She Chose to be Strong

She knew she could become weak,
but she had the choice to stay at her peak.
She knew she could rest,
but she had the choice to be her best.
She knew she could give up,
but she had the choice to stand up.
She knew she could wither,
but she had the choice to shimmer.
She knew she could hide,
but she had the choice to fight what’s inside.
She knew she could be ordinary,
but she had the choice to be legendary.
She knew she could be another dead soul,
but she had the choice to achieve her goal.
She knew she could always crave,
but she had the choice to be brave.
She knew she could close all the doors
but she had the choice to explore the abandoned floors.
She knew she could be a survivor,
but she had the choice to be a warrior.
She knew she could not withstand the storm; and so she chose to be the storm.
She knew she had the choice; and so she chose to be strong.

How Martial Arts Helped Me Get Back on My Feet

Content note: this post contains depictions of physical assault 

After being attacked on my way home, I decided to start training in martial arts. I wanted to become stronger both physically and mentally, and eventually, I found my way to the Korean martial art of taekwondo. Today, the mental tools taekwondo has given me help me out in all areas of life.

In my twenties, I was attacked on my way home after a late shift at work. A man followed me and forced his way into the building where I lived. Luckily, he didn’t have a weapon, and I managed to get out of his grip and scream for help. Even though he ran off when he heard people approaching, I was deeply shaken. What if there wouldn’t have been anyone around?

I felt so helpless.

The man who had attacked me wasn’t big – around my height. But when he grabbed me, it was like one of those nightmares where your muscles stop working. I was paralyzed by the thought that he might hurt me. I had never been hit by anyone, never hit anyone myself. I didn’t know what to do.

Later, I became angry. How come I had to be the one to take an expensive cab home when working late? To pop one of my headphones out when going for a late run? To not go through dark allies or choose certain clothes? I still pop one headphone out today, and it still makes me angry.

When the nightmares wouldn’t stop after the attack, it was time to do something. I decided that I wanted to find out, in a controlled environment, what it felt like to be hit, kicked – and to respond. To hit back, to take a blow and get back up. Physically, nothing might have happened, but mentally, I had changed: I realized that my body, potentially, wasn’t mine at all but someone else’s to handle as they wished.

Let’s stop here for a moment and clear one thing up: martial arts don’t turn you into an aggressive fighter. Martial arts are about self-control, physical health and mental health – not about being stupid and getting into situations you can’t control. If ever you are attacked, turn around and run. This is what any good trainer would recommend.

I found a kickboxing club at university. This was in the south of Europe about ten years ago, and the club reeked of testosterone. I was put in the ring straight away, with the only other girl in the room – and got beaten up. It’s not how it’s supposed to happen. This was an excellent example of a BAD club, where the trainers and my club mates weren’t doing what they are supposed to – making sure nobody’s attacked if they can’t defend themselves.

Afterwards, I was hurting everywhere and holding back tears of frustration. One of the guys walked up to me and looked me over: my long blonde hair and pink training shirt. “Shouldn’t you be doing ballet?”, he asked. I probably have that comment to thank for the fact that I never gave up fighting – I just moved on to a better club.

A few years later, I discovered taekwondo. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that, like many martial arts, is just as much a way of life as a way to get fit. To succeed in taekwondo, there is only one opponent you have to beat: yourself.

You need to accept your limits and turn them into advantages.

You need to accept failure and see it as learning: another step towards your goal.

You need to accept pain (in a healthy and controlled way), and you will learn that you can endure more than you think.

Today, I have trained in taekwondo for five years. I am stronger both physically and mentally.  I’ve found friends for life and gotten the courage to face situations that make me uncomfortable, not only in the dojang but also outside of it. I know that I can fail, hurt, fall – and get back up on my feet. This makes me feel strong, empowered. I’m a fighter, and I’m immensely proud of it.

Still today, there are stereotypes about women who fight. Why? It might change your world, and if not, it will at least make you stronger. Would you dare to try?

Cover photo credit: Jason Briscoe, Unsplash 

3 Ways Girls Are Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Do you ever have those moments in life that stick out as “light bulb” moments? Whether you are driving down a road or in a meeting at work. Something hits you like a ton of bricks and you understand certain aspects of life more clearly. One of these “light bulb” moments occurred for me three years ago at the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. I walked into the UN with head held high, ready to attend a high level lunch to talk about progress for women, girls and children. I brushed by Melinda Gates and ran into Mohammed Yunus and chatted with him for a little while. I am not the type of person who gets star struck but let’s just say there were a lot of important people in the room.

As the beautiful lunch continued, I scanned the room and quickly realized there wasn’t one single girl, woman or child in the room. At that moment I remember thinking:

What makes us think that we can wall ourselves into a high level lunch to talk about women’s and girls’ lives without even including them?

Since that time we have transitioned from focusing on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Essentially, these are a set of goals and targets for countries to reach to improve global development and the world as whole. The MDGs had 8 goals with lofty targets and the SDGS have 17 goals. In rooms devoid of women and girls the question has historically been: How are we going to involve girls and young women in this? I think we need to focus on the what, not the how, this year. There are so many ways young girls and women are already making a difference.

Girls and Young Women Are:

  1. Raising their Voices – All over the world, girls and young women are not only talking about sustainable development they are a part of it. Do a quick Google search on young women activists and I guarantee you will find hours of multimedia and inspirational talks.
  2. Writing for Action – Young women and girls all over the world are utilizing new media and technology like never before. Take the latest post from Girls’ Globe blogger, Mia as an example.
  3. Advocating for Change – Young women and girls are advocating for adolescent health, education and against practices like child marriage, female genital mutilation and so many other injustices around the world. Just take a look at how young girls view the SDGs in this recent beautiful photo montage.

This year, Girls’ Globe has 6 amazing young women coming to the UN General Assembly from around the globe. The purpose? To enter into these spaces so that their voices and opinions are heard. They are changemakers. During the 71st Session of the United Nations, the question shouldn’t be: Why should we include girls and women in the implementation and decision making for the Sustainable Development Goals? The conversations and discussions will hopefully be what are they already doing to see this through? Simply because they are already DOING IT.

Girls’ Globe will be present in NYC during the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly. Follow the hashtag #GlobalGoals and core coverage partners, Johnson & Johnson and FHI 360. Sign up for the In Focus Newsletter at crowd360.org/unga-2016/

Featured image: UN Women/Catianne Tijerina (Creative Commons)

Climbing Bravely Above Expectations

We were above the clouds, pushing through the most technical part of the climb (appropriately named Disappointment Cleaver) up Washington’s Mt. Rainier. The rope running out from my own harness was linked to one in front and one behind. Together, my rope team of three scrambled through rock and ice. In front of me was my guide, Pasang Sherpa, who moved with the ease of being at home in the mountains. I did my best to emulate her effortless movements up through feet of fresh snow, following her lead as professional climber and mountaineering guide.

Pasang is Sherpa, a particular people group of the Himalayas of Nepal so well known for their climbing abilities that people often associate the word “Sherpa” with a porter who carries gear up peaks for foreign climbers. But not all Sherpa people are climbers. Rather, for many Sherpa women, the expectation is not to live up to the same expectation as for Sherpa men to be incredible high altitude climbers.

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Sarah and Pasang on Mount Ranier

In Pasang’s Sherpa community, like much of Nepal where gender disparity is high, girls are expected to take on the traditional roles of staying home and starting a family rather than pursuing further education or careers. Witnessing other girls around her become mothers as teenagers, Pasang decided to pursue her own definition of the life she wanted and went on to train and study to be a mountain guide. With two other Sherpa women she successfully summited K2, arguably the most challenging peak in the world and one which only 18 of the mountain’s 376 summiters have been women. “We wanted to show women that if you just follow your dreams, even if you are a woman, you can do anything. Nothing is impossible,” Pasang said. This feat and her incredible work restoring overlooked communities after the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, earned her the people’s choice award for the prestigious National Geographic’s 2016 Adventurer of the Year.

Or consider Mira Rai, who as an 11 year old carried rice up to her Nepali village although she was expected to do chores while her brothers went to school. In her savvy, she realized if she was able to move more bags of rice up the mountain each day, she could sell more. So she started running with 60lb bags (28kg) of rice, a circumstance that shaped her into one of the best ultra-marathoners in the world. Now she runs elite ultra-marathons (50k+).

And she wins.

Physical disposition may leave a majority of women feeling as though they cannot be incredibly strong, but did you know that studies show women generally feel pain more intensely than men?When it comes to competitions requiring endurance, gender becomes nearly insignificant. Pasang and Mira’s efforts in endurance sports exemplifies their boldness to become anomalies to cultural expectations and restorers in their communities when they come down from the mountains. When I struggle to slog up one more hill in training for my own first 50k trail race this fall, I’m reminded of Mira carrying rice and I’m inspired by how she has gone on to become one of the very best in her sport. As I was roped to Pasang on Mount Rainier, I felt free to enjoy the process that mountaineering brings and to continue toward my own ambitions as a climber, celebrating successes and rejoicing in defiance of disappointments. Climbing above the expectations set for women in Nepal, Pasang and Mira show we are all capable to summit above set limitations and finish the race while leaving standards in the dust.

Want to learn more about this adventure? Watch this video!

Remembering the Female Heroes of 9/11

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Katie Killary on Flickr (Creative Commons).

Growing up in America, I would often hear adults recall “where they were” the moment President John F. Kennedy got assassinated. I could never relate. How I wish that was still the case. For my generation, we remember where we were when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and The Pentagon.

After finishing an early morning dentist appointment, I noticed that the entire waiting room was stunned silent as they watched the horrifying events unfold on the office’s television. The moment I saw the live news footage of the World Trade Center towers, I understood why. A feeling of emptiness, shock, and awe enveloped me as never in my lifetime, or ever for that matter, had America suffered from such a significant and deadly attack on our soil. I did not know what to do next so, like everyone else in that room, I watched in horror. But what I could not know at the time was that out of the horror would come stories of unimaginable courage.

Of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks, 412 were emergency workers – firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics.

On 9/11, the world watched as our firefighters bravely climbed up the stairs when everyone else ran down; as police officers remained calm as survivors fled the scene; as paramedics and EMTs helped the wounded without giving a second’s thought to their own safety.

Although the aforementioned careers are predominantly male-dominated, women too proudly served and protected on that fateful day – a fact all too often overlooked.

I don’t think there was any task that was performed down there by men that were not performed by women.” ~ Terri Tobin, Deputy Inspector of the New York Police Department

In 2011, CNN produced the documentary Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11 to emphasize women’s roles as first responders. In the film, female firefighters, police officers, and an EMT recall their experiences.

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Image Courtesy of Mike Shade on Flickr (Creative Commons).

One featured story depicts that of the late NYPD police officer Moira Smith. Moira prevented mass hysteria and crowded exits by ‘directing traffic’ with a flashlight at the ground floor of World Trade Center Tower Two. Today, survivors remember ‘the woman with the flashlight’ with extreme gratitude and appreciation, for her service not only undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, but also restored some semblance of order and control in the midst of complete and utter chaos.

However, we must not forget that Moira’s story is only one of thousands in which women (and men) displayed superhuman courage.

Instead of associating today with terror and fear, we must remember all those – including women – who stood valiantly in the face of danger in an effort to save the lives of others. Stories like Moira’s, although a tragic reminder of our female heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice, now evoke emotions of hope and strength of the human spirit – and for that we will be forever thankful.

For more information about the female heroes of 9/11, please see the following: