Jennifer who successfully rebuilds her life after losing her job, her mentor, her boyfriend, and her great-great grandmother.  Six months ago, Vickers began to dream of finding a publisher.

When her son, Simon, came to visit she decided to share with him the 26 pages she had written.  That's when he had to give her the bad news that every page was blank; her pen had run out of ink even before she had begun writing.  In a desperate attempt to retrieve what she had written, Vickers and her son turned to the forensic service of the Dorset County Police.

That's where the other heroine of this story enters.  Kerry Savage usually helps to solve murder, arson and fraud cases.  But to help Trish Vickers, she spent five months worth of lunch hours using an angled brilliant light technique that reveals indentations made on paper to salvage the result of Vickers' imagination.  Thanks to her, a typescript of the missing pages was delivered to the heartbroken blind author.

In Savage's words "It was nice to do something for somebody, and it was nice to read the book as well.  Fortunately, apart from one line, we managed to retrieve the whole lot."  Now, a volunteer comes to Ms. Vickers' home once a week to type new pages of the novel.  This is a lovely story of two women who'd never met, having a positive impact on each other's lives in the rural English countryside.

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

143: The Self-Empowered Woman: Judy Blume

Dear Followers,

The above picture of me with Judy Blume was taken at the pre-screening party (at the Palm Beach International Film Festival) for the film version of her best selling book Tiger Eyes. As those of you who read The Self-Empowered Woman know, we have been friends since 1978, when I reviewed Wifey for the Los Angeles Times. It was her first-ever novel for adults (5: Risk Addiction), and we bonded over her story of a woman rebuilding her life, as well as a number of other shared experiences.

Judy Sussman Blume was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when her brother, David, was five years old. Her Mom, Esther, was a homemaker and her father, Ralph, was a dentist. My father died when I was 19, and Judy's father died of a heart attack when she was 21 (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

Even though she wasn't aware of having the ambition of growing up to become a writer (in her words "...I always loved to read. I didn't know anything about writers. It never occurred to me that they were regular people and that I could grow up to become one, even though I loved to make up stories inside my head...I never wrote down any of my stories. And I never told anyone about them...I spent most of my childhood making up stories.") (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Her father had six brothers and sisters, many of whom died while Judy was growing up. And even though her childhood home was "culturally Jewish rather than religious" she admits that "a lot of my philosophy came from growing up in a family that was always sitting Shiva." (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

Judy has been criticized because her novels were among the first books for young readers to tackle issues like bullying (Blubber), divorce (It's Not the End of the World), masturbation (Deenie), menstruation (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret), racism (Iggie's House), and teen sex (Forever). In fact, in 2005, four of her novels were on the list of the ten works that attract most complaints in American school libraries. She is one of the most banned children's authors in the United States (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest). Not surprisingly, today, she is a leading voice in America's censorship movement.

In spite of the criticism, Blume has enjoyed an astonishingly successful career, and her books have sold over 80 million copies and have been translated into 31 languages. And all this success came after - in the early 1960s - she would regularly receive as many as six rejection slips per week for two and one half years (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Some critics felt that Judy was simply an unsophisticated novelist for young readers, but she has won more than 90 literary awards, including the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the Library of Congress Living Legends Award (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Like so many other amazing women, Judy has had a bumpy romantic life. She married her first husband, John Blume, the summer of her sophomore year of college. They had two children, daughter Randy and son Lawrence (the director of the Tiger Eyes movie), but John was not supportive of her writing ambition; she once described the marriage as "suffocating." They divorced in 1976. Her second marriage was to Thomas Kitchens, a physicist who moved the family to New Mexico, but the marriage was a short, unhappy one. In her words, "It was a total disaster...I cried every day" (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

Fortunately, in 1979, she met handsome former law professor and author George Cooper on a blind date set up by his ex-wife. She had given him a list with four names on it (one was a Rockefeller!), and his daughter, Amanda, urged him to date Judy. They have been happily married since 1987.

Looking forward to your comments...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

142: The Self-Empowered Woman: Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham

Dear Followers,

Decades ago. during the years when I worked as a journalist in London, I would pass by a very pretty church each day on my way to and from the newspaper office that practically became my home away from home. The picture on the right is a 19th century engraving of St. Bride's Fleet Street, one of 52 churches in London that has always been assumed to be designed by Sir Christopher Wren. St. Bride's is the second tallest of Wren's churches (only St. Paul's - where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married - is taller), and it's multi-tiered spire is considered to have been the inspiration for the shape of traditional wedding cakes.

Please bear with me for a brief History lesson. Ready? The church was associated with the newspaper business because in 1550, a printing press was set up next door to the original church. Back then, London was the only British city in which printing was permitted by law. In 1666, the original church was completely destroyed during the Great Fire of London, and replaced by Wren's version in 1672 (the spire was added in the early 1700s). Sadly, the church was again gutted by German bombers in 1940. Newspaper owners and journalists paid to have the church rebuilt.

Now here's where the story REALLY becomes interesting. An English-educated American historian named John Millar has spent several decades researching the woman whom he feels mentored and inspired Sir Christopher Wren's work. This year, his book First Woman Architect will argue that Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632-1705), who is pictured above, not only tutored Wren about classical building styles, but actually helped him design 18 of the 52 London churches that were commissioned to him after the Great Fire of London.

Wilbraham became interested in architecture as a teenager. After her marriage (at the age of 19), she persuaded her husband to take her on an extended honeymoon to the Netherlands and Italy so that she could study architecture. Even though it was an oddity for women of her status (and women were barred from studying architecture), she was able to study with Pieter Post in the Netherlands. And when at Veneto, she was able to purchase the 1663 Godfrey Richards edition of Palladio's I Quattro Libre, an architectural book that she annotated heavily through the years.

Today, some scholars believe that she was the brains behind 400 amazing buildings in England, the result of designing about eight projects per year. Because of gender restrictions, she hired men to supervise construction on the government buildings, churches and private homes that she designed. One of those homes, Wotton House in Buckinghamshire was purchased (for four million pounds) by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie.

Twenty-eight architectural drawings in Wilbraham's handwriting survive today, as do five architectural models made at her direction. Given the lack of tangible proof that a woman's creativity was at the root of England's Golden Age of Architecture, only her family and a handful of scholars can be expected to pay tribute to her lasting impact as the creator of the 17th century's sophisticated British style. Today, British women architects are still struggling for acceptance - only 19% of British architects are female.

Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, April 2, 2012

141: The Self-Empowered Woman: Jeannette Walls

Dear Followers,

I really love researching and writing about amazing women, but when I get to actually meet one I feel like I have the best job on earth. Last month, I had the honor of meeting Jeannette Walls (the beautiful woman on the right), the astonishingly gifted author whose book The Glass Castle has been on The New York Times best sellers list for FIVE YEARS!

Like so many other Self-Empowered Women, Walls had an unreliable (if charming) father (1: No Paternal Safety Net). He was an alcoholic, a schemer, and a brilliant but undependable man who continually made promises that were never filled and took chances that adversely affected the people who loved him. In spite of countless upheavals and often dire living conditions, Walls was lucky enough to at least have an environment that was mentally stimulating. There might not have been enough food for dinner or a way to take a bath, but there was an abundance of good literature, art appreciation, and intellectual conversation (even if there was no heat or emotional consistency at home).

Fortunately, by the time she was a teenager, Walls had found her true calling (2: An Early Sense of Direction). Working at the Welch High School newspaper (in West Virginia) gave her both a way to avoid hostile students, and the reality that - unlike the other kids - she had no lunch to eat, as well as the opportunity to discover the joys of journalism. Walls actually had two people who took a strong interest in her talent and helped her believe in herself (4: Supportive Someone). Jeanette Bivens - who had also been her father's high school English teacher - encouraged her work on The Maroon Wave school newspaper, and Mike Armstrong, who was her boss at The Phoenix newspaper in New York.

Walls experienced almost endless bullying when she was a child. Her family's frequent moves and unsightly living conditions gave other students the ammunition they needed to attack her both physically and verbally. All too often she was taunted and called "garbage" (5: Life is not a Popularity Contest). It didn't help matters that she was skinny, wore ill-fitting hand-me-downs, and had buck teeth. She even tried to build her own orthodontia because her family had no money for braces. The other students took every opportunity possible to tell her that she was ugly and to call her a string bean (6: Life is not a Beauty Pageant).

Fortunately, Walls managed to overcome her childhood difficulties and build an enviable career in the Big Apple. She graduated from Barnard, hen became a familiar face on TV, in print and in book stores (8: Turning No Into Yes). Perhaps because Walls grew up in such an unstable family environment, bravery seems to have become part of her DNA. After her sister left West Virginia and moved to New York, Walls - as a teenager - left home (before graduating from high school) determined to build a better life for herself (11: Risk Addiction).

In today's world, when so many people find it easy to feel sorry for themselves, learning about Walls' childhood is a useful way to put our own "difficulties" in perspective. This beautiful, talented woman spent much (if not most) of her childhood hungry, either too hot or too cold, poorly dressed, and sleeping in one small bed with two siblings or in a cardboard refrigerator box. And on top of the physical challenges, she had to deal with the emotional uncertainty of a mercurial, alcoholic father and a depressed, unstable mother (12: Hard Times).

Not surprisingly, the outside world assumed that the ill-dressed skinny little girl from the "strange" family didn't have much to offer, even though she was a gifted reader and wise beyond her years. When the family moved to West Virginia (they had previously lived in the Southwest) she was unable to understand the Principal's accent at Welch Elementary School - and he couldn't understand her's - she was enrolled in classes for students with learning disabilities (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Curling up with The Glass Castle is the best way I can think of to be reminded that no matter how tough life seems to be, things can always take a turn for the better. Lucky me to have met Jeannette Walls!

Looking forward to your comments...