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.

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.

 

#GetYourShot

#GetYourShot

JUMMAH MUBARAK. Fridays are a blessed day in Islam. It’s only appropriate that ten weeks ago on a Friday, I was privileged enough to be able to get my second Moderna vaccine injection. This means I’ve been fully vaccinated for over 2 months. I’ve been so blessed to be a healthcare worker during the pandemic, earning my vaccination, but it meant that I saw how devastating #COVID19 was from the beginning in NYC & NJ. 

The HCWs at the clinic told me they hadn’t seen a patient so incredibly excited to get their vaccine… if I could have shouted it from the rooftops I would have. But there’s a superstitious aspect in our culture – that of the “evil eye”. 

I am a scientist through and through, but I too have sentiments that keep me from being as transparent as I’d like for the greater good. I’m well aware from the stalkers and harassment I’ve endured while working in COVID and during my research at school here, the death threats and the violent threats that are publicly documented against me, that there are those who wish poorly upon others. The “evil eye”. 

The evil eye is why you don’t announce your pregnancy right away after having lost a child. The evil eye is why you don’t post meritocratic accomplishments. The evil eye is why some of us tend to hold back.

It’s incredibly difficult for me to be away from my family, to protect my parents as much as I can, having done what so many had to a year ago, keep them from leaving the home, trying to explain the science in simpler terms when so much was unknown a year ago. It’s how I found a passion for public health, because so much of it is in education and preventive measures with regards to elevating health.

Ramadan is a holy month, filled with family and friends, reflecting upon the precious quality of life that we are gifted daily. We fast from food, sex and water (yes, no water) from sunup to sundown daily for 30 days. To empathize with those who do not have what we do. To realize the strength we have in ourselves. We have special prayers called Taraweeh – they go through one part of the Quran each night for 30 nights, completing the entire holy book over the month. My father would ask near daily if he could go to the masjid…I hated having to say no. I did everything I could to be certain they avoided exposure. I overcame my issues with having to grocery shop and especially during the pandemic, fearful that my time in the stores would bring the virus back home. Anything to keep them from contracting what I watched kill ruthlessly, with no real funerals, family or burials, which left others with #LongCovid, medical issues that have not yet resolved, regardless of their health statuses prior. I didn’t break my PPE throughout 8 hour shifts, adopted an extensive decontamination routine, fasted during my shifts to exhaustion. Double-masked in my own home, kept away from my family, utilized separate dishes, everything I possibly could. 

I am so incredibly blessed that I can say due in great part to my extreme measures, light OCD and diligence in taking extensive precautions, and insistence to the point of much resistance my parents and I are fully vaccinated and never caught #COVID19. I know that they may have absolutely hated how incredibly strict I was about everything – scolding them so often. Keeping them away from other family members, no matter how great our need for family was. I’m so happy that they can safely interact with other members of my family this year. I’m so utterly humbled that I still have them in my life. As the vaccine has a greater availability and is now open to nearly all, I urge you to protect others and get yours.


We do everything we can to protect our friends and loved ones. It breaks my heart not to be home with them. I have a complicated history with Ramadan, but I’ve never been this far away from my family during the month, ever. Every Ramadan we remind ourselves that it might be our last. To invest in ourselves and our faith the best we can, to honor our life. We only get one life and one body. May we all respect it this Ramadan. I make dua for everyone to be with theirs, and that I make it home safely to be with mine, insha’Allah. #RamadanKareem #RamadanMubarak #MuslimRunner #MuslimAthlete #MuslimStudent #NotYourTypicalMuslim #StrongLooksDifferentOnEveryone 

I’ve outgrown him.

December 25th, 2020

Christmas Day during the pandemic

So today I noticed something. 

I noticed that someone would constantly insist on sexual jokes and commentary, alongside innuendos. We were never a couple, or together, nor had he ever asked me out on a date, but we had been intimate on two occasions. College happens. It’s possible I loved him once. I am not perfect. After a few actions on my end, I effectively ended any chances for fruition of a real relationship, knowing full well what I was doing as I did it.

With regards to him in this moment, I finally realized that my body is mine, and I have agency over who has access to it. That his constancy in my life with commentary that was inappropriate no matter how many times I addressed it, or catered to it as a joke (because he really is that sarcastic, and quite frankly people need to be less sensitive – I can take a joke). 

But those blurred lines enabled him to think that he had access to me in a way it felt he demanded of me. Somehow, perhaps because of a past, it seemed he felt entitled. No matter how many times I let him know I didn’t want the advances or the jokes, he still tried. 

Because he was my friend, I wanted to share the moments in my life where I felt beautiful. And happy. Or gorgeous. I don’t trust many to that aspect of myself. Being vulnerable is always a risk. Doing so often ended up in a response that sounded like “Well, what do you expect me to say or ask for when you look like that?” This wasn’t always the case. I would simply ignore him once he brought up anything sexual. He did end up being much better about the commentary closer to the cutoff.

Whatever magic/love/infatuation/care in any romantic or sexual fashion had stopped on my end years prior. I recognized that I was never going to be his first choice, that I was never good enough for him to love (there are many manifestations of not being “good enough”), that if he cared he would have, at some point, knowing me as well as he did, extended a romantic gesture. A first date. That’s what matters to me. Being “official”.

But he always fell in love with someone else, there was always someone he was with. It was almost like being the Joey to Dawson, who didn’t realize her physical beauty until much later in life. She, too, knew that she deserved to be treated better considering her intelligence, her character, her morals, her integrity, her values, the aspects of a human being that matter in a relationship of value. 

(Now, I don’t remember what happens with Joey & Dawson, but suffice it to say it’s similar to what I remember of season 1). 

If you didn’t love me for who I was before I was considered any societal semblance of attractive, you certainly don’t deserve to pretend to care now that I am seen to possess the physical standards of beauty you held your women to over the years. 

The last time I saw him, he insisted that he wanted to have my leg in his lap. He insisted he wanted just to have human contact. (He was single at the time, but it didn’t really matter, the inappropriate nature of the conversations over and over again… the need for physical contact or imagery…). The pandemic was here. I was uncomfortable for multiple reasons. And no matter how deprived I have been of meaningful human contact, I put my values above all of it. It’s not that difficult.

Caressing my leg, as innocent as he felt he was being, I simply didn’t want or need it. It was annoying, in fact, to have to push his hand away from going further up my scrubs, over and over again. It wasn’t overt force, there was no fear of anything going in a disturbing, non-consensual direction. Simply frustrating to have to say it.

I have self-respect and willpower. Yes, we crave physical connection, but I already made the decision that the next man to have any intimate contact with me would be in a committed relationship with me. During the pandemic, this decision was even easier in order to save my life and the lives of those around me. Hello, celibacy for over three and a half years. Never have been a fan of one-night stands, and the one relationship I have been in was with an intention for marriage. (Obviously, that didn’t work out.) 

Sexual intimacy is superior when accompanied with love, care, trust, compassion, and respect. Full stop.

I had been working for the hospital sites in the locations worst hit in the US during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Even meeting outdoors 6’ apart for an evening (because it didn’t matter, it never mattered, he was always that important to me to merit a trip to where he was) was something I wasn’t comfortable risking without proper PPE. I’d seen enough within the hospital walls. N95, additional mask, face shield, goggles…

He never took the pandemic completely seriously but listened to everything I witnessed and felt. I showed up that night, after a 12 hour shift, nearly an hour away from home, to catch up, to see a man I have lived through so much with, who knew me better than I knew myself, and yet couldn’t seemingly exist without a sexual overtone with me.

That evening, over far too much wine on his end (I had to drive) and way too many cheese and crackers, he asked me why I didn’t have the strength to ask him to love me over the years. To tell him that’s what I wanted. 

And I was taken aback. Shocked, to be honest. Because anyone who knew us, who knew who we were, who knew our history – it was obvious. He was well aware. He knew how I felt. Shifting the blame to me was probably the last thing I was expecting, and it was unfair. It was a low blow to the young girl in me who wanted nothing more than to be cared about by this man, and who had finally grown up and knew he wasn’t for her. 

Within the next few days, he brought up an attribute of my personality that I constantly try to work on that isn’t my finest, and insisted that it isn’t worth continuing a friendship. That it was no longer tolerable.

I’m fairly persistent. I worry about friends, and mental wellness during a pandemic is an even more heightened situation. I checked in. I let him know he was being thought of. Everyone deserves to know they’re cared for and thought about. But this semester, I was reliving parts of my past that demanded I utilize my own strength I’ve built over the years. 

Strong looks different on everyone. 

As a neuroscientist by trade, the brain is the most fascinating 3 lbs I’ve never wanted to lose. It felt surreal, to be able to analyze my situations in a manner conducive to being even better suited towards learning how to treat & counsel patients. To be in an environment that when presented with the same situations that broke me in the past, enabled me to overcome it all and then some.

He is not a bad person, he is human. He is who he is. His contributions to who I am today are immeasurable, and he has done so much for me – I would venture to say a priceless aspect of my being. I am grateful for him and will be forever so. I make no excuses, I have done my share of good deeds and misdeeds and he has done his. He is a good man, and I want nothing but the best for him. For him to find the truest love, and to be happy. I’ve never wanted any less for those I love. I want him to heal, I want him to feel, I want him to live. There is no need to block, to unfollow, to remove myself from his existence. There is simply a path and it seems as though it has diverged into multiple routes, where I can still see him, but I have no desire to take the one that continues to converge with his, like an asymptote to a sine curve.

Today, I realized: I’ve outgrown him.

And I’m okay with that.

It’ll Grow Some Hair On Your Chest

“It’ll grow some hair on your chest!”

Outdoors, every day before 3pm, we knew the drill.

Coach, whom we knew as “Chomick”, would gather us at the track and explain our workout. When it was a particularly tough one, he’d tell us to “man up” because “it’ll grow some hair on your chest!”

One of my favorite expressions.

“You don’t need a watch to race. It sucks the energy right out through your wrist!”

Learn to run by feel. Invaluable to a runner. To this day, one of the best lessons I’ve learned.

Senior year, toeing the line of my first XC race of the season: “Aysh, she’s faster than you. There’s no way you’ll beat her.” He knew my competitive nature. He knew how I had to strive to be the best in everything I did.

The reverse psychology worked. I dug down, led from the beginning of the race, and never looked back.

He was always prepared. He knew everything about our competitors, always. He always had the clippings from the newspapers. He did the research.

And he told it to you straight. Stopwatch in hand.

My last race before counties: “You won’t beat her, Aysh. She’s the top in our division.”

Kicked it in to the end with a 30 second lead.

My record was 9-0 going into counties with the fastest time on the GMC course coming in. That was all Coach.

If you teach someone to run with their heart, they’ll never need anything else.

Running and racing taught me about life. It gave me the ability to be better everyday. It taught me that I can overcome. The track was home. To this day, nothing feels as real as training on a cinder track did when I was younger.

And when we had a bad race, he had a shrug and an “oh well, what are you going to do?” A few words on where we lost it, but the lesson was – move forward, and try again. There will always be another race. Perspective.

Devastated at the loss of my high school coach. The world needs more like him.

RIP Chomick. You taught us more than you know.

The Experience of Free NJ COVID-19 Drive Through Testing

I know I am generally lighthearted on social media – but being safe is just SO IMPORTANT right now. Anyone who knows me knows I love the truth & facts in all aspects of life, especially with regards to medicine and information that can help save people’s lives. After a medical emergency earlier this year, I have been advocating for fitness in case of emergency. My fitness and the best of the best medical physicians indeed saved me.
 
Sadly, no amount of fitness can predict the level of destruction that COVID-19 can possibly wreak upon your system.
 
I cannot begin to express how important it is to STAY HOME.
 
You don’t know who has the virus. You don’t know whose life you’re saving. Save a life. STAY HOME.
 
But yesterday, I went to the free NJ COVID-19 testing site set up at PNC Bank Arts Center for the testing of a loved one. Let me confirm that I am asymptomatic, have no symptoms, & absolutely did not waste a test. But I am treating life as we all should be right now – as if we have the virus. As I’ve let this information on to a few trusted individuals, the amount of misinformation & questions that have arisen about COVID-19 and testing is enormous, and as someone who might be able to alleviate a few anxieties, I want to post this information. I will also repost the sheets directly distributed from the US Public Health Service. You can also find more information at www.coronavirus.gov.
 
First off, the testing center WILL NOT OPEN until 8am. We left by 7:15am to arrive before 7:40 because the site says they will not allow cars to park on the shoulder prior to the exit opening. If you are tested, your results are given by phone within 3-5 days.
 
We drove down on Parkway South to the entrance at exit 116, saw some cars lined up before the exit, and it was closed. As we passed by a NJ State Trooper, we saw a woman speaking with him parked near his car. We pulled over into the shoulder, and I cautiously stepped out to wave hello when she went back to her car. Keeping more than 6’ away, I asked her if she was getting tested and what the trooper said to do. She said that she was told to enter on the northbound side and to follow her. We did. Thank you, stranger.
 
We came upon the northbound exit at about 7:47am & cars had already parked on the shoulder for over a half mile prior to the exit and the line was lengthening without fail.
 
In less than a half hour according to my observations – it looked like they stopped letting cars in. (I may not be accurate for how long it took to shut down here specifically for yesterday – but suffice it to say there are only a limited amount of tests to be given daily at this location in NJ so as to ration them over the next few days. Reports have stated locations shutting down anywhere from a half hour to an hour at multiple testing sites in NJ – GET TO THE TESTING SITE EARLY.)
 
The scene before you is comprised of tents, many drivers with masks on, and a military personnel walking around dispensing N95 masks to his fellow comrades in neutral beige camofluflage & bright orange vests, some highlighter fluorescent yellow saying POLICE brightly on the back. I’ve been to military bases & worked in healthcare, so it wasn’t nearly as intimidating for me. But for someone who isn’t used to seeing troops in military fatigues, law enforcement, ambulatory services, & a scene of healthcare professionals in full gear straight from a scene in Spielberg’s E.T., it can be fear-inducing. Especially for an elder or at-risk immunocompromised patient who is already worried about the coronavirus, who is already having anxiety over a result they cannot know for sure immediately, this scene can be incredibly nerve-wracking. My heart is grateful to those putting themselves in harm’s way daily, & if you need to prepare yourself for what you are going to see, here is a good link to a trusted physician in Dr. Mike Varshavski, D.O. at 7:30 minutes in: Doctor Mike. Please recognize that NJ does not require an appointment or doctor referral for the PNC Bank Center testing site but does for others; you can find more NJ specific information here: NJ Covid-19.
 
It is genuinely surreal and conflicting to see a venue of concert memories and pure happiness changed to a testing venue for something so incredibly malicious.
 
Signs told us to:
 
1. Have a NJ ID ready.
2. Have an insurance card ready.
3. Have our phone number ready to display.
 
We snaked around the many curves, stopped at a standstill often, and after an hour & 15 minutes, came upon the first checkpoint where a healthcare worker asked us how many in the car have symptoms and are getting tested. She asked what the current symptoms were of the affected – the typical main criteria: fever, shortness of breath, cough. I added as well that lung sounds were suspicious to me. Also taking into account travel history, potential exposure to COVID-19, age, they let us move forward with the testing even though the top 3 boxes weren’t completely checked off. Everything was asked with the most minimal amount of rolling down the window & the least amount of exposure. They placed the identifying information to the outside of the car window, asking us to double-check the accuracy of the patient information.
 
There were two tents setup: one to collect information & the second to do the actual swab. They collected patient information from placing IDs directly to the passenger side window at the first tent. A healthcare practitioner read us the Privacy Act statement. Again, windows weren’t rolled down more than an inch. When it was time to swab, the window came down maybe another inch. Minimizing potential exposure for our frontline workers is key. You blow your nose into a tissue first. For those of you wondering, it’s a nasopharyngeal swab – a fancy way of saying it goes in from your nostril to the back of your nose & throat. Uncomfortable, sure, but manageable.
 
The workers squeezed the paperwork at each point in and out of the car through the small slit in the window.
 
After all is done, you travel through another checkpoint. At the end, the last worker is documenting the number of tests. We visually indicated how many through the windshield, and after it is entered into the system, you’re allowed to leave. It took just under 2 hours, not including travel time.
 
Yes, I’m grateful from how my years volunteering as a young student and subsequently working in the Emergency Department that directly learning from attending physicians & their charting has allowed me to, in general, (in conjunction with my graduate level education taking coursework in the medical school curriculum alongside matriculated medical students) identify many patient cases that are truly urgent and/or emergent versus those that present in a manner that didn’t necessitate an ER visit. If I am unsure, I have the luxury and privilege of texting or calling many physicians that I have worked with & in my family to double-check my decisions in caring for loved ones. This ability is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT NOW MORE THAN EVER. Not everyone has this knowledge or firsthand experience accessible to them.
 
IF YOU ARE UNSURE IF YOU SHOULD GET TESTED : please call your primary care physician or a local urgent care facility – in NJ you can also call 2-1-1 now. I cannot speak for all emergency rooms but I’m aware that some have separate lines & healthcare practitioners to address COVID-19 concerns directly. THESE PROTOCOLS VARY FROM ER TO ER, COUNTY TO COUNTY & STATE TO STATE, but the basics remain the same: STAY HOME. Minimize all extraneous contact with others. Do not allow others to visit you, no matter how careful you think you or they are. Keep more than a 6’ distance. Call a healthcare professional if you think you might have symptoms. As I hope is obvious by now (but still may not be) the best sources to begin are at Centers for Disease Control & Prevention at CDC & World Health Organization: WHO.
 
At the end of the day, we only get one life to honor. This man working saw me in the car, and waved. I smiled brightly and waved back, flashing a peace sign. He laughed and I pointed to my phone to ask permission to take a photo. He nodded, and smiled from behind his mask. I then gestured to indicate he should pose for it. He then gave me a double thumbs up.
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I did the same visual thank yous for every worker throughout the experience. Lots of smiles, bright peace signs, hearts, and prayer hands. Kindness.
 
We are all in this together. A smile can go a long way. Praying for everyone’s health. 🙏🏼
 
oh and PS: for the love of it all WASH YOUR HANDS 😊
UPDATE: As I was completing this blog post we got the phone call of COVID-19 NEGATIVE. A little over 24 hour wait. I am thoroughly impressed. Bravo New Jersey! #JerseyStrong

We Stand With Noor Because XC is Life

I am thoroughly disappointed, disheartened & upset seeing this:

“Noor Abukaram ran her fastest 5K of the season at last weekend’s Division 1 Northwest District cross country district meet in Findlay: 22 minutes, 22 seconds.

But it’s a time that, at least for now, won’t appear in any records of the meet on Saturday. Officials disqualified the 16-year-old member of Sylvania Northview’s girls’ cross country team for wearing a hijab during her race, something that’s apparently prohibited by Ohio High School Athletic Association rules unless a competitor has a signed waiver.” -The Blade by Kirk Baird

As an American of Muslim descent, I have never had a problem as a high school runner racing in hijab or fully covered in NJ. All I had to do was run. At the end of the day, the rules should be indicated & enforced consistently with crystal clarity. If not, that needs to be changed.

It is not what you look like but how you race, and that is the beauty of the love of the sport. I believe that if you don’t like the rules, change them. The officials are simply enforcing them. This is a rule that needs to be changed or enforced more consistently, because how did it go unnoticed for an entire season?

If we focus on the GOOD, it is the fact that she went out on the course and raced her heart out. She left everything on that course. No matter what, she ran that time. She can carry that with her for life, DQ’d or not. I’m always in agreement with enforcing the rules and issuing DQs as appropriate, but I also support the fact that some of them should be changed.

What would have happened if indeed she was advised of the rule prior to the race? She would absolutely not have removed her hijab. So the question becomes – would she have raced with less fire knowing her efforts wouldn’t count? Would she have even found it worthwhile to have toed the start line? Would she have spent the race wondering why she was discriminated against at this point in the season? And in my opinion, this specific incidence can be heartbreaking for anyone feeling as if they are an “other”. I am grateful that I never felt this while running, I always knew I was a runner no matter what I was wearing or what I looked like, but I can empathize with knowing that it is surely within the minority in the US to be fully and modestly covered to race for religious purposes.

So my personal opinion at this point is that it’s better that it was caught now before regionals, and if indeed this rule is deemed to be archaic it needs to be changed. Noor, you raced honestly & with all of your heart, and no one will ever be able to take that away from you, DQ or no DQ. You have handled this situation with class, and it will only serve to make you stronger in the long run, literally and in life. One love. Run love. Xo #XCisLIFE #WeStandWithNoor #AyshaRuns #MuslimRunner #StrongLooksDifferentOnEveryone #NikeHijab #HijabiRunner

Liar

EDITOR’S NOTE (i.e., me): This exchange occurred end of March 2019. The draft has been saved in my blog, because I didn’t feel this woman should be called out at the time.

Quite frankly, she continued to harass me with condescending commentary about my times that I run as a USATF sub-masters competitor internationally (they’re not fast, but they’re the best I could have raced on those days with everything I had). I’ve never claimed to be a pro runner, an elite athlete, nor an Olympian. You’d be hard-pressed to find that. (Let me save you the time – you won’t find me ever claiming that, unlike fraudulent bloggers that have self-titled themselves pro athletes in podcast interviews like bloggers Kelly Roberts and Latoya Snell.)

That being said, the trolls are always entertaining. A gold medal is still a gold medal in an international competition with rankings for the US – the beauty of racing without a time qualifier is that ANYONE can run. As running should be. Could you imagine telling a 90 year-old athlete that he or she has to make a time standard to compete if they wish to? The masters competitive racing community is incredibly welcoming and I will be proud to represent as one when I am old enough. Uncontested or not – whose fault is it that no one my age toed the line? Certainly not mine – I will put myself out there for the love of racing no matter how many compete within my age group or how close to last I might end up when age groups are inconsequential. What good is it to be scared of being last? That’s the beauty of track & field and this sport – any BODY can run. Whether you’re dead last in a heat or passing others as you go by when you give it EVERYTHING YOU HAVE is amazing. No selfies while racing. Being competitive and putting your best foot forward is an #EliteMentality. In fact, I implore anyone who has an issue with my international gold medals this year in the 5k & 8k XC NCCWMAs Toronto 2019 when no one raced in my age group to join me at XC club nationals at Lehigh University. There’s no time qualifier to enter the open race (which is where I’ll be), no matter what hypocritical racing teams might tell you. (I hate to tell you, when I earned a #TeamUSA gold medal in a 4×400 team relay, it required 3 other athletes to race & place first in our AG versus two other teams. We were 2nd in our heat behind the W40 US team. This is where the trolls will go “All you had to do was finish to get a medal”. My commentary on participation medals is yet to come. Mediocrity isn’t my game. I will give my best in a race effort EVERY. DAMN. TIME. And my best that day was an 82 second 400m as fast as I could go in the afternoon after racing a 5k on the track the morning before and an 8K XC as hard as I could on the most fun XC course with all the hills after sustaining injuries from a car accident. Even a second slower would have lost our gold.)

I have yet to compete at a world event, but I can still call myself a gold medal champion if I wish. Sorry not sorry, haters.

So here is the blog from March 2019. Enjoy.

LIAR

That was the subject line of an email I received this week from a mom & runner I actually know. When I showed a friend, she responded with “that was an evil email. that is just mean & hurtful. good reply. only good bc she didn’t deserve one”.

I get a lot of hate mail & death threats. I don’t cry victim, to be honest: I don’t particularly care when people that don’t know me say things that I’m aware are untrue. When I was a child I was taunted with the types of remarks so many today play victim with in society (gross! skinny! ugly! bony! all taunts about my physicality, and no I never went home crying over this or thinking less of myself for it) & quite frankly, I knew those children were far dumber than me so their words never meant anything. What #TheySaid doesn’t matter. I’m passionate for what I stand for, and there are many who cannot handle the truth. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I know who I am. But I won’t allow for lies to be spread about me. Nowhere have I ever made the claims that this woman accused me of.

So I decided to post the email and my response.

“You are 5 foot 4 tops.  I am And there were 3 people in your age group in that masters race in Canada where you claim to be a world champion.  A 3:15 800.  Ha. When I saw you sign an autograph
I laughed out loud. Please just stop taking credit for what you are not. Too many people work hard for what they really are. ”

Hi X,

Wait, what?

I have never claimed to be a world champion. That’s absurd. If there is anywhere that has me listed as a world champion please do link it so I can correct it immediately – I have never competed at a world event.

I have 2 NCCWMA W35 silver medals – one for the 1500 & one for the 800. It’s a USATF national team for North America – North, Central America, & Caribbean Region of World Master Athletics. You cannot claim to be a champion with a second place medal. I never have.

My 800 in August 2017 for NCCWMA’s was a 3:00.62. Yes, there were 3 people in my AG for the 1500m race & 2 in the 800m. I cannot control who does and does not show up on the start line of a race. Those that entered to start & did not race are not of my concern. I ran my races.

My agencies & physicians measure me constantly – I can reassure you I am not 5’4” 🙂

If someone requests an autograph mailed, they normally go through my agents. Or request it in person if I have my cards with me. I cannot control another person’s requests, only my responses.

I take no credit for what I am not & correct others immediately if they label me incorrectly. I am not an elite, professional, or Olympic runner nor have I ever claimed to be. I work hard for my racing & own every one of my running results, injured & non. Proud of the races I have won, and always pushing to be my best self.

I hope this clears up any misconceptions you have. Thanks for the email.

Best,
Aysha

The next response came within 24 hours:

“Ok. If there are two people in your age group can you really claim to be a silver medalist?  I just work with so many hard-working runners who are so modest and would never put that as their #Status.  I am disappointed because my daughter really liked you when she met you and I wish you could put forth your energy in a more positive way then videoing you doing three push-ups and eating a lot of food.”

For this I had a lot more to say:

Hi X,

I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. But when I signed up to race there were more than 2 in my AG. Last minute scratches left 3 in the 1500 & I don’t believe anyone signed up to the 800 after me. I can’t control that. My lack of fitness at the time (I broke an elbow from a fall & wasn’t able to run for some time) was still good enough to pull ahead of the last girl in the first field – I was just grateful to race through the pain. My coach & I agreed it would be a time trial for me.

We raced in Toronto for the US on a national team. It is an international masters & sub-masters competition. We signed the same paperwork as the Olympians & elite world athletes (USATF Statement of Conditions – if you recall, 2x Olympian Nick Symmonds did not compete at Worlds because of the legal requirement to wear Nike). That’s why you’ll see the masters & sub-masters athletes in the Olympic kits. It is also why you see them in Poland right now for the World Indoor Masters championships.

NCCWMAs actually contributes to world rankings. (Every AG has it in T&F). So the silver medal & time actually stands on an international stage. The elite competitors at NACAC last year (North American Caribbean & Canada) had the same situation. You had to have IAAF qualifying standards for the event. There were only 3 women & only Team USA in the steeplechase event, so all medaled & Mel Lawrence won. (The entire championship had poor entries for fields – high caliber low quantity. It was a huge point of discussion on message boards.) Does that diminish the fact that Mel is an international champion? No, she absolutely is one & the others raced her for it. Is it disappointing for the lack of competitors on the international stage? In my opinion, surely. But that doesn’t change the fact of the matter. Racing for place is completely different than racing for time – Centrowitz’s Rio 2016 Olympic 1500m gold is a prime example for that (his time was quite slow & bested by the Paralympic competitors in the same event).

That being said, I raced for the 800m in 2017. Again, it’s not my fault to have a lack of competitors. But I took a lead I could not keep (overconfidence from my 1500m lead on her 2 days prior) & didn’t have the strength to outkick her. Trust me, it replays over & over in my head lol… poor race tactics – I normally sit & kick. My goal was to time trial & give it my best effort – I was just as unhappy to see I couldn’t race better than a 3:00.xx. That’s where my fitness was. I’m aware of how it looks on paper to those wishing to judge. But I also know what isn’t seen on paper: how broken my body was coming in & what it took for me to get on a start line (not an excuse: I feel injuries can be an excuse or something to power through – I try to power through the best I can.) and that I still gave it everything – where is the pride in anything less?

My elbow actually took a long while to heal properly enough for me to straighten it & do strength work again – I honestly just saw the improvement this year in videos and felt it while doing weights.

So many hard working runners do great things and don’t state anything, and that is their choice. I personally wish they would say more. I run some races for fun as a run, I’ll be the only one in my AG, and I’ll tongue-in-cheek joke about it on social. If earning that makes someone feel good about themselves, fine. That’s for them. But this sport is open to everyone. I love this sport. I want more people to love it the way I do. So what if you might not be “fast” in someone else’s eyes? Just get on the line and give it everything you’ve got! I’ll never be an Olympian but I can be the best me. At least I know I’m giving my 100% effort. I love XC it’s pretty much my favorite it’s so incredibly hard – I still sign up to XC club nationals as often as I can because unlike misconceptions, there are no qualifying standards & I’m aware I could be last but love what you do & give it everything you’ve got. Always!

I have a unique opportunity to break misconceptions with who I am as an American runner, and I’m aware of the influence I might have on our younger girls. When I was a counselor at cross country camps, so many of the girls would come up & ask me how to get rid of the “flab” above their tummy or how their abs could be flatter or what can be done about their thighs and it would break my heart. I would remind every one of them that their bodies could run faster than my skinny one could, and that their bodies embody that strength looks different on everyone. I never had a problem with eating or fueling my runs, and so many women have this issue. That’s why I try and post my workouts and fuel. Because somewhere out there, a girl might see it and know that it can be done the right way. (Also, some workouts are given to models for free in exchange for being certain to post – I choose which workouts to do though.)

As for videos with a few push-ups, most often I am trying to video myself and I cannot tape my entire workout (I want to get my workout done too! Lol) or I am in a group class in NYC & I don’t have permission to record my workout. (The spin classes I take are push-ups & arm weight workouts for half the class). It doesn’t mean I’m not doing hard work for 2-3 hours a day, just that I don’t have a friend to help document & that I am not quite the best video/photo creator and editor. 🙂 I also try not to get any other gym goers in my videos & if I do, I always let them know and ask if it’s okay.

With posting all of the food in NYC, signed agency models can get their food for free. Yes, I eat all day, but I am absolutely required to post about it as essentially advertising for the restaurants as well as if we do not we lose our privileges to eat at those sponsored places. But even if I’m on set to eat I try to post what I’m having on social just as a reminder to anyone who follows that food is fuel & one shouldn’t feel badly about eating it. I started using the hashtag #EatIfYoureHungry to remind anyone who might care to follow me.

I remember in great fondness meeting your daughter too & being excited for her! In all honesty, this is my positivity. As a model in NYC, our physical standards make some girls feel bad about themselves. I want to remind others that this industry, like many others, relies heavily on genetic predispositions. Also, every top model I know and friend I have eats right & works out. One out of 4 models I know has had an ED; 3 out of 4 runners I meet have had an issue in the past. As a runner, it’s the hard work to be the best version of yourself that should be applauded. Not victimizing oneself to elicit sympathy to gain followers, sponsorship, or blaming others when at the end of the day it’s the work YOU put in. I’m aware the two worlds can be hard to reconcile. But in any case, no drugs, no starvation, just hard work.

I hope this helps. Thanks again for reaching out to me with your concerns – I appreciate it.

 

Ban The Bandits (And Other Cheats)

So Runner’s World author Amanda Furrer (you can find her here & here) and editor Jeff Dengate supported the action of banditing “correctly” by publishing an online article titled:

Do Not Bandit Ever. Or at Least Don’t Be an Asshole

I’m from New Jersey. We’re no strangers to cursing. But when you run what is normally a non-trashy publication, I’m not a fan. (Realize that this was the online headline – the print version wasn’t with a profanity in the title – “The Worst Thing You Can Do Isn’t Even That Bad”.) This isn’t an underground zine –  Runner’s World has a massive worldwide following, the majority of whom are not professional or elite runners. Most novice runners that never ran before or have not competed in school are unaware of the rules regarding competitive running (your pace dictates your corral/heat placement, external aid normally results in disqualification, purchasing a bib for a non-transferable race can result in a DQ/ban from the race series, technically earphones are a reason for disqualification in many USATF championship races, etc). The rules of racing vary from race to race & level of competition – but this is blog written with regards to the races that explicitly ban banditing – the practice of running on a race course without legitimately paying for or being compensated a registration bib, or the permission of the race director to do so. Publishing this piece was careless on the part of the editor that approved the article as well as the author.

One of the most entitled reasons to bandit cited by Furrer: “There are plenty of reasons, the first of which is money. Running the New York City Marathon, for instance, costs $295. While this expense goes toward necessities like road closures, security, race-day fuel, and porta-potties, it’s a fee some just can’t afford—and the race’s fame is enticing enough that some runners don’t want to take on a smaller, cheaper event.”

You don’t WANT to take on a smaller, cheaper event? Sometimes you don’t get what you want. That’s life. If you can’t pay, don’t play. It’s not that hard of a concept. Just because you can’t afford that Valentino purse doesn’t give you permission to steal it. Imagine telling the police officer, “But I WANTED it! Therefore I DESERVED to have it!” If you can’t afford the amazing experience that is running at the NYC marathon, and you ABSOLUTELY have to run the race, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Save the money as a priority (have you forgotten that running in USATF certified races are a luxury, not a right?) if it’s something your heart yearns to do. Somehow the members of society that support this immoral method of thinking have forgotten the concept of hard work for what it is you wish to have in this life. There’s also the option of raising the money for a charity. Better yet, get out there on race day & CHEER. Cheer your heart out – because guess what, that’s one way to aid the runners that’s within the rules. And perhaps it will motivate you to not purchase something extraneous every other day in order to save up to run your dream race. All running actually requires is a pair of running sneakers (and some barefoot runners will challenge you on that). Everything else is icing on the cake & keeping up with the Joneses.

Another reason cited: “Aside from the expense, getting into big races is no easy feat (qualifying times, lotteries). And then there’s the fear of failure. We see you headcases jumping in so you have the option of quitting without a DNF.”

Hmm. Qualifying times a problem? Run faster. I’m a big fan of giving it everything you’ve honestly got to try and achieve a goal. Or commit to fundraising for a charity bib. Both will be legal ways to enter your dream race (unless your dream race is the Olympic Trials, in which case – run faster.) Lotteries? Again, fundraise for a charity bib. Or accept the fact that your not being accepted by lottery is happening for a reason and the reason may not make itself clear until later in your training cycle. The lottery is random in order to maintain a fair and even chance for everyone who wishes to run to be given the opportunity to race.

The fear of failure is a personal mentality issue. I didn’t call you a headcase, Furrer did. I’m aware that bandits have a lack of moral integrity by already jumping in without paying, but perhaps you need to learn how to own responsibility for your actions and your race times. If you don’t have the strength to be able to do this then perhaps you shouldn’t be racing at the moment. So what if you have a DNF or a poor time? If it’s honest, own it and move onwards. If not, then I hope it’s DQ’d and made null & void. Taking pride in something that isn’t your own is called being fraudulent. You’re being deceitful. Your race time is your own. Failure is a part of racing and running, being honest with yourself as a runner in your training and in life is something that helps mindset immensely instead of making excuses. Failure will happen. It happens more often to some than others. But being fearful of it helps no one.

Furrer: “Here’s my confession: Back in 2010, I bandited the Boston Marathon. It was the first time I ever ran 26.2, and I had a few joyful crying spells when I realized I was going to finish. How can I forbid banditing when I myself didn’t register? How can I preach to you when running that race inspired me to compete in—and register for—10 more marathons to date?”

First thing: You should be banned from ever racing at the Boston Marathon again if the rules are to be followed (and the Boston Marathon is quite strict about their rules). “How can I forbid banditing?” Very easily, by acknowledging you did something wrong instead of attempting to justify your rule-breaking by saying it “inspired” you. It’s the same mentality & excuses when others claim they do so much good for society that their rule & law breaking should be overlooked. (See also: serial rule-breaker & bandit blogger Kelly Roberts and her family/friends/followers’ comments, all those that covered up the atrocities committed by Larry Nassar for YEARS with USA Gymnastics by claiming he was an “upstanding member of society”, Mike Rossi with his blatant cheating but: “Our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can’t be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book… They watched their father overcome, injury, bad weather, the death of a loved one and many other obstacles to achieve an important personal goal.”)

Furrer: “YOU WILL be the support your registered friend needs in the last couple of miles.”

See, here’s the problem. I ran a race alongside a (registered) running friend that would run with me at every race we had together, since we were of similar fitness and paces. Both of us were going after a PR on the course. (In the end they did not PR, but I did). They had a friend next to them the whole time, and their friend kept not only the pace they needed, but would get them their gels, water, Gatorade, etc. I left them both early on because I felt great and they were fading, but why is it that someone should have that aid during a race just because they had a friend that was willing to break the rules & jump in? That isn’t fair. No, life isn’t fair, but should they be caught, their time should be DQ’d. Those are the rules. If you want to help your friend, register for the race & be there properly as a part of everyone else’s race as well.

Should a race like the NYC marathon become a popularity contest? Giving more resources to some runners on race day as opposed to others? Imagine if someone jumped into the race at every mile (or multiple friends at one point) for certain runners. The whole point of racing is to race who shows up. What makes one runner more special than other runners on race day that have friends that they should have this extra advantage? At the end of the day, it’s YOU that has to continue moving and cross the finish line. This is why the non-elite start women at the Boston Marathon 2018 were not initially awarded any prize money – they were not in the elite race. Not because of some archaic anti-female rules (which some “feminist” bloggers tried to misrepresent it as) but because they simply were not in that specific race. All of the racers competing for the elite purses should be in the same race head to head or else the opportunity to match surges & tactical moves is null and void. And no matter your goal, whether or not you’re running it for fun, just to complete it, or a time, every person on that road has an impact on YOU. Imagine if someone jumped into the race and ran alongside the elite & sub-elite athletes as a bandit. They should be caught, disqualified, and banned from the race immediately. Why should it be any different for those at the middle or back-of-the-pack? You know, the group of runners (run/walkers, walkers, those that go forward, whomever they may be) that are always requesting equal treatment similar to those that are faster?

Integrity is greater than money. Watching many social media influencers with no knowledge or respect for the sport continue to peddle incorrect information about the proper ways to respect the sport and its rules is insulting to all legitimately honest runners. Encouraging the poor choices of an author that shows no remorse for breaking the rules is no better.

If you don’t like the rules, change them. Nick Symmonds (2x Olympian, World silver medalist, 6x 800m USA national champion) said this regarding following USATF rules: “Now you can disagree with the rule… Whether you think it’s fair or unfair is irrelevant. It’s black & white. It’s in there and I’m going to follow those rules.” This is what a REAL elite #ProAthlete with integrity has to say about following rules and qualifying for races.

The lack of professionalism & integrity of this specific article by RW isn’t lost in the series of tweets by “Runner-In-Chief” Jeff Dengate engaging with many readers that were upset by the article since it advocated breaking the rules for the reasons outlined above. His responses are nothing short of rude. I’ve demonstrated the fallacy in his logic (replace the word “bandit” with thief, cheat, murderer, rapist, doper, or adulterer) for supporting how to bandit & these were his words:

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Symmonds has also advocated against dopers in sport, stating “Dopers are still walking amongst us! Lance Armstrong is still walking around amongst us even though he’s a fraud and a cheat that stole from people. When you are a fraud and a thief you go to jail. If you are a convicted doper, you absolutely should be in jail.” Link to these quotes here.

Bandits are also frauds & thieves at the everyday level of racing. Ironically, Dengate is against dopers in sport. How he reconciles his distaste for doping but refuses to admit that banditing is also a form of cheating that should be discouraged and requires consequences in the name of #CleanSport is highly reminiscent of this hypocritical running company paying a repeat cheat but not their actual elites.

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I was asked my solution to the problem of bandits at major races that prohibit them. My answer isn’t far off from Nick’s solution for doping in sport: massive fines, lifetime bans, and jail time. Just because it isn’t doping at an elite level doesn’t make it any less wrong to do. This is my level of sport & I would like to be amongst as many morally upright runners in competition as is possible. We have enough blogger influencers that have no real respect or understanding of the sport that are misleading their following regarding the truth in running – when they are caught, they should face the consequences. Perhaps if we criminalize what isn’t right to do, more people would think twice before jumping into a race where they don’t belong. Could you imagine someone jumping on the road for the USATF 5k road championships that were held in conjunction with the Dash to the Finish 5k next to the elites & sub-elites with the intention of “just pacing a friend”? (I’m sure it happened for the non-elite race, and if you read to the Runner’s World article, Furrer elaborates on how you should do so because the race was easily sold out). Even if you were to pull bandits off the course, charge them & require a court date that could result in anything from community service to jail time, that would make some people think twice (example: London Marathon Bandit and no, I do not condone the violence of physically attacking a cheat). Community service could be required of cheats – try standing all day in the cold to hand out water for runners at a marathon. Perhaps that would induce some more respect for the sport at all levels. And if the cheat decides to skip their community service requirement? THAT could result in jail time.

Massive fines of 2-3-4-5x the entry fee for a race for anyone caught without a bib or someone else’s bib would make a runner think twice before jumping into a race where they don’t belong. If you copy a charity bib, then you’re not only performing a theft of services for the environment of the race from the race director, you’re taking money away from the charity for which the race is being run. Even worse in my opinion. Those races & organizations could choose to charge at least twice the fundraising requirement as consequence, maybe more (the charity Team For Kids requires a $2620 fundraising commitment for NYC, for example.)

If indeed the ban that you deserve for the Boston Marathon from today forward comes to fruition, Amanda, remember that Gia Alvarez, a blogger that wrongfully claimed a time that wasn’t hers to register for Boston, tried to justify her giving away a bib for Boston by saying “I did what so many of us do”. That doesn’t make it right. Just because there are so many bandits on a course doesn’t mean that they’re doing the right thing. Lifetime bans for race rule-breakers should be the norm. Unfortunately, even the current consequences of disqualification do not occur properly. If the races rules indicate that a DQ & ban is the consequence for banditing, bib-swapping, bib-purchasing, and cheating in general, these actions should be taken against all involved.

I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again – Runner’s World should retract this article by Amanda Furrer. It’s disheartening that we cannot count on professionalism and honesty even at the everyday runner’s level of sport. It’s even worse that we cannot even rely on the mainstream media publications to lead us in the right direction when it comes to running and racing. When we don’t denounce these actions of banditing & cheating as being wrong and imposing the proper consequences (DQ’s, bans, legal action) then we allow those with no respect for the sport to get away with a lack of morals and integrity. This is why I say we must Make Running Great Again – by calling out the hypocrisy & fraud of cheats & those that take away from clean sport. Pro athletes and elite level runners must speak out against doping, and those of us everyday runners with integrity that step to a line for the races, even if we aren’t elite, still deserve the respect of a race honestly run and won. I’d rather run a race with fewer runners if that means that the runners I’m running alongside with are quality runners. As in life, quality over quantity of the company you keep. To the cheats of the sport: #SorryNotSorry, you can’t run with us.

Signed,

#RunnersAgainstCheating

#MakeRunningGreatAgain

#BanTheCheats

#BanTheBandits

If you’d like to read other articles that have been written against banditing, see below:

Marathon Investigation Response to Furrer’s Article in RW

Runner’s World by Dave McGillivray, Race Director of Boston Marathon

Runner’s World Response to the Banditing of Kelly Roberts

Memories of 9/11 in 2015

Author’s Note: This was written by me on 9/11/2015. I was working on a TV set, & today in 2018 I am in Brooklyn on a TV show set at the studio. We just had a moment of silence on set in memory. Funny how even though things change, they stay the same.

————-

On this day in 2001, I was supposed to visit the World Trade Center with my uncle who was here from Pakistan. By the grace of Allah (swt), we were delayed. I will never forget the frantic phone call my Bhai made to my parents to tell me not to go to NYC because something awful just happened.

As we watched the events unfold, I prayed it wasn’t a Muslim terrorist attack. It was.

It’s been many years, and I still am truly saddened each 9/11 when the names are read. I can’t help but think of everyone that has lost someone because some misguided souls thought they were following Islam.

Today, I woke up and ran 5 miles at 7am towards downtown NYC with Nike. I am grateful for every day I have that I can run. Because there are others that cannot.

My work today has taken me to a TV set, where production has re-created a Syrian desert refugee camp. The scene that shows an ISIS beheading that was supposed to be filmed yesterday had to be moved to today. With a moment of silence, they respectfully do so. They’re showing children dirty but happily playing soccer, just like your children do. Medical tents are here, and an urgent surgery on a young boy is being portrayed. His lung collapses but there are no medical supplies delivered this week. There is sand, lots of desert bugs, and plenty of American military. My mind wanders to my older brother, who became a physician for the Air Force. My brother, who serves our great American nation every day, who served in the Middle East during the war. My Bhai, one of my heroes. They’ve recreated his dedication, amongst many others, here, on a film set, in NYC.

I was fairly blonde when 9/11 happened. I didn’t fit the prototypical Muslim stereotype. I suddenly found it my duty to enlighten others about the true Islam, since I was mistaken as simply American and so many would speak to me with negativity about all Muslims as if I wasn’t Muslim. Hatred of others that are different stems out of fear and lack of knowledge. Hate is taught. You must learn to hate someone. It isn’t something we’re born with.

I’m watching the children play on the refugee set. It may as well be the real thing. Some of them are Latino, Middle Eastern, South Asian. They don’t see creed, or race, or differences. They just want someone to kick them the ball.

Nick Symmonds Book Review – Life Outside the Oval Office: The Track Less Traveled

This article originally appeared on Epic Run, December 5th, 2014.

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See on Amazon!

Fame, fast times, and fortune? Sex, drugs, and Hollywood? Yes, you’ll find it all and more in Nick Symmonds’ autobiography Life Outside The Oval Office: The Track Less Traveled.

If you’re one of the many like me who have met Nick by attending one of his signings, then you’ll find a sincere handwritten note when you open the book, followed by the introduction written by the legendary Coach Frank Gagliano, or “Gags” (as he’s known to many in the running community). Gags’ fondness for Nick is evident, especially when speaking of Nick as a young competitor.

Nick shows respect and humility in speaking of his parents and family- a result of his small-town, Midwestern upbringing, I suppose. Religion also plays an interesting part in young Nick’s life; you can be sure to stumble upon that aspect of his growth within the first few pages.

But, as it does time and time again for a young boy growing up, his thoughts turned to the opposite sex, and as has been said, Nick found running not because he enjoyed it (face it, how many of us at first sight loved the fact that we run and run and run around a track and still end up where we’ve started?) but he ran simply due to the fact that a pretty girl (or two) asked him to. Track Nation, of course, owes a huge amount of gratitude to those young girls in Boise, as I’m sure they were highly unaware of the gears they unintentionally put in motion.

This leads us into the crazy world of track & field at the collegiate and professional levels, and of course, the cast of characters Nick meets along the way. Those of us that follow the sport closely will happily recognize names we know and love along the way- those of us who know next to nothing about Nick’s earlier years will surely learn about his competitors that have stoked his fiery spirit along the way. The bachelor pad antics, his ability to out-Jersey the Jersey Shore (he had a hot tub before they did), his ways with the ladies and propensity to drink beer, all coinciding with the enticing aspect of drugs, nightlife, and his methods of navigating it all- indeed, you will find all of this and more in his book.

Some of the best stories Nick tells are of all of the traveling he has done. For those of us that haven’t left the comfort of our own backyards nearly as often, if at all, it’s an eye-opening portal to the testament of the human body as a machine, placed through the constant stresses of jet lag and lack of sleep, and how we as an audience simply expect a stellar athletic performance, despite the rigors of training and travel. Sometimes we, the fans, don’t realize the extent external factors have on our national team members, yet we still want more out of them.

Drug testing, marital infidelity, and sponsorships are just a few parts of #NSOvalOffice (that IS the official hashtag) that Nick enlightens the general, non-competing public about in detail, and in doing so, reinforces the fact that no matter where he’s gone and what mistakes he’s made, his moral compass is still intact after it all.

What I find to be the most inspiring aspect in all 230 pages of reading is that Nick teaches us that it’s okay to cry. To express your emotion not only on the oval through your racing but in any other environment; that it’s okay to have personal response to any situation. In doing so he takes on the stereotype of the typical All-American male and allows for a humanization of his persona. He invites us to realize that he, too, has insecurities just like the rest of us, and he states them without hesitation. We want to believe that all of our athletes are unbreakable, but Nick chooses to bring us in and allows us to experience heartbreak and disappointment alongside him.

Nick lets us in on some of the most important decision-making processes of his life. From coaches and universities to entertainment at meets, he doesn’t hold back on any aspect of how he thinks Track Nation could be even more amazing. He addresses that he hopes he can serve the sport in any form, aspiring to make an impact in even a fraction of the magnitude that legendary Steve “Pre” Prefontaine had done in his short time with us. In many ways, from standing up for LGBT rights, to bringing attention to the lack of administrative transparency within sport, he can easily be seen leading a dialogue for the nation and beyond, perhaps in the same capacity that Pre once did.

My favorite parts of #NSOvalOffice were where I could live vicariously through Nick’s viewpoint on races that I so closely watched him compete in throughout the years. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get inside his head at those points. I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling Nick wove until the last chapter of his book, where he seemed to rush off a very quick message to his female fans out of necessity. Ladies, I’ll let you read it and respond to him at your own leisure. But the final page is ever-so-fitting, typeface and spacing seeming to work out perfectly as a single meaningful quote lays in front of you. As for the rumors that he dated Paris Hilton, well, wouldn’t you want to read the emails and text messages between the two of them for yourself?

If you’re expecting the adult prose that Nick uses to address his overwhelming issues with politics and the sport while writing for Runner’s World, you won’t find it here. Rather, this book is a coming-of-age novel for Nick’s 17 year-old self. It balances boyish charm while tackling adult issues facing an upcoming professional runner. As a young teenager who isn’t sure of what path to follow, you can surely relate to the same anxieties Nick articulates about those years. For the track and field fan who wants to know what it feels like to toe the line versus the world’s best and take each breath with Nick as he races, it’s in there. If you ever wanted to have a reassuring voice in your head to follow your heart and stand up for what you believe in, Nick’s words will do that. At the end of the day, it’s a breath of fresh air that one of our own has down-to-earth morals and integrity. Indeed, most of the world could use more of Nick’s passion. Perhaps we should all want to exist to live, not live simply to exist.

Maude The Fraud

I am adamantly against cheating and misrepresentation in sport. You take away an honest runner’s hard-earned podium place. The running community is not and should not be complicit with anyone’s cheating, no matter the level. Viral pageant contestant Maude Gorman claimed to have podium finishes in multiple ultramarathon races. She has actually been a pathological liar since childhood – you may google her to find out the details. She has created a persona to fit the needs of whatever audience she has at the moment, just like #3peatCheat #bandit Kelly Roberts. I am not a fan of anyone that does this. We deal with it in modeling all the time – fake ad campaigns, claims of agency representation when there isn’t any, & so much more. Poor fact checking by the media allows for anyone to seek attention & get it in our social media viral society today. The litany of cheats Derek Murphy has proven to break racing rules have all had the same underlying connection of being frauds & profiting from their storylines – Kelly Roberts, Gia Alvarez, Jane Seo. Each wanted to attain elite status in some way, shape, or form – Kelly called herself a #ProAthlete after being caught breaking the rules by purchasing bibs & not paying to run on race courses, #GiaAlvarez thought it was okay to race the prestigious #BostonMarathon with a time she did not earn to qualify that year by giving her bib to someone, thereby taking the place of a genuinely qualified runner (you have to race a time considered fast for your age), and #JaneSeo wanted to qualify for an elite team for the Dashing Whippets in NYC – she went so far as to fake her podium time at a half-marathon by biking the course afterwards when in reality she didn’t race the whole distance. #MaudeGorman has been dropped from @skyrunningusa but still lists herself as #TeamUSA.

Gia Alvarez has been rightly banned from racing by the Boston Athletic Association. Jane Seo was rightfully stripped of her podium placement & dropped from her team immediately. Kelly Roberts did not lose her sponsors – in fact, last year Oiselle hypocritically continued to pay & support her as a cheat while their own real elite pro athlete Kara Goucher had waited a decade for her rightful silver medal at Worlds. (Irony much?) Instead, Kelly Roberts has continued to be disrespectful in sport, breaking rules that should have her banned from the NYRR racing community. She has proven herself a liar once again, deleting all the negative posts she made against Nike while with Oiselle. #BanKellyK

I watched Broken on #Netflix last night – it’s about how ultrarunner Karl Meltzer broke the Appalachian Trail record. Documented day by day. When you see the amount of HARD WORK a REAL & TRUE elite ultrarunner puts in, and then you have a cheat that cuts the course, you can only imagine how wrong it is for the rightful, honest athletes. Insulting to real elites. Disrespectful to the sport. Proof has been shown that they’re cheats & should be banned accordingly.  Not a fan of cheats – your previous traumas & tragedies do not excuse breaking the rules. ESPECIALLY when REAL hardworking, non-cheating elite athletes aren’t given their due respect. In fact, Oiselle’s CEO Sally Bergesen has been hypocritical in her treatment of American Record holding athlete Tori Franklin. When she doesn’t pay her own elites a living wage (there’s a long list of Haute Volee athletes that are not/were not paid), but supported paying a dishonest, cheating brand ambassador influencer in Kelly Roberts that ACTUALLY lacked integrity instead, Oiselle is an epitome of hypocrisy when they claim that they are against cheating in sport. (There is also the story of former Oiselle pro ultrarunner elite athlete Devon Yanko, who found herself on the floor of a casino in 2017 after an ER trip seeking a ride home as Oiselle’s Birdstrike team celebrated their victory at the Speed Project without her. No bird left behind? Not in this case.) Truth is hard to find in today’s media-driven society. Seek it out & you shall find. 

The beauty of this sport is that you get out of it what you put into it. Work hard for your times and own them. No excuses. One love. Run love. Signed, a Team USA NCCWMA silver medalist runway model #TeamUSATF #RunnersAgainstCheating