R2AK Team Kelp -Youngest All-Female Team Finishers

R2AK Team Kelp -Youngest All-Female Team Finishers

Kristin Pederson and Elena Losey, camped in the backyard of the Race to Alaska’s (R2AK) Race Director, Jake Beattie’s home the night before the first race began in 2015. They both had crossed paths with Jake at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle and heard he was putting on this insane race from Port Townsend to Alaska.  This sparked their interest. 

The next morning, they watched from the sidelines at a boat race unlike any they had seen before. Both women were residents of Seattle and had viewed many sailboat races. Something was different. Absent were the multimillion-dollar yachts, fancy carbon foils, and hulls plastered with mega-rich sponsors.  They watched and marveled as a symphony of mixed vessels of all shapes and forms paraded by in dissonance. “It was so organic,” Kristin thought, and both women knew they just had to be a part of it. “We’re doing this next year,” Kristin recalls telling Elena.  Kristin even has an audio recording of that very conversation.  It was a defining moment – the moment they made a commitment that would end up defining the next two years of their lives.

Elena was 29 and Kristin 30.  Elena had learned to sail at 22 on Lake Michigan and then volunteered with Sound Experience on their 133-foot schooner, the Adventuress to get practical experience.  Kristin worked as a sailing instructor in Washington, lead sailing excursions in the British Virgin Islands, worked as a dive master in Thailand, and raced boats throughout the Puget Sound. They were some of the younger participants of the race, but their combined experienced was impressive for their years.  

         KELP, an acronym for the women’s initials.

They named their boat Holdfast – part of a root-like structure at the base of kelp that fastens it and keeps it from floating away.

They chose their team name – KELP, an acronym of their initials Elena Losey and Kristin Pederson, but it was also fitting for their love of the water and respect for the life force of the ocean’s ecosystem.   Once they decided on a name, Team Kelp took to the task of finding a boat.

Preparation and the 2016 Proving Ground

In the fall of 2015, they bought a Santana 20′ sailboat for $1500. They named her Holdfast, which is the part of a root-like structure at the base of kelp that fastens it and keeps it from floating away. Unlike so many teams and boats of the R2AK, their only boat expense beyond the initial cost was the haul-out, the bottom paint and putting in extra reef points into a donated mainsail.They outfitted it with oars but admitted it was a pretty low-tech human-power mechanism.Lacking confidence in their alternate propulsion system, like so many others teams, they planned to just pray for wind.

              Co-Captain Kristin Pederson

Their game plan was deliberate. 2016 would be a trial run. If all went well, Team Kelp would spend the next 12 months, training for the 2017 full race to Alaska.  On June 23, 2016, the women put their plan to the test along with a fleet of 63 other boats.  The all-women team was one of four competing in the race along with Sistership, Onism, and KrankenUp.  With the sizeable green kelp designs flowing on the sides of her hull, Holdfast skimmed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria with ease – so much ease it was a “no-brainer.” They would be heading to Alaska in a year.  

The 2017 R2AK

The race in 2017 was a different beast and life had added one more dimension for Elena.She had just married three weeks before the start and when asked about this, she admitted that having another person to worry about added to her fear factor.To top this off, Elena admitted: “I had never sailed at night and this added to my stress level.” However, she opted out of a blissful honeymoon with her new husband and chose a very different kind of experience. After a year practicing and learning every nuance of their boat, they were ready.

        Team Kelp in Victoria Harbor

Day one to Victoria saw gale force winds up to 50 knots.  Only six miles into the Victoria Harbor,Holdfast struggled to live up to her name, at least initially.Kristin recalls fighting the wind and the big waves while trying to force the boat to go in their desired direction.It was intuitive to fight, yet it didn’t take long for them to realize it was futile to muscle against what nature was dealing.It would be more prudent to stop forcing things. “We sailed our keelboat like a dinghy and just went with it,” says Kristin.Hours later, they were able to tuck into Oak Harbor to wait out the storm before heading safely into Victoria.   

After this ferocious introduction to the excitement and dangers of the R2AK, Team Kelp made a pact that they would race smart but cautious. “We both agreed we would avoid weather like that at all cost,” Kristin said. “If the conditions said no, they would seek safe anchorage and wait it out.” The women were both okay with this plan.  Their goal was to get to Ketchikan in 18-22 days.  After all, this to this team, the R2AK was more of an adventure than a race.  At one point, they were moving along swiftly but decided to make a detour to hang out and play with dolphins for 45 minutes.  This pit stop was costly.  Once they were back on their way, the wind died and they ended up rowing 6 hours in Johnstone Strain into the night.

“We both agreed we would avoid weather like that at all cost.”

Kristin doing some science research

    Kristin Pederson taking research samples.

What Were the Hard Parts? 

To look back at the photos and videos of Team Kelp, one would get the impression that they giggled and laughed all the way to Alaska.But to delve deeper into their story, there was undoubtedly the element of fear present.After days of sailing, rowing and sleepless nights, fatigue factored into the equation and there was a time when Elena found herself doubting her desire to continue. “This was hard,” she stated.  Elena needed to work through this and after taking a “time out” below in their cramped cabin, she realized that if she quit now, it would be due to fear.If Elena knew one thing, she knew that she was not about to let her fear define her actions. Her decision was made. Back in control, she rejoined her teammate.

   Beauty and remoteness of the Inside Passage

For Kirstin, it was being alone that got to her. The remoteness was difficult and played on their stress levels. Desolate wilderness surrounded by isolating blue waters, the chances of running into one of 24 boats competing for the same finish line was slim.  But chance was on their side when they met up with Team Grace B – three guys nearly old enough to be their fathers.  They shared a meal, laughs, and their sea tales.  The camaraderie was just what they needed to raise their spirits and energize them forward.

Team Kelp rang the bell in Ketchikan after 17 days, one day faster than their original goal.  Like all the finishers of the R2AK, they each walked off their boat changed by the experience.  For Elena, the urgency of the task has passed. “Immediately upon returning,  I had more patience for things I couldn’t change.  Some days we just rowed in place or went backward.  Finally, we gave into what we couldn’t change.  I walked away with a greater sense of patience.” Kristin felt the experience was a huge confidence booster. “Not having an engine makes every move more serious and intentional. When you’re out there and you just have to figure things out – you just do!”

“Immediately upon returning, I had more patience for things I couldn’t change.”

Any Plans to Repeat the R2AK

Team Kelp on their boat Holdfast

               Holdfast sunset sail to Alaska

Kristin contemplates repeating the race.  “Yes, but I wouldn’t want to double handle it… It’s such a crazy event.  Every time you do it will be a different experience.”  Elena on the other hand, isn’t interested in another try.  “I have no desire to do this race again.  I’ve toyed with doing the 70/48, but the R2AK takes so much effort and time in the preparation.  I personally feel there are so many other parts of my life I want to live, like my career, marriage, reading, sewing and sailing

Any Words of Wisdom for Women/Girls?

Elena eloquently summarized her wisdom about this race. “Anytime you’re considering something for your life that will make you happy – you should do it. It’s not worth your time if it doesn’t make you happy.” After a short pause, she added: “Our ability to do this race reflects an immense privilege we have.  We were able to buy a boat.  We have jobs that allowed us to do this.  Not everyone gets to make choices on this scale.  I recognize that, but everyone has some small choice in life they can make to make them happy – it’s so important to make those choices.  We all need to do more of this!”   

Read more Sistership Stories about The Women of the R2AK.  

R2AK Captain Katy Stewart

R2AK Captain Janice Mason

R2AK Captain Jeanne Goussev

R2AK Captain Michelle Boroski

Team Sail Like A Girl Wins 2018 R2AK

2018 R2AK. In Sisterhood with Sistership

Team Sistership 2017

Team Sistership 2016

Sistership uses a portion of our profits from our Sistership Store to support organizations that give women and girls opportunities that ignite their adventurous spirit and age boldly.  Check out our new 2019 ENDURE women T-shirts, designed with for the women of the R2AK in mind.  Purchase one and make an impact on the NWMC “Give Like A Girl” scholarship program.

Sistership ENDURE T-shirt for women who sail, row, pedal, paddle and endure.

Photos used by permission from Team Kelp Facebook



Six R2AK Women Captains – Perspectives On Their Race To Alaska

Six R2AK Women Captains – Perspectives On Their Race To Alaska


Things for women are moving at a record pace these days for women of the Race to Alaska (R2AK).  That’s excellent news, especially for a race that was the brainchild of a couple of dudes over more than a couple of beers. Fortunately, these guys had the foresight to create a race with little rules.  The R2AK is a 750-mile boat race from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, Alaska.  The route travels north up the Inside Passage along some of the most breathtaking and desolate waters and landscapes in North America.  The race provides a unique risk-taking opportunity for athletes, adventurers, and explorers to test their survival instincts and reclaim their spirit of adventure.  Without categories, motors, or support, the race encourages ingenuity and grit over high dollar vessels and big corporate sponsorship. By design, Mother Nature becomes the great equalizer.  It’s a race for “the People” –  women included. 

The number of women R2AK finishers has seen a six-fold increase in four years.

Photos from Team’s Facebook used with permission.

In just the four years since its “humble beginnings,” female participation in the R2AK has gone wild.   As best as I can gather from the unofficial race bios on the R2AK website, the number of woman finishers has seen a six-fold increase.  The inaugural race in 2015 started out with four women making it to Alaska. In 2016 it doubled, and two of the all-female teams accounted for seven of the eight women finishers.   The following year, this number increased to 16 and just last year, 24 women rang the bell in Ketchikan.  These statistics are only the women who made it to Alaska.  I didn’t have an accurate count of all the women who started the race out of Port Townsend for Stage I to Victoria or the full race to Alaska.  But, I’m guessing there were at least twice as many who started as who finished.  Some either made it to Victoria and intentionally (or unintentionally) stopped, and some called it quits somewhere along the 710-mile course of Stage II and went home.  Reasons unknown, who cares.  The women showed up with grit and enthusiasm and thousands (if not millions) of viewers took notice. 

Sistership Stories is profiling six female captains who’ve made it to Ketchikan, three of them multiple times. Three are set to do it again. 

Sistership Stories is profiling six female captains who’ve made it to Ketchikan, three of them multiple times and three who are doing it again on June 03.  Our mission is to showcase, support and promote active women who live to Age Proud, Grow Bold and who inspire others to do the same.  


Captain Katy Stewart

Captain Janice Mason  

Captain Jeanne Goussev

Captain Michelle Boroski

Co-Captains Kristin Pederson / Elena Losey

Follow these stories and the women of the R2AK.
Support their efforts of empowering women by visiting the Sistership Store and purchasing Sistership’s 2019 ENDURE T-shirt on our store.
We will donate a portion of our profits to the Northwest Maritime Center “Give Like A Girl” Campaign.
Make an impact and help women and girls become involved in maritime programs and opportunities and the spirit of adventure.
Sistership ENDURE T-shirt for women who sail, row, pedal, paddle and endure.

Two Women Cyclists – Race Across the West

Two Women Cyclists – Race Across the West

Looking for a way to push your physical and mental limits beyond your wildest reaches?  Look no further than the Race Across the West (RAW), a 930-mile bike race across the rugged American West.   No, not “bike” as in motorbike, but a human propelled bicycle race. 

On June 11, 2019 cyclists from around the world, all ages and genders are given less than 4 days to compete in this ultra cycling race across four states.  Tackled by men and women alike, and ages ranging from 15-75, the RAW is a grueling and exhilarating test of the human spirit of grit and perseverance.  

The Route

Starting on the beaches of Oceanside near San Diego, Southern California, riders start at sea level and look east. They propel over undulating terrain of the Coastal mountain ranges into the scorching heat of the Sonoran and Mojave’s deserts. As soloists or 2-4 person teams, they ascend into the Rockies of southwest Colorado to the final destination in Durango, Colorado.  Although the route they cover is amongst the most spectacular scenery of western America,  I can assure you, there’s not much sightseeing happening. These athletes are serious. They pay for the challenge of a race, not a back road touring vacation with optional sag wagons to help you up the hills. They train endlessly to endure sleepless hours in the saddle, stopping only when necessary and never longer than 30-minute stretches, if that.

The RAW and the RAAM

The prize? That varies.  For some, if they complete the race within 92 hours (individuals) or 68 hours (team), they qualify for the honor of participating in for the infamous Race Across America or RAAM.  The RAAM is the big brother to the RAW and the oldest and longest (3000 miles) bicycle Race Across America. Imagine that – killing yourself for a prize that allows you to do it all over again, but this time for three times the distance.  For others, the reward is not as much to say “I did it,” but to test the boundaries of their limits.  How far can a person really push themselves?  The RAW tempts riders to answer this question. Yet for even those who finish, I doubt if the question ever gets answered. The bar just gets pushed a little further into the unknown, and so many come back the next year, trying to answer the elusive question of “what are my limits.” 

Team Revolution Coaching Joins The Sistership

Sistership is a growing network of active, aging women and we select several team and individual ventures to promote each year. This year, we can’t wait to highlight the world of women endurance bike racing.  We are thrilled to support and promote Team Revolution Coaching.  Women, known in distance racing for the stamina and endurance have been populating the rosters of ultra cycling events over the past decade and setting records.  Unlike most sports centered around the strength, speed and agility of youth, when it comes to endurance cycling, age and gender barriers are beginning to blur. 

Women Breaking Records Across The West

In 2010 Denver Spokes (USA) set the record on the 858-mile course, competing as a four-person, all-female team in the 50-59 age category.  In 2015, another team record was established in the 60-69 age category by Spokeswomen (USA), another four-person, all female team.   In 2011, as a solo woman over 50, Seana Hogan (USA) smashed the 858-mile RAW in 3 days and 53 minutes. She’s set to do the 3000-mile RAAM this June, her 7th time – this time as the first entrant ever in the women’s solo 60-69 age category. She’s still an animal!   Last year, Karen Wheeler and Sylvia Maas of the two-female team, In Our Prime, set a new record of 451.2 miles coming in one minute before the two-person male team.  They are set to repeat the race in the 50-59 team category in 2019 and Sistership will be following them closely. But perhaps most intriguing to us is the repeat RAAM team, Team Serpentine Golden Girls.  This is a 4-female team from the UK who completed the race 10 years ago and are returning to see if they can do it again, this time in the 70-74 age category.  

Jill Gass and Liz Inglese

Team Revolution Coaching, another two-female crew, will be competing in the RAW in the  60+ two-person, all-female team category. In response to an ever-increasing field of competitive master’s  women,  the race organizers decided to add another age group in this category, just as they did for the RAAM.  The categories consider the combined average age of team members.  Team Revolution Coaching is the first team to sign up.  Aside from age, these women riders still hunger for the thrill of cycling and competition. They just keep coming back for more.    Jill Gass, 63, is a veteran of 3 RAAM challenges.  In 2010, she and her three teammates of Team Kalyra completed the race in just 7 days and set a new Master’s Women’s Transcontinental Record. In 2014, Jill competed with Frazier Hazlett in the mixed-doubles RAW as Team B4T9 and crossed the finish line in 2-days, 2 hours and 52 minutes, just 28 minutes behind the all-male doubles team.  Jill, along with her teammate Liz Inglese (57) are training fiercely and setting their goals to break this impressive time. 

Follow Their Story

Sistership will follow Team Revolution Coaching as they prepare for this event and during the 4-day challenge. Follow the story and these amazing women. See what it takes just to get to the start line and cycle vicariously through them as they race like the wind across the West, just because they still can.  

For more information, get the most recent updates on our Sistership Facebook Page

Johanna Gabbard is a Physical Therapist, educator, consultant, writer, and avid cyclist.  She is a health expert on musculoskeletal rehabilitation, enhancing optimal human movement and an advocate for active, healthy aging.

Mountain Biking – An Adventure I Didn’t Know I Needed

Mountain Biking – An Adventure I Didn’t Know I Needed


Even when you think all your trip plans are set, it’s easy to toss them out when tempted with a bit of local knowledge from a perfect stranger. After abandoning our original Plan A, a 4-day trip around the White Rim Trail (WRT) due to weather, we moved onto Plan B.  Our group of 6 women was set to ride the first leg of the WRT in an “up and back” 25-mile day ride.   I was okay with this.  Less distance but still on the type of road I had planned for.  Months before agreeing to go on this adventure, I did my homework. The “trail” was a wide, packed-dirt fire road. That was key to a road biker. “No problem,” I thought.  I envisioned the route as “asphalt covered with dirt” and thought confidently “how hard could this be?”

Blue and Black Diamonds Guaranteed

Enter the stranger. He was a Moab local and knew all the thrilling mountain biking trails in the area.  Apparently, the fire road of the White Rim wasn’t one of them. He recommended the more exciting Intrepid Trail System at the nearby Dead Horse Point State Park.  Blue and black diamonds guaranteed. Mixed terrain of slick rock, short dips, hairpin turns, super fun and challenging.  To pure mountain bike enthusiasts (five out of the six of us women), this information was intoxicating and without hesitation, it was decided – onto Plan C. 

The problem was I wasn’t in on the conversation.  I hadn’t arrived yet when the plan was changed and the “minor” detail of my fire road mandate was lost on the group.  Yet the consequence of this decision wasn’t evident to me or the others at first.   None of us cared at the moment.  We were just elated a decision had been made and we were on our way to a trailhead.  Nothing else mattered but the spectacular views of sandstone mesas inviting us to visit. 

The Dreaded Single Track

Smothered in sunscreen, tires pumped and GoPro mounted we rode onto the trail. Junipers and pinyon trees greeted us as we rolled single file forward. It was a narrower path than I expected, but I knew it would open into promised fire roads. But it didn’t take long before I realized this route wasn’t a trail at all. Large rocks lay dead center in our path, which was more like a track – a single track.   The group jumped and bounced readily over them while passing me, “whoop-whooping” as they picked up speed.  “Oh no,” I thought. The dreaded single track!   “What happened to the fire road?

Out of My Comfort Zone

With trepidation, I continued to pedal, but I was out of my comfort zone.  I  soon found myself walking around the rocks that the others had effortlessly scurried over.  I couldn’t imagine doing this for 20 miles.  I tried to hold myself together.  Fear entered my mind and it didn’t seem like it would be leaving anytime soon.  I had signed up and practiced on fire roads. I never considered single tracks.  I dreaded them, or at least my memory dreaded them. I recalled my last mountain bike experience 20 years ago – falling, mostly walking the bike, my knee hurting.  It wasn’t a picnic for sure.

Deep Canyons of Colorful Stone

I’m not really the type to whine out loud, but I for a moment – I thought about it.   Yet,  it didn’t matter.  The group was ahead of me and what good is whining when there is no one around to listen?  So, I  stopped moving.  I  closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, taking in the smells of sagebrush and the purity of the air.  I slowly exhaled and then opened my eyes.  The barriers of fear that had clouded my view were replaced by the visual artistry around.  I was standing on sheer-walled monuments of rock.  They slanted towards deep canyons of colorful stone, all sandwiched between layers of time.  I could hear the echos of my friends in the distance as they yelled out sounds of joy at the beauty of it all.  “Screw this,” I thought.  I had to be a part of this. 

Like Being a Kid All Over Again

I got back on my bike.  I unclipped from my pedals, so my feet were free to react to my unsteadiness and caught up with the group.  They were waiting for me at the edge, snapping photos at the jaw-dropping vista.  They looked at me and they knew.   After a few minutes, without anything said, we got back on our bikes, but this time they waited.  In fact, they surrounded me, giving me tips and encouragement until I was following their lead. “Use your rear brake, stay clipped out, shift down, lower your seat, power up, you got this!”   We lost the track, ended up on loose sand and hiked our bikes back up the hill and got reoriented.  It was a blast!   Within a few hours, I was trusting my instincts.  My natural strength became an advantage, especially given my lack of technique.   I wasn’t just maneuvering around rocks, I was jumping over them.  It was like being a kid all over again and all of my athletic skills, which I thought had all disappeared, were coming back to play.  

The Moment I Became A Mountain Biker

Three hours into it, the final challenge came.  We were looking at a “relatively” steep downhill of rocks, requiring some technical skill to keep from tumbling our handlebars to the harsh landing below.  I knew it was a challenge, even the two experienced women of our group, Nickki and Debra, hesitated. They negotiated their attack, got a game plan and flew down.  They then immediately turned around and rode back up to do it again.  They were badass and that, in and of itself, made it even more tempting for me.   I watched them for a moment.  I studied their descent, their route, their speed.  Then the group saw it – a twinkle in my eye and in unison they began to cheer me on.  “You can do this Jo!” they chanted.   Nickki pointed to the best path.  Michelle held the video.  Lisa stood to the side in case I needed steadying, Debra marked the endpoint downhill and Nancy waited in line behind me.  “I can do this,” I told myself.  “Why not now?”   I positioned my bike, pumped my rear brakes a few times and sat way back on the seat.  Then I went for it.  In what seemed like slow motion, to the cheers of my friends and my teachers – I nailed it and I knew this was the defining moment.   The moment this self-proclaimed “roadie” who was fearful of the mountain and the playground it offered, had finally faced and conquered it.  This was the moment, with the help of a village, I became a mountain biker!

For more related articles on Sistership’s Adventures in Moab, click here.

Johanna Gabbard is a Physical Therapist, educator, consultant, writer, and avid road cyclist. Johanna is a health expert on musculoskeletal rehabilitation, enhancing optimal human movement and an advocate for active, healthy aging. She is a co-founder of Sistership LLC, a company dedicated to promoting and supporting active women who choose to “Age Proud, Grow Bold

Riding The White Rim Trail – Or Not. 

Riding The White Rim Trail – Or Not. 

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to be invited on an epic bike ride through the Canyonlands National Park in Moab. The journey, a 4-day trip supported by 2 vehicles, starts this weekend. Its a “bucket list” type of ride and requires permits and camping reservations which some wait up to a year to get. I couldn’t say no. 

A Re-introduction to Mountain Biking

I had all but given up on my dream of riding a mountain bike through Moab, Utah.  I had purchased my first mountain bike in 1984, a cherry red Diamondback MB1.   It was in the early days of mountain biking.  The introduction of the mountain bike in the ’80s was like the key that opened Pandora’s box of adventure. Unexplored fire roads, hidden trails and mountain passes were waiting to be discovered.  A national “Disneyland “ for bikes just opened and cyclists were going crazy. I just hopped onto the frenzy. Yet despite the thrill of exploring the wild, I never really got comfortable with riding alone off the road. It wasn’t always convenient to find riding partners, so I defaulted to the road bike.  When I got the invite for this ride,  I quickly scrambled to find a decent mountain bike.  My vintage MB1 was just not going to cut it for this adventure.   I wasn’t about to miss my chance to experience the thrill, adventure and majestic beauty of riding the White Rim Trail.

Planning for the Adventure

Our ride organizer, Lisa from Grand Junction, Colorado had spent several months planning this trip.  It was on her bucket list and being the “can do” woman she is,  Lisa was making it happen.  She had secured the permits, the campsites and had planned every last detail of the journey.   The group started with a total of 14 riders, both men and women.  Water jugs filled, tents packed, bikes tuned up, we were all excited for a great adventure. But by the time we arrived yesterday we were down to 6 women.  There was just one small detail we couldn’t control – the weather.

Weather Warnings

Severe thunderstorm warnings were posted throughout the WRT website Friday morning. The rangers predicted portions of the road could be closed if the Green River flooded.  We began to pull up Plan B, but then the reports changed again.   Back to Plan A – yeah we’re tough women – we’re doing this!  Two hours later the wind picked up and the clouds grew dark. Lisa started receiving texts from friends in Grand Junction. Hail, lightning and big winds had just passed through the town 90 minutes from Moab. They were warning us not to proceed. The local police we passed on the street said there’s a monsoon predicted on Sunday which could cause sudden flash floods below the rim. Crap! We rechecked the weather reports. Like anything you read, you tend to take away what you want to hear. If you don’t like it, you keep searching – even with the weather. 

Plan B – A New List in the Bucket

It’s Saturday morning. We’re going! But our carefully packed bags, our sag wagon, our big plans to cycle this 100-mile dream trail are staying behind.  We’re doing the first leg. 30 miles up and back and then returning to Moab today, so we’re not caught in the potential storm that is brewing (or not). As far as the next three days, we’ll see how the weather moves and we’ll move around it. Life takes its turns and you’re left with making decisions, even if they’re speckled with doubt and dismay. But in the vast canyons throughout this big state of Utah, I’m confident with these 6 women, the disappointment will quickly dissolve into sheer wonder at the majestic glory that surrounds us.

Jeanne Socrates – Circumnavigation Record Voyage – Update

Jeanne Socrates – Circumnavigation Record Voyage – Update

To circumnavigate solo around the world is an undertaking very few have accepted.  To do so, without the use of a mainsail or motor is unimaginable for even skilled sailors.  But Jeanne Socrates, the British 76-year-old woman attempting to become the oldest person to sail around the world, solo, nonstop and unassisted, remains undeterred.  The loss of a working mainsail early in her journey is all part of the adventure to this seasoned and highly-respected adventurer.   Jeanne and her vessel, Nereida are 194 days into this epic voyage.  She left Victoria, B.C. on October 05, 2018 and headed south.  Since January, after tearing her mainsail, her boat has been powered by her genoa sail and trysail.

Around the 5 Great Capes of the Southern Ocean

Her chosen route includes sailing around the 5 Great Capes, or the most southern mainland points of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, also referred to as “The Southern Ocean.”   They consist of South America’s Cape Horn, Africa’s Cape Agulhas, Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, Tasmania’s South East Cape (Australia)  and New Zealand’s South Cape.   Rounding capes in any type of vessel can be extremely hazardous at times.  Ocean and wind currents meet land masses and the confluence of rocks, wind, currents, counter-currents, and temperature changes can produce some of the most treacherous water conditions in the world.  In December, before her mainsail tore, Jeanne sailed around South America’s Cape Horn.  Two months later on February 13, she successfully navigated around Africa’s Cape Agulhus and exactly 2-months later,  she rounded her 3rd landmark.  To the upbeat sounds of Abba and well-earned sips of “Dark and Stormy” ginger wine/rum in hand, she sailed around Cape Leeuwin, just off the southwest extremity of Australia, 194 days into her journey. 


“I’m Not In A Race”

Jeanne is an amazing example and role model for women aging boldly. Sistership has been following her closely to highlight her story and adventure.  We asked her a few questions about her voyage early this month and she was very gracious to respond.  Her answers gave us a little insight into what’s going on in her mind out in the big blue ocean.  Although she has traveled 17,000 nautical miles on her journey, she is 5 weeks behind her mark. She doesn’t hide her frustration and can only imagine that there are a lot of “armchair sailors” wondering what the heck is happening on the Nereida?  For anyone following her detailed blog, Jeanne describes the many conditions and circumstances that have played into her success and delay.  Not having a working mainsail is only one of them.  Although her spirit remains high, she writes “I’m not in a race…!  But I’m very conscious of weather and of winter coming on soon, down here…).”  When I asked her how she’s coming with her mainsail repair, she remained positive.  “Amazing how well I’ve done without that and just the genoa along with a (mainly ineffective) trysail instead…”

194 days and two-thirds of the way done.

Jeanne is two-thirds of the way through her 25,700 nautical mile journey, progressing forward towards Australia’s South East Cape and finally New Zealand’s South Cape.  It’s a familiar place for her.  She did it in 2012 in 259 days and set the record for the oldest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo, unassisted and unsupported.  Seven years later, she is determined to become the older person to achieve this goal. Regardless of what is thrown at her, she continues to tend to ever-changing situations, problem-solving tasks and general chores that arise on a daily, hourly and often minute-by-minute basis.  

Don’t Listen to Negative Comments and ‘Advice’

On my last correspondence a few days ago,  I asked her what advice she had for those attempting to pursue their adventurous dream, even in the face of negativity or the words of skeptics.   Her words were simple.  “…don’t listen to negative comments and ‘advice’ but do what you really want to do. (Being a woman, we’re more inclined to listen to others, maybe?)  It’s so very satisfying to achieve an ambition/dream, whatever it is, so long as no harm done to others in doing so – and it really gives a of self-confidence and self-respect.”  Coming from a woman who’s circumnavigated the globe 3- times already and who’s cemented her name in the world history books, we’d say this is advice we should all strive to follow.

To read more, click on this link.  If you would like to follow Jeanne’s course click here for her blog.


Copyright* 2015-2019. Sistership LLC. All Rights Reserved. 
“Go Your Age” Birthday Challenge – Nancy Eckert, 53

“Go Your Age” Birthday Challenge – Nancy Eckert, 53

Nancy Eckert, 52, has accepted Sistership’s “Go Your Age” Birthday Challenge and will be riding on Saturday with a group of friends from the Goleta/Santa Barbara/Ventura area.  Nancy, an avid road cyclist and mountain bike enthusiast will be celebrating her birthday exactly how she wants to – on her bike with friends.  She is well known in the Goleta/Santa Barbara cycling circles, not only for her cycling skills but for her activism in promoting safe cycling.  Her passion for building a better community is evident if you take a look at how she spends her time.  Nancy is an educator and a staff member of COAST (Coalition for Sustainable Transportation).  This is an organization in Santa Barbara County that provides advocacy, education and outreach programs to improve transportation and promote rail, bus, bike and pedestrian access. 

Cycling past 50, active women, go your age

Nancy takes in the scenery on top of the 3500ft climb to Sulfur Mountain in Ojai, CA

Nancy is also a key member of the Goleta Valley Girls Softball Association.  A former softball player for Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo, Nancy blended her athletic experience with her education degree to create a career centered on improving access and opportunities for young girls in the sport of softball. 

Nancy Eckert, Keilani Ricketts, girls softball, softball coach

Nancy hosts professional softball player, Keilani Ricketts at one of her many girl’s softball clinics.

Not only has she spent years offering private coaching and running softball clinics, but she also continues to run a girl’s softball program through Tide Club Softball for area youth.  Her work has inspired and empowered many young girls and women to pursue their dreams with confidence and boldness.


Whether she is cycling, coaching, paddle boarding or hiking, Nancy is always in search of ways to promote physical activity as a way to bring a community together.   Her upcoming birthday ride is a testament to this.  Not many people can talk a dozen friends into cycling 53-miles along the coastal mountains of Santa Barbara,  instead of just blowing out some candles and calling it a day.  You go, Nancy!  “Go Your Age” with gusto.

Johanna Gabbard is a Physical Therapist, educator, consultant, writer, professional speaker, and community organizer. She is an avid cyclist, sailor, retired Army Colonel and former professor for Physical Therapy at Baylor University. Johanna is a health expert on musculoskeletal rehabilitation, enhancing optimal human movement and an advocate for active, healthy aging. She is a co-founder of Sistership LLC, a company dedicated to promoting and supporting active women who choose to “Age Proud, Grow Bold.

“She Tells Sea Tales” and the Magic of Storytelling

“She Tells Sea Tales” and the Magic of Storytelling

Storytelling is perhaps the most essential human tradition.  By sharing stories, people transfer customs, experiences and knowledge to the next generation. Great stories challenge our perception of reality, and may even change it. This was indeed the case for me when I attended the “She Tells Sea Tales” fundraising event last weekend at the Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC). 

The “She Tells Sea Tales” annual storytelling event invites seafaring women to share their stories relating to their experiences on the water.  The popular event is now in its 6th year and raises money for the NW Maritime Center’s  “Girls Boat Project.”  Young girls learn woodworking and boatbuilding skills. They participate in on-the -water longboat training and overnight sailing and as a result, build lifelong skills of confidence, leadership and a curiosity for what is possible.

To a sold-out crowd in the historic seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington, seven women mariners traveled from places nationwide to share a 15-minute narrative about their maritime experiences.  Their individual resumes were impressive, but their collective skills and achievements made me sit back in awe, even before the show began.  I couldn’t wait to hear their tales.  I texted my friend, Molly Brooks, a Port Townsend resident, to hurry-up. The show was about to begin and I knew she wouldn’t want to miss it.  Molly, after all, was an older version of these women.  She was a trendsetter in her day.  Despite the prejudices and resistance she endured, Molly carved out a career as one of the first female Captains in the Southeast Alaska tour boat industry. 

As I waited for Molly, I wondered how it came to pass that over the last 30 years, life had changed so dramatically for women.   Most of the women speaking were younger than me, and probably knew no other way than their chosen life and/or profession on or around the water.  I was amazed at what they had done at such a young age, and at even what was possible in today’s world.  Molly, and women like her, had opened many doors by their willingness to defy social norms. These young women took it to the next level and continued to pave the way for those following in their footsteps. 

I had come to the event to hear Michelle Boroski speak.  She would be leading off the evening.  Michelle was an experienced boat captain who had delivered yachts around the world and was one of the toughest and fearless women I had ever met.  I knew the story she was about to tell. I was part of it.  Michelle started the evening off, talking about the women of Sistership and their Race to Alaska.  For two consecutive years, she captained the first all-women crew, each over 50, to complete the Race To Alaska, but the inside stories were what held the crowd’s attention.  She described their gritty adventures and spoke in detail of the women of Sistership, all using the R2AK as a proving ground – proving mostly to themselves that age, disease or disability could not silence their life’s quest for adventure.

Hali Boyd stood tall, wearing a tank top, exposing her physical strength and powerful arms.  I thought back to my youth, hiding my muscular arms and athletic physique in baggy shirts, shamed once too often for appearing too muscular “for a girl.”  But times had indeed changed, and Hali was engaging the crowd with confidence and ease.  She improvised to create her story on the spot. “Wow,” I thought.  Not only was she accomplished, but this wasn’t her first rodeo. She had worked the crowd before – many times.  A Captain of small cruise ships and deckhand on tugboats, she was also program director of Seafarer Collective, providing maritime education and opportunities to underserved populations. Hali cleverly used terms thrown out from the audience as a segue into a story of how she found the love of her life on one of her many excursions on the sea.

Margie McDonald, a local sculptor and artist who specializes in using wire as fiber, was nearing 30 years old when she looked at her options for a career.  She could either stay in a traditional job waiting for 30 years for the perks of retirement and pension, or, design her own life’s adventure.  Margie chose the latter, or “30 and Done” option, as she cleverly put it and at 30, the artist went to sea. Admittedly clueless about the basic of boats and sailing, she learned quickly as she traveled across the Atlantic, where she met her future husband. Their love for boats, adventure and the water was their mutual attraction.

Rachel Slattery, a captain from Rhode Island, had sailed on a variety of vessels and tall ships.  She captivated the crowd by sharing an early experience at sea when she was 22 years old. It was 2008, and Rachel had chosen to sail as crew from Annapolis to the Virgin Islands on a 47-foot sailboat with a family she had recently met.  She spoke humbly of her harrowing experience being caught in a giant storm off the Bermuda Triangle.  Their engine and rudder had broken, and they found themselves in 30-50 knot winds with vast curling seas, unable to control the boat.  Using pots and pans as a drogue to slow their descent down the massive waves, they were eventually rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

Nahja Chimenti, a tall ship sailor, educator, rigger and dancer, received her 100-ton captain’s license at 18.  As she shared her experience as the Captain of an open training boat for youth, I was struck by her poise.  Nahja was young, late 20’s I guessed, but her orator skills resonated with ancestral mastery.  She described the time she was on a training sail with her students and they had inadvertently tipped their boat onto its side.  With the gunnels filling with water, the mast and sail lay in the sea, weighing the boat down.  Unable to right the vessel, Nahja dove into the frigid water under the sails to release the sheets.  She then delivered an eloquently written poem about the power and strength of her hands which reminded us all of the precious and often overlooked roles our hands play in our daily lives.

Shannon Ford grew up in the Alaska commercial fishing trade. She and her husband, who is also her first mate, run a setnet salmon fishing operation on Bristol Bay from their aluminum skiff, the Paul Revere.   Their business, called “Two If By SeaFood” is a clever play on words from Longfellow’s famous poem about the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  Shannon and her two crewmen had survived a life-threatening experience in 2010.  While out on the water, their boat was swamped by a wave and flipped, emptying the crew into the icy waters. For two hours they kept their heads, formed a human ring and kept afloat by their PDFs and warmth of each other’s body.  After making it to shore and safety, Shannon made it her mission to share her tale and the lessons on boat safety and survival.

Kat Murphy operates a 38-foot wooden power troller, Grace, as a commercial fisherwoman in Southeast Alaska.  Skilled as a woodworker, NW Maritime and tall ship instructor, Kat spoke of her trials and tribulations pursuing her dream as the owner and operator of Katfish Salmon Company.  During her first year in business, she shared the details of a woman entering into the predominantly man’s world of commercial fishing. Despite many setbacks and self-doubt, her perseverance paid off and fortunately for her, she discovered salmon, and all other fish for that matter, have no preference for gender.

As each woman shared their seafaring yarn, they filled the room with a cacophony of laughter, fear, awe, surprise, sadness and suspense, all byproducts of great storytelling. I had come to the event expecting to hear great tales about the sea. Yet, what I learned was how truly far women had come in the maritime world and the world in general.  They stood bold and confident at the podium, voluntarily participating in the most important human tradition we know, and eager to pass their story down to the rest of us.  Not only did their tales serve to pass down lessons and insight, but they also changed perception.  In doing so, they touched upon a deep curiosity of our souls about the wonders of the sea, the adventures she holds and the boldness that is within us all to answer her calling. 

Johanna Gabbard is a Physical Therapist, educator, consultant, writer, professional speaker, and community organizer. She is an avid cyclist, sailor, retired Army Colonel and former professor for Physical Therapy at Baylor University. Johanna is a health expert on musculoskeletal rehabilitation, enhancing optimal human movement and an advocate for active, healthy aging. She is a co-founder of Sistership LLC, a company dedicated to promoting and supporting active women who choose to “Age Proud, Grow Bold.”

Copyright© 2015-2019. Sistership, LLC. All Rights Reserved

At 76, Jeanne Socrates: Sails The Globe, Solo, Nonstop & Unassisted – Again.

At 76, Jeanne Socrates: Sails The Globe, Solo, Nonstop & Unassisted – Again.

In Greek mythology, the Nereids were the 50 mythical goddesses of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. They were the patrons of fishermen and sailors who followed their journeys and came to their aid in troubling storms. So it is fitting that a sailing vessel, called Nereida, is carrying her Captain, Jeanne Socrates, around the world on a record-breaking journey of a lifetime.

Jeanne is a 76-year-old British yachts-person and retired math teacher who began sailing at 48.  She is undoubtedly a guru when it comes to circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. She’s done it three times.  Jeanne is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the oldest woman to have circumnavigated the world single-handed in 2013, at age 70.  She is also the only woman to have circumnavigated solo, nonstop, unassisted and without shore support, around the globe from North America.

This amazing adventurer, who actually likes being referred to as a bit “crazy,” has overcome many setbacks in her attempt to pursue her dream of sailing solo and unassisted around the world, and break a record doing so.  In 2016, bad weather and damage to her boat twice foiled her plans, and she returned to the harbor.  This did little to change her determination, and in October 2017, just two weeks as she was set to take off again, she took a bad fall on her boat and suffered several broken bones.  

Jeanne is currently halfway around the world on her quest for another world record, one she vowed in 2013 that she would never attempt again.  She left Victoria, BC., Canada on October 03, 2018 for what she estimated would be a 7-8 month trip.  Among the world’s great bodies of water, Jean must successfully maneuver around the Five Great Capes of the Southern Ocean to bring her full circle back to Victoria. This is no small feat for any sailor, let alone one traveling alone and without the use of a motor.  But on December 19, 77 days after leaving Victoria, Jeanne reached a milestone in her journey.  She successfully navigated the tip of South America, rounding Cape Horn on her 38-foot monohull. She was right on schedule.  Cape Horn is the most southern of the southern capes dipping down to 56ºS.  It is also at the confluence of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.  With changing currents, temperatures and depths, these waters are considered some of the most treacherous in the world.  

Jeanne had conquered Cape Agulhas, the second of the Five Great Capes along her travels, and after 133 days from her start, she had covered 12,523 nautical miles.

It took approximately 2 ½ months to traverse the Atlantic Ocean, and on February 13th, Jeanne rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the early morning and was around Cape Agulhas by late afternoon.  She had made it around the rocky headland of the southern tip of Africa.   These are dangerous waters with ferocious storms and huge waves, known to reach as high as 100 feet.  Fortunately, after battling the infamous Agulhas current in steep seas, the 4 Knott current finally settled she had moved into the waters of the Indian Ocean.  Jeanne had conquered Cape Agulhas, the second of the Five Great Capes along her travels, and after 133 days from her start, she had covered 12,523 nautical miles

…Tropical Cyclone Haleh is in the forecast…

As of yesterday, March 06, according to her meticulous blog, she is 238 nautical miles to the halfway point of her 25,000+ nautical mile voyage.  Tropical Cyclone Haleh is in the forecast, and she has been working hard to slow the boat down and keep it from heading straight into the predicted storm.  Without a motor and with alternating light and heavy winds, this is proving to be harder than it sounds.  Jeanne is sailing alone, but she is not alone. She has radio and email contact and has been receiving updates from national weather services as well as local boats in the vicinity.  She is also being carried by the community of friends, family, sailors, and strangers from around the world.  Like the Nereids, we are following her journey and cheering for her safe and triumphant return back home.  

If you would like to follow Jeanne’s course and her blog, click on this link. 

Finding Lupe Anguiano. An Unsung American Legacy.

Finding Lupe Anguiano. An Unsung American Legacy.

It was an ordinary morning for me at work in the spring of 2015. My schedule was packed with the names of patients, their age, a brief description of their chief complaint and request for Physical Therapy services.  I perused the summary of each new and returning patient and started my day. Mid-way through the morning, I went out to greet the next person on my list, an 85-year old woman.   After reading her chart, I had already formulated the scenario in my head.   I would go into the waiting room and introduce myself to an elderly woman. She may or may not walk with a cane, and more than likely would be accompanied by a family member or friend. She would be quiet, polite and unassuming and either she or her relative/friend would provide me with a history of her current problem.   Forming preconceptions of a patient from minimal information is a necessary practice for most healthcare providers. Years of experience, patient interactions, and data collection allow providers to formulate patterns quickly with seemingly little information.  Experience also teaches us to be careful.  These preconceived notions could prove to be completely wrong, which was the case today with Lupe Anguiano.

On the front of her shirt, in big bold pink letters, glared the words “Stop Fracking.”

Lupe popped up from her chair when I introduced myself.  Feisty and smiling at me with confidence, she gripped my hand warmly as I greeted her with a handshake.  Lupe had driven herself to this appointment, no one beside her, no cane in hand.  She walked into my office, took off her sweater and sat erect in the chair.  Already sensing I was wrong with my initial expectations of this woman, her T-shirt put the final dagger into my theory.  On the front of her shirt, in big bold pink letters, glared the words “Stop Fracking.”  I chuckled at myself.  Not only was I wrong, I was dead wrong.  There was a big story behind Lupe, and I couldn’t wait to learn more.

At the end of the second visit, I asked Lupe about the shirt she had worn the previous session. Little did I know my curiosity would open up my world to this amazing person and her life of selfless service to millions.  “What’s behind the “stop fracking” shirt you were wearing the other day?” I asked.   She grinned, and her eyes sparkled as if thanking me for noticing.   It was clear this wasn’t going to be a one-line answer. “Well, it’s just one of the issues I’m working on to protect our environment for future generations. I work with the local city officials and state environmental organizations to stop this horrific practice of fracking.  It’s poisoning our water supply and our children’s playground” she answered.  “It’s just one of several environmental issues I’m involved in” she added.

How often does one meet an octogenarian who is actively engaged in fighting for the environment?

I admit, I half expected her to tell me the shirt was a gift from her grandchild and she was just wearing it in support of them.  But I was wrong again and embarrassed that my tendency to trust my stereotypes of age and gender had not yet been tempered.  Lupe’s response was far from the answer I expected.  I mean, how often does one meet an octogenarian who is actively engaged in fighting for the environment?  It was clear I wasn’t talking to an ordinary woman.  This was a someone who at age 75, founded and directed Stewards of the Earth, a non-profit organization committed to protecting the west coast environment from agricultural pollutants, fracking and the downsides of development.  This was a woman who took on the largest mining company in the world, BHP Billiton and Exxon Mobil in their joint effort to bring a liquefied natural gas line (LNG) through her beloved hometown of Oxnard, California.  Lupe devoted three years forming coalitions and alliances with environmental-friendly groups such as the Sierra Club, local and state politicians, and media outlets to build public awareness to the proposal. Opposition spread throughout California, and in 2007, her efforts finally paid off.  The LNG proposal died in the state legislature. Lupe was elated. Her perseverance, despite numerous roadblocks, personal attacks and criticism, were key in stopping the powerful gas lobby.  At 78, she achieved one of the most momentous victories of her career as an activist and proved what one person and the power of persistence could accomplish. After hearing the full story, the gravity of the meaning behind her “Stop Fracking” shirt, skyrocketed in my head to a whole new level.  I was in a state of awe.

Lupe left the Church to advocate for justice and equality for the poor and underserved.

Over time, Lupe modestly shared small bits and pieces of her story with me.  In her earlier life, she was Sister Mary Consuelo, a Catholic nun, who devoted her life to the Church. But over time, Lupe found a deeper calling.  She was drawn to advocate for justice and equality for the poor and underserved.  Dressed in her habit, she would attend public protests and marches.  This didn’t quite sit well with her employer.  Restricted by the rules of the Church, Lupe eventually removed her habit and left.  Without regrets, she knew her mission in life was to serve God and His people.  She also knew the people lived beyond the walls of the Church.  Her calling was to join them.

She schooled me on the pressing need for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Each visit, I learned more about Lupe and I eagerly peered closer into her life window.  As I assisted in her rehabilitative process, she schooled me on the pressing need for passage of the  Equal Rights Amendment. I too shared my past with Lupe, and at one point I spoke how I felt fortunate to go to college on a basketball scholarship, thanks to the passage of Title IX in 1972.  Title IX was the landmark legislation that ensured equal benefits to both sexes in all federally funded educational programs and activities. Most of the time, when I shared that tidbit with others, I would get an “Oh wow, you went to college on a basketball scholarship?” remark.  But not this time.  From Lupe’s reaction, it was clear I had opened up Pandora’s box with the mention of the law.

To me, Title IX was a godsend to my family, and the timing was perfect. Colleges and universities were just starting to offer athletic scholarships, and in 1978, I was one of the first females in my community to receive this award.  However, to Lupe, the law was a shallow legislative compromise. Yes, it benefitted some, like me, but it also contributed to bursting the momentum of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Women were handed a carrot, and they took it, instead of fighting for the whole salad.  She knew first hand, unlike so many others including myself, that for women to obtain full equal rights in all aspects of American life, we needed it written into our constitution.  Equal pay, equal protection, equal access to social and business benefits and equal opportunities could only be guaranteed for generations to come through a constitutional amendment.  Title IX, although a significant victory for women equality, lacked permanence, she explained.  Like all legislative laws, they were subject to change depending on interpretation, the political makeup, and climate.

Lupe Anguiano, UFW, Circa 1968 (PRNewsfoto/Debora Wright)


“Oh my gosh,” I thought… Lupe was one of them – the Giants of the Women’s Movement.

“How did she know so much about this issue?” I wondered.  It was obvious the topic hit a nerve.  The top was off the boiling kettle, and I was about to find out why. Lupe began to open up about her life on the national stage.  The reason she knew so much about the ERA, was that she was one of the founding members of the first National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), which included Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, LaDonna Harris, and Shirley Chisholm. “Oh my gosh, ” I thought. She was not only the former Sister Mary Consuelo or the woman who beat down fracking in California,  Lupe was one of them – the Giants of the Women’s Movement. These were the women I grew up admiring.  Betty Friedan, the founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and credited for demanding Congress to take up the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, was instrumental in forming the NWPC.   Bettye and others knew that support for passing the ERA and other pressing issues related to women equality could only come from increasing the number of women in all aspects of politics, on both sides of the aisle.   The NWPC, a nonpartisan political organization for women, was formed in 1971 to achieve these goals. Smaller state chapters began to take root, and the group took on several important issues of the day relating to women equality, with the underlying purpose of passing the ERA.

I always thought the ERA passed in the 70’s

I listened in fascination as she shared her story. Frankly, I wanted to bow at her feet and thank her for everything she had done for me and so many others.  Yet, I was embarrassed to admit my naivety about the law.  Until she spoke, I always thought the ERA had passed in the ’70s and was part of our Constitution. I could barely look Lupe in the eye as she passionately spoke about her work relating to this vital women’s issue.   I did have a moment of reprieve from my guilt when later I read that 70% of people polled thought as I did.  But, it was only a small consolation to know that I wasn’t alone.  “How could this be and how could I not know any of this?” I thought in disbelief.   Born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer era, I spent the majority of my life reaping the benefits obtained by the tireless efforts of many women and men who came before me.  As a highly educated professional woman, I was discovering how highly uneducated I was when it came to many of the issues that mattered in the grand scheme of things.   I spent my career helping people in need, one by one, with the security of a paycheck, a pension and healthcare benefits.  Lupe, and so many others like her, cared less about securing a comfortable future for themselves and more about righting the present injustices that were affecting scores of people across the country. Needless to say, as I learned more about Lupe, I uncovered more about myself and how my scope of the world was narrower than I believed.  Without even trying, she opened up my eyes to what was possible when I looked beyond my comfortable life.

After a few months, our therapist-client relationship ended.  We were friends by then and met several times for breakfast and lunch just to catch up. I would also check to make sure she was compliant with her therapy and stayed active and healthy.  I knew there was so much more to learn about Lupe.  She was willing to talk, but by this time her biography had just been published, and she felt I should read the book first, then she could fill in all the details.  The book, “Uncompromised. The Life Story of Lupe Anguiano”, had just been released in 2016. The author, Debora Wright, met Lupe through her husband who previously worked with Lupe on another project in the Oxnard community.  Debora was a writer and like me, was captivated by Lupe’s story. Lupe liked Deborah and was comfortable enough to invite her to write her life story. Deborah jumped at the chance and ended up taking six years to complete the project.  She devoted countless hours tracking down and interviewing Lupe, her colleagues, people she had influenced, family members and close friends. She combed through Lupe’s vast archives that are now housed under the Lupe Anguiano Papers at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.  In the end, the book was priceless.  Debora had created a thorough and unsurprisingly fascinating biography about this unsung, quiet American activist.

Best known for her work on Welfare Reform, Lupe saw welfare as a “trap.”

Reading Lupe’s life story helped me understand the complexities of her life and the reasons behind the choices and causes she championed.  Beyond the LNG and ERA campaigns she pursued, Lupe is best known for her work on Welfare Reform. A visionary of her time, Lupe saw welfare, not as a social assistance program, but as a noose that ensnared women into dependency.  Minority women were the largest recipients, and welfare stripped them of their self-worth. She noted that white women with small children continued to work and wondered why minority women weren’t afforded the same opportunities?  Welfare, in her mind, was a trap. It kept mostly minority women with children at the bottom rung of the social-economic ladder.  It was a social program designed to help those in need, but in actuality, created a generational cycle of impoverishment.

Lupe spent years working to change welfare policy from a system that enabled dependency to a program that provided education, occupational training, and job opportunities. When she failed to make headway at the national level, Lupe took her ideas to the source.  She moved to San Antonio and lived for several years with women on public assistance.  Lupe knew it was imperative to create a bond with these women and gain their trust. Only then could she educate them about the downsides of welfare.  Lupe gave them hope and empowered them with knowledge and resources so they could pull themselves out of the pit of poverty. When her local efforts proved successful, she set her eyes on the national stage and created the non-profit National Women’s Employment and Education project (NWEE).  This was a novel program designed to provide employment readiness skills and quickly place women into jobs.  It also offered a full year of follow-up and support services.  Interest in the program grew to other cities and states. It attracted the attention of 60-minutes which aired a story in December 1980 about Lupe and her program in a story titled “Getting Off Welfare.”  The exposure pushed her into the national spotlight.  Barbara Bush and President-elect Ronald Reagan noticed and reached out to her.  Even Hollywood was taken by the news and offered to buy the rights to her story, which she eventually turned down.   After years of work and dedication, the program and similar models of welfare reform eventually expanded into New York and Colorado. Lupe and her NWEE eventually helped thousands of women get off welfare and regain their dignity and self-respect through meaningful work.

Can you believe I’ve lived so long? … I’m still here!

Impressive as this all sounds, there’s so much more to the story and this woman.  I am on my second read of the book, and I continue to be amazed at how such a humble, unassuming woman accomplished so much in her lifetime. Granted, she’s had 89 years to do it and hasn’t slowed down yet. Lupe will celebrate her 90th birthday on March 12th.  I asked her about this, and she shook her head.  “Johanna, can you believe I’ve lived so long?”  “I can’t believe it, and I’m still here!” she exclaimed.  “I can, Lupe,” I said, nodding my head in agreement. “How can you not be? Your passion and love for humanity continue to fuel you.” I reminded her.  “And that hasn’t run out yet.” I thought.

“Thank You, Lupe, for Your Service”

Over the past four years, I’ve been blessed to have met and get to know Lupe Anguiano.  She’s been an empowering, influential role model for me as I navigate through my 50’s and the transitions that come during this phase of life. She is the inspiration behind the company I’ve co-founded, Sistership LLC, which started as a group of adventurous women set out to dismantle age and gender stereotypes.  Our motto “Age Proud, Grow Bold” stems from women aging with a purpose, like Lupe.  Unknowingly, she’s raised my understanding of what it means to age actively, proudly and with service.  I’ve given 30 years of military service, yet it pales in comparison to the life of this phenomenal woman.  I think how undeserving I’ve been to the countless well-intentioned people who’ve acknowledged my military career with “thank you for your service.”   I wish I could take every one of those thank yous and redirect them onto my friend Lupe.  They would never be enough, as America owes so much more to this woman, her tireless efforts and selfless service to its people.

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