Disaster Relief: KIRF’s Nepalese Earthquake Supplies Delivery in May 2015

Kirwin International Relief Foundation logo (registered)KIRF co-founder and disaster relief volunteer Mark Kirwin is flying out to Nepal with a disaster relief volunteer from Ventura Rotary next week, May 12, 2015.

Mark Kirwin’s May 2015 field report from Nepal has been posted on KIRFaidblog.org >

Mr. Kirwin is Cultural Anthropology Adjunct Professor Angela Kirwin’s husband. The Kirwins created their volunteer disaster relief non-profit charity, called “Kirwin International Relief Foundation,” or “KIRF” for short,  after surviving the Andaman Sea tsunami disaster with their children on the coast of southern Thailand on December 26, 2004. After using their own funds and volunteer efforts to help families who lost everything in Thailand, they realized that with the right disaster zone connections and cultural knowledge, they can deliver effective, efficient and locally needed disaster relief. Also, they realized that getting needed disaster supplies into disaster zones quickly and efficiently is still a huge un-met need among the poor and marginalized communities worldwide. Very often disaster relief supplies are diverted away from these communities due to national and local social and political pressures.

Donations made to “KIRF” for Nepal’s earthquake relief will go directly to earthquake survivors in the form of requested building and emergency supplies that will be locally purchased and delivered in Nepal with the donated funds. By purchasing locally, the funds will also help local business owners and their families hit by the earthquake disaster recover. The Kirwin International Relief Foundation is a registered 501(c )(3) non-profit charity in the State of California. Donations are tax deductible.

Updates and photos about this relief effort will be on KIRF’s social media: Twitter.com/KIRFaid  and KIRFaid.org and KIRFaidblog.org

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A Conservation Tourism Assessment in Nicaragua: GPS Trail Mapping and Howler Monkey Census

Brick house just before the Papaya Grove and across the street from a rain forest patch

House across the road from a rainforest patch (and home to a group of wild mantled howler monkeys) in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua Photo: AR Kirwin

This post is about an assessment of the local conservation tourism opportunities in Playa Gigante, Nicaragua that I did in the summer of 2013.  Playa Gigante is a small fishing village and, recently an international surf destination, on the Pacific Coast of southern Nicaragua a couple of hours north of the Costa Rican border. This report includes a summary of the social and economic changes that are creating both hardships and opportunities in the town, and the various ecological data on the local howler monkey groups and their food trees and scenic trails that I was able to collect during the assessment.  My complete field report about this project is posted on the blog for the Kirwin International Relief Foundation (KIRFaidblog.org)– a non-profit disaster relief and education organization that I co-founded with my husband in 2005. Our non-profit has been supporting the humanitarian and environmental conservation efforts of two other non-profit organizations who are making a big difference in the town: Project Waves of Optimism and Sweet Water Fund. This was my second visit to Playa Gigante after helping out the local women’s softball team Las Estrellas through Sweet Water Fund and vising the construction of the new Gigante Community Health Center, made possible by local community volunteers and fund raising effort lead by the inspiring group of young surfers at Project Waves of Optimism. Continue reading

Girl in the Jungle: Female Anthropologists & Feminist Dilemmas –Part II

Hortense Powdermaker on Lesu (1920s)

Hortense Powdermaker on Lesu (1920s)

Feminist anthropologists have traditionally studied gender differences, female subordination and traditional feminine roles in a culture.  Early female anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, and Hortense Powdermaker aimed to correct the historically androcentric (male) bias in anthropology.   Later feminist anthropologists such as Annette Weiner, Patricia Zavella, Lila Abu-Lughod and Diane L. Wolf dealt with the contradictions of being a feminist working for social change and anthropologist studying a society as it is. These perceived feminist dilemmas in fieldwork are talked about in their work. Continue reading

Girl in the Jungle: Female Anthropologists & Feminist Dilemmas–Part I

Jungle Girl (1941)

Jungle Girl (1941)

What are  the advantages of being a female anthropologist in the field? According both male and female anthropologists, there are both advantages and disadvantages of being either gender.  The following is an essay about some of the issues of being a female or male anthropologist studying gender roles in the field (Part I), and the feminist dilemmas in fieldwork (Part II). Continue reading

Food As Fuel Part II: How Triathletes and Marathoners Eat in Between Work and Working Out

This  article is Part II of my report on the eating habits of 141 triathletes and marathoners I surveyed in the Fall 2008 during my first year of graduate school in applied cultural anthropology. At that time I was still new to the various theoretical perspectives in anthropology that strive to explain why people do what they do.

Like any interpretation of behavior, my survey results are contextual of a particular place and time with biases per the questions I asked and the perspectives of my respondents. That being said, I still find that trying to figure out “why people do what they do”  is not only interesting, but has  obvious practical implications. From altruistic societal goals such as creating more effective and long-lasting peace initiatives and changing consumer behavior to more environmentally sustainable norms and  to more mundane things such as marketing a local business, figuring out why people do what they do is many practical applications. Continue reading

Food as Fuel Part I: Food Beliefs of Triathletes & Marathoners

Triathlete at the 2007 Carpinteria Triathlon enjoying a post-race binge.

Triathlete at the 2007 Carpinteria Triathlon enjoying a post-race binge.

With the current food movement extolling the health benefits of whole foods, organic foods, home cooked or slow foods, gluten/fat/sugar/salt-free and 100% natural foods, I thought it was curious that many endurance athletes, self-described health and fitness conscious folks, who even believed themselves that home cooking with natural ingredients was better for their health, regularly processed and fast foods on the go. 

Instead of eating meals and snacks made of local farm fresh ingredients, the marathon runners and triathletes I interviewed regularly gulped down processed, packaged and pre-made convenience foods chock full of artificial ingredients known only to food chemists with PhDs. And forget about sitting down to a meal with friends or family around the table. Many of the athletes I surveyed frequently ate alone– taking their meals in the front seat of a car, under a tree on a trail or from their bike jersey’s back pocket. Finally, they don’t even think of a meal in the same way. Instead of meal made up of a variety of ingredients found in nature, they’re computing food calories and ideal proportions of macronutrients to optimize their athletic performance. What’s the deal?

By looking at the dietary habits of nearly 150 triathletes and marathon runners in my area—what they eat, when they eat, how they eat and their food-related rituals and beliefs—I hoped to explain why they are “a little different” when it comes to their eating habits. The following report is an edited down version of a research project I did for a food anthropology class in the Fall of 2008. I edited out most of the social science lingo, methodological details and references to old dead French social theorists to spare you.
Methodology: 
To figure out why triathletes and marathon runners are preaching, but not necessarily practicing the whole foods/slow food trend, I surveyed 108 marathon and ultra runners of two local running clubs and 33 triathlete members of a local triathlon club. In addition to the online surveys, I interviewed several race participants about their food ways at the Carpinteria Triathlon, September 28, 2008 and Santa Clarita Half-Marathon and Marathon races, November 2, 2008.
 My sample of respondents was purely convenience based. However, they represent “typical” triathletes and marathon runners per the demographic information from online media kits for Triathlete and Runner’s World magazines (Triathlete 2008; Runners World 2008). And, full disclosure, they were also my friends and friends of friends who self-reported their eating habits while training for and during their last “important” triathlon or marathon race. Their self-reporting may not be entirely accurate due to poor memory and potential social embarrassment. For example, my eight time Ironman athlete and personal trainer friend may not have come clean about his weekend beer and gummy bear consumption. In other words, the results should be taken with a grain of salt (ouch, bad pun).
The eating habits and dietary beliefs of the interviewed athletes seemed to mimic the ideals of sports nutrition within both sport sub-cultures of triathlon and long-distance running.  These ideals are represented in sports nutrition articles in both peer-reviewed research journals and popular triathlon and running magazines such as Triathlete, Runner’s World and Marathon and Beyond.
However, this is with the one significant exception: post-race binging. Very often, after a major race, my surveyed endurance athletes threw out everything they knew about performance enhancing nutrition and recovery and did the exact opposite. Basically, it seems that these normally sports nutrition disciplined and solitary eaters found their inner post-finals college party selves and went crazy–dietarily speaking. Many of the triathletes and marathon runners surveyed went on a post-race communal consumption binge: drinking enough beer or margaritas to make a fraternity guy (or sorority girl) wobbly, and happily consuming normally what they considered to be “bad foods” foods such as burgers, French fries, pizza…But I am getting ahead of myself.
Research Results:

The “good foods” and “bad foods” according to triathletes and marathon and ultra runners

The surveyed and interviewed athletes generally categorized foods as either “good foods” or “bad foods” most consistently by their digestibility (important for consuming foods while training and racing), their functional ability to increase the athlete’s endurance, and their perceived healthfulness. When asked to name “good foods” and “bad foods” triathletes and marathon and ultra runners athletes alike seemed to categorize most foods by the foods’ perceived health and athletic performance enhancement functions.
“Good foods”
Good foods were described as “healthy”,“nutritious”, “high carbohydrate”, “anti-oxidant”, “fresh”, “whole grain”, “organic”, “non-processed”, “vegetarian” and “raw”. Some of the descriptions they used for good foods seemed to be symbolic of the body image ideals of these sport cultures such as “lean”, “in moderation”, “light”, “low fat” and “whole”.
Believing that they are what they eat, triathletes and marathon runners seem to prefer eating “light”, “low fat” and “whole” foods and thereby would imbue their bodies with those qualities and thus they, in turn, would seem to embody their sport cultures.
Moderate amounts of high carbohydrate and micronutrient rich foods were uniformly cited as generally “good foods”, a category which matched the prevailing sports nutrition discourse (Ryan 2007; Maughan 2002 ;USDA 2008). What I didn’t see that surprised me were foods being categorized “good” because they were “organic” or “natural.” Perhaps the mainstream acceptance of those labels have made them no longer differentiating or meaningful or perhaps these are just not as important to these athletes as the foods functional qualities in regards to one’s athletic performance. Though a few respondents did say that they preferred vegan or vegetarian foods.  Also, many foods that were good were noted as “lean” which reflects the dominant fitness trend and embodied culture of runners as lean and athletic (Bourdieau 1984: 214).
 Representative examples of “good foods” from surveyed triathletes are:
“carbohydrate foods like bagels, oatmeal, energy gels, bars like PowerBar.”
 “I find whole foods are best and I also try and avoid a lot of dairy …”
“high carbohydrate foods like bagels, oatmeal, energy gels, bars like PowerBar”.
“fruit and vegetables and juices. Yams/sweet potatoes for high carb content.”
 “WHOLE GRAIN BREAD, BANANAS, PASTA”
Representative examples of “good foods”  from surveyed marathon and ultra runners are:
“lean protein sources, wild salmon, grass-fed beef, veggies, fruits, nuts, fish oil, olive oil, coconut oil, protein supplements, maltdextrin for recovery.”
“whole grains, fruits & veg[ie]s”
“skim milk, yogurt, whey protein, bananas, apples, berries, oatmeal, lots of broccoli, olive oil, chicken breast, salmon, … wheat breads. Water”
“Chicken, fruits, oatmeal, salads, beans, pasta, seltzer water! … fresh, stuff that is lower in fat content, stuff that will fill me but not fatten me…”
“Bad foods”
Bad foods were described as the very qualities triathletes and marathon runners eschew with their active life styles. Symbolic of these “bad foods” qualities are their negative descriptors such as “fake”, “processed”, “high fat”, “fried” (“fried” is also a slang term for “tired”—a state these athletes try avoid when training and racing), “preserved,” “fat” (race times are slower generally the heavier one is), “heavy,” “artificial” and “junk” (term for over-training without a specific performance goal is called “doing junk miles” in the lingo of both of these sport cultures).
The categories of foods are based on their functional role of health and athletic performance enhancement. These functions are based on what many of the athletes believe is scientific research on exercise physiology and sports nutrition as well as the health and fitness trend in American culture. This is a significant departure from food choices based on religious beliefs, flavor and family customs or traditions.
 These “bad foods” generally mirrored the same foods categorized as “bad” in the American media lately. Foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, MSG, too much salt, and trans fats are “bad”. These athletes usually consider fried foods and “drug foods” such as coffee, alcohol and refined sugar are as “bad”. Also, considered “bad” are red meat, processed foods, fast foods.
Representative “bad foods” from surveyed triathletes are:
“simple carbs, alcohol, processed food”
“Alcohol, preservative laden foods, ice cream”
“fried foods, lots of meat, lots of alcohol, soda!”
“CHOCOLATE, COFFEE, SUGARS, STARCH”
“anything with fake sugars desserts fast food of any kind”
Representative “bad foods” from surveyed marathon and ultra runners are:
“French fries, alcohol, sweets”
“Anything that takes a while to digest or impedes digestion. I tend to avoid: meat, friend foods, especially fried meat, cheese, anything ‘heavy’”
“Liquor, fast foods, red meat, salt, processed foods”
“Too much fat”
“Processed foods tell me ‘evil’. Although I used soda in ultras, just consuming them (my big vice) is not good at all. Dairy products…Eating too much puts on fat. Take out food. Coffee…”

Post-race celebrations: Reversal of food categories

Something interesting happens to the endurance athletes’ categories of “good foods” and “bad foods” after they finish an important race. At many a post-race awards dinner or party the categories of good and bad foods seem to get reversed. What is normally a  “bad food” is now a  “reward” or a “treat” and consumed with gusto. Once these athletes cross the finish line many of them seem to ignore their food prohibitions and, basically, go nuts. Post-race celebrations seem to function as a rite of reversal (a socially acceptable way to blow off steam) for triathletes and marathon runners who normally abide by their strict dietary and training regimes each day (Turner 1964). Many triathletes and runners stay up late after they finish a race (or try to anyway) and celebrate in an un-characteristicly  hedonistic fashion over-indulging in normally forbidden and unhealthy or “bad” foods, beverages and other activities… By purposely breaking their dietary rules in a post-race ritual of (food and lifestyle rules) reversal, they are reinforcing their fealty to these rules. Or, in other words, like your writing teacher taught you in high school or college, you have to know the rules, before you can break them.
Some representative “broken rule” responses of what triathletes said they ate after they raced on race day include a lot of “bad foods”:
“anything/everything and beer”
“love burritos and margaritas!”
“French fries, burger, salty foods. Wine or beer. Treat foods.”
“whatever I’m craving at the time, frequently something full of fat and salt (like pizza) after a long race.”
“A big fat steak!”
 The marathon and ultra runners I surveyed had similar food category reversals. Here are some of them:
“… ice cold Sierra Nevada beer, big salad, maybe even some nachos. Mostly salty cravings and fat cravings”
“very much so, often I will eat a very large, fatty, high protein dinner, like a gigantic cheeseburger, or fried chicken.”
“1 or 2 beers, some sort of red meat. This is very different from my normal diet which is primarily vegetarian.”
“Beer and Mexican food. Spicy.”
“BEER OR MARGARITAS… BECAUSE I CAN!!!”
I like to think of these crazy post-race binges of triathletes and marathon runners as  their to equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Competitive triathlete women, normally never seen by their training mates in anything other than lycra with their hair bound up in a pony tail, are dancing in high heals (or barefoot) in some kind of feminine dressy thing, hair flying free and beads optional…and eating anything and going for the cold beer and nachos. Post marathon race men, usually decked out in some form of sweaty running shoe, tank and shorts ensemble, are showered up and jeans clad at a hotel bar chowing down ice cream and pie, after re-hydrating with a chilled bottles of their favorite beer and, maybe, tequila shots.  Normally devout and disciplined, once a year (or on this case after a milestone race), the triathlon and marathon faithful relax and party like it’s 1999.

Life is full of contradictions isn’t it?

Read Part II: “Food As Fuel: Eating Habits of Triathletes and Marathon Runners: How They Fit Food in Between Work and Working Out.”  This includes what triathletes and marathon and ultra runners to told me about their mealtimes: how many meals a day (usually more than three), when they eat (lunch is rarely at noon), how much they eat and the structure of a “perfect” endurance athlete meal.
Read Part III: Food As Fuel: Why Triathletes and Marathoners Eat so Weird According to Old Dead French Social Theorists. That’s my working title for Part III for now anyway.

In the meantime, here are some healthy unprocessed meal ideas from Opra Winfrey’s ex-chef and marathon runner Art Smith in the October issue of Runner’s World:Comfort Fuel (Runners World, October 2011)

Happy trails and, if you just finished a race,  “Cheers!”

Note: I do not benefit from mentioning or linking to any products or brand names mentioned in this post.

Resources

Applegate, Liz
   2006  “The Best Food For Runners”, Runner’s World, retrieved on September 24, 2008, from http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-301–10200-2-1X2X3X4X6X7-7,00.html
Applegate, Liz
   2008  “Liquid Diet,” Runner’s World, June 9, retrieved on September 24, 2008, from http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-302–12702-0,00.html
Atkinson, M.
   2008 “Triathlon Suffering and Exciting Significance,” Leisure Studies, April, Vol. 27, No.2, pp.165-180.
Blanchard, Kendall
   1995 Anthropology of Sport: An Introduction, Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, pp.31-224
Bourdieu, Pierre
  1984 Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp.200-230
Burke, Louise M., Gregoire Millet and Mark A. Tarnopolsky.
  2007  “Nutrition for distance events, “ Journal of Sports Sciences, Dec. 15, 25,  Vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 281-300.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly
   1990 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, p.77
Brownell, Susan
   2000  “Why Should an Anthropologist Study Sports in China?” Games, Sports, and Cultures, New York, NY: Berg
Douglas, Mary
   1975 “Deciphering a Meal,” Implicit Meanings: Selected Essays in Anthropology, 2nd Ed.,, New York, NY: Rutledge Classics
Fishpool, Sean
   2002 Beginner’s Guide to Long Distance Running, Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., pp.30-31
Fitsgerald, Matt
   2006 Performance Nutrition for Runners, Boston, MA: Rodale Press, pp. 1-151.
Giulianotti, Richard
   2005 Sport: A Critical Sociology, Malden, MA: Polity Press, pp. 4-165
 Goody, Jack
   1982 Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, pp. 119-190
Hab, Mark D.
   2008 “Sports Nutrition: Energy Metabolism and Exercise,” JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, [J. Am. Med. Assoc.]. Vol. 299, no. 19, pp. 2330-2331.
Larkin, Duncan
   2007  “Interview with Scott Jurek”, Elite Running, February 22, retrieved on October 13, 2008, from http://www.eliterunning.com/features/54/
Leslie, Charles
   2001 “Backing into the Future,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Vol.15,No.4,
Maughan, Ronald J., and Louise M. Burke
   2002 Sports Nutrition: Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science, Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, Inc.
Mintz, Sidney W.
   1985  Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Prebish, Charles S.
   1993 Religion and Sport: The Meeting of Sacred and Profane, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
   2004, Research Digest, Series 5, No. 1, retrieved on October 12, 2008, from http://www.fitness.gov/Reading_Room/Digests/Digest-March2004.pdf
Runner’s World
   2008  “Media Kit: Demographic Profile, Runner’s World, retrieved on November 26, 2008, from http://www.runnersworld.com/mediakit/rw/audience/demos.html
Ryan, Monique
   2007 Sports Nutrition For Endurance Athletes, Boulder, CO: Velo Press.
Scott, Dave
   2008 “Nutritional Fueling for an Ironman, “ Active.com, retrieved on September 25, 2008, from http://ironman.active.com/page/Nutritional_Fueling_for_an_Ironman.htm
Triathlete Magazine
   2008 “Print Media Kit”, Triathlete Magazine, retrieved on September 25, 2008, from http://www.triathletemag.com/Assets/2008PrintMediaKit.pdf
Triandis, Harry C.
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Turner, Victor W.
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   2005 “Nutritional Goals for USDA Daily Food Intake Patterns: Goal for Macronutrients”, Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, retrieved on September 27, 2008, from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/report/HTML/D1_Tables.htm

Social reproduction of two ex-Ironman triathletes: Why our kids like sports

Our family has fun working out together.

This morning, after the kids and hubby left for school and office, I was thinking what a wonderfully wacky and athletic family we have.  Our kids, a 14-year old son and 11-year old daughter, actually wanted to get up at dark-thirty (in multisport terms that means “pre-dawn” which was 5:15 this morning) and hit the gym with their parents.  This isn’t every morning and usually my son sleeps in until the last possible moment before school or friends or sports drags him away from dreamland. I asked him why he wanted to get up so early. It was still dark! “It would be a fun way to start the day,” he said. “The jacuzzi and a swim just sounds so good right now.” Similar response from our daughter: she likes to get her workouts “done in the morning.” She’s been running regularly since last Thanksgiving and she joined the local club cross-country team this Fall.

Our kids think that running and working out every day is normal.

I think that is so cool.

But why do they like sports so much when some of their friends seem to be allergic to sea water, “hate running,” and couldn’t stay on a skateboard un-assisted for longer a second?

Pierre Bourdieu, a French anthropologist,  said the goal of a family, culturally speaking, is “social reproduction”. Whether it is our conscious intention or not, our kids repeat our lives in one way or another.

Social reproduction: Praxa and doxa

In An Outline of a Theory of Practice, Bourdieu’s ethnography of the indigenous Kabyle tribesmen of Algeria, Bourdieu explains his materialist (socioeconomic) and post-modern social theories within the context of interpreting Kabyle cultural practices (Bourdieu 1977:vii).  In particular, Bourdieu makes a decisive break from his French structuralist predecessors by analyzing the human agency and strategy behind the practices of his Kabyle informants, or, what Bourdieu calls their culture’s assembled practices or praxis. Bourdieu believed that “society is constructed by purposeful, creative agents” who create their culture “through talk and action” (Erickson 2008:187). He believed that a cultural group or a society is united in “systems of relationships” and praxis and that have a natural order or “orthodoxy” that is promoted by the dominant group or authority. He calls this cultural authority, it’s doxa (Bourdieu 1977:169).

Our family is a prime example of what happens when two athletic ex-Ironman triathletes have kids.

Our family praxis is based on working out together. There are usually workout clothes and sports equipment somewhere on the floor of our house, water bottles on the kitchen counters, HEED and Cytomax tubs in the cupboards and wet suits and beach towels drying in the tree by the backdoor. We “play” every day. Nearly, every day since they were born our kids have seen Mom and Dad leave the house for a run, swim, bike, surf or do some other physical activity, alone or with friends. By watching us, they’ve learned that working out is fun and makes them feel good afterwords. With friends, it’s like a playdate. Soccer, rugby, swimming, taekwando, running, and junior lifeguards, our kids have been on a competitive team of some kind since kindergarten. When not competing, they are usually doing some sport just for fun like surfing, playing around on their skateboards or riding their bikes around town with their friends. Working out is just part of our family’s daily praxis. It is a part of our daily routine like brushing our teeth is in the morning.

Our kids have seen their mother push herself to try qualify for Boston and have their seen their father race the Big Sur Trail Marathon with the flue. (He survived fine thank goodness. We figured he scared the flu right out of him with that run–the old “in-hospitable host” theory of flu recovery).  They have also seen their parents go back to school and take entrepreneurial risks so they can be more competitive professionally and happier personally. We have had set-backs, been injured, and have bad days like everyone else, but pushing ourselves physically and mentally is a positive value in our family’s doxa.

If all of that sounds too good to be true, I don’t blame you for thinking that.  But how did we get our kids to join us working out? How did we get them to not rebel against a parental and cultural hegemony that extols a healthy and athletic lifestyle?

They gotta wanna

I think it is, in part, just as Bourdieu said: social reproduction. Our kids are only mirroring what we are doing every day. If they saw us read, compose songs, drink a lot of beer with our friends, or work longer hours instead of working out in the outdoors–they would probably seek and mirror those behaviors instead.

But I also think their choices are due to our high expectations and use of constant positive re-enforcement.  We don’t make them go running with us because it’s healthy, we encourage them because it’s fun. We ask them to just give a sport a try for one season, and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to do it again.

The key is for us to encourage our kids to try new things, to  do their best, and to have fun.

Our daughter just started running regularly last year. Before that she really wasn’t in to sports. It was our idea when she was younger that she try soccer, Junior Lifeguards, and taekwando. Now, it’s her idea to go running and workout at the gym.

Our son got into soccer,  taekwando, and running, initially, because it was our idea. Now he runs and plays rugby because it is his idea. We tell our kids, “Just try it for one season. Do your best. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it next year.” If they don’t like a sport, that’s fine. It is important that they know that we are on their side.

It is also about those old fashioned words of parenting that I remember hearing when I grew up: “Just try it,” “Don’t quit,” and “Do your best.”  With the grueling cross-country races our kids have been enduring lately, our advice has been even more empathetic, “I know it’s hotter than hell out here and it sucks. Just do your best.” and “Don’t listen to that guy.  Just do your best.”  And, most importantly, and simply, “I’m so proud of you.”

The key for me is to make sure our kids’ main motivation is internal. They have to want to do well to really excel and be true competitors. They have really believe in themselves. As my old Masters swim coach in San Diego used to say, “You gotta wanna.”  Empathy coupled with high expectations are important values in our family doxa.

Old School

My childhood experience was not particularly athletic. As an admittedly non-athletic artist and family iconoclast who preferred books and horses to bicycles and health clubs, my single-parent mother  couldn’t relate to my desire to run the trails after school when I was a teenager. Or, to learn surfing, on my own, when I was 19. My mom didn’t even know how to swim. But to her credit, she always encouraged me and cheered me on  at dozens of cross-country races in high school and drove me to many a 5K and 10K race on the weekends. She allowed me to hang out at the beach, it seemed, nearly every single weekday, during the summer. She even bought me my first triathlon racing bike, a Specialized Allez, when I was in college. I rode that bike all over San Diego country in my twenties and decorated it with my product sponsor’s stickers. I heard “I’m so proud of you” a lot from her when it came to racing.

I’m an old school runner and triathlete. When I started racing, it wasn’t cool for girls to be a competitive runner. It was unusual. I was the only girl I knew to enter the first Los Angeles Marathon in 1986. My college training buddies were a Phi Delt and a Sigma Chi who were in my advanced running class. I think I was the only girl in that class, too. That first marathon was only two years after the first Olympic woman’s marathon ever at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. I did my first triathlon in 1987 as one of the few women in my age group and one of the few people who even knew what a triathlon was it seemed. I taught myself how to swim freestyle in Mission Bay in San Diego – trying to keep up with my roommate who grew up with a pool. Eventually, I found my way to the slow lane and some coaching at a local Swim Masters club in La Jolla. On the bike, I would train Dave Scott-style, usually alone, with a ziplock bag of Fig Newtons, a baked potato or a PB&J, stuffed into a fanny pack for long road rides and a bottle of water.  My training pals were usually athletic college students or young people trying to make money in the outdoor sports industry.

It’s an endurance sport culture

Nowadays, there are packs of brightly colored and jerseyed road cyclists all over our local highways each weekend morning. Nearly every town has their own running club, triathlon team and local Masters swim program.  Most of the multisport athletes, it seems are middle aged professionals. The doxa of American sport culture has changed since the days when I was a kid. Marathons, triathlons, and lately long-distance trail running (“racing ultras”) have gone mainstream (Helliker 2010).  Today there are about 1.2 million triathletes in the United States, up 51% from 2007, and according to last Sunday’s New York Times article, a third of them are men in their 40s (Gardner 2010). A few weeks ago, the Boston marathon sold out in less than eight hours. The proportion of women racing marathons have grown from 10% of the field in 1980 to 41% in 2009 (Running USA 2010). “Marathoning has soared in popularity in the United States. In 1976, 25,000 Americans finished marathons, according to Running USA. Last year, there were a record 467,000 American marathon finishers,” according to The Boston Globe on October 18th (Pepin 2010).

Our kids are turning out athletic like us. And, it appears to be national trend. Those wacky multisport events called “triathlons” and long-distance races we did in our younger years are conventional now. “Training for Ironman is the new golf!” an old Ironman training pal and multisport retail shop owner told me the other day, rolling his eyes.

I’m so grateful that both of our kids like doing endurance sports.  It has been so fun to workout together–as a family. I’m going to enjoy it as long as it lasts.

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Resources

Bourdieu, Pierre, 1977 An Outline of a Theory of Practice, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, Pp.248.

Gardner, Ann Marie 2010 “Triathletes, Swim, Bike and Run for Youth,” New York Times, October 24, 2010, R12.

Helliker, Kevin 2010, “Making marathons even tougher,” Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2010; Retrieved on October 26, 2010, from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703960004575427561884547420.html

Pepin, Matt 2010 “Boston Marathon sells out in a day,” The Boston Globe, October 18, 2010; Retrieved on October 26, 2010, from: http://www.boston.com/sports/marathon/blog/2010/10/boston_marathon_sells_out_in_a.html

Running USA 2010 “Running USA’s Annual Marathon Report,” Running USA; Retrieved on October 26, 2010, from: http://www.runningusa.org/node/57770