February 25, 2014

Seven Most Inspiring Olympic Women

By Shannon Goff

In honor of the 2014 Olympics at Sochi, I’ve listed seven women I found most inspiring throughout the Games. These women have proven to be outstanding athletes, competitors, and humanitarians and they are the embodiment of the Olympic spirit.

7. Svetlana Zhurova, Russia, Mayor of the Mountain Olympic Village
Russian speed skating champion and former Olympian, Sveltana Zhurova was more than enthusiastic about being Mayor of the Mountain Olympic Village. There are three Olympic Villages for the 2014 Sochi Games: the Coastal Village for athletes competing at indoor events, the Endurance Village for athletes competing in cross-country and biathlon, and the Mountain Village, the largest of the three, for athletes competing in all other mountain events. Each village is its own little community, complete with shops, dining areas, laundry services, fitness centers, a library, relaxation areas, a religious center, banking services, and health clinics. Zhurova, a four-time Olympian and 2006 gold-medal winner, took a lot of experience into her new position. She knew what athletes want and she planned to give them all that she could. She has dedicated her time, talents, and efforts and has said that serving has given her an opportunity to remember and relive the experiences she had during her time as an Olympian.

6. and 5. Lanny and Tracy Barnes, USA, Biathlon Women’s Individual
Earlier this year, Tracy Barnes qualified for a place on the US Olympic team, but her sister Lanny, a former Olympic biathlete, missed her opportunity due to illness. However, Tracy recognized that her sister had been in better form throughout the season and sacrificed her own spot on the team to Lanny. These two biathletes, and twin sisters, were awarded Fair Play awards by the International Fair Play Committee for acts of undoubted selflessness.

4. Eva Samkova, Czech Republic, Women’s Snowboard Cross
Eva Samkova won the women’s snowboard cross gold medal but what stands out is her carefree attitude and her funny good luck charm. Before every race, Samkova paints a moustache on her face for luck, which may have helped her beat Canadian Dominique Maltais, who was ranked number one in the world. Samkova started using this superstitious ‘stache in 2011 at her first World Championships in La Molina where she came in fifth--her best result at that time. She decided to keep using the moustache, and in Sochi she was ranked number one after the time trials. She then led from start to finish in all three final races, proving that her “silly” habit may not be so silly after all.

3. Julia Lipnitskaia, Russia, Women’s Figure Skating
It goes without saying that 15-year-old Lipnitskaia is an impressive competitor; she is also the youngest Olympic gold medalist in women’s figure skating history. Beginning training at the age of four, she has won countless competitions and became the youngest woman to win the European championships in January.  At Sochi 2014, she won both the short and long women’s program and received the gold for Russia’s figure skating inaugural team event. Lipnitskaia has been given Russia’s highest sporting tribute, the Honored Master of Sports award.

2. Lydia Lassila, Australia, Freestyle Skiing Women’s Aerials
You may have heard about Lydia Lassila’s amazing feat during women’s aerials. Lassila, one of the world’s top aerials specialists and a reigning Olympic champion, was trailing rival, Alla Tsuper of Belarus. Tsuper pulled off a breath-taking triple-twisting triple somersault and earned an impressive score. Knowing she needed to pull out all the stops to beat Tsuper, Lassila attempted something that has never been successfully completed by a female aerial skier: the quad-twisting triple somersault. She completed a full-twisting somersault, then a double-twisting somersault, and finished with another single-twisting somersault in the air but lost her balance on earth and landed on her back, which, cost her points and the coveted prize. What’s so inspiring is that she stood up smiling and blowing kisses to the crowd, then embraced her rival, Tsuper, who did win the gold. For Lassila, the loss didn’t matter as much as the audacious arial accomplishment that will be part of Olympic history. She later revealed that she’s wanted to try that trick for 15 years and finally got her chance in the super final. Lassila pushed the limits and her big risk paid off personally as she becomes a role model for the next generation of women aerial athletes.

1. Noelle Pikus-Pace, USA, Skeleton Women
Noelle Pikus-Pace has endured her share of disappoint and bad luck as an Olympian. She was favored to win gold at the 2006 Turin Games, but a bobsled accident shattered her leg, forcing her to withdraw from competition. During the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, she made a mistake that cost her a tenth of a second and the bronze medal. The event crushed her spirit and left her in tears after the race. Two years ago she miscarried at 18 weeks during her third pregnancy. Saying she had a rough decade would be an understatement. However, her husband, Janson Pace, convinced her to return to the bobsled track after the miscarriage, knowing it was what she needed to pull through. Noelle didn’t want to leave the family but the two compromised: the family went on tour together and Noelle got back in the game. Despite vision problems and a slight case of vertigo, this bobsledding wonder woman finished second in Sochi this year, winning the Silver Medal, as well as the hearts of the crowd who know her story. 

February 22, 2014

7th Annual World Sword Swallower's Day

Today is World Sword Swallower's Day and there are events happening around the globe! Click here for more information. If you're a sword swallowing fan you'll be happy to know this is an annual event co-sponsored by Sword Swallowers Association International and Ripley's Believe it or Not! in conjunction with National Swallowing Disorders Month.

February 18, 2014

Every Adventure Counts, No Matter How Small

Commentary from guest blogger Shannon Goff

When I was fifteen I was always down to try exciting new things and go out of my comfort zone to find whatever thrills I could. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, so challenging myself and exploring new things was the only way I could get over the boredom and monotony of my rural upbringing. One day my friend Donnie asked if I wanted to go ride some mountain bike trails in our local park and I eagerly agreed to go. Little did I know it was going to be one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

My dad dropped my bike and I off and I joined Donnie, helmet in hand, to set out on the rough terrain of the closest trail. I had been riding bicycles since I was five or six so I wasn’t scared and felt more than up to the challenge of trying out mountain biking for the first time. We started pedaling and within ten minutes disaster struck. I found myself taking a sharp turn down a rough trail riddled with trees and gnarled roots. Suddenly, I lost control of my bike and began picking up a scary amount of speed. I was paralyzed with fear, thinking, “this is it, I’m going to drive my bike off the side of this hill and die.” In a snap subconscious decision that must have been pure reflex, I turned my handlebars and ran straight into a huge oak tree to stop myself. Ouch. It took me a minute to realize what was going on around me. I was on my back, looking up, shocked and confused. From a distance I could hear my friend Donnie shouting expletives and running down beside me to pick me up off the ground. But he stopped short as I sat up. I looked down and saw why – blood was pouring from my face. The helmet probably would have protected my head but it couldn’t have prevented me from smacking the bottom of my chin into the rough bark of the tree. It didn’t hurt until I touched it and realized what was happening. I immediately started freaking out and going into hysterics. I called my dad who was still close by and we sped off to the closest Urgent Care. He handed me a Veggie Tales towel, unfortunately the only thing in the car that we had to stop the bleeding, and finally said, “I hope you didn’t break any teeth, we paid a lot for those braces you just got off.” Wow, thanks dad, so sympathetic.

Turns out I hit so hard that I tore the skin and muscle all the way to my jaw bone. I ended up getting two stitches to repair the muscle underneath and five stitches to sew up the surface. Moreover, I hit so hard that I ended up receiving treatment from a chiropractor a couple years later who said the impact caused my neck and spine to drastically shift out of place and claimed that by looking at my x-ray one would think that my neck “was on backwards.” Needless to say, I never again rode a bike. That is, until a few days ago.

Since my senior semester has just started, I have very little time to go on an adventure unless it’s something local. With the cold weather, my options are even more limited. So, I decided a big adventure and huge milestone in my young adult life would be facing my fears and getting back on a bike for the first time in six years.

Early one morning before my afternoon class, I borrowed my roommate’s bike (and helmet) and shakily started pedaling down the street. I imagine I looked similar to a baby giraffe trying to ride a unicycle. It was a rough start. I gradually started picking up speed and confidence. I kept telling myself, “I’m 21 years old, I’m an adult and this is a bicycle, stop being silly, I’ve got this.” It wasn’t long before my fears started slipping away and I was riding like I used to pre-accident. With every push of the pedal I could feel my body and mind becoming stronger. My heartbeat, pulse, and happiness increased and I ended up losing myself and riding for two hours – much longer than I could have ever imagined.

Obviously this isn’t what many people would consider an exciting and life-changing adventure, but by facing my fears and doing something as simple as riding a bicycle I realized things that I had definitely forgotten. I had lost the feeling of empowerment that challenging oneself can bring. Before my bike ride I felt afraid, nervous, and silly. Afterward, I was more confident and mentally and physically stronger. It was absolutely incredible. This was a small-scale adventure but a huge risk and challenge for me, and the first step to opening my mind to larger explorations. 

Next up, skydiving.

February 11, 2014

The Importance of Adventure in Society

Commentary from guest blogger Shannon Goff

When I was a child, all I did was run outside and climb my grandmother’s weeping willow or huge apple tree. My friends and I spent every minute we could out of the house, and we thought it was just wild to run through the woods and play hide and seek for hours and hours in the yard. The thing is, these memories are the ones where I remember being truly happy and carefree.

My adventures helped me understand myself; they gave me a true image of what I could accomplish and what I could push my mind and body to do. I gained immense satisfaction and a positive sense of self-worth by setting and achieving goals for myself through adventurous activities.

Unfortunately, it seems like so many people today prefer staying indoors instead of exploring the outside world. Many kids and adults would rather stay safely locked away in their houses, attached to their phones or computers or video games. However, the need for adventure is inherent in everyone; and it’s time to revitalize it.  

As women, it is important to be the explorers of today and inspire others to follow suit. We can recollect memories of being outside romping around as a child, but for today’s youth those experiences are much rarer. An article from The Guardian cited a 2008 study by Play England,

“70% of adults had their biggest childhood adventure in outdoor spaces among trees, rivers and woods, compared with only 29% of children today… [the] majority of young people questioned said that their biggest adventures took place in playgrounds.”

I was shocked when I read this. Adventure is a crucial element of a successful and full life, and less than 50% of those children surveyed had ever had a real outdoors experience other than a jungle gym. This is insane. Now more than ever, we must stand up as strong, female members of society and motivate today’s youth to find their own adventures. Having explorations and adventures from a young age creates resilience and a strong sense of independence, which are qualities I believe every female, even every person, should acquire and maintain. Furthermore, another British study found that “around 55% of girls and young women questioned agreed there is a lack of strong aspirational women in general.” This is absurd. Let us be those women that change their minds. Strong role models in local communities and in society in general show girls and young women that they can achieve great things. Young girls need female role models that are confident, courageous and adventurous.

This doesn’t mean that we have to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, or bike across America. By simply going outside of our comfort zones and doing things that bring risk and change to our daily routines, we are creating adventurous lives and leading others by example. There are plenty of things we can do, whether it’s going bungee jumping or learning how to kayak. The important thing is that we go out there and live life, for that’s how we can show ourselves and others exactly what we’re made of. Everyone has the ability to inspire others, and we need to take advantage of this fact and become positive role models for the rest of society. We must become the driving force that moves others, both younger and older, toward a more active future.