Fast Chick of Note: Wilma Rudolph
In honor of Memorial Day we decided to write about women we admire and who inspire us to keep motivated. I discovered Wilma Rudolph by looking for famous female runners of recent history. Ms. Rudolph stood out because her story of overcoming polio and going on to being super-superfast and winning 3 Olympic Gold medals (in track & field at the 1960 games in Rome) was awe-inspiring. And for her home town ticker-tape parade when she returned to the U.S., she refused to let them keep it segregated, and got what she demanded – fast, tough and smart.
Wilma says, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose … If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
Wilma retired at 22 and went on to complete her college degree, to teach, appear on TV and marry and raise her 4 kids. To find out more about Wilma check out her autobiography, “Wilma” which was turned into a TV movie of the same name. Oh and on June 23rd it’s Wilma Rudolph Day in Tennessee. I’ll definitely be thinking of her on that day while running, hope you can join me, and keep this fast and courageous chick in your thoughts.
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1980s Aerobics Triumvirate: Joanie, Judi, Jane
Here is a tribute to the triumvirate of my aerobic upbringing: Joanie, Judi, and Jane — who each influenced me to get into a permanent fitness routine. In the early 80s, these women introduced me to exercise and fitness, and shaped me into who I am today.
Joanie Greggains’ long-running show ‘Morning Stretch’ was a big part of my introduction to aerobics in the early 80s. Each show was a fun adventure, with 2 guests (fans) accompanying her. Her vibe was upbeat, often hilarious, and I always learned something beneficial. She was the perfect embodiment of the fit body I continue to aspire to. I met Joanie in person in the mid-80s and was able to tell her how much I owed to her. Joanie is a Bay Area celebrity and still going strong (her age seems to be a closely-guarded secret).
Judi Sheppard Missett is the founder of Jazzercise and is thus responsible for getting me hooked on group aerobic exercise classes. Jazzercise had been around since 1970 and was very popular by the time I discovered it in the early 80s. I instantly became a Jazzercise addict. I went to classes at various school auditoriums around town, and when I moved to a new town it was easy to find classes close-by. I was excited that I got to see Judi in person at a Jazzercise marathon in the early 80s at the San Francisco Civic Center — my recollection is hours and hours of Jazzercising by many hundreds of excited females.
Also in the 1980s, there was Jane Fonda, who inspired me to exercise and is credited with helping start the fitness ‘industry’. For awhile when I worked in downtown San Francisco, I would go to the Jane Fonda Workout Studio near Union Square, where the classes were excellent, definitely a cut above Jazzercise. I bought Jane Fonda’s Workout Book and also the Jane Fonda Workout record (vinyl), which were effective in getting me to sweat off some lbs. before heading to my Saturday Morning WeightWatchers meeting. Yes, pre-video. Those were the days. Jane is still looking fit in her mid-70s.
According to the web, she’s starting to contemplate her mortality: “I have become so wonderfully, terribly aware of time, of how little of it I have left; how much of it is behind me, and everything becomes so precious.” I guess I’ll follow her lead on that, too.
Before encountering Joanie, Judi, and Jane, I had never exercised and did not know how to make myself start exercising. I credit them with making fitness an all-consuming pastime/passion for me for more than 3 decades, and for decades to come.
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Baseball Loving Tough Chick: Dorothy Kamenshek
I’d be lying if I said I’ve always been inspired to try my hardest because of the example set by Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek. In fact, I only learnt about her this past week, during a google search, for which I’m extremely grateful. Now that I’ve read several, if not every article written about her, I’m not just appreciative—I’m inspired by this sportswoman who was single-minded and passionate about baseball.
In 1943, ‘southpaw’ Dottie was 17 years old when she joined the Rockford Peaches, which was part of the “All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League”, established to keep the interest in baseball going during WW2. Women’s leagues became popular attractions in the ’40s and ’50s; the fans first came just to see the girls—then they started coming to watch some serious baseball, with a fan base that numbered 1 million in 1948.
Realizing that this happened ‘way back’ in the forties, it’s not too surprising that there were sexist rules and guidelines:
One simple rule: Play like men; look like girls.
- Wear hair at shoulder length
- Wear make-up
- Uniform: dresses
- Attend charm school (at night after practice or games) for a year
- Chaperones travel with the girls
- NO — smoking, drinking, unauthorized dating or cursing
As to Dottie’s attitude about the DRESS code, she said they just had to get used to it and try to develop callouses, or get their skin toughened up in order to deal with the constant abrasions caused by sliding into base on bare legs.
Dottie didn’t have any trouble, for the most part, with keeping the rules, as she was so fanatical about practicing. And the practicing paid off—she led the league as the best hitter in ’46 and ’47 (for you baseball fans, her average was 3.16 and 3.06, respectively). She also stole 657 bases during her 10-year career, including 109 in 1946.
Not just an outstanding hitter, she was an excellent first basewoman—described by Wally Pipp (New York Yankee) “as the fanciest fielding 1st basemen I’ve ever seen, man or woman”. She’s listed in the 1999 Sports Illustrated among the Top 100 athletes of all time.
A men’s baseball team in Florida offered her a position, but she turned it down since she thought it was just a publicity stunt.
Her last year of playing was in 1953, wearing a back brace because of an injury—still managing to steal 63 bases. After baseball, she obtained a degree in physical therapy and worked as Chief of Therapy at Los Angeles County Children’s Services.
The All American Women’s League ceased to exist a year after Dottie retired.
The All American League and Ms. Kamenshek were all but forgotten until a 1988 exhibit included a display about them in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Dottie was also one of the athletes to inspire the character of ‘Dottie Hinson’, played by Geena Davis in ‘A League of Their Own’.
Now, why do I find Dottie’s story inspiring? Not only do I enjoy a good game of baseball, I admire a person—man or woman—who is passionate about whatever they pursue. Plus, she persevered, was single-minded (fanatical) about practicing to get to be at the top of her profession, didn’t get side-tracked by man-made rules; then when she retired, used her abilities to help children become stronger.
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Yogi Pioneer Chick: Indra Devi
Eugenie Peterson was born in Riga, Latvia in 1899. She fell in love with India and moved there in the late 1920’s, changing her name to Indra Devi. Intrigued with yoga she approached Krishnamacharya to teach her the practice.
He refused. Not only was she a westerner but she was also a woman. The Maharaja and Maharini of Mysore who had founded Krisnamacharya’s school stepped in and convinced the teacher to take her on as his student. Indra took whatever he dished out; change of diet and long hours of strenuous asana practice and pranayama. He took note of her determination and tutored her privately. She had a year long apprenticeship.
Krishnamacharya encouraged Indra Devi to teach yoga, which she did – in China, U.S.A., Soviet Union, Mexico and Argentina. It probably helped that she spoke English, Spanish, Russian, French and German. She is credited as being the first yogi that was not Indian to bring yoga to the west.
Ms. Devi wrote the first best selling Hatha yoga book in 1953, ‘Forever Young, Forever Healthy’.
I heard the Indra Devi story some time ago and just loved the tale. This chick takes on a new country and culture and is drawn to yoga, and takes it on too. At the time yoga was practiced by males. These guys practiced for hours. Not just the physical practice- asana, but also pranayama- extending the breath. Indra Devi, once Krisnamacharya agreed to teach her, was surrounded by men who were physically, and culturally more suited to the practice of yoga. She was fierce and determined. And then she took her show on the road, bringing yoga attention to the west.
Indra says, “Yoga is a way to freedom. By its constant practice, we can free ourselves from fear, anguish and loneliness.”