The what? The Strongwoman competition? Kara Mann wasn't what I expected. Nor did I expect to be so fascinated and so inspired by a 23-year-old. Her look, demeanor and voice were not unlike one of the cheerleaders she has had to dead-lift in competition. Another stereotype bites the dust.
In 2004, Kara Mann became the National Strongwoman Champion, less than two years after first starting to compete in the sport. After winning that competition again as recently as 2006, she is now a twotime national champ. Where did she come from and how did she get there so fast?
A native of Boston, she first got into it through a boyfriend and his family who encouraged her to give it a try. Her ascent was rapid, beginning with third place in the Massachusetts state championships.
Mann shook her head when asked if she would have done anything differently, having been a three-sport athlete in high school where she succeeded at cross-country, basketball and track and field, and dabbled in gymnastics, taekwondo and playing the flute.
Today she uses her degree from Vanderbilt in chemical engineering at her job at General Electric in Cleveland and is learning to juggle her vocation and her strongwoman hobby. “You can't do it as a career.” When asked about financial rewards, she laughed. “Sometimes they give us swords, Samurai swords. Once I did get three hundred dollars, though.”
So why would someone so physically strong, athletic and focused choose this? The well-known health benefits of this level of physical conditioning aside, “It's a passion. It's a release of energy and stress for me…and you can't imagine the highs, the empowering feeling you get after being successful in a competition.”
Asked to describe a typical competition, her eyes light up. “You never know what to expect.” The unpredictable nature of each competition holds particular appeal for Mann. What is consistent about the competitions is that three aspects of skill and strength are always tested: “overhead,” “grip” (e.g., see how long you can keep two Mini Cooper cars from rolling) and “back and legs.” In addition, one can always expect the classic, signature event called Atlas Stones, where contestants carry large cement stones of varying weight and shape over to a platform. She once pulled an A-4 military airplane 47 feet in 60 seconds.
A typical week involves strength training each weekday, followed by “implement” training on the weekends. Implement training zeroes in on the specific mechanical skills involved in the upcoming events. In the week preceding an event, the amount of implement training increases. In all three geographic settings of her life, Boston, Nashville and now Cleveland, she has connected to a network of athletes with this pursuit, most of them males, who she refers to as if they were her brothers.
Just as important as physical preparation is mental preparation. She is convinced that the quality of her mental focus at the time of her event is crucial. “You can't be distracted in the least or paying attention to your opponents.” Mann uses what she calls “angry” music, like Disturbed, to get her psyched and ready. “I don't even know what they're saying.” She attributes her success in putting mind over matter to her upbringing and to her experience in other sports.
Behind this modest, casual, relaxed demeanor, there lies a woman with strong opinions about what is wrong with the sport. She laments that there are but a handful of females who compete consistently. The corollary to that problem is the lack of financial rewards. She would like to see the women break off from the male federation, recognizing a need for more woman-power in the decision-making. She would like more consistency, predictability and regularity in dates and locations of competitions.
And perhaps most importantly, she would like to see the sport regulated. Right now there is no drug-testing whatsoever in either the male or female milieus. “I really have issues with that, since it constitutes an uneven playing field.” Mann's goal is to attract other females to this sport that she loves, and along with that, to inspire entrants to compete without “supplements.” She even envisions two separate classes for those who “do” and those who “don't.”
All of these improvements would help to shift strongwoman away from its entertainment flavor toward its status as a serious “sport.”
You can bet that Kara Mann, at 5'6” and 165 pounds, will be a force in helping shape the evolution of her sport. She's just that strong.
Eileen Marie Collins (Colonel, USAF, RET.) NASA Astronaut
Born November 19, 1956, in Elmira , New York.
Eileen graduated from Elmira Free Academy, Elmira, New York, in 1974 and received an Associate in Science degree in mathematics/science from Corning Community College in 1976. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University in 1978. She also has a Master of Science degree in operations research from Stanford University in 1986 and a Master of Arts degree in space systems management from Webster University in 1989.
As a small girl she gazed up into the sky and watched the silent birds (sailplanes) soar through the air, this is where the love affair began. Eileen grew up in the "Soaring Capital of America." She was fascinated with flight and knew that one day she wanted to fly. At the age of 19 she had saved $1,000 and went to her local airport to ask them to show her how to fly. Her inspiration was fueled by women pilots and early astronauts.
Through years of education, determination and hard work she has logged more than 6,751 hours in both the air and space! Eileen joined the Air Force and began pilot training in 1978, the same year that NASA opened the Shuttle program to women. She became an official astronaut in 1991.
Eileen Collins is the first and currently only female Space Shuttle Commander in history!! Four space flights and 872 hours in space later Eileen retired from NASA in May 2006.
Rebecca, who I met at a business conference in Las Vegas, is one of the smartest people I know. Even if you were around her for an entire day, you probably wouldn’t notice her disability.
“I was born with severe dyslexia,” Rebecca explains. “Due to my learning disability, I was in special education classes for most of my elementary and middle school years.”
Despite the challenge, she refused to let dyslexia dictate her life. Every day, she worked on overcoming her disability with the help of her parents.
“My dad would spend an hour every morning helping me with math,” says Rebecca. “In the evenings, my mom would have me read books out lout and then she would quiz me on the content.”
Rebecca’s hard work paid off. By high school, she had advanced from special education classes all the way to honors classes. When high school came to an end, she kept striving.
“When I was a young, no one thought I could ever go to college,” she confides.
Not only did Rebecca end up going to college, she graduated near the top of her class. Was her journey over? Hardly.
“I always had a vision,” says Rebecca, “of one day being a lawyer. But it seemed like such a crazy aspiration that I never told anyone.”
Today, Rebecca’s vision is a reality. She graduated from law school and is currently working her way up in one of the largest law firms on the East Coast.
Rebecca says: “I wouldn’t change a thing. My learning disability still makes life a challenge but it also gave me the determination to make my dream come true.”
"Mom, why are you crying?" he asked his mom.
"Because I'm a woman" she told him.
"I don't understand," he said.
His mom just hugged him and said, "and you never will." Later the little boy asked his father, "Why does mother seem to cry for no reason?"
"All women cry for no reason" was all his dad could say.
The little boy grew up and became a man, still wondering why women cry.
Finally he put in a call to GOD. When GOD got on the phone the man said, "GOD, why do women cry so easily?"
"When I made women she had to be special. I made her shoulders strong enough to carry the weight of the world; yet, gentle enough to give comfort.
I gave her an inner strength to endure childbirth and the rejection that many times comes from her children.
I gave her a hardness that allows her to keep going when everyone else gives up and take care of her family through sickness and fatigue without complaining.
I gave her the sensitivity to love her children under any and all circumstances, even when her child has hurt her very badly. This same sensitivity helps her to make a child's boo-boo feel better and shares in her teenager’s anxieties and fears.
I gave her strength to carry her husband through his faults and fashioned her from his rib to protect his heart.
I gave her wisdom to know that a good husband never hurts his wife, but sometimes tests her strengths and her resolve to stand beside him unfalteringly.
I gave her a tear to shed, it's hers exclusively to use whenever it is needed. It's her only weakness; it's a tear for mankind."
Yasmin Waljee, 38, a lawyer, from London
Yasmin will never meet all the thousands of people she has helped. But her belief that justice is a right for all - and that the disadvantaged who can't access a diminishing legal aid system should be represented for free by some of
Britain's top lawyers - drives her relentlessly on.
Yasmin, is head of Pro Bono - provision of free service by volunteer lawyers - at top legal firm Lovells.
She helps mastermind 18,000 free hours of legal help a year worldwide - from victims of domestic violence, victims of terrorist attacks including the London July 7 bombings, disabled people who are fighting for Disability Living Allowance and desperate families facing eviction in East London because they are falling behind with
Allowance and desperate families facing eviction in East London because they are falling behind with rent.
While Yasmin - married with a one-year-old son - claims modestly that all the above is not her work alone, she also tirelessly raises money for charity: for example, persuading her colleagues to abseil down their building and arranging a team of lawyers to help clean up a rundown area of Newham, East London.
Last year, working with a committee of staff, she raised £25,000 for Save The Children through Legally Ballroom Dancing - an event which saw 30 lawyers waltzing in front of their colleagues.