Thursday, November 7, 2013


I was introduced to Luciano by my friend Jean in 2012. At the time, Luciano was a young man who touched Jean’s heart with his story, his pride, and his dedication to the sport they shared, Jiu-jitsu.  I too, would be touched by these attributes.

In 2012 Luciano was training jiu-jitsu in a tattered karate gi. Jean made a connection with Hyperfly (  and they donated a new gi for him to wear. Luciano competed in this gi during the September 2012 Copa BJJ tournament.  The Carly Stowell Foundation provided support and sponsorship for this tournament. Over 350 children from the Projetos Social in Rio were able to attend.

When I returned to Rio de Janeiro in August 2013 I was reacquainted with Luciano. We trained together at Top Brother gym in the municipality of Meier. Here is more of his story.

                                                  Luciano hails from Japeri, a neighborhood in southeast Rio de Janeiro. He describes his situation there as “poor, small and difficult.”  The Japeri favela atmosphere is violent and bears the unfortunate stigma, in Luciano’s words, of being “the most miserable municipality with the most AIDS.” 

To train at the gym in Meier, Luciano travels two and a half hours by bus.  He has been training for four years and is currently a second degree blue belt.  Luciano has one of the most ferocious guards I have encountered. He is a tenacious grappler despite having no arms below the elbow.  For years, Luciano’s disability kept him from participating in the common activities that kept his peers engaged throughout the day.  Jiu-jitsu found him when he went to watch a friend train. Master Cezar Guimaraes (Cashquinha) had developed a project in Japeri to keep children and teenagers off of the streets. Luciano, with little else to do, went along to watch his friend, but shied from participation because he was ashamed of his scars and missing limbs. One day his friend dragged him onto the mat and started to play-grapple with him. His friend showed him what it felt like to train. Luciano was hooked. He began training and never looked back.

For a long time, Luciano didn’t look forward. He was disabled at a very young age and he had always known life to be difficult.  Luciano was four months old when his mother left him in the care of his alcoholic grandfather.  That evening there was a power failure and his grandfather, who had been drinking, lit several candles in the home. Luciano was sleeping on a cot when a candle fell over and started a fire. His grandfather ran from the home and was too drunk to remember that Luciano was in the cot. Luciano had third degree burns on his arms and serious burns on his head.  His arms were amputated at the elbow.

Luciano’s family generates a meager income reselling fruit and vegetables in their neighborhood.  The Brazilian government provides a small family benefit by way of the social program Bolsa Familia; the equivalence of $35 USD per month(1). In February 2011 26% of the Brazilian population received assistance through Bolsa Familia(2).  Brazil has a program for person with disabilities, The Continuous Cash Benefit Programme(3) (BPC, Beneficio de Prestação Continuada), however Luciano does not receive any funds through this program. Why he does not receive benefits through this program is unknown to me, but dissemination of information about this program is said to be a weak point. The number of steps a recipient must go through to be approved also appears cumbersome.

Despite the daily challenges Luciano faces he maintains a positive attitude. Where he once would not run shirtless in the street or go without a hat and show his scarring, he now does many things “like a normal person”, such as play soccer and ride a bike.  He expressed his attitude this way, “Every day I have respect for everyone, no matter who, especially for children. I want to show that people with disabilities, there is no difficulty they cannot do.”

During my visit in August 2013, Jean and I presented Luciano with a small backpack of clothes; Jordan basketball shorts my sons had outgrown, a pair of Nikes and some t-shirts. He was stunned and appreciative, thanking us over and over again. The look on his face after he asked, “I can keep the bag?”  and we smiled and said, “Yes, of course”, is one of my fondest memories of the trip. To help someone who is genuinely grateful and who finds joy in the community of jiu-jitsu was an honor for us.

Luciano’s goals are not unlike those of any jiu-jitsu competitor, “to be a champion.” He has already placed second and third in tournaments. The barriers people place upon him are motivation to succeed.  “Many people think that I am not able to give all my best, but I can show in the way I train that one day I can achieve my goal to be a champion.”

[In Brazil] 30% of persons with disabilities receive less than the minimum wage.

International Disability Rights Monitor, ‘Regional Report of the Americas’, 2004

About 80-90% of persons with disabilities are unemployed or outside the work force. Most of those who have jobs receive little or no monetary remuneration.

World Bank, ‘Disability and inclusive development: Latin America and the Caribbean’, 2004


(1)Decree nº 5.209, de 17 de setembro de 2004 – Regulates a Law-010.836-2004 – Bolsa Família Program.

(3) Targeted Cash Transfer Programmes in Brazil: BPC and Bolsa Familia. June 2008. International Poverty Centre

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hosting BJJ Seminars for Kids

All proceeds benefit the non-profit Give the Gift of a Gi program.
Official Limited Edition Meerkatsu t-shirts available.
$25 each  or $15 for seminar registrants.
Register at  Look Jammin BJJ under the "Clubs" button. Questions or to let me kow you will be ordering a t-shirt;  or
T-shirt purchase via Paypal will be available at next week.
Thank you Meerkatsu for the artwork, and Fenom Kimonos for making the poster.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finding a Parallel Universe in Rio

Finding a Parallel Universe in Rio

I don’t think I’ll be able to write my meaningful stories about altruism and kids in Brazil until I deal with what is clearly my unresolved issue with driving and, most specifically, parking in Rio.

A few clarifications and one confession are necessary before I begin my writing therapy session. Jean and I are the best of friends, but we disagree like siblings or opposing zodiac signs or something. Not Lou Pinella and Mark Wegner level, think more like Howard and Howie on America’s Got Talent. It’s very important to learn to talk to people who disagree with you; but the primer doesn’t cover “Learning to disagree nicely when you don’t speak the same language.”  
Jean and I on Pedra Bonita above Rio de Janeiro
And my confession? I confess to swearing in front of my son on more than one occasion during the experiences I am about to describe. (Good thing we had that, “What Mom says in Brazil stays in Brazil talk before we left”)

  “Yeah, whatever you say Mom.”
OK, I have another confession. I don’t like to parallel park. I’m going to call it p-parking.  I don’t like to p-park because I’m really, really bad at it. Let’s see, I’ve been driving for say 25 years and I’ve actually p-parked maybe 12 times. And to be fair it takes me about 15 minutes to do it.  So I have spent maybe 180 minutes of my driving life p-parking. Truthfully, I have been known to circle Seattle blocks for up 45 minutes waiting for a space I could just pull in to. I have abandoned outings to avoid p-parking downtown. And one time I dropped Chuck and the kids off at Key Arena for a Storm game so I could run an errand.  In my haste I forgot that I was driving the behemoth Expedition which quadrupled my p-parking anxiety.  I made a lousy attempt to p-park near the Key; one that left the car crooked and two feet from the curb. I ran into the Key, found Chuck in the stands, handed him the keys and said, “You’re going to have to go re-park the car before we get a ticket.”
So now I’m in Rio de Janeiro, in a stick shift Fiat, where lanes, red lights and even head lights are optional. There are curb to curb cars in the streets all day and night and I never saw a parking garage. I had to wonder where the valet parking attendants at the big restaurants took the cars. Were they doing their share to reduce unemployment by hiring one driver per car to just circle and circle until the owner was ready to leave?
Copacabana. We are going to Jean’s Grand’s apartment. It’s a lovely place at the bottom of a hill on the crossroad of very busy street. The spaces available for a few lucky residents are all taken so we begin our ascent of the hill. The road is bumpy, cobblestone, and curves like a spiral staircase behind the building at a calf-burning-Buns-of-Steel incline. There is only parking on the right side because the road is two cars wide.  Our eyes are straining in the night light, “Dare ees one,” Jean points to an area I consider more appropriate for a Smart car. “No way,” I reply, wiping the sweat from my palms and continuing upward. Nada, nada, nada.  We reach the dead end at the top. “We haff to go back to dee nuther space,” Jean insists. I wanted to park illegally, but all those spots are taken too. My head is hanging because I know what I have to do. I get the car turned around and we head back. Remember traffic rules are optional in Rio so it doesn’t matter that I’m facing “the wrong” way.
Jean gets out so that he can give me instructions. “I can help joo to do. Believe it to me.”
Well, I have to believe in something, so I pull alongside the forward car and curse because I have to employ the emergency brake so I can shift into reverse. “Ok, Ok, come back now,” he instructs. “Easy.” I’m trying to time releasing the emergency brake with engaging the clutch, it’s humid, I’m sweaty, I don’t have AC,  I’m praying another car won’t come up the hill and I apply a really heavy foot and overshoot my back up distance. No amount of cranking the steering wheel will save this attempt, but the lack of power steering is giving me a good shoulder workout.
I hear the heavy sigh, “No, joo haff to go forward ahh-gen.”  I see hand gestures that beg me to turn my wheels the other way. I comply and roll forward, emergency brake, reverse gear, anxiety… check.  This time I crank the wheel right after I release the brake and back up onto the curb. Jean’s lips are pursed and while I’m certain he was cursing under his breath in Portuguese, in English he says calmly, “Ok good, good. Now turn dee wheel dis way.” Hands are circling. I feel like a dog being taught to roll over. “Ok good, now forward, slow…just a leetle.” “Now baaaack, back.”  I’m getting that second set of shoulder exercises in and I’m struggling with, “You can do this”, “you will not cry,” and “please, can I just roll down the hill and look for another space? Please?  I’ll sleep in the car.” The pressure!
I finally decide that I am just going to have to use the car in front of me as a bookend despite Jean’s protestations.  I’ve got maybe six inches of space between their bumper and mine to not roll into before I back up. I had to tap. Yeah, I tapped out to thinking I could do it, so I literally tapped their bumper.
Jean’s reaction might lead you to believe I should have gotten collision coverage on the rental, but it was just a Seattle parking love tap in my book.
We were in. I grabbed my bag and appreciated the mild pat on the back, but due to my trauma-induced speechlessness I could not rebut our disagreement about why such event should not have made me stressed and unfocused. Because you know, if I would just “relaxe!” and “ouça!”  (relax and listen) and not be so teimoso (stubborn) the car would practically park itself. Who knew?  At dinner my hands were shaking and my feijoada kept falling off my fork.
My second parking experience was actually invigorating because it did not exist in a parallel universe. Instead it allowed me to let loose with my inner Road Warrior.  We are now in Taquara on our way to the family apartment. The traffic is not as crazy as in Copacabana, but Taquara is out where construction for the impending Olympic Games is taking place, so there are detours and dump trucks and cones and trabalhadores no rodovia (road workers) everywhere.  The residential roads are also spotted with “sleeping policemen” (speed bumps) that haven’t been painted in who knows how long, and are strategically hidden in shady spots on the road where they “wake up” by scratching the undercarriage or by causing you to get air before you see them.
There is no parking lot for the apartment. Instead people just jump the curb and park on the dirt between the security wall, the sidewalk and the road. In order to do this I have to drive past the apartment to an intersection where I make a wide loop to turn around so I am on the same side as the apartment. This loop also allows me to gather up speed to jump the curb. This is very exciting for someone who feels rogue when she cuts through empty parking lot spaces without going all the way around.  And just so you know, sometimes I had to jump the curb and squeeze in between other cars and avoid a tree.  I’m practically a stunt woman!
Too bad I don’t have pictures or video of this endeavor. I do have this photo however. I saw this creepy symbol in several places about the town. It was on the side of the building that marked the intersection where I would make my wide loop back to park. “Oooh, is that a gang symbol?” I ask. “I see it all over the town marking territory.”  I’m thinking I’m all street smart and cool.
                                         "No, that is so the garbage men know where to stop.” 
Back to the parallel universe.
My other significant parking story took place on the last day before I was to leave Brazil. We are back in Copacabana. ALL the spaces on the hill behind the apartment building are taken. I will have to park on the street. But hey, it’s daylight and it’s flat… no problem, right?  Wrong. The statement I heard over and over as I got introduced to Brazil through Jean reverberates in my head, “Things are difficult in Brazil.”
See, it says that right here on their flag.
Yes, they are, and Jean seems to think I possess a strong propensity for making them more difficult.
Again, the space I am provided leaves no room for error.
Now, when you park on the main streets, there is another player.  As you hover near a space deciding if you have the culhoes to park there, someone working covert ops will spy you and appear unknowingly at your window to charge you a few reias. Great, another witness to my incompetence. Jean and Carson exit the vehicle. Jean again assumes the role of chief parking instructor. “Go forward, then back.” I comply, but wait too long to turn the wheels and the car won’t fit. I get ready to pull forward, but we are on a busy street and now I have to wait and time the traffic and try to ignore the impatient taxi drivers and people who would have gotten into the spot on their first try. I go forward and back and miss again, and Jean, in between fervent gesticulations directed at me, is talking to the parking guerilla who is laughing. All I caught was the phrase “…Americana…”
“Go ahh-gen forward, not so far.”  I interpret this as not so far away from the forward car, so I pull up and am now barely a side-mirror’s distance from the car beside me. This was apparently not where I was supposed to be because I have guerrilla in front of me and Jean at my window saying, “What joo do-een? Joo too close! Joo try-een to crash dee car?”  I am straddling that fence between getting really pissed off (Think: “This is your stinking country, why the F aren’t you driving?”) and having a breakdown.  I back up, slowly, turn the wheels one way, then the other, go forward, then back, over and over. Somewhere in the middle of all this guerilla offered to park the car for me, but I was not let in on that deal, or I just didn’t catch the Portuguese. I would have handed over the keys and twenty bucks in a heartbeat.
Finally it’s adequate. I think guerilla had other people to intimidate and wanted to move on.  I’m getting the silent treatment from Jean.  “Ok,” I say. “Let’s just not have this. It’s my last day here. I’m a grown-up. I have accepted my deficiencies.”  [In addition to being unable to parallel park, I am directionally impaired, cannot work our TV remote(s) and I treat my car like a mini-storage (Chuck would say a landfill, but just because I once pulled 45 water bottles from behind the seat – don’t judge).]
Jean is giving me the stink eye. He takes a deep breath which I have learned is his way of bracing his patience against the error of my ways. “Why joo trying to crash dee car? Joo want to use your money for dat?  Look...”  The rear corner is sticking out a little.
“Jeez,” I start to disagree with him. “I was not trying to …”. “I’m just not good…”  
Another deep breath from Jean, “I am go-een to haff to say dis to joo een Portuguese.”  Now I know I am really in for it. During my travels I have learned that there are some things that only have real meaning if they are said in Portuguese. They just don’t translate well. I commence to get a Portuguese tongue lashing right there on the sidewalk. He knows I understand way more Portuguese than I can speak. [This is the abridged version minus the slang that is not suitable for this dialogue],  Digo simples , ‘frente, em seguida, de volta. Frente e volta. Gire a roda. Direita, depois à esquerda. Facil! Frente e volta. Gire a roda. Mas você não escuta.’ Entendeu?”
Sim, entendi.”  Yes, I understand.  I still don’t think I was trying to park badly … but I’m going to let it go. We must not personalize disagreement. I am reminded of Chapter 23 of my book Flowing with the Go, “Believe in the Goodwill of Your Instructor”.  In Brazil, Jean is my instructor. I know he has my best interests in mind. He always put the safety of Carson and myself above all else and worked very hard to make sure our trip went as according to plan as is possible in Brazil. I’m sure I cannot possibly live a full and complete life if I remain unable to parallel park. It’s all about goodwill.
The day I got back home I went to the store and fought my instinct to find a pull-in parking space. I intentionally found a place to parallel park.  Sure, the space was twice the length of my car, my car is an automatic with power steering, it was flat, daylight, and no one was watching.  It only took me two tries! I celebrated this small victory by immediately messaging Jean. I felt like I got my homework paper put on the refrigerator door. Maybe that ditty about being life-long-learners has some merit. We shall see.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Road to Canta Galo

I was talking about my days in Rio with my host. Our outlooks differed on what constituted a “good” day or a “bad” day.  We could not agree to disagree (I don’t think they do that in Brazil) so I ended our discussion by telling him that in their own way each day was a gift, but that some would take longer to unwrap than others.

One such gift was my work with the team at Canta Galo. The team at Canta Galo is associated with Checkmat and Equipe VB (Vieiro Brothers). Since this is the team I trained with last year, they were the first kids we coordinated assistance for. I was told that there were six boys in need of our help. The boys filled out some paperwork I had sent so I had their pictures and gi sizes before I left for Rio. Kerstin Pakter of Hyperfly agreed to donate new gis for these boys. I agreed to pay their registration fee to compete in the Rio Festival Kids BJJ tournament. In what would become a familiar ending to many acts Brazilian – our efforts did not finish the way we anticipated they would,  but changed several times along the way, and I seemed to be the only one who did not expect this to happen and find it a bit disturbing. On this trip I was told on two separate occasions that Americans have a hard time in Brazil because we are too scheduled and believe that we have to follow the rules. Oh! Is that what it is?

To keep myself calm through all the changes in protocol, I would tell myself that I was there to help kids, that was all that mattered, and whatever route to doing that was necessary, that was the acceptable route.  Somehow my sponsorship was stretched to register ten kids and buy them lunch. This was a good deal for me and a vivid example of the Brazilian art of negotiation. This art would come into play on several occasions and I was glad to reap its benefits.  

Two days before the tournament we met the youth assistant coach, Kaynan, in the Copacabana Checkmat gym to hand over the gis for the kids. He had walked for over an hour to get there and meet us.  After talking and watching some training that was going on, we were ready to get on our way. Kaynan, however, now had a very large and heavy package to carry home. It seemed unreasonable to me that he had to carry it all the way home. The public bus did not travel to his home so I offered to get him a taxi. What happened next was my son’s first exposure to quasi-discrimination. The taxi driver did not want to drive into the Canta Galo favela. A few days later I would understand the driver’s hesitation because I would drive into Canta Galo.

The Rio Festival Kids tournament was great fun and very well organized.  Parents and kids are similar no matter where you go. Parents had their cameras and cell phones out to capture the special day. Kids showed up with bed head, some forgot their belts or couldn’t tie their belt, snacks were eaten, high fives given, the winners puffed out their hairless chests, the youngest winners collected hardware and quickly left their gi in a pile to takeoff chasing their friends and siblings through the stands. I especially liked the introduction and warm up for the littlest competitors.  The tournament coordinator gave a rousing and interactive opening speech to the children. It was funny when I asked my friend what the guy was saying and my friend responded to me in Portuguese.  I looked at him with quizzical eyes, “That was no help you ding-dong. I heard it that way the first time.”   

The little kids were going to fight first, ages  five and six. They sat in a long row the width of the mats. I thought it was clever of the coordinator to call them out by gi color to make three groups of kids. They would hop to the center of the mats and back, bear crawl, forward roll and alligator crawl – adorable little gi covered bottoms high in the air. The athletic ones showing off, the not-so-athletic ones coming in last or not knowing what to do; a few needed help, some cried.  Kids are kids in any country.  The fighters we sponsored, 6 with their new gis and the four others that were add-ons, all fought well. All but one took gold. I loved getting hugs and taking pictures with them, some on the medal stand and some in the bleachers. It felt wonderful to know that I played a small part in their success that day.
Two days after the tournament our plan was to travel to Canta Galo to see all the boys together, competitors and their teammates,  in the gym and take some pictures.  Let me begin this tale by saying that I had decided to rent a car while we were in Rio so that Carson would not have to travel on the public bus for several hours a day. (So instead he was in a car for a smidgen less than several hours a day. At least he did not have to stand). I thought nothing of it until I got in the car and saw that it was a stick shift and realized we had miscommunicated about my want of air conditioning.

In Rio there are way too many cars on the road, crappy roads with lane lines that mean nothing, too much construction, optional traffic rules, motorcyclists passing between cars on the left and right, buses that think they own the road, pedestrians that cross when and where they want and horns that never stop honking.  Driving in Rio made the stress of a little US road rage seem juvenile.  

So, off we go to Canta Galo. I will try to describe this as best I can.  I am providing an amateurish drawing to help. The drawing is not to scale nor proper in perspective. All scribbles that look like people, dogs, garbage or motorcycles should be multiplied by at least five. You also need to provide your own street lamp illumination, loud music, horns, people yelling and steep incline. Embrace your new visual with a sense of chaos and you might be there in the car with me.

“Turn here.”  Where? Up onto that narrow cobblestone road that is barely the width of my rented Fiat? The road is narrow because there are parked cars, garbage, walls, people, dogs, bikes and motorcycles on both sides of the street. I down shift into first and start to turn toward the road just as another car cuts me off to start up the hill in front of me. “Shit!” The road is very steep and now I have to worry about the car in front of me stopping. Flashbacks of having to use my emergency brake and ride the clutch are haunting me – it has been 15 years since I’ve driven a stick. During a sparse moment of lucidity I did thank my father (who taught Driver’s Ed on the side when I was growing up) for making my brothers and I take our driving test on a stick because we lived in the SF Bay Area. 

We bump along at a crawl to the crest of the hill. I stop holding the breath I didn’t realize I was holding and stare forward at a modest widening of the road and 6 policemen with rifles and guns. They weren’t pointed at us, but I still found it unnerving. The police presence is to reduce the danger from the drug trafficking. Apparently we could not park there, but I could do what amounted to a 17 point turn to wedge our car off of the road so some Brazilian negotiation could take place. After the police were told about our reason for venturing to the top of the hill, they relented by saying that we could leave the car but someone had to stay in it. Ummm, let’s go over that again. I don’t know where the gym is and need to go and be in at least one picture. I don’t want to stay in the car alone, but I don’t want to walk alone with Carson to the gym either. If Jean takes me to the gym, then Carson will be left in the car alone. We sent Jean to the gym to get a coach who we thought would stay in the car. Well, the coach didn’t want to stay with the car either, so more negotiations took place. I don’t know if money changed hands or not, but the police finally moved an orange cone and I was allowed to move our car to a semi-respectable parking space and leave it there unattended.

Whew. There is something about a gym, no matter how decrepit, small or smelly that is comforting to an athlete. I was relieved to walk into that shabby gym. There were mismatched puzzle mats on the floor, padding falling off of the stained walls, water all over the floor by the fountain, numerous flip flops to navigate between and a subtle odor of urine creeping out from the direction of the bathroom. It was humid and crowded but full of smiling, happy, sweaty training kids.  The first few mats we crossed were for the littlest fighters, up to six years old. The coach had that exasperated tone one gets when herding cats, but all the little monsters got to task. In the larger area were the other boys, the boys we sponsored and the rest of the team. The coach was teaching an open guard pass and the boys trained hard. During their break we got them together for some pictures. It was hard to say good-bye.

The drive down the hill was a lot less stressful than my drive to the top. Later I found myself wanting to go up there again. When you make a connection with people, you want the connection to last. I knew I had other gyms to visit on my trip and that I would be leaving Rio in ten more days. I wanted those boys to know that I wouldn’t forget them and that their jiu-jitsu joy and warrior spirits made a lasting impression on me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The End of Your Arm

"If you need a helping hand, there's one at the end of your arm."

I arrived home from Brazil jet-lagged and bloated from eating airplane snacks in another time zone. I also arrived home to my brothers Alan and Mark, Al’s wife, Carrie, Mark’s friend, John, and Al’s friend, Vern. There were airbeds across the living room floor, sheets on the futon and carbohydrates all over the counter.  They were in town to run the Cascade Crest 100 Ultra Marathon.  Well, three of them were running; Carrie, running her first 100 miler, and Mark and John who have run Ultras but not the Cascade Crest “Trail from Hell” Ultra. Al was going to pace for Carrie. That means that at mile 53 he is allowed to run with her. Vern was here to “crew” for Carrie and Al. For the uninitiated, to “crew” means that you drive ahead to various aid stations to meet your runner and have things they might need; different shoes, a dry shirt, their headlamp for the night part, duct tape for blisters or personal snacks that make them happy ( how can these people be happy after putting in double digit mileage?). There's a picture of Al all geared up and ready to pace.
If you did the math you figured out that Mark and John did not have a pacer or a crew.  My son was supposed to crew for Mark, but had to bail when he realized his school was starting a week earlier than he thought (duh). So I said I would crew for Mark. Saturday I was up early and off to the mountains. It was a grind, but I could find a silver lining here and there; I occasionally had cell service, I was thrilled I only got lost once, I didn’t miss Mark at a single station and I had remembered to bring a flashlight. I also got a workout in, hiking 3 miles downhill to an aid station and then 3 miles back up. Best part was that I got to walk the up part with Mark and provide some conversation. He was running without a pacer for the first time. From mile 73 to 76 I could distract him from his self-inflicted misery.  I think I got about 3 hours of sleep that weekend. Here's a pic of my dirt-and-muck covered car for all of you non-believers.

Why you ask? Why did I do it? I could have whined and claimed jet-lag and that unpacked bags were calling my name. I did it because I know without hesitation that they would have done it for me.
How did it end? Carrie crossed the finish line at 29 hrs 39 minutes. Mark at 31 hours. John dropped at mile 68 with a hip flexor that flared up. Still not too shabby in my book.  As I watched them remove their shoes and limp around in their flip-flops, saw grime in the creases of their knees and elbows, heard comments about the hornets that went on a rampage,  I was amazed by this incredible group of people. There are numerous books written on the mental and physical fortitude of Ultra Marathoners. I won’t be writing about that silly stuff. Instead I will offer this – it felt great to help. Even those times when I had driven an hour and half to a station only to spend one minute watching Mark refill his water bottles and squirt some GU in his mouth, my just being there with a smile and encouragement meant a great deal to him. And I thought about those times when we don’t let people help us. We are sabotaging a win-win situation. Helping is mutually beneficial. Otherwise we make win-lose or lose-lose situations. Those aren’t nearly as much fun.

Here I am with Mark. Why am I the one who looks like I've run 100 miles? Maybe because in some way (in my own head) I worked almost as hard.

And here's Carrie, looking adorable as always - ready to go run again. Note: Carrie said that the Cascade Crest 100 was the hardest thing she has ever done. She may not run for a while ...we shall see.

And for those of you waiting for more tales from Brazil, they are coming. Pictures are being organized, thoughts aligned, energy restored.  Thanks for reading.



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Campo Grande medalists

Brazil continued

Got some pics off of Facebook! I continue to learn what every 5 year old can already do.
At Campo Grande the children all signed this banner. I posted a picture earlier of coaches holding it up, but this is a close up of the signatures. I also add my thank you to Hyperfly, Kent Sport and Spine and the Carly Stowell Foundation for helping support this effort. Their logos are on the banner.
The second picture is of a future world champion, Eduardo Lima who we sponsored in the Rio Festival Kids tournament. He has so many victories that at age 8 (I think he is 11 now) his portrait was painted on the wall of the Canto Galo community Center.  I have a photo that I will put up when I get access to my camera pictures. He won gold at this tournament also. You can see him in his new Hyperfly with the Carly Stowell Foundation logo patch. Really delightful kid. He tried to speak English with me and wanted a copy of my book which he had already started to read before I saw him again. This kid is going places. To the left of Eduardo is assistant coach Kaynan Matos. He was instrumental in the coordination of the sponsoring effort, getting the kids registered and organized. He is only 16 but well on his way to leading his own team one day.Too bad the gi I brought for him did not pass inspection for competition ... the kimono length was too short (it wasn't a Hyperfly btw). So I owe him one :-)
More to come... 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Well, my blogging hasnt been as easy as I thought, but fortunately one of the coaches from Campo Grande sent me some pictures. While I was more prepared for this trip than I was when I came to Brazil last year, I can see now that I still didnt think of everything. I guess that is traveling for you. 

Campo Grande is one of the largest favelas in Rio. Rio is quite large ...most people think only of the beautiful beaches, but most of Rio is spread out and is not beautiful beach. We were told there would be about 48 kids at the gathering, but as you can see, there were many more. Most of the people there, including the adults had never met anyone from America. And for the most part, they told me that Campo Grande seldom receives any sort of assistance - certainly not from the government ....that is all broken promises. I know that the coaches, most whom live there as well, pay out of their pockets to help the children. 
I have been thoughtfully reflective and suppose that I will continue to be for quite some time. I can~t put it all into words right now. But I wanted to send some images of the work we are doing here and thank everyone for their support. 
The biggest detriment to getting everything written down and posted is the intermittent availability of internet and / or a computer and the amount of time spent on the road just trying to get places. 
Please know however that I want to share as much of this experience as I can and plan to do so. Some will have to happen after I return to the US. 

Please share this with others. Love, E

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tomorrow Part 2 of GGG begins!

Tomorrow phase 2 of this project begins.
Bags are packed, got the passports and visas, plane snacks, books (inlcuding Portuguese Idioms for some last minute cramming), got some Brazilian reais through AAA so I don't have to feel helpless about that, camera has a new memory card, activated the global phone ... what else ... sunscreen - check!

Here are 4 bags of donated gis and grappling gear. See, this project is very real. When traveling, the second part, the part beyond the planning, often doesn't seem real until you step on terra firma. I have my plans and my expectations, but know very well that one must be flexible and patient. Especially with internatonal travel. Anything can happen - and it can happen in another language - so keep the mind open.
Thank you to everyone who has helped and who continue to help. I have to give a special shout out to Sonia Silan and West Seattle Fight and Fitness for not only a gi donation, but a recent donation of t-shirts and shorts also.

Please continue to check back and follow the progress of the first Give the Gift of a Gi program. People ahve suggested to me that this trip may provide fodder fo rmy next book. Who knows. I know that it will be meaningful and purposeful. That's a great start.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Today I started packing up the gis for Brazil.

Several people have been helping me sew logo patches on the gis and must be thanked: Sam Geist, Debbie Foster, Rita Barichievich (my mom).
Rick Geist, Kerstin Pakter, Steve Zografos, Alan Barichievich and Leo O'Brien have been especially generous with donations of time, funds and gear. Love you all!

I had some trouble matching tops to pants in some cases, but I needed to get started so I could have an idea of how many bags I will be bringing - extra bag fee is $80 (first 2 are free) , but you get 70# ... rolling bags a must...

Costco sells SpaceBags so I scored there and they are as good as the commercial says.

I get more excited each day because each new day is one day closer to departure and bringing the second half of the project to life.

I will continue to keep you posted.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Curent State of and Future of Give the Gift of a Gi

No news HAS been good news for Give the Gift of a Gi … with one exception. Patches for the gis have arrived (good news);  And in a flurry of unfocused enthusiasm I actually sewed my finger trying to put one on (bad news).  So I chose a painful time to try to update everyone about the program. Letter “D” is killing me.  But, I want everyone to know what is going on that I will “sofrer em silêncio”.

1. The patches are in. Thank you to all you who are sewing them on for me. I will get back in the game and help, I promise. Big Thank you to Kerstin Pakter for making and donating the patches.

2. There are three gatherings set up for me, my son Carson , and my Brazilin cohort: One at Morro do Canta Galo, one in Meier and another at Campo Grande. At each place we can train with the kids and a demonstration will be put on, and in true Brazilian fashion we will have a barbeque.

3. The Carly Stowell Foundation/Jammin BJJ sponsored six children from Canta Galo so they can participate in the Festival Rio Kids Student BJJ tournament August 10-11. I was thrilled when I learned the dates of the tournament because it means I can watch the boys compete. Hyperfly generously donated new gis for these six boys.

(*Why these boys? When the idea of sponsoring registration costs was brought up I was working with Rico Vieira whose Checkmat team volunteers their time in Canta Galo. These six boys show exceptional talent and work ethic, but had been unable to compete due to financial hardship. In the future I hope to develop a system where children from different areas can apply. These boys did “apply”. The Carly Stowell Foundation has an application for financial assistance which we modified for this purpose. Like the US application, there is an area to be completed by the student that reads, “Carly Stowell was a gifted athlete and musician. What set her apart was her ability to recognize that dreams, without drive, hard work and determination simply remain only dreams. Success and ability are wasted on those who forget who they are and where they came from. Describe for us your dreams, your commitment to achieving them and the role you see the Foundation playing in assisting your pursuit.”

                I was delighted to receive little paragraphs from the boys (ages 6 to 11), in Portuguese, that described how they dream to be world champions and great fighters; they train hard and would like to be able to compete.

4. This trip we will travel to southern Brazil where I am told there is as great a need for assistance as Rio has. I plan to meet the folks I know only through cyberspace, gather information about the community centers there, see what BJJ exists, examine the needs of the children and see what the possibilities are.

I know there is need, and I know there are infinite ways to help, but my program has limitations too. This is, again, where the power of positive energy came through. I was questioning whether or not Give the Gift of a Gi could continue without assistance when….

5. Coach Foster announced that the proceeds from the Giva Santana seminar September 14-15 will be donated to Give the Gift of a Gi. (still makes me teary – good tears) Thank you Coach, Team Foster, seminar participants, Giva and Erica.  I hope I see YOU there.

6. I brainstormed with Kris Shaw to put on a seminar just for kids. (We had just chosen a date, October 26th when Coach made his announcement).  There will be three sessions that differ in length appropriate to the age. During a break from noon to one I will make a presentation about the program and show pictures and maybe some video from this year’s trip. The kids seminar (remains to be named) will be affordable and run through the Carly Stowell Foundation so that it is non-political and a non-profit donation to register. The Foundation can also provide financial aid for participants if necessary. Keep an eye out for details! In addition to Kris Shaw, Michelle Wagner will teach and I am currently communicating with other coaches to assist.  Please let me know if you can help. I’d like to have snacks for the kids and maybe a raffle. If you have anything to donate let me know.

Wow. If you build it will they come? Yes, indeed they will. I feel so blessed and honored to be a part of the BJJ community. Thanks to everyone who donated a gi, sent money, sewed a patch, donated their time, sent positive energy, gave me an idea, and thanks to all of you that will help in the future.

“Yup, Coach was right. I’m most certainly not done.” (Flowing with the Go, p.116)




Thursday, April 11, 2013

Last Saturday my former student and current jiu-jitsu teammate Zach Baltierra helped me count and organize the gis that have been donated for the Give the Gift of a Gi program. I needed the help and he needed some community service hours for his junior project.
Here we are with some of the donations we have received. Zach was charged with separating them by size, which was not easy because different maufacturers use different systems and many tags were hard to read after many washings. Kids gis, especially, are all labeled differently, K1, M2, 000.
Doing our best to get things organized!



My meticulous record keeping looks more like a hieroglyphic version of Excel, but it makes sense to me. And in the end our total was 100 gis! I am happy to report that we have already exceeded our goal. Fabiana Borges donated two gis this week when I visited her gym in San Antonio. So we are over the top and ready for a new goal.
All done. They are sorted and boxed, or bagged; the ones in need of repair have been identified; Zach did his good deed and I just carry on! That is a picture of my daughter, Carly, in the background. I know that she is a positive force contributing to the joy this project is bringing me.
Thanks for all of the support.

Friday, March 15, 2013

If Gis Could Talk

Give the Gift of a Gi

My gi donation program has been both heart-warming and eye-opening.  It has brought more than the tangible gift of the [almost] one hundred gis that are in piles on my living room floor; it has brought the intangible gift of shared memories, growth, challenges and glory.  At first I worried that the donors telling me stories would change their minds, and in the middle of handing the gi over, renege. Or that maybe they would suffer from separation anxiety and would want their gi back the next day. But no one did any of those things. Instead they gave me more than their gi, they gave me a part of their jiu-jitsu journey. I want to share some of their stories here.

 “This is my very first gi. It looks more like a judo gi because when I started there were no gis for jiu-jitsu.”

“That is my first gi. When I started I wore the pants backwards. Finally an upper belt pointed out my mistake.”

“This is my very first gi. I dyed it myself [lavender]. It’s been sitting in my closet. I don’t wear it, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I wore this when I got my purple belt and when I had to go through the traditional “Ironman” and roll with everyone in the gym. I feel good knowing it is going to a good cause. This feels like the right thing to do with it.”

“I wore this when I weighed 285. So glad to say it doesn’t fit anymore.”

“This is my son’s gi from when he first started. Wow, I can’t believe how big he is now.”

“I remember when I got this first tear on the lapel. I was so proud. To me it meant I had worked hard enough to, like, earn it … and I’m still going.”

“This is a nice gi. That’s the logo of my first sponsor there on the leg.”

Most of the gis tell stories I will never know. Some are as soft as pillow cases from hundreds of washes and countless hours of wear. There are torn knees and lapels; there are gis that look brand-new (some that are brand-new); some that need drawstrings and some that came with white belts. And I can’t help but wonder about the grips that have held them; the opponents they have viewed; the mats they have rolled on. 

Ahhh, if gis could talk.  I wonder what mine would say. I remember my first gi, my first lapel tear, my first team patch. I remember which ones I took where when I visited other gyms. I remember which ones I wore in every competition. I hope my gis would say that I took good care of them and that the detergent I chose made them smell good. I hope they would say I treated with the respect due a suit of armor and that I wore them with pride, that I deserved them.

Thanks to all who have participated and those of you who plan to participate in Give the Gift of a Gi.

 “No gi shall be discriminated against on the basis of color [I have received white, black, blue, green, purple, brown and red]; national origin [Pakistan, Brazil, China]; gender [male and female styles]; brand [too many to name]; physical limitations [some would not meet IBJJF standards]; team status [many still have their patches]; for participation in any program or activity conducted by this organization.”

Thursday, February 28, 2013


This is an older story I wrote to my friend and editor, Jan who said I should "blog it" back when I didn't even have a website ... or a book for that matter. The meaning remains the same ....

Jan is having a bad day so I'm going to tell you a story ...

A long time ago, like 4 and a half years ago I purchased several charms with a 21 in a heart to give to Carly's friends. The company I got them from also has a "grab bag" with unpopular, out of date and ugly charms and I ordered a couple of those at the same time, well, because I'm a risk taker like that.

So 4.5 years ago amongst the grab bag of random zodiac signs, malformations, arrow heads, and Y2K charms there's a charm that says "Let's Roll". Well I'm thinking, "oh jeez, I'm not a trucker" and I leave it with all of the other rejects and smile because I find one that sort of looks like an angel and another that is a snowboarder I can give my brother.

Now its last Sunday and I just got back from another thrillsville-FDA job in Indianapolis and I think of the heart-21 charms because I want to send one to someone. And, in the sack I see the old grab bag rejects ... and I see "Let's Roll" and I'm struck first by the thought, "Wow, what's that doing in there?" And I feel a little twinge of guilt as I recall that 4.5 years ago (pre-BJJ) that little statement meant nothing to me, in fact I thought it was corny and I put it in a reject pile. And now, "Let's Roll" is an invitation to sport and friendship and has a completely different meaning to me. I'm wearing it right now!

And I was struck by the idea of context and how things can mean so much more or less to us depending on where we are at that time and what we are bringing to the table.

And I was reminded of how I laugh everytime I think of James and PTR (Jan, did you see this by his name in the ackno page?). That story goes like this: I had sent James a text and signed off with "PTR". In the basketball world, you might fist-bump your friend and say, "Peace Yo, PTR" when you depart. PTR = Pound The Rock. Which means keep your dribble low (the rock is the ball) and firm, keep the ball safe.

James texts back, "PTR?"  then before I can respond sends a follow up text, "Prepare To Roll?" Haha I'm laughing right now. Back then I laughed because I thought, "what a dork" (respectfully of course) but now that I understand the power of context and words, I get it.

Story time is over, I hope your day gets better.

Let's Roll-PTR,




Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An Enriching Weekend

But here I am. After speaking on empowerment last Friday at PNW Grappling Women's Training Camp +Sonia Sillan I admitted to myself that I was not "walking my talk" if I continued to avoid this blog site that I was so excited to have +Mike Baltierra +Janet Green  and then let scare me into elusion. "What can I possibly have to say that anyone would want to read?" and "There are so many really great bloggers out there, why add another mediocre one?"  But here I am. I Know My Go. My Go is the anxiety I cause in my gut by tying my worth to an outcome... such as the quality of this post. But here I am. I am going to honor my Go and use it as the fuel of empowerment.

I had an enriching weekend. On Friday at PNWG I spoke before, and with, a group of women jiu-jitsu athletes about empowerment and how to Know their Go. I shared my story and read from Flowing with the Go, letting them know that as women, as athletes, as mothers, daughters, sisters friends and teammates, we all struggle. We struggle with fear and disengagement. We struggle with loss and disappointment. We struggle with resentment and feeling alone. We struggle because, for a while, we let the idea that there is no escape from these feelings consume us. And we waste emotional energy on those feelings. Energy that could be spent living fully, loving authentically and accepting ourselves as the gifts we are.

Each woman there had a story of WHY they practiced jiu-jitsu. A story about how jiu-jitsu gave them courage, physical strength, confidence,  a healthy outlet for stress and a sanctuary of inner resolve that was unique to each personal journey. I feel fortunate to have met these women and learn from them. Sharing is a truly a reciprocal endeavor.

My enriching weekend continued. On Monday I was asked to attend a book club meeting of women who read Flowing with the Go. None of these women did jiu-jitsu. In fact, none of them had any interest in ever doing jiu-jitsu. After the buzz of having the author there died down and I showed my motif of harmlessness - wearing Converse All-Stars with my dress pants - they asked me questions and I answered them all, as best I could. And it was delightful. I said they could ask me anything, When we discussed death and loss, everyone had a relatable story and we all cried. One gal admitted that she didn't finish the book because the beginning was hard and she was too raw from having lost her father two years ago. But she said, even in those first chapters, she found relief in realization that her feelings of transparency and gut-wrenching ache were feelings that I also went through and that she was not crazy. Several women wanted to discuss a statement I wrote about how I felt entitled to my future... my plans about my family and myself - they all felt that way about their lives too. And then when life finds a way to let you know that you are not entitled, that you are not in control - you get scared. So took them to Know Your Go and empowerment, like I did with the BJJ women.

And I was enriched. I was reminded that these emotions are universal features of being human. Two very different groups of women with a common thread. Thank you Carly.