Thursday, January 30, 2014

209: The Self-Empowered Woman: Olga Kotelko

Dear Followers,

Every day each of us is getting older. But thanks to my good friend Karen Bayless, I was lucky enough to learn about a fascinating new book (What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson, Henry Holt, 256pp, $25.00) that examines the life of an amazing 94 year old track star.
Olga Kotelko didn't start competing in track and field events until she was 77 years old, but now she is the only woman in the world over the age of 90 who still competes in long-jumping and high-jumping competitions. Plus, she holds over 23 world records in track and field, 17 of which are in her current 90-95 category.
Experts are studying Olga's habits, diet and exercise routine because researchers now believe that longevity is probably about 70-75 percent lifestyle. In other words 25 percent of our health and well being is what we have inherited, and the other "three-quarters is determined by how you play the hand you were dealt."
Here are six lessons from Olga that can help us extend and enrich our lives:

  • Stay physically active--Olga played baseball until she was 75, and then she began participating in track and field events. New evidence indicates that exercise helps us both mentally and physically.
  • Stay on your feet--The more hours you spend sitting, the worse your overall health will be. Many office workers now use stand-up desks to effortlessly burn off extra calories, and improve their circulation. For the majority of her life, Olga never had a desk job, and she still climbs stairs and rarely sits for long periods of time.
  • You are what you eat--Olga avoids processed and fast foods, but (occasionally) enjoys everything from bread to beef to a baked potato--and she has a sweet tooth. She eats very little in the evenings, and works hard to have a balanced--but natural--diet.
  • Be a creature of habit--Good habits make it easy to stay disciplined. Olga has many regular rituals--stretching every morning, bowling every Tuesday, the same bedtime every night, etc. Establishing a regular routine can be like having a healthy safety net.
  • Embrace improvement--Whether it's our career, our relationships or our hobbies, we all want to feel like we're making progress rather than backsliding. But after mid-life--when the body naturally begins to get slower and weaker--we need to "refrain" our progress in order to still feel as if we are improving.
  • Keep emotions under control--It's harmful to our health to get upset over little things. When asked about how she stays so even-tempered, Olga replied (regarding getting upset) "Honestly, I don't have the time." All of this falls under the category of don't sweat the small stuff.

Olga, who is only five feet tall, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and was the seventh of eleven children. She was a school teacher (grades 1-10) in a one room schoolhouse, married (the wrong man) when she was young, had two daughters, and in 1957, moved to British Columbia with her girls. As a single mother, she earned her bachelor's degree at night.
Her track and field career was helped when she found a trainer--a strict Hungarian woman who demanded the best out of Olga. She began going to the gym three days a week for up to three hours each time doing everything from planks to Roman chairs, bench presses and squats. Today she still does three sets of ten push ups, three sets of 25 sit-ups, and runs intervals. Deep breathing, massage, reflexology and stretching are part of her regular routine. 
Recently, Olga told an interviewer that she has the same energy today that she had when she was 50. The reason may be that researchers have found that exercise can stimulate the production of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the end of our chromosomes that keeps genetic information intact when cells divide. This means that older athletes our more cardiovascular fit than their sedentary counterparts, and they are also more free of age-related illness in general.
Obviously, Olga is a great inspiration to anyone (especially Baby Boomers) who don't want to look or feel their age!
Looking forward to your comments...                     

Sunday, January 19, 2014

208: The Self Empowered Woman: Sarah Grimke

Dear Followers,

Sue Monk Kidd
Sarah Grimke
Many of you may have either read her novels, or watched the film versions of Sue Monk Kidd's novels. The Secret Life of Bees (which starred Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning) was shown in movie theaters and The Mermaid's Chair aired on the Lifetime channel. Today's posting is about her new novel, The Invention of Wings, which was just released last week and is a featured selection of Oprah's Book Club 2.0.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the stories behind Self-Empowered Woman, but I really enjoy sharing information about the lives of women who were born before 1900. From my perspective, they faced even greater challenges while they struggled to be heard and respected. At any rate, here's the story behind The Invention of Wings. 
The novel--which is based on the life of Sarah Moore Grimke, who was born in South Carolina in 1792 (16 years after Jane Austen was born) is a fictionalized version of one of America's most impressive (but unrecognized) women. She was the eighth of fourteen children (the second daughter), and her father was a rich plantation owner who was also an attorney and judge. As a little girl she was annoyed by the fact the her brothers received a classical education, but hers was limited to tutored lessons on "appropriate subjects for young women." The combination of this inequality and her observations of how the slaves lived changed her life forever. From the time she was twelve years old, Sarah spent her Sunday afternoons teaching Bible lessons to the young slaves on the plantation (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
The family attended the Episcopalian Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable), and Sarah's mother volunteered to help the poor in the area as well as female prisoners. Sarah had two goals as a young girl, but because of the values of her time and her parents' rules, neither could be fulfilled. First, she dreamed of becoming an attorney, and she also longed to teach the slaves how to read so they could study the Bible for themselves. Teaching slaves to read had been against the law in South Carolina since 1740, and when her father caught Sarah secretly teaching her personal slave how to read and write her father had the young girl whipped. Sarah stopped the tutoring lessons in order to protect Hetty (who was nicknamed "Handful"), but never stopped working to help the slaves (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream).
Sarah's brother, Thomas, left to attend law school at Yale, and whenever he returned home for a visit he would secretly tutor her on the importance of both law and religion (2: Supportive Someone). When she was 27, Sarah travelled to Philadelphia with her dying father, the rigid man who had controlled her and prevented her from getting a good education. While they were there, he died (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Afterwards, she became more independent and self-assured, and decided to remain in Philadelphia where she was introduced to Quakerism. She decided to leave both the Episcopal Church and Charleston (14: Selective Disassociation), and become a Quaker minister.
This is where she encountered even more discrimination. The male members of the Quaker community felt, as did most people of that time, that women should be subservient and limited to the domestic arena. In 1836, Sarah published a pamphlet "An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States," which denounced slavery. And by 1837, both she and her sister (Angelina) were being attacked because they bravely but (for that era) scandalously spoke publicly in front of "mixed audiences" (men and women). They also dared to debate men who held anti-abolitionist positions (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).
In 1838, Sarah wrote "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes" to argue that the rights and liberties of both African-Americans and women were one and the same. It's hard to imagine how much courage it must have taken (during that long-ago discriminatory era) to have publicly--and simultaneously--denounced both slavery and discrimination against women (7: Magnificent Obsession).
Later that year Angelina married the Abolitionist Theodore Weld, and with Sarah they moved to New Jersey where they opened a school. During the Civil War they lectured and wrote in support of Abraham Lincoln. After the war, the three moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where the two sisters campaigned for women's rights for the rest of their lives. Sarah died on December 23rd, 1873.
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

207: The Self-Empowered Woman: Martha Beck

Dear Followers,


I truly hope that 2014 has started out on a great note for each of you--optimism certainly seems to be in the air where I live.

Today I'd like to talk about author/columnist/life coach Martha Beck. If you're like me, you first learned about her while reading her column in the pages of O, The Oprah Magazine--I've always been amazed that--regardless of the topic--I feel more centered and upbeat when I finish her column than when I start. Or, if you're not a magazine person you may have seen her during one of her guest appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."  Ms. Beck is the author of ten books, and also runs a thriving business training life coaches. She's in demand for corporate training sessions and coaching weekends for both personal and professional growth at her ranch near San Luis Obispo, California. Her coaching business has trained over 1,300 people in the "Martha Beck method," and has become so successful that in 2012 it grossed $1.9 Million.

Beck was born on November 29th, 1962 in Provo, Utah, and was the seventh of eight children. Her father, Hugh Nibley was a professor at Brigham Young University, and was considered by many to be one the leading authorities on Mormon teaching (3: Belief In The Unbelievable). Beck created a firestorm of controversy when she publicly accused her father of sexual abuse during her early childhood. Her seven siblings and the Mormon community at large have condemned her accusations (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

When she was about nine years old, Beck was also sexually assaulted by a teenaged neighbor who had barricaded her in his room. She called the event "extremely traumatizing," and--combined with her father's abuse--it created a challenging childhood. As a youngster she suffered from anorexia, depression and despair, which she says was the result of being ritualistically raped by her father (12: Hard Times). 

Beck earned a Bachelor's degree in East Asian studies as well as a master's and a Ph. D. in sociology from Harvard (10: The Critic Within). While there, she married John Beck whom she'd known since high school and who was also a Mormon. The couple had three children, but their second child was diagnosed with Down Syndrome before his birth. The Beck's returned to Utah to be closer to their family support system, and  in 1999 she wrote Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic (which became a best-seller) about her decision to give birth to and raise their physically-challenged son (16: Intensive Motherhood).

After the birth of her third child, Beck was a part-time faculty member at Brigham Young University, when several faculty members were excommunicated from the LDS Church because their writings were considered too critical. In 1993, upset by the controversy, Beck and her husband decided to leave the Church (14: Selective Disassociation). Afterwards, she and her husband both came out publicly as gay individuals, but stayed together for the sake of their three children.

In 2003, the couple separated, and they divorced the following year (15: Forget About Prince Charming). These days, Beck lives on her ranch in California with her son Adam, who is now 25, her domestic partner, Karen Gerdes, and two other coaches. There is no shortage of people who want to attend her seminars, buy her books or sign up for her life coach training, but some experts are either confused by or skeptical of her "positive energy talk." If Beck has a common theme, according to The New York Times, it is "You will have all the happiness and money you need if you can just find what you're just supposed to be doing and just do it."

Looking forward to your comments...