by Japhi Westerfield
AT THE TOP OF STONEHAM MOUNTAIN OUTSIDE OF QUEBEC CITY, CANADA, OVERLAND PARK NATIVE Sandra Hillen crouched down low and tried to get a better read on a crazy shape-shifting wind that couldn’t decide whether to become a full-force gale or remain a measly upslope annoyance. She jumped around to keep warm, to keep loose, to do something with the energy she’d carefully bottled up for this day. But mostly she just waited, and if you’re an elite athlete used to flying down mountains faster than some people drive, waiting can be dangerous.
She’d made it here – to the pinnacle of slope-style snowboarding – because of a gift, an affinity for rocketing down heart-pounding mountain runs interrupted by steep jumps, jibs, bumps, and rails. For years she’d organized her life around time on the mountain. But she was also here because, as child growing up in Kansas, she quickly outgrew the puny sled hills near the Oak Park Mall, watched the Winter X-Games so many times her family hid the remote, and nearly wore out her Playstation playing Cool Boarders 2. When she got her first taste of mountain adrenaline on a prairie ski run north of Kansas City, her fate was sealed. So she stood on that mountain – on the brink of qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia – because the unusual path that had taken her from Overland Park to Boulder, Breckenridge, and the Cascade mountains also took a very unexpected detour through a country indelibly written into the DNA of her family, though not into the mainstream of elite winter sports.
Sandra Hillen’s mother, Gloria Hillen, was born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico. Along with her uncle and sister Clara Reyes (founder of Kansas City’s Dos Mundos Hispanic newspaper), Gloria moved to Kansas City as a young woman. Sandra grew up in Overland Park and attended Holy Spirit Elementary and St. Thomas Aquinas High School. She was an exceptionally active kid, driven to sports. She tried basketball and soccer. She was a decent cross country runner. She liked sledding, but like the other kids in her neighborhood, was nothing more than a serious hobbyist. For some reason she had a fascination with mountains and thought she might like alpine sports. But she didn’t set foot above 8000 feet until she turned 15.
Kansas City in the 1990’s was not a nurturing place for budding alpinists. Those years included some of the warmest winters on record, including the winter of 1999-2000, which had an average high of 48 degrees between October and April and virtually no snowfall.
But Winter sports were making their way into the mindsets of Americans whether or not they lived in the Snowbelt. The Winter X games — a melding of MTV and ESPN that showcased a punkinspired array of adrenalinefueled events — came along and helped launch snowboarding into the mainstream. Watching the X Games, Hillen first saw the half pipe, an event with more kinship to skateboarding than traditional alpine events. She also saw slope-style, which combines the acrobatics of half pipe with the downhill velocity of skiing. Hillen fueled her growing attraction to the idea of mountain sports with a healthy dose of Cool Boarders 2, an early Playstation game developed in Japan. She begged her parents to try snowboarding, for real this time, but her parents weren’t the problem.
“We didn’t have much snowboarding in Kansas City,” she said.
Kansas City didn’t have any snowboarding culture, but it did have Snow Creek, a small clutch of lifts and trails carved into loess hills along the Missouri River outside of Weston, Missouri, a tiny hamlet better known for tobacco farming, O’Malley’s subterranean Irish pub, and an annual Apple Festival than the culture of extreme sports or Winter X games. Parents take note: feed your children’s dreams. When Hillen told her parents she wanted to snowboard, they started taking her to Snow Creek. There she got a taste of what the riding life could be. It was like sledding, but now she had control. Snow Creek was great but had its limits, so the next winter her family organized their winter vacation around Sandra’s new passion and made a ski trip to Colorado. It was Hillen’s first actual trip to the mountains, and they exceeded her expectations. She was smitten with the dry brittle air, the dramatic clouds that swirl up like fog and then dump furies of snow, the porcupines that hang out at the tops of beetle-killed white pine. After a few runs on traditional skies, Hillen jumped on a snowboard for the first time. Soon she was riding every winter.
After high school, she moved 500 miles west to Boulder to study film production at the University of Colorado. At the time, Boulder was the center of a running scene started by resident Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter which was quietly developing into a trail running mecca that would go viral in the mid-2000s with the release of Christopher McDougall’s classic book Born to Run. But it was also a descent snowboarding town. At CU, Hillen joined the school’s snowboarding team. Though technically not a collegiate sport, the team allowed athletes to learn the sport and train with coaches. Soon Hillen said snowboarding was “consuming my life.” She adjusted her class schedule to get as many days on the mountain as possible. She read zines, hung out with other riders, watched YouTube videos, hit dry land practice hard before the snow fell, and jumped for hours on trampolines. Every day she made sure to do something to improve her riding.
The hard work paid off. She entered her first USASA (United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association) regional contest in Colorado. At the time, USASA was the only real governing body putting on regional contests in the Rockies. The Winter X Games have made snowboarding popular as an exciting new extreme sport for adrenaline junkies, but regional competitions put on by groups like the USASA helped solidify it as a respected sport.
Hillen quickly made an impact on the scene and towards the end of her college years became a regular on podiums in the slope-style event. By the time she was 23, Hillen had stepped up her game and won a series of USASA events. She created a video resume, landed her first sponsor, and decided after college to spend winters in Breckenridge, a town known for altitude-tipsy tourists, an iconic brewery, two of the best alt format radio stations in America, and a culture of elite competitive riding. She found summer work at High Cascade Snowboard Camp in Oregon. By splitting her time between Breck, Kansas City, and Oregon, she was able to ride and train year-round.
High Cascade Snowboard Camp has a week-long school for adult riders, and one night Hillen found herself talking to a camper named Francis Dirren. He knew of Hillen’s reputation as an up-andcoming rider. After a few beers he asked her if she planned to make a run at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Hillen knew those Olympics would debut her event, slope-style, but she’d never seriously considered it. Though she was improving, USASA events were a level below World Cup, which Hillen hadn’t yet broken into. At least a half dozen girls had more experience and success than Hillen in Colorado.
That’s when Hillen’s unexpected detour came, and instead of slowing her down, it put her on the fast track to a shot at the Olympics. Dirren wanted to know if she was gunning for the Olympic team but not the US Olympic team. His friend Alberto DelaRoca was assembling a Mexican National team in Colorado. Winter athletes from all over the world train in the Rockies, and Mexico currently had no woman slated for slopestyle. Hillen considered it for a moment, then had another beer. The idea might have legs, she thought. If everything fell into place quickly, she wouldn’t have to wait six or ten more years to get enough experience for a real shot at the team. She could be there in time for Sochi. Hillen’s mother was born in Mexico, and Hillen herself had spent several summers there as a child. Since she qualified for dual citizenship, she could represent her ancestral Mexico in the Olympics. If she could qualify.
After a round of tryouts back in Colorado, DelaRoca made Hillen’s case to the Mexican Olympic Committee. They decided to back her. Joining the Mexican national team was a paradigm shift, like a band moving from Stage 5 at Winfield to Saturday night at Coachella. Companies like Zeal Optics, GNU snowboards, Vans boots, Airblaster, Celtek, and Wend Waxworks sponsored her. Hillen doubled down on her training, got a new coach and a shot at her first World Cup competition, which coincidentally was held in Colorado.
People came from all over the world to compete in the weeklong event at Copper Mountain. Eighty women alone entered in slopestyle. In that first competition, Hillen finished 40th. Not dead last or the bottom third but 40th out of 80. In the middle. She was up there. She’d come a long way since her intermural days at CU, but even though she was Mexico’s sole competitor, she needed a top thirty World Cup ranking to qualify for an Olympic berth. So she kept working. She hung out with fellow Olympic hopefuls from Australia, Chile, and Brazil. Even though snowboarding is a solo sport, athletes know the difficulty and danger behind it. Along with the hours spent in the sheer awe-inspiring majesty of the mountains, this creates a strong camaraderie. The group became Hillen’s support system in her quest to make the Olympics.
Nine months before Sochi, Sandra made a whirlwind tour of World Cup competitions in New Zealand, Europe and Canada that would establish her final ranking and eligibility to compete in the Olympics. Each contest lasts a week, split between practice runs, two days set aside for bad weather, and the actual competition. Hillen explained that the weather day is critical. “If the wind is too intense, you can’t get the speed to hit the jump. When you’re hitting 70 foot jumps you need to make sure your speed is dialed in. If you come up short, you’ll get hurt. If you go too big, you’ll get hurt. It’s both an art and a science. You need a couple of days to scout, to navigate in your mind what speed you’ll need, to get the lay of the jump, to talk things over with your coach. After a couple of days you can start to try the runs, and only after that can you gauge what you’ll need to stick it on the day of the competition. It helps you mentally as much as anything. It’s a head game to be up there. You know you can do it, but there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of elements that depend on the weather and what order you get and how long it takes for the girls before you to finish.”
The final competition was held in Canada, on Stoneham Mountain. Hillen was doing well but not well enough yet to make the Olympic cutoff, and the last stop was critical in her quest to make the team. That’s how she found herself stuck on the mountain, waiting for a line of eighty women to make their runs. “It’s pretty tough to stand at the top of a frozen mountain and wait,” she said. “Training days for snowboarders consist of a lot of action, going up and down the mountain, running the hills, doing tricks, warming up and cooling down. Waiting is not part of our normal routine.”
Hillen did well on her runs but in the end finished 45th in the World Cup standings. She was the top snowboarder in Mexico, but narrowly missed the top thirty required for eligibility, so she didn’t make the Sochi Olympics (normal winter events take the top fifty, but since this was the first Olympics for slope-style, only thirty were allowed to compete). It was a disappointment, but she took solace knowing that her friends were on the global stage, and now the whole world knew how great they were. Back home in Kansas City, her family was excited about her accomplishments and proud that she represented Mexico. Hillen said, “At first they didn’t understand the potential I had, but once they saw what I was doing, they said, ‘Holy cow, you’re really good.’”
A film crew from Mexico City came out to shoot a promo for Sochi about Mexico and Latin American countries. The video ran as pre-roll for movies all across Mexico, and her family back in Guadalajara got to see her on the big screen. Since her run at the Olympics two years ago, she still competes for the Mexican national team and, at age 31, is gearing up for another shot when the Winter Games return in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018.
Hillen made it back for a playoff game in October in the run up to the Royals 2015 World Series championship. If everything lines up, Sandra Hillen might join some of the Royals as another KC-area athlete competing on the world stage.]]>
Born and Bred
Macksville. Before that, Larned,Kansas
Topeka (which means “great place to dig potatoes” in Osage/Kansa)
Fort Hays State University
Administrator for the Kansas Department of Corrections
Independent consultant for Arbonne International, the beauty product company that asks you to go veggie, baby. Arbonne’s beauty, health, and wellness products are botanical – i.e. 100% vegan.
Have Trails, Will Travel
Ballhagen averages 20 miles of running per week, mostly on trails, and not just in tater-town. She regularly travels around northeast Kansas and to the KC metro to run choice single track.
When Life Hands You Lemons
Ballhagen was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus in 2004. SLE is a chronic, shape-shifting autoimmune syndrome that most commonly strikes women in their twenties. Early symptoms include muscle and joint pain and stiffness and skin rashes after sun exposure. The most profound symptom is crushing fatigue that doesn’t go away with rest. Getting properly diagnosed can be an extreme challenge. Ballhagen’s lupus was virulent. At first she thought she had a really bad cold, but it didn’t get better. She wound up in the hospital with multi-system organ involvement.
“After a year or so of increasingly bad health, I got incredibly ill.” She struggled to find a PG-rated description for what happened next. “Before I knew it, I felt like a science experiment with all the medications the doctors put me on.” She emphasized that her plight was like that of so many other people who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. “My lupus was severe, but my story’s common. I would go off and on medications. I didn’t know how to manage the side effects. I was off and on steroids. It changed me physically. It changed my personality, the way I looked, the way I felt, the way I related to the world. It’s a terrible disease.”
Autoimmune diseases wax and wane. Ballhagen experienced a kaleidoscope of symptoms and tried dozens of medications. It was hard to get her bearings. Then in 2009 she got divorced. “Like anyone who goes through a life-changing event, you have a few options. You can bounce around at the bottom, in emotional pain, in physical pain. Or you can make some decisions. I decided it was time to arm myself with the ammunition I would need to really get healthy. So I did. The next few years I dedicated to learning everything I could about my body so that I could live in wellness instead of in illness.”
Listen to Your Body
It’s been an evolution, but Ballhagen said the core principle is to listen to your body. “I was a sugar fiend. I began to realize that if you gorge on sugar and feel like crap afterwards, if I listen to my body, I will understand that those two things are connected, and I can make decisions.”
After learning to listen to her body, she settled on a mostly gluten-free “autoimmune paleo” diet to manage her illness. Inflammatory processes abound in autoimmune disease, so the diet encourages followers to avoid foods that cause irritation. For Ballhagen the biggest culprit was eggs. “Eggs and beef are two of my very favorite things, but I have an autoimmune disorder, so I need to pay attention if I’m eating them. The key thing for me is to recognize that food is potentially an inflammatory agent in my body.”
Process of Elimination
Every third month Ballhagen does a twenty-one day elimination diet. “You take out alcohol, caffeine, gluten, refined sugar. Basically you eliminate foods that you know make your system inflamed. I always start with an Arbonne detox. A key is to drink a ton of water and keep your calories up. I fully believe that for people with autoimmune disease, periods of elimination, in conjunction with fueling our bodies with quality nutrients, can make an incredible difference.”
Hot Hot Heat
With all these modifications, Ballhagen is able to maintain her running, sometimes even during lupus flares. Running twenty miles each week is no small feat if you have a disease that causes crushing fatigue. She swears by lava yoga for cross training. “Hot yoga for me was life changing. I remember distinctly the first time I tried it, waking up the next morning with no lupus pain. I literally wept that morning. I couldn’t believe it.” Current Project Right now Ballhagen is training for a half marathon in February .
Hey, Kansas City
“One of the things that has changed markedly about Kansas City, even in the last eighteen months,” Ballhagen says, “is the number of online resources we have to find great trails to run on. It’s incredibly helpful if you want to keep your routine fresh with new routes.”
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INDIEFIT BELIEVES THAT SHOPPING FOR FRIENDS, THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE, OR THE GUY AT WORK WHOSE NAME YOU PULLED OUT OF A HAT SHOULD BE FUN. Here’s a list of gift ideas — local products, stores, and services — that our shopping buffs at IndieFit central put together. Whether you’re a bargain shopper, a researcher, an impulse buyer, a negotiator, a loyalist, a woman with a wish list or a man on a mission, we hope this guide will get your creative juices flowing. It seems like everywhere you look you see the term “buy local” these days. Because IndieFit Magazine is 100% locally owned, it’s more than just a catch phrase to us. Shopping at local, independently owned businesses helps the whole community, whether you buy online from these local sites or at stores across the metro that carry independent local products.
Whether you pick something from our staff’s eclectic list or stay up late at night with your elves in the attic fashioning your own crafts by hand, everybody at IndieFit Central wishes you a warm and happy Holiday Season!
COMPANY:THE IMPERIAL DRIFTER
PRODUCT: CONIFER BEARD OIL
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
Reading their mission statement, “Groom Regularly, Wander Naturally, and Empower Women” had me all in a lather thinking what a great gift shaving soap would make for my husband. Or maybe it was the earthy tailings of their product line, the masculine hair pomades made from raw beeswax, the beard oils in scents like trailhead and hemlock spruce, the mustache wax and shaving products that could make any guy feel like he’s the most desirable man in the room. Imperial Drifter donates a dollar from each sale to an organization that creates entrepreneurial opportunities for women in the third world. Put their Conifer Beard Oil under the fir tree this holiday and keep an eye on the mistletoe.
COMPANY: WILD WASH SOAP
PRODUCT: ROSEMARY AND PEPPERMINT SHAMPOO BAR
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
Laura Wittmer and Mike Prentice started Wild Wash Soap company in 2014 because the ingredients in most commercially available soaps weren’t what they wanted on their skin. Their products contain absolutely no bad stuff: no synthetic chemicals, artificial scents or palm oil. Their rosemary and peppermint shampoo bar creates a rich, exhilarating lather that everyone can enjoy.
COMPANY: FOR STRANGE WOMEN PERFUME
STORE LOCATION: 115 WEST 18TH STREET, SUITE 102, KANSAS CITY, MO 64108
PRODUCT: THE EMERALD POTION AMULET IN WINTER KITTY
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
Scent alchemist and founder, Jill McKeever, is fascinated with the ability of scent to transport you emotionally to a different time and place. Her line of perfumes and botanical essences (Decadence and Debauchery, Rosehip Elixir, Southern Moongarden, London Fog Amulet, Tuberose, and many others) might take you – or the person you are buying a gift for — to a landscape somewhere deep in your subconscious. Or at least to a place in the present where you can’t ever remember smelling so fantastic. Strange Women perfumes are all created and produced in the KC Crossroads District and have been featured in Oprah Magazine, NYLON, and BUST Magazine, to name a few. They also carry a line of perfumed pendants and amulets.
COMPANY: WAXMAN CANDLES
STORE LOCATION: 609 MASSACHUSETTS STREET, LAWRENCE, KS, 66044
PRODUCT: VOTIVE CANDLES
BORN IN: LAWRENCE, KS
KU students have been flocking to Waxman candles to buy cannabis room defoggers for decades. Nothing purifies the air better than a tall patchouli column candle. But the best thing about Waxman is their affordable variety of moodmelding votives that can be purchased in bulk. Stocking stuffers and secret Santa’s take note.
COMPANY: BIRDIES PANTIES – INTIMATE APPAREL APOTHECARY
STORE LOCATION: 116 WEST 18TH STREET, KANSAS CITY, MO, 64108
PRODUCT: PANTY OF THE MONTH CLUB
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
You work out hard to hone your hiney. Show it off in a pair of fancy panties from Birdie’s in the Crossroads District. The panty of the month club offers 12 different panties wrapped with a special note. If you’re buying for your honey, just make sure you get the right size! Feeling less than intimate? They also have a sock of the month club.
COMPANY: AGAINST THE GRAIN
PRODUCT: THE KC PLAZA BOWTIE
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
Once upon a time, a high school student at Shawnee Mission East made a wooden bowtie and started wearing it to school dances. Now he has an online company with an awesome motto: “Lumber never looked so good.” Against the Grain bowties come in a variety of hard and soft woods and sport locally-inspired designs such as the Plaza skyline and a line of hipster cuts like the Meadowlark, Jungle Fire, Royal Wood Crown, Blossom, and Padauk. Why would you want a wooden bowtie? They don’t wrinkle and never need to be dry-cleaned.
COMPANY: LOYALTY KC
PRODUCT: KANSAS CITY T-SHIRTS
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
Loyalty KC believes that Kansas City area is a land of flat prairie vistas, tumbling tumbleweeds, and a constant IV-drip of BBQ-sauce jabbed straight into pickline of the Metro. Need proof ? Check out their sports-inspired line of KC Loyalty Tees such as the “Wizard of Hoz”, “No. 5. Pinetar”, and line of Loyalty KC, Mizzouri, and Kansas City Champions to name a few. We can never have too many spirit T’s in a town with so many champions!
COMPANY: DONNA’S DRESS SHOP
STORE LOCATION: 1410 W. 39TH STREET, KANSAS CITY, MO
PRODUCT: DRESSES FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY,MO
Donna’s Dress Shop on 39th Street in KCMO features both vintage and new designers inspired by retro fashions. An eclectic selection of seasonal clothes and accessories, shoes and hats, scarves, glasses, jewelry, girdles. Donna’s got you covered. Buy a dress from Donna for NYE and you won’t run into anyone else with the same outfit! We guarantee it.
COMPANY: SLIK HOUND
PRODUCT: STAR WARS DOG COLLAR
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY, MO
Put your dog on the cutting edge of popular culture. Slik Hound sells dogs collars with themes that would double as great lunch boxes. Wonder woman, Batgirl, Superwoman, Camo, London Plaid, American Byways, Aaarrrgghh Pirates. My grand dog, Maverick, will be getting this f or Festivus.
COMPANY:THE RUNNER’S EDGE
PRODUCT: COACHING AND TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR RUNNERS
BORN IN: SHAWNEE, KS
Local running guru Eladio Valdez has helped thousands of local runners go faster, farther, and most importantly, run more injury free for over 18 years now. Valdez offers the perfect gift for the runner in your life, whether they are just getting back into running, trying to take their game to the next level, or gunning for a new milestone like a marathon or an ultra. Classes take place in a group setting. You’ll work on form and learn how to correct common biomechanical mistakes. Each week participants meet up to run iconic courses throughout the metro. No detail is left to chance: at each session the Runner’s Edge provides everything you need to run including drinks, mid-run fueling, and all the motivation you’ll need to succeed. Pick your goal: a race, a training distance, a pace, and Valdez will chart your course to success. In addition participants get a 25% discount at Gary Gribble Running.
COMPANY: PIONEERS PRESS
PRODUCT: PIONEERS PRESS GIFT CARD, TO BENEFIT THE HARD FIFTY FARM RESCUE ANIMALS
BORN IN: LANSING, KS
Lansing’s Pioneers Press is Kansas City’s one-of-a-kind Indie press that started when former Microcosm Publishing founder Jessie Duke went “back to the land” and moved her underground press operations — and a half dozen goats — from the West Coast to Lansing, Kansas. Part homesteader and “punk farm” and part Zine publishing empire, Pioneers Press titles and authors are featured regularly in publications like Fast Company, Utne Reader, Maximum Rocknroll, and Bitch Magazine. Check out titles like “Spell Skulls and Their Uses,” “Sacred and Mysterious: Herbal Wisdom and Healing Lore for Those Who Menstruate,” and “Read Once & Destroy.”
COMPANY: ORIGINAL JUAN STORE
LOCATION: 111 SOUTHWEST BLVD, KANSAS CITY, KS
PRODUCT: FIESTA VERY BERRY CHIPOTLE MARINADE AND DIPPING SAUCE
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, KS
With product lines like Da’Bomb, Pain is Good and G.Love’s Special Hot Sauce, Original Juan has plenty of testosterone-inflaming goodness to choose from. Fiesta Very Berry Chipotle Marinade and Dipping Sauce is a good choice for anyone at your holiday party. The sauces are available throughout the metro, and they have a specialty shop where you can buy direct on Southwest Blvd.
COMPANY: KC CANNING COMPANY
PRODUCT: LEMON LAVENDER SHRUB
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
What’s a “shrub”? Let me enlighten you. A shrub from the KC Canning Company is a hand-crafted, scientifically and artfully blended mixer for the mixologist (or lush) on your list. The Meyer Lemon Lavender Shrub is a great complement to gin and vodka for the holiday season. The Watermelon Habanero Shrub will transform Tom Collins into Tomas Collinsica! Find other delicious (and niftily packaged) jams, jellies, and pickles at retailers such as the Sundry, Westside Storey, Nature’s Own Health Food Market, and other locations across the metro.
PRODUCT:COMMUNIVERSITY GIFT CERTIFICATE
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
The Kansas City Communiversity is a UMKCsponsored collection of informal classes on everything from how to buy a house to West Coast Swing dancing to personal accounting to letting horses help you through life transitions. There’s soap making, bread baking, bike fixing and elixir mixing. Learn a new language, quit smoking or get your aura read. Communiversity has classes for singles, parents, teens, kids and older folks at shops, studios, museums and community centers and schools all across the metro. New classes start in January.
STORE LOCATION:329 E 55TH STREET,KANSAS CITY, MO
BORN IN: KANSAS CITY,MO
The Tea Market is a great local online resource for an enticing line of loose-leaf and sachet teas you won’t find at the grocery store. The sampler includes organically grown Energizing, Sweet Dreams, Tummy Tamer, Flu Fighter, Detox and Totali-tea. Founder Staci Robinson is a holistic health coach and has researched and focus-tested her blends for the last ten years.
COMPANY:KC FOOD CIRCLE
PRODUCT: “EATER MEMBERSHIP”
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
The Kansas City Food Circle connects local farmers with local eaters. An “Eater Membership” isn’t a CSA membership; its farmto- stomach VIP card entitles you to a host of healthy benefits including the KCFC Dining Card (card holders get a 10 percent discount at restaurants in the circle). Member restaurants serve sustainably sourced, often local products.
COMPANY:SIMPLE SCIENCE JUICES
STORE LOCATION:8126 FLOYD ST,OVERLAND PARK, KS
PRODUCT: CARBON JUICE
BORN IN: OVERLAND PARK, KS
Simple Science Juices, located in the former Villa Capri restaurant space near downtown Overland Park, features hydraulic coldpressed juices with a minimum of mixing, which results in a more stable product with a slow oxidation rate. Sound like Breaking Bad? You betcha. The juice at Simple Science is better than Walter and Jesse’s blue, and the fact that they don’t treat their juices in any way guarantees the freshest raw experience in the KC metro. Kick off your Christmas morning with a Simple Science Juice in everyone’s stocking.
COMPANY:YOU ONLY BETTER
STORE LOCATION:600 W. 103RD ST. SUITE 104, KANSAS CITY, MO
PRODUCT:TOTAL BODY PACKAGE
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
The name says it all. You Only Better provides effective, natural weight loss and wellness services like endermologie lipo massage, colonic hydrotherapy, non-injectable HCG, Sudatonic infrared body wraps and other services under supervision of Laurie Black, who has over 23 years experience in the business. These treatments really work!
STORE LOCATION:700 MASSACHUSETTS
STREET, LAWRENCE, KS
PRODUCT: STOCKING STUFFERS
BORN IN: LAWRENCE,KS
Hobbs is hipster central for gag gifts, super cool clothing, skinny jeans, and unusual finds tailormade to impress anyone in your life who is too school for cool. Soaps, watches, barware, inflatable things, T-shirts with deep vees, Elvis Presley ties, Beatles T towels. Across the street from the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence.
COMPANY:GREEN BEE KC
PRODUCT: BUCK ANTLERSACK FLOUR TOWEL
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
Custom-made print towels by Green Bee KC are cute and cool at the same time. The buck antler handmade sack flour towel sports the majestic head of a deer in black and white print and works in both masculine and feminine kitchens whether it’s deer season or not. Buck antler’s not your thing? Try a chicken towel, a seahorse towel, or a butcher cow towel.
COMPANY:BIKE WALK KC
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
BikeWalkKC’s mission is to provide a unified voice for active living and to promote a healthy, safe, and accessible outdoor experience for all in a vibrant, engaged community. With student, individual, household, supporter, and elite memberships available, this gift pays dividends not only to the lucky recipient but to everyone Bike Walk KC helps in their outreach mission across the metro, especially the students in their BLAST bike safety program, their Safe Routes to School program and all the changes in how we bike and walk throughout the KC region.
COMPANY:KANSAS CITY B-CYCLE
BORN IN:KANSAS CITY, MO
What’s not to like about those Kansas City B-cycle bikes? With stations located all across the city core, you can hop on a B-cycle and ride to a host of convenient destinations. It’s a great way to see the city from the vantage point of a bike – without owning (or hauling) your own wheels. Plus, with expansion plans to more places in the metro in the next two years, supporting them will make it easier for you to cross state lines on your own two wheels.
by Liz Weslandar
WHEN IT COMES TO KOMBUCHA, IT SEEMS THAT PEOPLE EITHER LOVE IT, HATE IT, OR DON’T UNDERSTAND IT. However, if you’ve purchased a beverage from a cooler at a grocery or convenience store lately, it’s clear that the kombucha lovers are winning out over the skeptics. Elliot Pees, founder of the Kansas City area kombucha company, KANbucha, was an early adopter of the kombucha movement in the Midwest and has found his vocation in creating and selling this old-world craft beverage with benefits. Kombucha is a fermented, probiotic-rich tea drink that originated hundreds of years ago in China, but it has only been sold commercially in the U.S. for about a decade and has only really caught on in the past few years. According to market research firm SPINS, kombucha sales saw 29 percent combined growth across all channels from February 2013 to February 2014. For this period, total scanned sales were $122.7 million. A 16-ounce bottle typically costs between $3 and $4.
Pees got into the kombucha game ahead of the curve. After trying a bottle of the sour beverage that his sister brought him from Austin, Texas in 2009, Elliot decided to try brewing his own kombucha. In 2010, he started selling his kombucha on-tap from a kegerator at the Lawrence Farmers Market. From there, Elliot started selling bottled KANbucha at health food stores, coffee shops and gyms around Kansas City and in Lawrence, where he’s based. Business has gone so well for Elliot that he recently partnered with Ben Farmer, owner of Lawrence’s Alchemy Coffee & Bake House, to lease a 25,000 square foot production space.
D e s p i t e k o m b u c h a ’ s popularity, plenty of folks out there are still mystified by the fermented c o n c o c t i o n . Perhaps part of kombucha’s mystique is that the key ingredient is a suspicious sounding substance called SCOBY, or “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” A SCOBY, which looks like a disc of mucus, is sometimes called a “mother,” because it reproduces an additional SCOBY layer with each new batch of kombucha. In other words, it takes a SCOBY to make a SCOBY. Kombucha is its own self-perpetuating process.
“The SCOBY isn’t the foreground mascot for most kombucha companies because it isn’t appetizing in appearance,” said Elliot. “In fact, some literature jokes that you should let your friends drink your kombucha, but don’t let them see it while its brewing right away.”
Once one has acquired a SCOBY, brewing kombucha is a simple process whereby a SCOBY culture is added to a batch of sweetened tea. The SCOBY eats the sugar and ferments the tea. The result is a sour, slightly fizzy beverage. As you can imagine, producing large amounts of kombucha requires a large amount of SCOBYs, and it would not be inaccurate to call Elliot a SCOBY farmer. Elliot said that while some kombucha companies add a “food energy” element to their SCOBY care by doing things like meditating and playing musical instruments while in the presence of the cultures, he keeps the care of his SCOBYs pretty straightforward.
“They really don’t need much tending if the brewing is regular and the environment is appropriate,” said Elliot. “This means they are getting nutrients from the tea and sugar, the temperature is between 70-80 degrees, and the surrounding air is free of contaminates. They like to be left to do their thing.”
KANbucha’s new production facility has streamlined their brewing process and enabled the company to increase production to 80 gallon batches per week. KANbucha brews in smaller glass vessels, each with its own SCOBY. While this is the most volume Elliot has produced to date, he said it’s not even a quarter of what he intends to be produced in the future.
While the improvements in volume and efficiency are great, Elliot said the coolest part of the new production facility is the “work-play” atmosphere, which he believes has a direct effect on the quality of the product. “Our hand-built surrounding is established to inspire us to get things done with enjoyment,” said Elliot. “We like our space and what we get to create for others on a daily basis. This ultimately means a better quality product for everyone.”
Because kombucha can be an acquired taste for people whose palates are not accustomed to tangy or sour foods, the ongoing challenge and art form for kombucha brewers is creating flavors that are not only palatable but that people will actually seek out.
“I see a lot of reactions to kombucha,” said Elliot. “Some people taste it and love it right off the bat. I tell people that if you try it and don’t like it one day, come another day and try it again. It may be that you just haven’t found the right flavor.”
KANbucha comes in seven flavors, the most popular being Ginger Rose – a combination of kombucha, ginger rosewater and some grape juice for color and sweetness. Jasmine Aid – which is made by adding jasmine tea and lemonade to the kombucha – is another popular flavor, said Elliot. KANbucha’s newest flavor, Roonilla, is reminiscent of cream soda.
“The name comes from the ingredients of Rooibos tea and vanilla, and the flavor’s profile is similar to some traditional sodas in that it’s creamy, woody, herbal and malty,” said Elliot. KANbucha’s dry tea ingredients come from Hugo Tea Company, a premium tea purveyor based in Kansas City.
It might seem counterintuitive that an unfamiliar beverage with a difficult taste profile would be in such high demand, but Elliot said there are a number of reasons people are embracing kombucha. One is that kombucha is what the food industry calls a “functional beverage” – meaning that it is a drink that may also have significant health benefits.
There is research showing that the consumption of fermented foods, including kombucha, introduces beneficial bacteria – often referred to as probiotics — into the digestive system. With the proper balance of gut bacteria, the digestive system can absorb nutrients more easily. Probiotics have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health, aid digestion, and improve immunity.
“Kombucha is an example of ‘food as medicine,’” said Elliot. “While I typically refrain from talking too much about health claims due to liability reasons, if you do your research, you’ll find that fermented foods have the potential to treat a number of chronic problems. Customers of mine describe lots of different benefits they receive from drinking kombucha.”
Aside from the health benefits, Elliot said the kombucha craze is part of a larger renewed interest in old-world foods that foster a sense of community and tradition.
“Like many foods that have a long history, the production of kombucha has a passing-down element, meaning you cannot make it without sourcing a pre-existing culture from someone who has nurtured it, historically a family member or neighbor,” said Elliot. “This is important because it directly reminds us that food was communal because culture and living was more communal.”
Elliot said that yogurt cultures, sourdough cultures, miso cultures, and vinegar cultures are other examples of old world foods for which families had, or may now have, ongoing cultures their ancestors kept alive and passed down.
The old world niche is also part of the even larger “craft” food and beverage trend, which emphasizes variety, uniqueness and quality, all things KANbucha strives for.
“Craft foods are often locally made using ideas both of old world genres and new synthesized inventions,” said Elliot “This is what people are enjoying right now in coffee, bakery goods, beer, wine and also kombucha. In light of this, KANbucha represents kombucha in the regional craft beverage world.”]]>
Illustrations by Jon Brett
REMEMBER THAT HOLIDAY MORNING WHEN A LARGE, ODDLY SHAPED, POORLY WRAPPED PACKAGE WITH A KICKSTAND WAS BALANCED NEXT TO THE ALUMINUM TREE? The sparkly vinyl banana seat and chopper style handlebars screamed “Spring!” It was easy back then when bikes were one-size-fits-all. Today, as a grown up rider ready to hit the trail, size matters more than ever.
Mountain biking can be rough business. The body bumps and bounces over tough terrain. Over the course of years and hundreds of trail miles, a poor fit can cause chronic knee, shoulder and back injuries that over time could require physical therapy or even surgery to correct. It’s worth it to spend a little time learning about bike fitting before you hit the bike shop.
As a petite person, I struggle to find the perfect fit. I called on my high school friend and Mizzou alum, Karin Gembus, co-owner of Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking (GravityBolivia.com). Her company takes fearless riders down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” and has been featured on Lonely Planet . I contacted Karin at her villa in La Paz, Bolivia. “Bike fit is super important to me,” she said. “If I’m riding a gnarly downhill course, I always opt for a 15” frame, even though I’m 170 cm tall. If I’m riding something more cross country, with some good climbs, I use a light 18” frame. The great thing about cycling these days is how wonderfully specific you can achieve your build.”
With so many component parts, models, and sizes, finding the perfect bike for your height, strength and ride frequency can be tricky. Each bike shop is going to carry their own preferred brands, similar to an auto dealer. Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop in Lawrence carries Specialized and Trek products. The River Market Cyclery (rivermarketcyclery.com) carries Cannondale, Giant, GT and Schwinn. Volker Bikes (volkerbicycles.com) offers customers the Santa Cruz, Scott, Pinarello, Jamis, Soma and Surly lines. With dozens of locally owned shops in the metro, research is necessary. Most lines have frames designed specifically for women, although some women prefer male models. (Badum ching!)
Ashton Lambie at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop in Lawrence KS knows exactly how to help large and small size-challenged people. Sunflower offers two types of fitting services. A “sizing” is a general interview, trying out a few different frame sizes and making general adjustments like seat height. The more comprehensive “fitting” includes physical assessment which looks at skeletal and muscular traits, range of motion, previous injuries, foot arch levels and angularity and flexibility. A fitting will generally take two to two and a half hours and cost around $200.00. “A fitting is best for people who spend a lot of time on their bikes or are investing in a good first bike for recreation or commuting. “
Frames come in a variety of sizes from “t-shirt” sizing in XS,S,M,L,XL,XXL to inches for American bikes and mountain bikes and centimeters for road bikes. Someone 5’ to 5’5” in height might like an XS or 13” frame, while a professional basketball player would go with an XXL or a 23” frame. “We recommend the really big men to get bigger tires.” Bikes are sized proportionally, so an extra large bike will have extra large everything. Seat height is one of the more important considerations when sizing a bike. The height of the seat stem, which is easily adjusted with a quick release lever, determines how much force the leg will use to push the pedals. A seat set too low won’t allow the leg to extend and can create knee and hip problems down the road. The goal is t o use the leg muscles as efficiently as possible. Seat discomfort is the number one reason people often give up the sport, which is sad because seats are easy to switch out and there are many shapes and padding options available. Fitting a seat will involve making sure a customer’s “sit bones” are square on the seat and well protected. And don’t overlook the necessity of a good pair of bike shorts or pants. Ashton concurs. “You get what you pay for and make sure you don’t wear anything underneath them.” A pair in the right size with a high quality shammy will wick away sweat and provide that blessed cushioning everywhere it is needed. (Secret confession: If I could wear my bike shorts everyday under my clothes I would be the happiest woman alive!) Get them!
Even though seats are tilt-able, Ashton recommends a level position. “When a customer starts to play with seat tilt, it can interfere with all of the other size considerations and create different problems.” CO-OWNER OF GRAVITY ASSISTED MOUNTAIN BIKING The rail position determines how far forward or back the seat is in relation to the handlebars. Different size rails can be purchased to accommodate the larger or smaller among us but changing out a rail is rare.
Handlebars are another important component for comfort. How wide a person’s shoulders are, or how large their chest is, can impact how far apart the hands rest on the bar or the length of the bar entirely. Brakes and gear shifters can be slid closer to the hands for better control, and grips can be larger or smaller depending on hand size. Small adjustments like these can make a world of difference for an avid rider.
Pedals come in three varieties: flat, with cages, or for use with shoes designed to clip onto the pedal. The clipless cleats, as they are known, offer the firmest connection to the pedal and can reduce shock when hitting a tree root on a trail. Keeping your foot in place is a good way to increase control.
Suspension forks are a mountain bike add-on that can improve a ride if you ride a lot. They aren’t cheap and they can add extra weight to an already fairly heavy frame. According to bikeradar.com, “light, tight forks will suit climbers and other cross-country riders, while super-plush traction Hoovers are worth the extra weight for progressive envelope pushers.” Forks are complicated bits of machinery so a trip to the bike mechanic is highly recommended. When 5’0” Keely Waller — CEO at KG Consulting and a fitness enthusiast — bought her first bike, she wasn’t sure what to expect. “I went to Capp’s Bike Shop in Topeka. They had a stationary bike there that they have you get on so they can see what size bike/handle bars/pedals you need. While at the store, I went and rode around the parking lot to feel it out. They also helped me adjust the seat, handlebars and clips, pedals to make sure it was perfect for me.”
Keely chose a Giant hybrid. “So I could switch out my tires to mountain tires and use it more as a mountain bike if I wanted. It’s a little heavier than some road bikes but that’s okay for me. It’s comfortable and reliable and I love doing fun rides and races with my friends! My next purchase may be a higher end mountain bike.” Whether you are looking to commute, race or just hit the trails, finding the best fit is a personal journey worth taking. So be a kid again and get back on that bike!]]>
IT’S DECEMBER. IF YOU’RE A RUNNER, THIS MEANS MAKING PEACE WITH THE DARKNESS. You could always go inside and hit the treadmill. Resist the urge. There will be plenty of time for treadmill running next month when the farm country winter really digs its teeth in. December temperatures in Kansas City usually top out around 45. That’s still running shorts weather! Add a stocking cap and gloves, and the cool, crisp winter air will leave you refreshed and ready to hit it hard a half mile into your run once you’re warm and toasty.
But what about the darkness? With fewer daylight hours, you might need to mix up your warm season routine. If running alone in the dark feels feel eerie, you can always buddy up or join a group run. Check the IndieFit Daily Fix section to find local runs that span the dark months.
But the holiday season offers opportunities that aren’t usually mentioned in running magazines. For example, Christmas lights courses. Find a neighborhood that goes all out with the Christmas lights and design a course. You’ll be feeling sorry for the people packed in their cars who don’t get to soak up all the Christmas cheer that is better felt on foot. I like to run my Christmas lights course with my family. My daughter is much more into short sprints than continuous running, so sprinting from lit up house to lit up house makes for a fun game. Short walking rests allow her (and me) to rest and get a better look at the lights. Just make sure you are lit up as well (and I’m not necessarily talking egg nog!). Reflective clothing and a light will keep you safer on the streets.
If trail running is your thing, a good headlamp will help you see the trail in the dark. I’m still in search of the perfect headlamp. I’ve tried several of the less expensive $15 -20 lights, which work fine for me (although I’m prone to lumens-envy – everybody’s light seems a little bit brighter than mine, but I think it has more to do with forgetting to regularly replace the batteries). Kansas City has some fantastic trails and there are weekly group runs at several of them. Running down a wooded trail in the frosty winter air on a clear night with only light from your headlamp and the stars is great, and hitting the trails right after the first snowfall of the season — or during the snow itself — is one of those favorite winter experiences you can’t get on a treadmill.
Last year I went for a group run on the trails at Wyandotte County Park. I like to run with the men, so that night I was booking along through the woods on a leaf and snow covered trail faster than I’m normally comfortable with. About halfway into the run, I heard some of the guys ahead of us start cussing as they disappeared down a steep hill. Once I made it to the top of the rise and started down the other side, I found out what all the commotion was about. I fell on my butt and slid down the snow-covered hill determined not to get left in the lurch! At the bottom I got back on my feet and started back in. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Running fast and free at night with a group that’s faster than you can take you out of the day-to-day, and the added mindfulness necessary to prevent falling on your face can help you feel more connected with nature. Plus, you can feel good that you’re a badass who runs through the dark woods as temperatures dive below freezing.
December also has two really cool races at Wyandotte County Park, one on the roads, one on the trails. The Mid America Running Association puts on the Chili run on December 12th, 6.5 miles on a paved road that winds through the park. The Trail Nerds host the Alternate Chili Trail Run on December 5th, a 10 mile course on the park’s trail system. Both involve eating a warm bowl of chili afterwards.
The shorter December days make it even more important to get outside and soak up the fresh air of winter. It saps the cold and gloom of the season, and your hot shower and dry clothes will feel all that much cozier for the effort]]>
By Japhi Westerfield
ABOUT A YEAR AGO, TANYA KHVITSKO – WHO IS QUICKLY BECOMING ONE OF KANSAS CITY’S BEST KNOWN RUNNERS – went for a short three-mile jog south of KU Med Center on a familiar course. Somewhere near State Line and 42nd Street she fell hard. Tanya was trying out some new gear and had an equipment malfunction. When she woke up in the arms of a “cute police officer,” all she could think to do was profusely apologize for being sweaty. That’s how running in Kansas City seems to go for the 25 year old Lenexa grad student. Even injuries that result in a concussion come with an upside.
It wasn’t always that way. Tatsiana Khvitsko was born in Belarus, four and a half years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. After the explosion at the Soviet nuclear energy facility (which today is in modern Ukraine), the radiation cloud drifted north and Belarus took much of the resulting radiation. The health fallout from the unprecedented incident was profound. The blast caused 31 immediate deaths, mostly among plant workers and the fireman who fought the resultant blaze. The United Nations reported that nearly 5000 additional emergency workers died from longer term exposure over the next 15 years. Blast zones around the facility, where human activity is restricted and wildlife has moved in, include the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve that extends into Belarus. This and other no man’s lands stand in mute testimony to how the event froze time for many Soviet-era citizens.
But one of the guttural consequences of the disaster was the effect on children born in the fallout zones. The most common problems of these “Chernobyl babies” were thyroid issues, including thyroid cancer. But thyroid disease wasn’t the only malady attributed to the radiation. Khvitsko, who doctors both in Belarus and the US say is one of these Chernobyl babies, was born with missing limbs and deformed fingers on both hands. Before her first birthday she was already a congenital, “below the knee/above the knee” double-amputee. Her parents sent her to live in a boarding school for children with disabilities 300 km north of one of the most poisonous places on earth. She made her first baby steps when she was four years old using heavy wooden prostheses. Most of the time she got around on crutches.
Life improved when she turned five. While she was still living in the boarding school, a group of Kansas City area doctors, on a trip to Belarus with what was then called Project Restoration, learned of Khvitsko and came to examine her at the school. Eventually she was invited to travel to Kansas City for the summer to receive medical treatment and physical therapy. There she was fitted with better prostheses. The therapy helped, but she needed regular treatment, so the doctors arranged for her to start coming t o Kansas C ity every summer. She stayed with an American family who treated her like their own daughter. She started going by the name Tanya when she was stateside.
Khvitsko told me that from the very beginning people in the US treated her differently than back home in Belarus where she could never wear shorts or dresses in public because, as she said, her n e i g h b o r s there felt sorry for her. She never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her. Kansas City provided an opportunity for a life less defined by her disability. In 2008 her “American family,” as she now called them, helped her come to the Kansas City to enroll at Mid-American Nazarene College in Olathe. She’s been here ever since.
One day when she was at church, Khvitsko met another woman with prostheses. After studying Tanya’s equipment, the woman said she needed better quality walking legs. During her senior year of college she did some research and found a clinic in Florida that could help her get a new more advanced set of prostheses. She had hoped the new legs would provide better mobility – and a shot at running – but, even though they were far more comfortable than her older units, they still wouldn’t allow her to do anything more than walk. She spent several days at the clinic undergoing therapy and adjusting to her new legs. Then on the last day of her visit the doctors surprised her. Somebody had anonymously donated a blade for Tanya, and along with another prosthesis for the leg that was amputated below the knee, she now had a set of “running legs” as she calls them.
Tanya was elated. Remember, she had had never run before, not once. She told me, “I always tell people now, appreciate your legs. I never had a chance to run. I never had the legs to run. I didn’t even know what it felt like.”
The experience was electrifying.
“When I got a chance to run for the first time, that’s when my confidence went up as an individual and as a female. With my walking legs, I can wear jeans. I can wear long dresses. Nobody knows I have a prosthesis. But when I wear a blade, I can’t hide my legs. If I wore jeans it would look goofy, you know? So that’s when I realized, I am so much more powerful, so much stronger. I am beautiful in my own way because of those legs.”
But the running itself was what surprised her the most at first. For awhile it was the only thing she wanted to do. “When I first put on those running legs, I was running so fast, I felt like I was flying. This was the first time I’d ever run, and it felt like what I’d imagine flying must feel like. I always tell people, in some ways I am flying, because I have no feet. I have no legs at all, so with my blade, I’m really flying.”
That’s when her journey changed. Instead of being a disabled Chernobyl baby, Tanya had become an adaptive athlete. In 2012, a few months after she got her running legs, Tanya ran her first 5k. A year later she ran her first half marathon. Since then she’s been a non-stop runner, entering races almost every weekend. She was able to run right away, but it took her a couple of months to get thehang of her new running legs. In particular, compared to walking on prostheses, she had to strengthen her core. Many runners have issues with their knees, but for Tanya, it’s her core and lower back that take most of the pressure. With the blade, she had to learn how to balance, how to move her hips in order to will the blades to follow her direction. “When non-adaptive runners run, they don’t have to think about where their feet go. But for me, since I can’t feel where I step, I had to figure out how can I step on a big rock and not fall down.“
It was like a non-adaptive athlete trying to run on stilts. The blade doesn’t have any sensory feedback. Tanya had to teach herself an intermediate for feeling. It was all about controlling her upper body. “When I run, I use so much of my upper body and my lower back. I have to do a lot of ab work to make sure my core is strong.”
Tanya does group strength and conditioning classes at Real Fitness and Conditioning by the KU Med Center. Her current goal is not just to get faster but to run longer distances without stopping. The main challenge is her back. To run a 10k non-stop is the first step. She still has to walk during any distance longer than 6 miles, but she hopes through her conditioning work to overcome this. Like all runners, she’s had her injuries and setbacks. About a year ago she got a new running knee for her leg without the blade. That’s how she came to find herself in the arms of the policeman. On her first run, she was unaware that her prosthesis hadn’t been tightened properly. Something popped and she ended up on the ground with a mild concussion.
Tanya’s accomplishments include two Rock the Parkway half marathons and too many 5ks and 10ks to count. The half marathons were difficult. She has to keep her back in the same position for more than 13 miles. The first 10 miles were OK but the last three seemed impossible because she was in so much physical pain. For days after the race, her lower legs were so swollenand blistered, she couldn’t put on her prostheses. Moisture is the enemy of prosthetics users. Non-adaptive athletes can wear socks that absorb moisture and prevent blisters and rashes. For Tanya, if she’s sweating, the sweat just stays there until she takes off her prostheses.
In 2012 Tanya graduated with a degree in Corporate Communications. Now she’s enrolled at William Jewell working on a master’s degree. She admits, beyond helping others, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She’d like to work with amputees or, barring that, with anybody she can help, especially young girls struggling with self-esteem. She’s already doing it; she regularly gives talks to small groups in the area about her own struggle and how her experiences can help them.
Tanya has developed a special bond with her adoptive home. “I truly love my country. I love Belarus and I miss my family. But I love my adoptive country too, especially Kansas City. But look at me. I’ve been here seven years. Look how successful I’ve become, not just as an athlete but as an individual. I’m confident. I’m not afraid to open up and talk to people about my prostheses. I don’t think people feel sorry for me here, but back home in Belarus, I know they would, and it would close doors for me. I’d have to force myself to talk to people. People treat me there like I’m a special person, and I don’t need that. I’m getting my master’s degree now. And that’s what I try to tell adaptive athletes I meet. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, even if others do. We’re all adaptive. Whether you’re wearing glasses or I’m wearing prostheses, we’re all adapting to this world in some way. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’re just bringing yourself down. There are times when I get upset, when I want to have legs. Look, I’m a girl. I’d love to wear heels. I’d love to wear a short dress where my legs would look fantastic. But because I wear prostheses, I get to meet so many people, and hopefully I help people. Chernobyl may have taken my legs from me, but it gave me so much more instead.”
She might not know what she wants to do with her life after graduate school, but she’s certain what her main running goal is: 26.2. She would love to break the female double-amputee record for the marathon. “Will I do it? I don’t know, but I’m going to go for it. I’m going to try my best,” she told me.
What’s certain is that she’ll have many area supporters as she works towards her goals. “When I run races, everybody just comes up to me. ‘Hey Tanya!’ I know so many people here now. Kansas City is my new home, I feel like I’ve grown up here, at least the most important part of my growing up, even if it came a little later than for most people. I love this place.”]]>
LFK (aka Lawrence)
University of Kansas and Washburn University
Marketing Coordinator for the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Kansas
Actually not what but in what language. Beer speaks English, German, Czech, Italian, and French. Along with his MBA and stamp-laden passport, Beer is a perfect fit for his position at KU.
Until recently, amateur elite cycling and racing. Beer competed both collegiately for KU and post-collegiately at USAC events around the country. He notched wins at the collegiate level and helped KU dominate in team time trials during his tenure. Beer still rides hard but now blends his old passion with strength training and “functional fitness.”
I didn’t know bike racing was a college sport
In the NCAA, racing is not varsity-level and so technically the teams are called “racing clubs.” They have their own multischool leagues similar to conferences like the Big 12.
In the beginning
“As a kid I was overweight. At age 14 I started riding a mountain bike and lost more than 60 pounds. When I turned 18 my father said, ‘Son, for your birthday I’m either going to buy you either a car or a bike. Choose wisely.’ I chose the bike.”
Using a point system, USA Cycling assigns a rank to each cycler. There are five categories. Beginners start at Category 5 and can work their way up to Category 1 – the most elite status – through a carefully calibrated system of performance gates. “One of my greatest successes was moving from a Category 5 to a Category 3 in a single season,” Beer said. Eventually he earned a Category 2 ranking, in part, by winning a Category 2-3 race in St. Louis with more than 120 riders.
“My current one of course! Before I got started in marketing, though, I managed an iconic bike shop called Littleton Cyclery in Littleton, Colorado that’s been there since the hippie days.”
In a word, paleo. “Seventy-five percent of the time I eat paleo and the rest of the time I eat like a normal person. I try to cut out as much refined sugar and carbs as possible. I can’t remember the last time I had a sandwich, or a burger with bread.” About carb loading before bike races Beer said, “the thinking of the nineties, that you had to carb-up before a race has changed dramatically. At first I was very adamant that I had to have a certain number of carbs. But I really don’t. I can get all of the essential carbs I need from foods that don’t have any refined sugar, flour or grain.”
What you love to hate
Scales. “I’ve have always hated stepping on the scale. When you’re racing bikes you need to keep your actual weight in mind, but now I just go by feel. Every time I do step on the scale I’m positively surprise.”
When Life Hands you Lemons
Eventually every rider falls. Beer almost had career ending crashes several times. Once he was riding in Lawrence at about 50 miles per hour when a car pulled in front of him. “I flew over the top of the trunk and landed straight on my head and flipped over a few times, just skating across the road.” The result was a concussion and some relatively minor abrasions.
“I’d already had a couple of really hard falls before. Falls are part of the game. You can’t let them keep you from riding. If you pick up a bike today, you’re going to fall at least once in the next year. Guaranteed. I didn’t let it stop me. I was back on the bike a week later.”
After he started working at KU last year, Beer’s riding dropped from about 25 hours to five hours per week. To fill the void he took up strength training. “I started going to the Underground Lab for doing weight lifting and Olympic type lifting (mixed in with some “crossfittype” exercises). Today I’m stronger and leaner than I was. I’m not a huge lifter, I want to point that out, I mix in a lot of high intensity cardio. Functional Fitness.” Most importantly he says he has more energy and is happier with the new blend.
Hey, Kansas City
“Kansas City has a tremendous cross fit community and, in general, there are a lot of gyms and a lot of opportunities to go work out. It’s an active city. Especially downtown we ride, we walk, we run. The urban cycling scene in Kansas City is tremendous. There’s a lot of cool bike shops, a lot of commuters. We have an urban cyclo-cross series. We have inner city mountain]]>
CAFÉ GRATITUDE, ALONG WITH FÜD AND EDEN ALLEY, MAKES UP A THIRD OF THE RESTAURANTS IN KANSAS CITY’S VEGETARIAN “WHOLESOME” TRINITY.
IndieFit recently caught up with Natalie George, the café’s “Creator/Director of Awesomeness” (yep, that’s her actual title) to discuss their free Thanksgiving community meal and to reflect back on the restaurant’s recent third anniversary. Known for their idiosyncratically named entrées (which all begin with “I AM…” – I AM MUCHO, a Mexican bowl of black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa verde, cashew ricotta cheese, etc.), the vegan stronghold is the only member of the upscale Café Gratitude chain outside California. (The other restaurants are in Santa Cruz, Berkeley and LA). With only six locations (eight if you count the uberhip Mexican spinoff Gracias Madre in San Francisco’s Mission District and West Hollywood), Café Gratitude nonetheless is a strong brand in the vegan world, having garnered praise from the New York Times and a cadre of veggie-leaning celebrities who love the culinary radicalism of the chain, which is loosely based on the very Left Coast-sounding philosophy of “Sacred Commerce” that attempts to integrate personal transformation, sustainability and business.
So why is Kansas City the first outpost of the brand outside Cali Nation? George, a Wichita native who previously worked at Garmin for ten years, said she originally wanted to bring the restaurant to KC because “for the longest time in my life, I’d wanted to live in California, but I stayed in the Midwest. Then something clicked in me. I realized I wanted to bring the things that are in California to Kansas City.” Believing that the Midwest, particularly Kansas City, is very community driven, George felt that “community is what the culture of Café Gratitude is all about. It’s more than just the food or vegan philosophy. There were people in Kansas City who craved the energy of clean eating — or at least the promise of it — that California represented to me and also the more open definition of community that is what Café Gratitude is all about. We were hungry for that in Kansas City.”
Café Gratitude’s annual free Thanksgiving community meal will once again take place at their Southwest Boulevard location, which is undergoing renovations to add an upstairs for private gatherings and community workshops. George wants to set one thing straight about the purpose of the event. “When we first started doing the meal two years ago, so many people would want to come volunteer, but they wouldn’t want to eat with us. I think the normal way people viewed this sort of thing was that it was about giving to the homeless.”
But George has a different vision for the event. “At our community dinner, anyone and everyone is invited to participate. And we do have homeless guests, but this is our way of giving back to all of the community, including our customers. We don’t target the homeless. We target the community. The main focus is celebrating together. It’s about sharing our gratitude because Thanksgiving is the day set aside for that.” Attendees all pitch in to help serve the meal. George carefully searches for words to describe how the event makes her feel about food, community and even the definition of family: “I love my family and — how should I say it — this is the only way I’ll ever do Thanksgivings going forward or at least some version of this. My favorite part is at the beginning when we all stand in a circle, and everyone goes around and shares what they’re grateful for. It’s really moving. It almost moves me to tears every year. Usually there’s a line out the door waiting to come in. We can get upwards of 70 people. So to go around and have that experience with so many people at once, it’s really powerful.”
When I asked if her definition blended the notions of family and community she said, “yes, that beyond resonates with me. That’s what I’ve created at the café. The staff is like my family, and I think they would say that about each other.”
CAFÉ GRATITUDE’S COMMUNITY MEAL WILL TAKE PLACE THURSDAY NOVEMBER
26, NOON – 3 P.M. (OR WHEN THE FOOD RUNS OUT)
On the Menu: A salad, main dish and desser t, all served family style
Café Gratitude Kansas City
333 Southwest Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64108
But did you know they operate out of Topeka?
By Megan Helm
THERE AREN’T MANY PLACES IN KANSAS OR MISSOURI OR even the United States for that matter where conservatives and liberals agree besides the pages of Mother Earth News, an iconic magazine that started off as a voice for the “goin’ up the country” post-hippie crowd back in 1970. Many people, and not just locally, are surprised to find that today it’s headquartered in Topeka, Kansas. Through the nineties and early years of the new century, old Mother Earth issues were a perennial at garage sales, next to old paperback favorites like the Population Bomb, Your Erogenous Zones, and CDs by the grunge band Seven Mary Three (their one CD that is). So when I first heard Mother Earth now operated close to the Brownback governor’s mansion, I decided to find out more about their choice of locale and how Mother Earth, which still sports its core themes of building an earthy, sustainable life (by hand when possible), has changed to serve a new generation of readers.
First the back story. John and Jane Shuttleworth created the magazine from their kitchen table starting in 1970. They described it as “edited by, and expressly for, today’s influential ‘hip’ young adults. The creative people… Heavy emphasis is placed on alternative lifestyles, ecology, working with nature and doing more with less.” Even though the magazine has been bought and sold more than once over the last 45 years, it has managed to stay true to its mission in addition to becoming more and more politically inclusive. Early themes focusing on how to live off the land, reduce the need to consume mass produced food and other products, and maintain the home crafting and animal husbandry skills formerly handed down through the generations have remained and, notably, seem to cross political ideologies.
The year before the magazine launched could be considered the apex of the hippie movement. 1969 was the year of Woodstock, the Stonewall riots, and the Manson family murders. The desire to drop out and get back to nature was partially a way to elude law enforcement and government interference and partially a way to thwart what the hippies felt was an evil corporate lifestyle takeover. Utopian vibrations percolated. Making an independent living off the land was a major theme in the seventies and has come back around today in aspects of the Food to Table, CSA, urban farming, and sustainable housing movements.
The early issues of the magazine (which I actually found at a library on microfilm – remember microfilm?) channeled the creativity of the Shuttleworth’s and the motley crew of young contributors they assembled to write about themes of the time: the struggles to make it when unemployment was going through the roof and an OPEC oil embargo was taking down an economy that wouldn’t fully bounce back until the 1980s. Titles like “Building a House of Straw,” “Curing Pork,” and the “The Herdsman’s Handbook” call to mind a certain fairy tale quality juxtaposed to the vexing issues in the mainstream news. “Corn Cob Pipes” and “How to build an Ice House” are reminiscent of a certain snowman, and “Witch for Water” and “Harnessing the Wind” conjure an Ozarkian magical realism. While browsing the early archive I half expected to find articles like “How to make a trail of breadcrumbs” and “How to build a house of candy.”
Other alluring articles promised a way to strike it rich. “Be an antique picker,” “How to retire six months every year” — as well as stories about how to sell your original music and art — all fueled the dream of working for oneself and leaving “the man” behind. Cottage industries are still a huge draw for audiences. Learning how to keep goats and make cheese or beer or pickles or pasta sauce are in nearly every issue.
Founder John Shuttleworth was a bit of an “eco-prophet.” In a March 1975 article he lamented, “You’ve got to be collectively crazy when you belong to a species that can casually assemble enough nuclear weapons to totally destroy all the life on earth a hundred times over. Or breed and stockpile more than enough special strains of anthrax and God knows what other super-diseases to do the same thing. Or completely—and, again, casually—exterminate other whole species for the manufacture of lipsticks and rectal suppositories. Or ransom the lives of the next 20,000 generations with atomic waste just so this generation can continue doubling its consumption of electricity every 10 years… Civilization, it seems, is just another word for ‘lunatic asylum.’”
The Shuttleworth’s started the magazine in Ohio but turned it over to Bruce Woods, a long time editor. He and two other employees bought the magazine in 1979 and moved production to the 600 acre research center or “EcoVillage” in North Carolina where thousands of people came each summer to take classes in the experimental gardens and studios. Paid print subscriptions passed a million, a radio show had hit the airwaves, and according to an article by former contributor Sara Bacher in the March/April 1990 issue, “we began to exert real influence on environmental legislation.” Mother Earth News was now a bona fide player on the fringes of mass media. Bacher was hired for her travel expertise to develop one of the first ever incarnations of Ecotourism, via a Mother Earth trip that took readers to the Alps, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Scandinavia and Kathmandu, to name a few locales, to see sustainability and ecological issues first hand. Then the Reagan years hit. Ronald Reagan wasn’t big on environmental policy. His Secretary of the Interior James Watt once said, “My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures, which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns.” These years took a toll on the magazine. Subscriptions plummeted, the staff was whittled, and the EcoVillage closed. In 1985 the magazine was sold to New York publisher Owen Lipstein. 16 years later, the magazine was again sold, this time to Bryan Welch of Ogden publishing.
Thus, at the turn of the millennium in 2001, the staff and offices of Mother Earth News were relocated to Topeka, where it remains in operation to this day, though Mr. Welch passed the reigns to Bill Uhler last April in order to lead B The Change Media, a new multiplatform media company. In an article written by former publisher Bryan Welch for his blog Beautiful and Abundant in January of 2014, the unifying principle of self-reliance is the key to Mother Earth’s success. After Mediamark Research & Intelligence, an audience analysis company specializing in the advertising industry, evaluated the demographics of Mother Earth over the last 10 years, surprising new data emerged.
Mother Earth News had quadrupled the size of their audience. At a time when print media was suffering a slow death, when newspapers all over the country were firing reporters and limiting coverage, when everybody and their brother had a blog or a YouTube channel showing people how to do things no one ever thought they wanted to do, Mother Earth almost doubled newsstand sales.
In addition they improved their layout, designed an interactive website, added videos, blogs and extended their outreach with annual “fairs” at select towns around the country as well as gaining a prominent social media position. Their readership continues to feel included and important. In fact, according to the article, readers tell the editors what to cover. “We send 10 to 50 email surveys to various groups of readers every week.” They established an advisory group that anyone can request to join on the website.
The Mother Earth Fairs are where the readers really interface. Events and workshops, vendors and activists field questions and provide solutions. I attended the fair in Lawrence two years ago where Temple Grandin was a keynote speaker, Hilary Brown was launching a new veggie burger and my son and I learned about tea and how to raise goats and make cheese. Current Editor-in-Chief Cheryl Long admitted there are sometimes interesting political questions at the Q&A’s after various sessions but says “the focus is on how to do things. People come with their notebook in hand ready to learn.” This year’s Midwestern fair was held in October in Topeka.
But perhaps the most surprising statistic to come out of the Mediamark research was that only 10 percent of the audience responding to the survey considered themselves “very Liberal” and 21 percent identify as “very Conservative. “ Bryan Welch puts it this way, “… political differences apparently don’t extend to your feelings for gardens, tomatoes, farmhouses, pure food, a healthy human habitat or great grandchildren.” Which is inspiring. The words “global warming” are rarely used and the magazine makes a concerted effort to avoid partisan buzzwords. They work hard to not alienate readers. It is understood that people on both sides of the political spectrum agree that our planet is beautiful and should be protected for future generations.
According to Bryan Welch’s blog, “We used to refer to our readers as ‘environmentalists.’ Now we know many of you don’t see yourselves that way. You prefer to be characterized as ‘conscientious.’ Or maybe you just prefer not to be characterized at all–which is fine with us.”
He likens the tone of the magazine to a dinner party where the conversation is “interesting, varied and provocative. But we don’t want any of our guests to feel insulted, and we try to make sure that no one is offended, even if they are challenged.” Consensus exists where it overlaps with the American ideal of self-reliance and independence. Conservatives don’t want government interference. Liberals don’t want corporate manipulation. Americans want to be free to live healthy, affordable lives they create for themselves. In that we can agree.]]>