Truth in Statements, Part 1

Please forgive any formatting errors – I am not a professional blogger, I am new to this.
Bullying by a teammate. Unfortunately, we experienced a situation during the past 3-4 months where a Volée teammate repeatedly defamed and disrespected Kelly via team venues, such as Facebook, Twitter, and our online portal, which caused us to remove her from the Volée. We welcome questions, conversation, and critical feedback, but we have zero tolerance for bullying.” Sally Bergesen, CEO of Oiselle.
 
Merriam-Webster defines bullying as: 

bullying

  1. :  abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc. :  the actions and behavior of a bully
I’m having a flashback to 2015 when Nick Symmonds, 2x Olympian, US World Silver Medalist in the 800m, 6x USA 800m National champion, asked the USATF (the governing body of USA Track & Field) to define a “Team USA event” in the contract he was to sign in order to compete at IAAF Worlds. (Watch an interview here. I love the passion he has for what’s right and fair in the sport. At 3:45 he talks about how he was bullied & harassed by a governing body larger than him.)
In not receiving clarification on the matter, Symmonds was left off of the 2015 World team, because he would not sign a contract with ambiguous wording – regardless of his value and worth as an asset to Team USA, as he was the only athlete qualified for the Worlds men’s 800m team at that time whom had proven he could race through rounds on a world stage, and had a silver medal to defend. (Clayton Murphy, the athlete that took Nick’s place at Worlds, has since evolved into an amazing elite runner himself, taking home the bronze medal in the 800m at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.) Yes, there were many other elite athletes that signed the contract and went to Beijing that year, but Symmonds stood up for the values and beliefs he has had regarding athletes and their sponsors in sport that he has not shied away from since day one.
I came back to this sport because of voices like Nick Symmonds and Lauren Fleshman. I’ve long admired the stands they take on important issues within track and field, and enlightening others with their truths. In having conversations with them both, learning from my mistakes when Lauren has pointed them out, and meeting many, many other professional elite athletes and learning their stories, some of whom I am able to genuinely call friend, I have become a stronger version of the woman I was before coming back to the sport. Because of their genuine love and passion for the sport, I have been more inspired by the day.
Oiselle used to have an official team Facebook page that was administrated and watched over by the headquarters. When the decision to move to a private team portal on the platform Ning was made and the deletion of the official Facebook forum announced, women were upset that the page would be gone for a variety of reasons. Facebook was simply the preferred method of communication by many (not all) members of the team. Many felt that a daily positivity would be lost without the Oiselle page. Watching this unfold, and saddened by the thought of losing team members by the switch to Ning, I brought up the idea to HQ for an unofficial fan page instead, and it was approved by (then HQ Volee-leader Heather Stephens and Dr. Lesko). Lesko’s response when I asked to start a fan page: “You are your own woman! If that moves you, do it! Just specify it is a fan page not managed or affiliated with O Nest; there are a number of examples out there if you need! Thanks, lovely! No clipping wings from us, woman! Go for it!”) This group (that was until recently named We Love Oiselle!) was begun in April 2016, with the specific indication listed within that it was NOT an official team forum. Women truly loved the positivity and team camraderie it brought to their lives daily.
We based our interactions on the team manifesto Principles of Flight held as members of Oiselle, but by no means was it for team members only to discuss official team situations. That was for Ning. We invited non-Oiselle friends to the secret page to spread our love for sport and life and created a community as official team communications moved to Ning. I, with other team members functioning as admins & moderators throughout the year since it began, hosted a Facebook forum that was always listed and functioning as an unofficial fan page. The secret FB group, formerly known as We Love Oiselle, is a safe, private space for women in the group (we had one #BroBird, a male member of Oiselle Volee). There is a sanctity within the space where these women came to share dark secrets of infidelity, marriage struggles, mental illness, and eating disorders, alongside positive and happy moments in their lives.
I’ve poured my heart and soul into supporting my teammates on all social media platforms, especially the Facebook forum. I’ve placed an extensive amount of time and energy into maintaining this specific Facebook forum almost daily (I often spend a lot of time on set in “hurry up and wait” mode – I’ll write more about that in another blog. It’s a very common situation to be in for models and actors for TV/film/commercials). I’ve personally reached out to so many that have been dealing with difficult situations, no matter what team they are with. I’m never more than a text message or a phone call away to anyone in my life, regardless of the time of the day. As I watched over the forum and moderated conversations within it with the help of various other Volee teammates, I became well aware of each teammate’s struggles, their journeys, their joys, and their heartbreaks.
I’ve never held an official position within the Oiselle community. I am not a team leader for the Volee, I have not modeled for the brand, I am not an elite athlete in any form, I was simply a proud, paying, cheerleading member of the team. Running the Facebook page was voluntary, and had no official team overview. Therefore, I ask questions and cheer the community the same as any other member is welcome to. I had two public tweets addressing the issue prior to my membership being rescinded directly questioning Oiselle why Kelly, a blogger, was misleadingly listed in the company of elite professionals. I am not Megan Murray, listed as the press inquiries contact for Oiselle, who tweeted “If you’re uncomfortable w/banditing, I’d take a long look a the history of women’s running. Disobedience = our tradition. #BobbiWasABandit” on her personal Twitter page. She wrote this in response to the banditing uncovered by Derek Murphy about Oiselle athlete Kelly Roberts, which was then hastily retweeted (and un-retweeted) by the official Oiselle Twitter account. 24 hours later, Oiselle’s twitter account posted this. (The original Murray tweet has now been deleted after a highly contentious Twitter conversation, prompting Sally to state in a blog that Oiselle does not promote breaking the rules of a race. They still sponsor Roberts after she has been seen to break the rules of races more than once.) Runner’s World also immediately responded to the support of banditing races with this article.
It’s no secret that Oiselle has a private online forum for members only, a platform called NING. As this is the only official space to for team members to communicate with HQ and have their views directly heard, I have reposted my parts of the conversation as well as posted additional commentary in the thread from others as anonymous after seeking permission from the commenters. I had always had a good relationship and respect for the members of HQ regarding any issues prior to my rescindment, and never felt as though I could not ask questions. I always sought their opinion whenever a member had a question I thought was appropriate for them to answer. I’ve conversed with Sally at meet-ups since the first February 2014 NYC run we had together prior to my joining Oiselle Volee in fall 2014. In fact, after having a quick conversation to catch up with Sally at the team meetup post-Women’s March January 22nd, after personally struggling with the best way to let HQ know about questions regarding Kelly’s addition to Oiselle for about a week, I asked her directly on how to handle the questions in the Facebook forum. Should I send her the pertinent questions from the conversation? What should I do? She responded with, “I don’t care what happens on the Facebook page, I don’t care about it at all. If anyone has a question, they should contact me via email or on Ning. They know how to reach me directly.” Fair enough. So I stated that to the members of the forum, and I did not begin the thread on Ning. Here are my exact words on Ning asking for transparency about Kelly Roberts from January 2017, and the responses from the Nest leaders (the Nest is the name for the official Oiselle headquarters):
Oiselle terms & people to know as you go along:
Sally = Sally Bergesen, CEO of Oiselle. (@oiselle_sally)
Lesko = Dr. Sarah Lesko, Oiselle HQ, Corporate Development. (@drlesko)
#FlyStyle = wearing Oiselle clothing
Volee = dues-paying members of Oiselle team ($100)
Haute Volee = elite level athletes sponsored in some way by Oiselle looking to break into national/world level competition, currently there are at least two Olympians classified as Haute Volee
This thread was deleted, and ironically on the same evening the Oiselle “Speak Out” t-shirt was launched. I think it’s only fair that since my words are being called into question publicly, I state them here, especially since many team members were left behind wondering what was actually said. I stand by what I’ve stated.

Jan 25, 2017:

Original Post, NING (not by me, anonymous): Pictures of Kelly Roberts decked out in Oiselle with captions hashtagged with flystyle are suddenly flooding my social media feeds even without me actually following her directly. I am just curious…why is Kelly the only large-ish/er woman posted on Oiselle’s Twitter, Instagram,and blog? We have SO MANY beautiful and inspiring Volee who have a similar physical profile to her, not to mention who have wholeheartedly invested in Oiselle, that would love to be featured. People that came to Oiselle on their own, people that believe in the O and its mission, people that love to run and love the #runfamily, etc. The Volee alone represent hundreds of normal, everyday people without 30,000+ followers on IG. Is that the goal with Kelly? To be able to reach the masses?
Jan 26, 2017:
My response to the post (clarification – I never sent the copied parts of the thread, I never sent the draft of the email I quote here):

First off, THANK YOU to XXX for posting this here. I am so happy that we are beginning/continuing what I surely felt was a very involved & important discussion on the Facebook page over to Ning. I have also, since speaking to Sally at the run this past weekend, reminded everyone in the FB forum to bring up anything that should be known to the Nest on Ning or by email since the forum isn’t an official Volee site.
Since I already had an email ready to go for the Nest.. this is what I had written as a draft last week, in addition to transcribing the FB discussion (100+ comments on one aspect, 300+ total on the whole thread if you all missed it).
“We had a very intense discussion arise in the We Love Oiselle FB page. I normally text you ladies with items that should make you smile, since for the most part it is a very happy and loving forum! But this did bring up confusion and a lot of opinions, and many birds messaging me about it. It also brought up the context that expressing discontent with something O does is fear inducing & so some women won’t speak up. Only after realizing other women felt the same did they feel as though they could come forward and say “hey, I don’t like this either” or “I don’t agree with this” or “I thought I was the only one who felt this way!” regarding Kelly. Others were saddened that some were questioning the motives of the new muse. There are over 200 comments on this thread & 100+ comments to the #sportsbrasquad/Muse situation so I thought it was important to bring up to you. Condensing the conversation to bring up pertinent issues + reiterated points, I am listing the main questions below & copying over parts of the thread. I am also the messenger – not every question is mine (but I do have some!). I don’t believe anyone was being malicious or mean – I do fully feel that everyone was stating an opinion that they had every right to have.
Also, I made sure to personally reach out to any women that stated they felt slighted or that the commentary was mean-spirited. I watch these women post daily – I have come to know their posting personalities, so I understood that no one was being mean. Regardless, I reached out to everyone as best I could. Since this set of posts, women have started new blogs & IG pages about #RealRunning & their own stories. So, it’s been motivating our women to speak out in the voice that they want to hear.
Points that are not clear to our Volee:
What is a Muse & their specific relationship for Oiselle?
Is Kelly KR sponsored by Oiselle? Is she receiving free gear? Why isn’t it clear in her social media either way? (She used the words “Oiselle invested in me”)
Was/is Kelly KR a member of Volee?
Why not elevate the voices of our own Volee as opposed to someone from outside our team?
Why is this specific Muse being given more attention than the others? (as of today 3 blog posts within one month)
Points that were repeated:
The Haute Volee, professional runners, & fellow Volee are empowering. I would rather hear stories from the teammates that support me or professionals.
Is this the prelude to a larger set of clothing?
I’m serious about my running & this doesn’t feel like a passionate runner or a genuine message.
At the end of it all, there is a strong reaction to this woman and her presence with regards to our team and I thought it was worthy of your attention.”
There are many concerns that are brought up. Change is inevitable with life. And it looks like Oiselle is beginning to sponsor a variety of ladies (there’s a badass 70+ elite granny tweet out now!). At the end of the day, O is a business. They will extend this brand as only O knows how to. This whole thread started with wondering about Kate Grace & O (Long Race Kate The Great With Grace! We heart Kate so much) and became the type of discussion that you can only get with so many women with so many viewpoints and so many questions. Hell, I am not fast & I have small sponsorships starting & in the works.
Personally, I didn’t know a thing about Kelly until this FB thread, when I was reminded she was the “selfies running with hot guys” viral post. (A model friend of mine from RI sent it to me saying I should do that at my next race, I said I would never take a selfie while racing! but then that led to a discussion resulting in her meeting me in Boston to #SelfieStop my first Boston Marathon. And the rest is history lol). I saw her first blog post for O, and I thought it was great. Everyone should wear what they feel is comfortable. Especially to train. If it helps other women, AMAZING! But as I went through her social and her brand to learn about her, she simply isn’t an inspiration to me as a runner. I love that she can be herself & put herself out there. That is NOT EASY. But like others have said, it’s partially because the O partnership doesn’t feel genuine. It does feel like she came out of nowhere. I don’t run so I can eat all the food, I eat because I have to fuel my run (and because I’m hungry haha). I eat so that I can fuel the amazing things my body can DO & will be able to do. Actually, I disagree with parts of what she has to say because although I know that O has always worked to be inclusive (and I surely try so hard to be certain that everyone feels included on our FB page at least) there are posts that are prominent on her social media that actually make me feel like my strong body has no place in her world as she sees it. My strong body (vs my partially broken/injured out-of-shape body now) eats more, runs faster, trains harder, lifts more weight, does a dirty dozen a couple of times, and happens to be skinny/slim by the majority of societal views. I’m #SorryNotSorry but strong looks different on everyone. Being healthy and fit is what I want to hear about. Even her bio on the O site doesn’t have the same type of structure as that of the other Muses. And no, not everyone profiled or working with O has to resonate with every Volee member or every O runner. We have sponsored HV pros that I do not follow nor does what they have to say inspire or motivate me. I respect their presence & ability, of course. And then we have HV whom I WISH they would tell their story because I think it could make so many women say, yes, I have just as busy of a lifestyle or I’m in school now & it’s so good to see how a pro attacks her training in this situation! I am also well aware that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I am a normal person, not a pro, that loves this sport, misses what my body used to do, and have goals for what I want to get done. I’m not a big deal & I’ll always happily say hi to anyone regardless of social media presence. Everyone is human at the end of the day, after all. If what I say or do gets someone to get out the door and make themselves a healthier, happier, more fit human being, then I am grateful to have had the opportunity to bring some positivity to them. #AlwaysBeKind is a huge part of my life.
I get it. She is speaking out to a community of fuller-figured women that may not feel they belong as an athlete & telling them that they do. And that’s wonderful. I agree 110% that needs to be happening. But this is a sport I love. I want to hear about the love for the run no matter what your pace. I’m a huge fan. My friends run with various teams for a living, for fun, or for a different sport. I love learning about everything they do. I’m happily competitive and just want to be the best version of me that I can be even though I’ll never be an American Olympian (unless, yanno, Pakistan decides that they’ll dual-citizenship and somehow I get into the political game to be appointed HAH… well, I’d think twice, but story for another post). But I will always cheer for EVERYONE no matter what their pace. I’m the biggest cheerleader there is. And even if I’m a nasty person with a ton of #swagger during a race, I will always be all smiles after leaving my heart on that course. Every story I have read about a fellow Volee member, I have heard their love for the run in their post. I basically hunted Natalie Fixler down to add her on FB because her story inspired me. She’s not a pro. She’s not super speedy. But she had perserverance. I think we all know running is hard. It’s not easy. We all know there are good runs & bad runs. I want to know that the runs mean something to you. That you love this sport, the way I love this sport. I want to know what drives you.
It’s late. I have to be on set in the am. And I probably went off on a zillion tangents. But I’ve had a zillion conversations regarding this situation since it came up. And it feels petty compared to what is happening in the world, for the big picture in life, but I love this team. It saved my racing. It brought me back to a sport I love. It’s made me new friends and given me the greatest experiences (Olympic Trials, anyone?! Bird camp? I could go on and on!) and I think everyone on Volee is pretty awesome & has a story to tell. I want to hear them. All I ask is for genuine love from anyone. That’s all. Xo
HUWO,
Love love love to all,
Aysha

A member wrote that she doesn’t feel supported at races, running a slower marathon than most of the team, because no one was waiting at the Oiselle Cowbell Corner (cheer location). My response (5:30 refers to a full marathon pace, not a per mile pace):

You’re not the only person who has said this about missing a Cowbell Corner. I reached out to another woman on the team who mentioned that as well. I feel awful knowing that you or anyone misses the corners. I know that our NYC leaders had everyone on tracker at NYC 2 years ago and they made hella sure that we waited on everyone- a bird running 5:30 pace if I remember correctly was so happy we waited… and I remember tweeting out that this made me love this team to see that happen. I was on my feet for over 6 hours this past weekend and tweeted a newfound respect for anyone on their feet running a marathon that long (Kara liked the tweet if it makes you feel better). Anyways, I hope that the next time you run a marathon the O birds in charge of CC are sure to wait for you. And if you run NYC please let me know and I will stay for you with the birds!!!

Jan 26, 2017:

Me: I thought that our dues money for Volee went to the pros… I LOVED when I joined that my money would be helping Kate Grace & those like her get to the Olympics (she was the first person I knew on Oiselle) … Obviously my gamble paid off lol 😉 But honestly, if parts of my dues are going to sign influencers and support them… I would hope that we would be told of such a change. If indeed these Muses are being paid.

Lesko: Hi! More communication to follow tomorrow, but I want to clarify a few points of misunderstanding: The $25 of the Volée membership goes to the Emerging Elite Fund, which supports only the Haute Volée. Please see our list of 37 HV on the http://www.oiselle.com/athletes/elites  team page. These are athletes looking to break into the next higher level (Pros!), and the Emerging Elite Fund directly and concretely affects how many HV we can support. The Volée should feel very proud of and involved with the Haute Volée’s opportunities! Please see many blogs on this topic, including Megan Rolland’s most recent one (http://www.oiselle.com/blog/megan-rolland). Our Pros (Kara, Lauren, Devon, Steph, Brit, and previously Kate) are not supported by the Emerging Elite Fund. Neither are our Muses.

“Our team mission is also on the team page.
Since day one, our mission has been the same: to create a sisterhood of support at a variety of levels from beginners to professionals, from the roads to the trails to the track. We are committed to fostering a team that challenges, supports and empowers runners of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Each of our stories are interwoven into one collective voice and that voice is behind every mile and every individual flight.
Lesko”

My response to a comment about Kelly’s health due to her physical appearance:

Being in the fashion industry, I could expand on this about a zillion times… on both ends of the spectrum. Being a runner I hope that we can all continue to urge for health to be a priority. Trust me when I tell you a part of me is always debating to publicly publish my bloodwork just to prove that I’m healthy on the days or points in time I feel overly attacked.

In response to a comment about seeking transparency from our own team (anonymous): I would have to agree. We are constantly encouraged by Oiselle to engage in open and honest dialogue. It is difficult to navigate a topic that has so many different angles and emotions, and it’s unkind to criticize differing opinions.
Me: Thank you XXX. The need for transparency in our sport (running, USATF, elite levels) is something Oiselle has advocated for from the beginning. I don’t think it’s wrong to request that from the company we race in solidarity with regarding this choice.
After all that was said and done:
Sally: Oiselle has a long history of involving and highlighting many types of women in our business. Not just modeling and advocacy, but also in areas behind the scenes such as women lawyers, artists, and investors.

With these partners, it runs the gamut: Volée, non-Volée, people we’ve known a long time, some we’ve just met, serious runners, recreational, slow, fast, etc. By no means is it a perfect model of inclusion, but we’re committed, and we’ll be doing more – especially as it relates to diverse body sizes/shapes and ethnicity.
The first point in our manifesto is “Build the sisterhood.” And in doing that, treating each other with dignity and respect is our number one requirement. From where I sit, a thread on the team portal to question the value and role one of our teammates plays is incredibly harmful.
Kelly is a valued addition. As Lesko described, Kelly is not connected to the Emerging Athlete Fund. If you find your Volée experience is diminished by our working with Kelly, and you are unhappy, please feel free to contact Lesko or Feather for a refund of your membership, with no hard feelings on our end. Life is short, positivity is calling.

Lesko: Hello all! Thank you for your comments and input. Please know that we have read them and find many to be helpful. We are talking things through as a team, and we are always looking to improve. Please know that we are planning on deleting this thread to protect everyone involved. We are always available for direct feedback and your input. Team love. Lesko
Sadly, the questions, criticisms, and critical feedback we wanted to address with Oiselle were directly curtailed with Sally’s statement above. We shouldn’t have to feel as though we have only two choices with Oiselle: remain silent when something isn’t clear, or leave the team. We don’t have to agree 100% with everything a company does, but this specific company branded itself as the one that calls to light the injustices of the sport. This specific running company prided itself on demanding transparency and clarity from the governing bodies of this sport and other running retailers at all levels. But would not provide the same answers they’ve sought when the requests for clarity came from within.
I want to touch lightly on the topic of bullying, as it was addressed on the Ning forum and in Oiselle’s blog post:
Anonymous O member: “I’m going to add here what I wrote in the FB post because I think it’s very important:
There is a difference between being mean and expressing you have a different opinion than what oiselle has chosen to do. I haven’t felt comfortable saying anything about Kelly because I feel like everyone on the volée loves kelly and they were going to get angry at me (and I know other feel the same way). I find it highly ironic that when people do say something expressing their difference in opinion on oiselle signing Kelly, others said it was mean, criticizing or bullying. It is not personally offensive to others to have a different view/opinion. If this is not a space for open discussion and a difference in opinion, it is not the sisterhood I believed it was.”
Questioning a role that was not precisely defined in many aspects, never directly contacting the member in question, abiding by the requested routes of conversation within Oiselle (Megan Murray asked me to email her after I tweeted the incorrect label for the Strava panel, which I did) and following the leadership’s requests for subsequent questions/comments was met with a rescinded membership (for me). There is only one official team forum that has existed throughout this entire set of communication (Ning), and I have listed my statements above. I made no other statements regarding Roberts on Ning after this deleted conversation and I stand by what I relayed and have said. When it was publicly seen that Kate Grace was not racing in a Oiselle elite kit and a member tweeted about it, Dr. Lesko of Oiselle HQ responded to help clarify the situation on Twitter that Grace’s contract was up and she was a free agent. If something is listed incorrectly publicly in April about a role that elicited clarification requests in January with no definitive response and a muddled social media presence by the subject, why shouldn’t we ask the question about an incorrect title in a public forum? The first public statement that combined the words sponsor, Kelly Roberts, and, now “pro athlete” in any official Oiselle capacity (a now-named label in June other than the initial previously specified role of Muse) regarding the blogger was by CEO Sally, nearly 5 months after the question was first brought up in Ning. It was a sudden post on the heels of a public controversy, without the normal thoughtful rollout that Oiselle normally has in announcing their newest action with the company to change the way we look at sport. The status of “pro athlete” as applied to Roberts continued to be expanded upon the same day it was first stated via this lucky-in-timing request for commentary by none other than Mario Fraioli, a highly respected coach and writer in track and field, whose column I have come to genuinely greatly respect, even if I don’t agree with his stances at all times.
Having a different viewpoint from someone is not bullying. Respectfully stating facts is not bullying. Having a meaningful conversation and discussion contemplating many aspects of a situation is not bullying. Stating your opinions based on the facts, and respectfully agreeing to disagree is not bullying. My freedom to question what is placed before me is protected by the First Amendment in this country, it is a right granted to me by my birthplace here in the United States, and it is a freedom I do not take lightly. My freedom to express my beliefs and speak out for what I believe in is not punishable by death in the US, as it can be for speaking out in other countries around the world.
But calling someone slurs, wishing ill will or death upon them or their family members, making fun of their physical appearance, their race, culture, religion or lack thereof, encouraging someone to kill themselves, or demeaning someone for something beyond their control is unacceptable. It is one thing to state the truth and to have an opinion, and another to be ruthlessly mean. In the same respect, publishing a misguided person’s personal, non-public information in the hopes of shaming them and causing them harm is also unacceptable.
Recently, Nick Symmonds went on his vlog series and stated that whether or not he agreed with the rules of USATF, he always abided by them. (Follow along for his commentary here: starting at 1:00 in, he has every right to talk about trolling. He didn’t break any USATF rules, and has made every effort to know the rules of his sport.) He has put his money where his mouth is, literally, risking losing out on potential monetary bonuses in racing at Worlds from when he spoke out against USATF for their lack of transparency and clarification about a team event.
With the new information presented this past week, at this point I will wonder aloud, as was asked in the initial Facebook thread in We Love Oiselle, if the residual salary that Kate Grace left behind is the same budget/allocation pool that has granted Kelly Roberts monetary reimbursement in her contract to “pay her bills” as the now CEO-stated “pro athlete”. I do not expect or request an answer, of course, but I am allowed to curiously contemplate. I am perfectly content with the fact that my membership fee contributed to those Haute Volee elites (including one 2x Olympian Maria Michta and many others whom I have watched race with great enthusiasm) and their dreams. In the meantime, I simply hadn’t purchased from Oiselle for months (with the exception of Spandos, because Kara Goucher, elite marathoner & woman I admire for her courage in speaking out, wore them and I am only human with marketing, but I sold them to another teammate soon after). I wholeheartedly agree with Kara’s statement about banditing here.

And to think, all of what has been stated above started in January with this simple comment on Facebook by a Oiselle member, “I hope Oiselle is putting as much effort into re-signing Grace as they are their #sportsbrasquad. #SorryNotSorry.” For those of you who aren’t runners, Kate Grace is an Olympian, formerly sponsored by Oiselle, now signed to Nike, who made it to the Rio 2016 800m finals. Her performances in 2016 were nothing short of phenomenal, from her first-ever podium finish at the Olympic Trials to earning PR’s on her way to the finals at the 2016 Olympic Games. I don’t believe you will find anyone to validly counter the label that Kate Grace is a true elite professional athlete in track & field. Another Oiselle member stated on the same initial sets of January threads, “It seems that we traded our Olympian for a blogger. (I do not mean that harshly, it just is what it is.)”.

Sure seemed that way from when we first started asking questions, didn’t it? Judging by what the CEO of Oiselle said in this article by Mario Fraioli, placing Roberts alongside the same pro runners Grace used to be amongst, we weren’t wrong. As for the topic of bullying, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. More to come.

One Love. Run Love. Xo.

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To Selfie or Not to Selfie – That is the Question

I’m a selfie coach. No, really, I gave advice to a very well known marathoner named Kara on how to take selfies via Twitter. That story is yet to be told on my blog. But it’s a fun one & I am well-aware of how obnoxious it sounds.
Selfies have certainly become ubiquitous as many have obtained smartphones & learned how to angle themselves to the camera just right to get a candid photo. Even my baby niece has learned how to click the button on the phone to take the cutest first selfie EVER! (I may be biased. Just a little.)
But what about the rules of racing & selfies?
It’s quite simple- You’re not racing to your full potential if you’re taking a selfie during a race that you have entered with the purposes of a qualification time trial, a PR, or to measure up for the best place in a race that you’re capable of. In fact, you’re not racing.
I define racing as a competition of your best attempts for that race at speed over the course, whether it be in competition with others or yourself. I will never discount the courage it takes to get to a starting line as a runner (no matter your level, run/walk/jog/beginner/elite, just getting there is always a blessing, I give the Lord a prayer every starting line I am blessed to be on). But as much as I love selfies, you’ll never see me racing a road mile, any race on the track (could you imagine someone stopping to take a selfie on the track, no matter the pace or “fun run”?!) or any distance competitively, for time &/or place or a qualifying time, and wasting the time/effort/energy on a selfie that could cost me my goal pace/time/qualifier, or cause me to trip & fall or someone else to trip and fall from my slowing/stopping to take a selfie.
Aside from the safety implications, let’s be real: If you are on the track or road trying to race a PR (personal record) at a distance (I am commenting up to and including 26.2 miles, excluding trail racing & ultras because these rules wouldn’t completely apply, although an ultra pro I know said “I don’t take pics while racing. I race!”) why would you waste your time to take your phone out and take a selfie, costing you valuable seconds (or minutes if you’re insisting on posting to your socials) which could (in the case of a BQ attempt) cost you your entry into a race? Those same seconds could cost you a place if you’re racing to place the best rank that you can do on race day, as someone behind you that’s stronger than you (and possibly didn’t take a selfie) can outkick you.
You’re simply not giving the race your 110% undivided attention and effort. And that’s the definition of racing.
Yes, racing for time or racing for place can be two different things (attempting to get a Worlds/Olympic Trials qualifying standard vs racing for an Olympic medal). At USA nationals, or at the Olympics, you’re racing for place to medal in the top 3. That doesn’t always translate to racing for time. (It’s so much fun though, testing your strength against others’ in a trial of cat and mouse, matching surges, or patiently waiting to strategically outkick a competitor.)
Sometimes, there are runners that can BQ/AG place/etc while taking selfies along the way. That’s wonderful. That’s badass. But they’re still NOT RACING to their fullest potential.
You can get TO a race. Where all paces & types of running are welcome. You can take a selfie DURING a race. Absolutely. But you’re obviously not actually RACING.
See, racing means you’re giving it you’re absolute BEST attempt when you toe the line. You’re there to give it everything you’ve got, and, when it comes to a goal race, to let yourself cross the line to the point where you couldn’t give any more of yourself if you wanted to. That pain you put yourself through? Temporary. The pride in gunning after a goal no matter what obstacle got in your way? Forever. Leaving your heart out on the course, knowing there was nothing more you could do, is one of the most fulfilling feelings ever, no matter whether or not you made your goal. You simply couldn’t ask any more of yourself.
You may be saying, but wait! I’m only here to have fun. I’m the last person to tell you not to have fun. When I got back to this sport, some of my first cheer squad situations were hosting a Selfie Stop at marathons and half-marathons. (First lesson to self: A #SelfieStop at mile 26.1 of Boston Marathon is pretty much useless). I find racing for place to be immensely fun, matching surges, going step for step next to a competitor. I love it. But if your fun involves you taking selfies, you’re not racing. You’re at a race, running. (Or run/walking, or walking, doing SOMETHING, moving FORWARD, doing something great for yourself). It may absolutely be fun, but it’s not genuinely racing.
But wait! My race plan went to poop. So I decided to enjoy the rest of my race, and I took selfies, and I still had a great race & time! Yes, you had a great run, but you were no longer racing for the best time or place you could have had you not wasted your time with selfies. But did you have fun? Yes? Awesome! I’m all about the love of the run and the love of the sport.
We tend to ask runners of all levels, paces, competitive, non-competitive, professional, elite, collegiate- “How was your race?”. When non-runners ask, often times they don’t know how to differentiate between the definition of racing & putting your best attempt forward versus running at a race and not being competitive, doing it for the fitness aspect and taking a selfie because you’re simply not as serious about your run that day. Or it really genuinely doesn’t matter if you stop because you just need to get the miles in, no matter the pace. When I ask “how was your race?” I have competitive friends that will immediately differentiate between racing and running – they would comment and say, “Oh, well I wasn’t really racing, it was just a tempo workout for me” or “I didn’t race, just wanted to shakeout”. And my non-competitive runner friends will say “My race was great!” It’s an interesting difference of semantics.
Now, I love selfies. It’s what I’m “known for” in my small social media presence (Obnoxious and not for everyone, I’m well aware. But my old team gave me a “Selfie of the Year” award, and hey, it stuck. So why not? Smile and make someone else smile! I fully believe in complimenting a stranger daily – you never know if it will make their day). It’s a major part of model life. It’s what I do in my runner life as well – when I’m not racing. I’m currently coming off of injury. I’m trying to heal a broken body in more ways than one. I was hoping to train enough to sustain the strength for a 10k tomorrow (I’ll be running/run/walking/jogging (?) the Atlanta Peachtree 10k!) but I’ve done 3 miles in the past week. It’s 3x more miles per week than I’ve ran in all of 2017. And it’s July. For all intensive purposes just starting on the line will be purely for fun. I have strength training and physical therapy that I’m going through. It’s painful just to type this right now. Since January 2016, I have not put on a pair of spikes, or a pair of lightweight trainers in an effort for a speed workout. I’ve simply not been cleared to. I’ve run at races, but I wasn’t racing – there was no speed in it, there was no all-out effort to race. I simply ran. But these injury situations? They hurt. They are disheartening. But fall down 7 times, get up 8, right?
Tomorrow I’ll have one of my best friends of all time at my side. He is a champion, American record-holding swimmer (sprint swimmer), former D1 athlete, and a complete fish-out-of-water when it comes to running. I don’t even think he has real running shoes! I initially signed up to race Peachtree because of him – he lives in Atlanta, he wanted to have fun & drink the whole way (typical swimmer mentality haha) & I was going to finish the race at race paces in what was hopefully a comeback to racing, turn around, and go get him. Sadly life had other plans for me, and instead of my hopeful A wave-qualified start, I am dropping back to T wave, and planning on having a blast talking to others, trying to get him to run when he doesn’t want to, and taking all the selfies along the way! I can’t even define this as a “run” for myself – it’s just going to be a good time. I’m planning to high five all the kids, dance at all the dance stops, and just smile! (Just like I did the NYC marathon!) He’s challenged me to sprint it in at the end as of last night… not sure how I’m taking that at the moment! All I know is that my body is probably not ready to go all out for a kick, I am most likely risking re-injury lol… Lord help me tomorrow in the heat of the moment, literally and figuratively haha 😉
Let’s take a look at why the conversation has started and become a curious one (for me, at least). I cannot have respect for you in your running if you are a public figure for running companies stating that your serious running goal is to BQ for months over at least 2 different marathons & you take selfies & upload to social media during your race when you should be focusing on a time you are barely slated by all PR calculations to make even if you had the most perfect race day. You claim you wanted to run faster than you ever have before, but stopped & uploaded selfies mid-race. You were not racing with everything you had, nor did you give it all of your energy & focus at the time of the selfies. It makes me question whether or not you were as serious as you had claimed to be in doing the best that you could on race day, even though we all know the only person we need to race for and be truest to is ourselves. A blogger did this during the London Marathon, after months of “shopping around” the project of attempting to BQ to potential sponsors (she stated this on a podcast interview). When she secured sponsors and payment throughout the training, she went on to call her sports psychologist during the race in the hopes he would tell her to quit the marathon after she already wasted time on selfies and uploading. What’s confusing to me is taking the selfies at the cost of precious seconds from a BQ. Take the photo and move on! A few seconds isn’t the worst if it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but taking more than that for something you’re already cutting it close for? And if you know anything about a BQ, it isn’t an easy goal for most runners. It requires many runners multiple attempts, and a dedication to training that isn’t easily maintained. It takes a lot of strength to BQ, and it takes many a very long time to get there. Running is hard, no doubt. But overcoming what is difficult is what makes you stronger. Keep trying. What was hard before can become easier.
I have every ounce of respect for anyone who makes it to a starting line, no matter what pace they are. I am the one that will cheer you on, whether you’re an Olympic champion or you are walking through a marathon. All paces. I can share with you the pain of trying to run for the first time ever, no matter what level of athlete you are or aren’t. I’ve been there – the first mile I tried to run in training for a marathon after a long while away from the sport was the hardest ever. I will push for you and encourage you to do the best that you can, no matter where you’re at in being the strongest version of you. At the end of the day, all you can ask from yourself is the best you can give. And so many times, you don’t realize that the human body is capable of so much more when you dig deep. Strong looks different on everyone.
At the end of the day, you’re not racing if you’re taking selfies. Just my humble opinion. You may define racing differently than I do, and I’m happy to hear your thoughts and in the end may agree to disagree. You define your own goals for a race, and if it’s for time/rank or qualification, then wasting time on a selfie will not contribute to that goal. I don’t look down upon you in any way, shape, or form if you take selfies while running at a race, but I definitely believe you aren’t giving every last bit of energy & dedication to your race and therefore aren’t seriously racing. Which, of course, is okay! The beauty of being a runner in the community is that we are so immensely inclusive. There is nothing wrong with that, to each their own, but do not claim that you are racing for time/place/qualification, take selfies, and then be upset when you don’t make your goals. The only person you can blame at that point is yourself. The truest definition of racing is a competition of speed &/or strategy, and no matter whom you define your competition as, yourself or others, you’re surely not giving it 100% if you have claimed to go after time &/or place and taken the time & energy away from your race in taking selfies. If you’re running for fun, and not for time/place/qualification or just starting and enjoying yourself, then by all means, take all the selfies and document your journey towards fitness! Share your true love for the sport! Because at the end of the day, the journey is yours to take. Strong looks different on everyone. Get at your strong.
One Love. Run Love. Xo.

How a Model Makes Plans (Fashionably Late)

And I am finally settled in, on a flight, on my way to Sacramento, California.

Why Sacramento?

I’m on my way to USA Nationals! The track & field outdoor championships, where the best of the best in the country will compete to make the World Championship team for London 2017!

Normally, I have a little bit more time to plan such a trip. I mean, I woke up at 2:45am, watched Nick Symmonds’ last vlog before nationals (2x Olympian, 6x USA Outdoor National Champion), lamented that I wasn’t going (I’ve never seen the man run his signature event, the 800m), made my parents breakfast for sehri (the food you eat before sunrise in Ramadan, setting your fast), checked Kayak on flight prices as I was frying up the French Toast, finished eating before 4am, and packed my bags to get on a train to the airport at 4:43am. Bought my flight online at 5am, got to the airport, and boarded by 7am.

Meanwhile, you might be wondering “Why the hell did this girl wait so long?!”

Because, my friends, I never know my schedule ahead of time. Modeling doesn’t give you a predictable 9-5. And I am not a very good 9-5 type of person. I’m unpredictable, I’m passionate, I’m spontaneous, I go with the flow, having a set schedule would be nice, but I am an artist and a nomad at heart – I almost double-majored in visual arts & pre-med when my first year art professor insisted to me that I do so. The only set time schedule that I loved dearly was knowing that every day for 4 years in high school and two years beyond that in college, at 3pm, I would be running. I had track or cross country practice at that time every day, and it was probably the most comforting knowledge at that time. And if you realized what my day was like yesterday, you’d understand why I bought a flight first thing this morning.

So today is Thursday. Monday all day I spent as a stand-in on an A-lister’s TV show. 12 hour day on set. By the time I got home I was exhausted, passed out, slept through sehri (FYI: I am not fasting this week), woke up, and got to work. (This past weekend we traveled up to Rhode Island for a runway show, that is a debacle that deserves its own blog/vlog). I have an hour commute into NYC, so Tuesday I purposely didn’t submit for work since I had projects I wanted to get done. And oh, on Thursday last week my parts agent (parts modeling is the division of modeling that involves my hands/legs/feet/parts) lets me know that I am on hold for a shoot in Atlanta. For today. So I have to worry about possibly flying out to Atlanta first thing today. Yes, the money is always amazing, and of course it’s worth it, but with that possibility I already resigned myself to missing Nick’s race in case I was confirmed for the booking. And of course, you don’t want to book work on Wednesday in case you book the hand modeling job on Thursday because lord knows how long you’re going to be on set and will it be possible to get a manicure done in time if you book the job? From experience I know that’s a risky maneuver. So I did not book any work on Wed either.

Meanwhile, I was working on a project all day Tuesday when the emails started to come in. You’re being considered for a role on a pilot, please memorize these lines & script. There’s a commercial & print job you need to attend this casting for. Be on the alert, sending you casting details for another client first thing in the morning look out for it. Can you make it to the TV studio at 3pm to record a segment for a show? All the way uptown, of course. And, I still don’t know if I’m confirmed to shoot hands in Atlanta yet.

Get to bed, wake up, start to wash and blow out my hair (and I have a LOT OF IT so it TAKES FOREVER). when I see a VIP email pop up. It turns out two of my agencies are sending me to the same casting. Now, this isn’t usually a problem if both agencies are non-exclusive (I have multiple agents for parts work) – I’ll just give it to the first agency that contacts me. Both agents are well aware of the situation, and it’s never an issue. It’s a problem if it involves my exclusive fashion agency and a non-exclusive talent agency.

Now, here’s where things get a little complicated, and where I had half a heart attack yesterday morning. You see, just like pro runners, models have contracts they sign and can be sued for if they break the contract (obviously, it’s binding and legal). There are a lot of similarities between being a professional runner and a model – but alas, another blog for the future.

I am a SAG union member, and since my fashion agency doesn’t get much union work, I am granted the leniency in my contract of having separate representation for anything relating to acting and union work. This isn’t quite normal or common, but I also have a mother agency (another agency that functions as my manager for representation around the world) and I am finally at the point in my work where I am blessed to work with agents that are nothing but good energy. They all matter, but it matters most to be completely at ease with my mother agent, since he’s the one that does anything and everything with my management and representation across the US.

Of course, first thing yesterday, my fashion agency gets a union casting that I’m already submitted for through the talent division of another agency. This then becomes a HUGE issue. Do I give my exclusive agency the right to a huge money booking? Or does my SAG-affiliated representation get it? My talent agent is literally screaming at me on the phone to “fix it” and I’m like, I never thought we’d have a conflict! I’ve always been honest with you! “I know you’re honest and tell us what’s going on right away, but this is not a fashion casting and you need to figure this out!” I freak out and call up my mother agent, since he knows all of my contracts. He advises me that it comes with the territory of having separate agency affiliations (think of it as being sponsored by multiple companies, like Kara Goucher with Oiselle and Skechers, both apparel companies and they worked out a deal) and since it IS a SAG casting that I could argue it should be under the jurisdiction of my talent agency. I’m just like “I can’t deal with this I have to learn my lines right now – then I have two other castings and of course my fitness agency just called me for an additional casting today that I have to make downtown!” My mother agent laughs and is like, girl you can do it all! You got this!

I’m not feeling like I got this, I’ll tell you that.

I run an email to my fashion agency, excusing it from them since it’s SAG. Tell the talent agency I’ll book through them. Run an email to the parts agent asking if we know whether or not I’m booked in Atlanta yet. Try to practice my lines as I do my hair. Run and pack running gear for the fitness casting that I got last minute. Grab my ipad with my portfolio and comp cards. Get to the train in time with sneakers on and heels in tow. Do my makeup on the train. Rush to the first audition and unlike the script said to could you not use an Indian accent? American is fine. Well, there goes exactly how I practiced it pretending to be the most beautiful woman in the world Aishwarya Rai (google – for real, STUNNING) and the character is portrayed completely differently, so who know how that went lol… Rush off to the next one, where I run into a bunch of fashion model friends at the same time and hey surprise! The client wants to see my hands and gosh darnit I am a professional hand model so let me tell you I am good at this! I haven’t seen these girls in ages (I am a homebody during the holy month of Ramadan) and oh my god ladies you look freaking fantastic and can we make plans to grab coffee sometime soon? One of the girls from my agency shyly stops me and asks if she and I could talk please, about the debacle of the fashion show we were confirmed for over the weekend. I said of course.

We stop off at a Starbucks (and let me tell you, I really don’t have time to spare, thinking I have the next casting AND a TV interview to give, both in opposite directions) but she looks so sad and I am far too kind and caring of a human being to have said “I don’t have the time”. Human interactions matter.

She starts by saying she doesn’t understand how we were confirmed for a show, when our bikini digitals and polaroids were sent to the designer, they knew what we looked like, and when we got there we were berated for being too short, too fat, our asses were too big, why did she have boobs, why were our legs so big and why didn’t the agency just send 5’11”+ size 0 girls… The designer is Parisian, Paris is known for having very traditional old school mentalities. Which is absolutely fine. That’s their choice. This entire industry is based on your physical. It has nothing to do with your education level, how kind you are, what your hobbies are, or who you are on the inside. I am called too fat, too short, too tall, too muscular, not big enough, Kardashian bum, why are your hips so wide, those calves of yours though, we can photoshop your arms smaller, etc on a regular basis, sometimes all on the same day. You want the honest truth? It sucks sometimes if you’re already having a difficulr day but it’s really just how the industry is. You choose to be here. And if you’re not able to handle it, you can choose to no longer be here. I don’t cry over it, I don’t take what someone else says about my physical being as an indication that I must change it. Why should I? All I need to be is the strongest, fittest, version of myself. I do not need to have curves since “men like women with a little meat on them”. Eff that noise. If you’re changing something about yourself for anyone other than yourself you’re doing it wrong. If you’re letting someone else’s words affect your own self-worth you’re doing it wrong. Knowing WHO you are is more important than any other person’s evaluation of your worth, especially based on the physicality. I know some conventionally gorgeous women who are mean, evil, and spiteful – they become ugly to me. I don’t care what you look like. I care about WHO YOU ARE. If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. But no one is allowed to tell you what you should and shouldn’t look like. (I go into more on how the industry is on this Mashable documentary during NY fashion week.)

Unless, of course, it’s your job to fit into clothing. And even then, there’s a healthy way to do it by eating right and commencing exercise. The majority of models in the industry start out because they are genetically smaller and the right sizes to book work. There’s a difference between being #skinnyfat & being #floofy. And at the end of the day, you’ve just got to be healthy.

For this particular client, my hips were too big. I was measured at a 34.5” hip. I measured at 35” a month ago and the agency said drop the inch. Shit happens, I haven’t been able to work out due to injury, my body goes back down within two weeks of training, and it shrinks to proper modeling shape when I’m in full mode training.

Now, *I* know this about myself. I couldn’t care less that they said what they did. Yes, to my face (in French, but you know what someone is saying). I am not fit. I am not in top shape to be working right now. I’m well aware. And if I was at the best shape I could be and they still said that, I’d shrug my shoulders and say oh well, there isn’t much more I can do other than something unhealthy. And I’m not about that. I’m proud to be here to take care of my body and be fit without drugs or disordered eating. That’s what I believe in and it will not change.

But this girl wasn’t at that point of self-realization. The words still stung. I told her that there are going to be clients that are going to be that way, and that we always have the choice of whether or not we want to work with them. If you know you’re healthy, and you’re fit, then who cares what they said – it’s what’s on the inside that counts. No one can take that away from you.

I gave her a hug, and we had to rush out, since I was going to be late to the next one. Change into running gear and do drills on camera for a new athleisure company. I barely made it in time, then get a text from the producer that the TV show is filming tomorrow. “Well, I might have to fly out to Atlanta to shoot tomorrow”… yes, it’s 3:30pm and I still don’t know if I’m going to Atlanta.

My new Victoria’s Secret sports bra and good hair day has me feeling CONFIDENT! and even though I’m completely out of race shape, my body isn’t all there for work purposes, I’m in a good mood. I catch the train back home hoping to go to prayers with my parents in the evening, and at about 5:30pm I find out I’m not going to Atlanta to shoot, I’ve been released.

All of a sudden, I get home, lay down for a nap at 7pm, solidly pass out dead to the world, and wake up at 2:45am, lamenting that I’m going to miss Nick’s last professional 800m race.

When it rains, it pours. #ModelLife

 

Father’s Day

I am so blessed and grateful to still have my father in my life, and a beautiful Sunday full of his happiness (Pakistan just won the Super Bowl of cricket for the first time in 25 years! I know nothing about cricket. I may not know how a sport works, but I will always happily cheer!)

We don’t know everyone’s story. But as beautiful as it is to celebrate fathers, there are just as many that are dealing with loss.

I lost my Taya Ji (Urdu title of respect for your father’s elder brother, ie my uncle) last summer. It was a significant loss in my family, as he was our last elder. You never know someone’s story unless they have the courage to tell it. Today, he would have been so happy to watch the cricket championship. The coincidence that the win happened on the same day in Ramadan (our holy month) that it did 25 years ago is not lost.

My Taya Ji believed in me & believed in my running. He understood more than I realized. My heart is indebted to him.

I have more empathy than others know for loss. My story is much more intense than that which I have barely written, but I am not ready to tell it.

Sending love to everyone. Because families are complicated. And I know so many will feel it today. I am thinking of you.

Happy Father’s Day.
Happy Father’s Day to all of our dads here.
Happy Father’s Day to all of us whom are thanking our dads.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the men that have served as our dads, biological or non.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads that have taken in others’ children as their own.
Happy Father’s Day to all of us whom have lost our dads which makes today a little harder.
Happy future Father’s Day to all of the men who are currently waiting to become dads.
And every last bit of love to the men who’ve experienced a loss, making today more painful. May you have the patience and grace to overcome and may God bless all souls. I’m thinking of you too.

When You #SpeakOut Against a Cheater

I stand by everything I have said on social media because it is the truth. Kelly Roberts is not an elite athlete. I can admit if I’ve made a mistake or had misinformation, but a 1:42 half marathon on the roads for a non-Paralympic woman under 30 years of age can universally be agreed not to be at elite levels of racing. Oiselle did not comment on the incorrect representation on the Strava panel at Boston Marathon (one of the most prestigious marathons in the US), nor did either party correct it or acknowledge the misinformation. But my membership with the Oiselle team was rescinded within the same day. This isn’t the first time Oiselle has inadvertently condoned listing Kelly as an elite.

At this point, it’s disheartening that the value Oiselle placed in honesty, integrity, truth and transparency from the running community is no longer enacted upon. All these years with the CEO publicly calling out Nike, IAAF, IOC, USOC, USATF, amongst others for ethical issues is not at the forefront of what they believe as a company any longer, as evidenced by their actions in supporting an admitted, unremorseful cheater in the same sport that they sponsor elite athletes. The reason I personally joined Oiselle was because of what they unapologetically stood for – inclusivity and justice for the love of the sport for everyone, no matter their race, pace, size, shape, or fitness level. I also joined because a part of my membership fee went to their elites – to help other women pursue their dreams of racing at national and world levels. This was a beautiful way for me to give back to the sport that I love.

With Oiselle supporting an admitted cheater without confirming her actual role as a paid representative (only confirmed via Kelly’s own words in a later interview, not by Oiselle: “Oiselle is a partner of mine, so they pay my bills”) while concurrently advocating to #SpeakOut has spoken volumes of irony to many. Multiple members requested answers, and were told by the CEO to not question the role of a teammate. Instead, we could be refunded our membership. This “shut up or ship out” mentality doesn’t strike me well. I prefer open, respectful dialogue. To agree to disagree. Yes, conversations can become intense, but it is surely better than staying silent. Especially when the actions and statements of a “teammate” don’t add up. All we asked was for clarification of her actual role when her social media and interviews stated that she was “invested in” by Oiselle, that she was “sponsored like Lauren Fleshman”, that Oiselle understood that her story was not free, without properly documenting the hashtags “#ad” & “#sponsored” FTC regulations required across the board.

Oiselle’s actions speak louder than words and they are no longer their elite racing community’s advocate, by adding a non-elite member whose selfies are celebrated in lieu of acknowledging the elite team members winning races and competing across the country. At the end of the day, you cannot advocate for honest racing when you openly support and elevate a woman with no respect for honest racing in multiple situations. All I ask is that you stand by what you say you believe in. Sadly, if you are but a small piece of the puzzle and speak out for the truth to be stated, Oiselle then becomes the bully they’ve been publicly denouncing.

Cheaters take away from the sport of running at all levels. Whether it is doping, a bib mule, using someone else’s bib without a sanctioned transfer, creating fake bibs/copying them, cutting the course, no matter the level of competition, it is a thief of honesty from those that have worked hard to race a time that is honest. It is a theft from the races themselves, that have to pay to have all the resources available to each runner. It is a theft from the time and effort that is placed into making sure all runners are safe by securing permits from the city. And in the cases of prize money, status, bonuses, podium places, it is a theft of someone’s honest and fierce running efforts that suddenly aren’t good enough. Elite or non-elite, the question of being “good enough” will run through one’s mind.

With the new information brought to light of additional disrespect to our racing community here in NYC and across the nation, I implore anyone who has bought a bib and could not run in with it at a race to call for the banning of Kelly. She clearly broke the rules and unapologetically stated she isn’t remorseful for using someone else’s bib in the race that brought her public attention in the first place. She has stated that she does not regret it, and has proven it as she illegally bandits other courses across the country. Her actions should not go without consequence, as NYRR rules clearly state that she should have been DQ’d & suspended from the 20+ races she has run in NYC since. We have all had races that we paid for that we could not race, that do not allow for transfers. The majority of the running community is an honest community, and would not sell or give away their bib as it is against the rules. We’ve all been injured, we’ve all had emergency situations come up, we have all wished we didn’t have to waste the money. But we followed the rules, and let the race go, no matter how hard it was.

Some of those races are certainly more meaningful, like the Boston Marathon. The BAA has no tolerance for cheating. Many have been caught, and banned for life. Yes, life. As Oiselle has called out cheaters for a lifetime ban, keeping a cheater in a prominent position on their team is hypocritical. Especially since Kelly’s public goals have been to prove to herself that she can achieve a BQ (Boston Qualifying time). Ask anyone that has qualified for Boston – that honor is a privilege, it is earned through your qualified effort for your age or fundraising for a charity. The title of being a Boston marathoner is sacred in the sport of running, and the goal of a BQ is elusive to many. I wouldn’t want an admitted cheater to be racing alongside me if I ever qualified for Boston. I would want to know that I worked hard and gave it everything I had to be there on the starting line by doing everything right, and that the others alongside of me had done the same.

The worst cheaters are the ones that are so narcissistic that they do not believe they were wrong in their actions. Email results@nyrr.org if you agree.

I stand for the love of the sport. #BanKellyK

One love. Run love. Xo.

 

To Hijab or Not To Hijab?

Isn’t that a question?

Hijab simultaneously brings up a lot of questions about the oppression of women in Western society. We here in America, via the media, are led to believe that it is a form of patriarchal dominance, that along with the modest wear of an abaya (the long dress-like outerwear seen often in Middle Eastern culture), it is a way to bind women to be docile, and obedient. That there is no way that it could provide freedom for a woman. But the beauty truly is in how men should be lowering their gaze first, as per the Qu’ran.

There is a freedom in wearing the hijab. First off, the obvious – you surely don’t have to worry about a bad hair day when you wear hijab ;). But in all seriousness, there are basically two instances in general when you find women to wear the hijab – family/country of residence insistence, and personal choice.

In the case of residing in a country or growing up in a family where hijab is viewed as obligatory, I can see where someone may feel trapped if that isn’t the genuine way a woman feels that she needs to practice her religion. The truth is that the choice of wearing the headcover is just that – a choice. If it is what you believe in your own personal Islamic faith, then by all means, let it bring you closer to God. My personal upbringing wasn’t quite that strict with being required to wear it, my parents believed it was a choice that I could make on my own. (I acknowledge there are other nations where it is not a choice to cover – being killed for not covering is surely a fear. This is truly a privilege I am granted by my parents and by being an American.) You cover your hair to pray, but other than that, I had a choice.

I was born an American, raised in a Pakistani-Muslim household. My parents did not insist that I wear hijab, but I was told what I could & could not wear, I was told how to dress modestly, that we did not wear sleeveless clothing (some Pakistani families are culturally less restrictive), tight jeans were not allowed, dresses were discontinued by 3rd grade (and ALL I wore were dresses, I *am* your traditionally feminine girly girl)… I remember throwing tantrums at 6 years of age, insisting that “I’m American! Why can’t I wear shorts & a bikini?!” to my mother. This culture clash is probably the most significant one I’ve had – the reconciliation of my nationalism with what was expected of me as a Muslim of Pakistani descent.

But you can’t create a small Pakistan in the middle of America when you have a daughter that has a brain that works. The most important 3 lbs you never need to lose are right behind the eyes that give you the sight to accurately assess the world. And so, as the scientist I am, I constantly questioned all that was presented to me.

You CAN be a scientist and believe in the Almighty. My relationship with God is my own, it is for me to have conversations with Him. I may not be your typical Muslim, but the intent with which I live my life is for Him alone to judge, not humans. That said, I made the decision to wear hijab my first year in high school.

Like many other American youth, I decided to reinvent myself freshman year of high school. New school, and my friends from Sunday School (yes, we have Islamic school teachings on the weekends – I attended public school) were going to be at my high school. I was a quieter student (mainly because I wasn’t in classes with others my own age, due to PEG, the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted) and cultural tradition was a quite strong presence in my life. I remember making a plan with one of my Pakistani Muslim family friends to start wearing hijab together that year – I was so excited! There weren’t many Pakistani kids in my school system (so few! Two boys until high school, I grew up in a very white small town) so it was nice to have one girl friend there (and she left after first year).

I remember coming to school in hijab that first day, and went to find my friend. I was slightly crestfallen as her tresses flowed freely. “What happened to both of us starting to wear hijab together?!” I asked, exasperated. This wasn’t something I was trying to do by myself! I was ostracizing myself even more, since I was already not in any classes with students my own grade. And she wasn’t my ally? My partner in crime? “I decided not to,” she said, very calmly, as she emptied out her locker to go home. “But what about me?” I thought.

I returned home, wondering what to do.

Well, I thought to myself, I’ve already started this. I’m in it. I’m still going to do this.

But I was going to do it my way. I needed to do it in pieces. My personality now is pretty all-or-none; if I’m doing something, it’s go hard or go home. So I would wear it to school, the scariest place, to get the hardest part over with – dealing with my peers. Then after school, I wouldn’t have to wear it at home (you do not have to cover in front of men considered mahram – those that you cannot marry, like your father and your brother) and if I went to the grocery store afterwards, I wouldn’t wear it.

This worked pretty well for me. There were days I would wear it, and days I would not (like picture day, I wasn’t quite there yet). This was MY journey, and I could take it the way I wanted to.

One day, my family and I went to the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park. As we were waiting on line to get on a ride, there were two older women near us wearing hijab and full abaya. My father said, Aysha, why aren’t you wearing your hijab? Look, those women over there are! I was prescient enough at 13 years of age to know that no matter what my father said, this was my choice. My decision in how to practice. In life.

I was a runner since 6th grade (600m was considered a distance event at that age!), and one of the upperclassmen that was in my calculus class first year ran on the cross country team. I wanted to join but my mother truly believed I would break in half trying to run 3.1 miles at a time and forbade it. Looking at me back then, barely 80 lbs soaking wet, I guess I couldn’t blame her. (I’ve since run a marathon 🙂 ) The same upperclassmen raced track & field, and I remember walking out to the cinder track that first practice. When I got out of school and to track practice, I would sometimes wear the hijab. Hijab or no hijab, I was at home instantly.

I ran the 800m (~half mile) & 1600m (~mile) races to start. I don’t remember running the 3200m first year. County relays came along. I readied myself to be the anchor leg on our 4×800. I was a solid 2:50ish runner for the 800. I got the baton and ran like my life depended on it. It was a championship, after all. I took those very seriously, even at a young age & being nothing quite so special.

Trying to catch the girl ahead of me, I kept her in my line of sight, got really close on the first lap, and then she walked off after crossing the line. What?! I thought to myself. She was on her last lap! I was chasing her on the wrong lap!

Undeterred, I took that last lap like I never did before, went after another girl who was just too far ahead of me to reach. I crossed the line, and went to the bleachers where our coaches were. Started to grab my sweats to go cool down, and my (female) Coach said, “Wow. Aysha, you just ran a 2:36. That broke freshman record if you weren’t anchoring a relay. Where did that come from?” Girls freshman record was 2:39.

I was shocked. Bewildered. No way. The other freshmen girls would always race faster than me. Immediately, my teammates started congratulating me on breaking the freshman record. Except our top freshman 800m girl (2:41)- she insisted on repeating to everyone willing to listen, “It doesn’t count, it was a relay. She didn’t break the record.” (She dropped running track & field after that season, never racing me again. I would come to learn throughout high school that no matter how kind you are to others, some athletes don’t like being bested in sport. And instead of taking on the challenge, they then quit. It happened a couple more times after that.)

I realized maybe I could be good at this running thing. Me, the girl that was pathetically nonathletic otherwise. Me, the girl that could never ace gym class. Couldn’t catch a ball, couldn’t throw it, couldn’t kick it, couldn’t make a basket, couldn’t contact it with a bat or a tennis racket… but I could put one foot in front of the other faster than others for longer distances.

On our ride home after breaking the record, my same female coach laughingly commented, “You know, you could be so much faster if you didn’t wear that stupid thing on your head.” I sheepishly grinned in response, not quite knowing what to say. Unlike many others, what others say to me about my physical self doesn’t quite hurt me – as the prototypical ugly duckling, in all honesty I happily was a very confident nerd because of my brain. I was pretty well aware it’s always been what’s inside that counts, and so long as I am a kind human being, I can sleep easy. It’s probably why I can handle hearing that I’m too fat, too skinny, too much muscle, not toned enough on a daily basis in the modeling industry. Who cares what someone says? It shouldn’t make you turn around and change your physical appearance. It shouldn’t make you question who YOU truly are You are more than your phenotype. You, and you alone, need to dictate your own physical happiness. And I was happy running.

I’d genuinely forgotten that comment until a very recent conversation about running companies, hijabs, and racing. Looking back on it, as it usually is, it is ignorance that precipitates these comments. It is an insecurity on the part of the speaker. Like I said, I grew up in a white town. I never really felt the color of my skin, I saw myself as the same as the rest of my peers. Should I have said something back then? Maybe. But honestly, it really didn’t upset me. Should I ever be upset if a part of what someone says is true? Surely I could shave some time off if I didn’t wear the headscarf. But is it what should limit me? No. Would I stand for it today if I wore hijab? Absolutely not. Calling anything that is religious ‘stupid’ is insulting. You are free to practice your faith in the United States. There is currently more education today about women in Islam; rather than being a quiet minority, we have voices that are being heard – in sport and in life. If not, I’m hoping to change that. Ignorance is never an excuse. If you don’t know why someone practices the way that they do, ask them. I am a strong woman today, one that stands up for myself on many levels. One that isn’t content to watch the world without speaking out.

The last day of school, I was having a conversation with my friend in G&T (Gifted & Talented) and I realized I couldn’t be the example of a Muslim that wearing hijab would require me to be. I simply was not there yet. I took my hijab off that day in class, amidst a few gasps in the room. “Aysha, wait… you’re not allowed to do that, are you?” I would learn in college that no matter what I looked like, and how mistaken I was for other ethnicities and cultures, it was always my responsibility to enlighten others about the true Islam, the religion that I know, not the bastardization that has occurred due to extremism. It is hard to watch so many atrocities carried out in the world in the name of religion, any religion, but especially the one that I know to be truly beautiful and peaceful at its core.

Removing the hijab that last day of school was a weight off my shoulders. I appreciate having the choice in how to practice my faith as I wish, without fear of death as a punishment. I was aware that I am human, and I would make mistakes in my life, and I didn’t want them attributed to being indicative of all Muslims. I am secure in the knowledge that I pray, I fast, I worship God on my own accord. I don’t need to wear the hijab to feel fully engaged in my faith and belief systems. Who knows? Maybe one day I will.

But I don’t need to showcase that to the world in order for me to know the truth.

My thoughts on hijab as a female Muslim athlete that has competed and trained both with & without hijab will come. For the record, I am pro-Nike with Nike Pro Hijab. I think it’s one of the best moves I have ever seen a sports company make. Drawing attention to women in sport in countries and communities where women may not realize it’s possible to be a competitive or recreational athlete is revolutionary and necessary. And Nike can bring a level of presence that no other company can.

As for my friend from freshman year? She wears hijab fully now 🙂

Educate, don’t hate.

One love. Run love. Xo.

When Life Gets #Floofy

I last raced on January 10th, 2016.

It is now June of 2017.

As a competitive athlete with a competitive mindset to training, this has been torturous. You go through days, weeks, months of an inability to race or even train to race, and you wonder if you’ll ever get back to any semblance of normalcy. I’ve been cleared to run on and off, yes, but have not been cleared to train fast or race. So I’ve taken to running when I can alongside teammates to help them PR (one of my favorite things to do for runners, ever!). It’s one of the most meaningful experiences that I enjoy having the capability to do (I’m probably one of the biggest cheerleaders in this sport, EVER lol!).

But it’s hard to do that for so long & not be able to race yourself. It’s hard to start again when you left off getting so close to your PRs. And every time I get back to it, it’s a struggle. It’s been over a year. Over a year since I’ve raced. Over a year since all of this mess started. So many false starts. So many times I said, okay, now I’ll be able to train again. And each time I’ve been back to pain. Of course running is hard. Training is hard. Without the difficulty of it, there’s no strength gained. You cannot become a better version of yourself if you do not push yourself past the limits. Whining, complaining, crying on the ground that you have speedwork to do- not in my running world. You lose the battle before you even begin if you go into it thinking you can’t.

By not being able to run & train as I normally do, I’ve currently lost my body’s shape & tone. When your measurements are the reason you book work, this ends up being a problem. I don’t like that my body isn’t quite nearly as functional in terms of racing & being as strong as it used to be. But if you don’t like something about yourself- change it. I have a term for when someone is unhappy with their weight/body/fitness – I call it feeling “floofy”. I know that my body composition isn’t fit (what muscle?!). I know when I’ve been eating poorly I feel so floofy if I haven’t been training (give me all of the Pringles & cheeseburgers! 😂) But I also know that to the average outside observer, I look fit. *I* know my body isn’t fit. In fact, I could barely get through the 20 min #IronStrengthNYC session of workouts prescribed by my current treating physician, Dr. Jordan Metzl, MD of Runner’s World, when I first was evaluated. The old race shape me could’ve done these workouts twice a day easily. But the floofy me? Couldn’t get through the first two sets of push-ups. Floofy looks different for everyone. Any body type & shape can feel floofy, no matter how fit or unfit one looks to an observer. It’s when you know you’re not at your best. And I sure as hell am not. Remember, strong looks different on everyone. And the aim is to be strong & fierce, not #skinnyfat (which is technically what I am at the moment).

It’s now Ramadan, and this time of the year can be exhilarating to train. To know that you’re still keeping fitness priorities even while being faithful. Two years ago I even raced during the month! It wasn’t easy, but it was so amazing to know that my body could handle it with a proper warmup, cooldown, strides, stretches… (And I drank ALL OF THE WATER when we broke fast!). So far this year it’s been quite tiring – I have a lot going on at the moment. Trying to train has just not been in the schedule (excuses, I know). Getting into a groove with fasting is always an adjustment. But here’s to knowing that the sun is shining on the other side and I will get back to it. Fall down 7 times, get up 8.

I’m not giving up on goals, my friends. And you shouldn’t either.

One love. Run love. Xo.