Monday, February 10, 2014

Women Can (Finally) Fly!

Photo via
On Tuesday, Lindsay Van, Sarah Hendrickson and Jessica Jerome make history. They will compete in the first ever Olympic Women's Ski Jumping event.

Unbelievable as it may seem, Ski Jumping has been a men's-only event since the Winter Olympics began in 1924. Women were not allowed to compete.

I first learned about this gender inequality in 2006 while I was researching for my book, THE FINNISH LINE, about a ski-jumping American exchange student who trains on the hills in Lahti, Finland. It never crossed my mind when I began writing that book that my character would have no hope of competing in the Olympics because of her gender. Who would have thought it possible in this century?

The Olympics in Turino, Italy were in full swing. I tuned in to watch the women's ski jumpers, only to realize that there were none. I contacted the good folks at  Women's Ski Jump USA, who were kind enough to help me not only with my understanding of the sport and training involved, but of their struggles for inclusion in the Olympic Games.  (You can read more about this fight on the wsjusa website.)

I was living in Japan at that time, and had the opportunity to meet Lindsay Van and Jessica Jerome a little bit later when they came to compete in Zao. I was also able to watch them train that summer in Park City, Utah. I was, and continue to be completely in awe not only of their talent, but also of their poise and grace. Even in the face of denial over and over again by the International Olympics Committee.
Finally, in the spring of 2011, the IOC announced that a women's event would be added to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. And last week, Lindsay Van, Sarah Hendrickson and Jessica Jerome walked into the stadium at opening ceremonies as Olympic competitors. 

I'm so happy for them, and proud of women ski jumpers everywhere who fought long and hard for this day to come. I'll be cheering for them extra loud tomorrow! (I should add that another favorite is from Japan, where I find myself once again, so even though my heart belongs to Lindsay, Sarah, and Jessica, I will also be cheering for Sara Takanashi. But in my way of thinking, no matter who medals, everyone has won.)

*The reasons the IOC gave for the exclusion ranged from offensively sexist ("women shouldn't jump because it can damage their ovaries") to blatantly untrue ("the sport lacks universality" - even though women's ski jumping had more competitors from more countries competing at the highest level than several other women's Olympic sports.) They have earned every eye roll you can give them, but we're staying positive this year, yeah? So yay, IOC, for finally seeing the light!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Share the Love!

It's February, the month of love!

Around here, Valentine's Day is not the holiday it is in the States. The marketing people love it, and Valentine's displays pop up in the stores, but it's not really a Japanese thing. 

I'll tell you what's universal, though... kindness. For example, here's a compilation of dash cam videos from Russia showing simple acts of kindness and compassion:

Notice how these acts don't have to be anything big or planned out. They don't have to cost anything besides a little thoughtfulness and a moment of your time. 

I think it's ingrained in us to be kind to each other. Sometimes we're just caught up in working our way through our own days so we miss the opportunity to make someone else's. So I love it when we get a nudge to rise to the occasion. Take last week's Atlanta "snowstorm" traffic fiasco, for example. Wasn't it magnificent the number of people who went out of their way to show kindness to complete strangers? People walking the highways to pass out food and water to those stranded with their cars, businesses like Target and Lowe's offering shelter, others like Starbucks and Trussville Grill giving away free coffee and food. All the way over here in Japan I read about the SnowedOutAtlanta facebook groups, and the amazing offers of help, delivering food, even opening up homes to perfect strangers who needed to get out of the elements for the night.

What if we didn't wait for the next nudge to look for ways to be kind to those around us? Imagine if everyone decided to look for at least one opportunity to help someone this month. Or even better... We've got four weeks. I'll bet we could each dream up (and carry out!) at least one random act of kindness each week. Let's do it! Let's celebrate Valentine's Day all month long.

Best way I know to share the love!