A CONVERSATION WITH NATASHA HASTINGS

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You see the bright lipstick and platinum blonde hair. You know about the Olympic gold medals and World Championship medals. It’s no doubt that she is a force in women’s sports. But are you seeing what she wants you to see and do you really know what keeps her going? In conjunction with SET Magazine, GladiatHers.com is bringing you an in-depth two-part conversation with the fiercely competitive, fiercely fashionable Natasha Hastings. Get to know the woman on and off the track and be inspired by her determination to win, even when she loses.

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GLADIATHERS & SUPERHEROES

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If you’re into Netflix like I am, there’s a really good chance that you’re captivated by one of its newest series, Luke Cage, or that you’ve already binged watched the entire first season.  Luke Cage, also known as Power Man, is a fictional superhero who appeared in comic books published by Marvel Comics.  If you don’t happen to follow comic books that closely, but watched Netflix’s other superhero series, Jessica Jones, then you’re already familiar with Cage.  If you aren’t familiar with the stories but intend to give them a watch, don’t worry; I won’t spoil the plots.  I’ll just say that both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones provide exciting, interesting stories.  And, probably most importantly, they show a woman and a person of color in roles as superheroes; stories that are, unfortunately, not frequently told.

Basking in the greatness that are Luke Cage and Jessica Jones led me to think about women in sports and the greatness they give us on a regular basis.  Day in and day out, female athletes perform feats that are nothing short of heroic.  They inspire others to be great, they bounce back from injuries, battle with archenemies and do awe-inspiring things with their bodies.  There’s no denying it, GladiatHers® are our real-life superheroes.  So today on GladiatHers.com we’re taking a look at a very short list of some GladiatHers® who live absolutely heroic lives. Continue reading

JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE: THE ATHLETE & THE ACTIVIST

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Not every athlete becomes legendary.  Not every athlete can say that they were one of the greatest in the world.  Not every athlete can say that they went beyond their sport and are true activists for change.  I know one who can, Jackie.  Joyner.  Kersee.  Not only is Jackie Joyner-Kersee track and field royalty but she is the quintessential activist athlete.  She was the first American to win gold in the long jump and the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon. Her three gold, one silver and two bronze medals were earned over the span of four Olympic Games, but her determination to improve the lives of others has spanned over her entire lifetime.  Her Foundation, that has raised over $12 million, improves the lives of children and families in impoverished, often forgotten about East St. Louis.  And her latest endeavor is bringing technology to large groups of underserved people.  When you talk about athletes who use their platform to bring the change they want to see, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is in fact, one of the greats.

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MY MONTH AS HOPE SOLO’S PR MANAGER

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Sigh. Hope Solo. Instead of talking about what a great goalie and representative of women’s sports she is, we’ve spent the majority of August talking about what a poor sport she is. She’s seriously been a public relations nightmare and I can only imagine that her management team is in full-on crisis management mode right now. Lately, she’s let her lack of sportsmanship, thoughtfulness and maturity be on display for the world to see. And watching it all play out from the comfort of my home has been a bit like driving past a bad car wreck…You don’t want to see it, but you just can’t look away.  While taking in her epic meltdown, I’ve frequently put myself, a non-PR expert,  in her PR team’s shoes. What would I tell Hope? How would I have tried to change things? Here’s some of what I’ve come up with:

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AND IF YOU DON’T KNOW, NOW YA KNOW…

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The Olympics have come and gone.  I must say, aside from Ryan Lochte’s full-on frat bro display of stupidity and utter disrespect, I enjoyed what I saw.  I was unquestionably entertained and inspired.  I actually think that it’s the inspiration piece that really makes the Olympics so great.  Not only are athletes providing entertainment and bragging rights, but they’re using their lives’ work to inspire and teach millions of people.  That’s why we wait in anticipation and watch without flinching every four years; we want to be inspired and be taught to be better than we were yesterday.  Through the Olympics we learn about true perseverance, love, dedication and talent.  We learn just how much each athlete has to give up for the opportunity to represent their country, and we’re inspired to give a little more of ourselves.

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KATINKA REMINDS US IT’S OK TO BE A TOUGH WOMAN

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We’re six whole days into the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the GladiatHers® of the world have not disappointed. They’re setting personal, Olympic and world records; inspiring us with their stories of perseverance and triumph; and even disappointing us in heartbreaking losses. The Olympics are absolutely meeting and surpassing my expectations. But in the midst of all the greatness, the media and the public have managed to give us far too many moments of mediocrity and stupidity. In instances where women are focused on winning gold medals and bringing glory to themselves, their families and their countries; people sitting at home and in their comfy news chairs choose to talk about hairstyles, unconventional family ties, the masculinity of performances and husband’s careers. Sigh. Listen, Gabby’s edges don’t need to be laid; Simone’s parents are her parents; Katie doesn’t swim like a man, she swims like Katie effing Ledecky; and Mitch Unrein’s wife has a name, it’s Corey Cogdell and she’s a hell of a shooter. I’m not sure why, but I still get surprised and disappointed with the routine refusal to acknowledge women for their greatness without making undercutting commentary.

Perhaps the most disappointing of the undercutting commentary has come at the expense of Katinka Hosszu, the Hungarian woman whose been racing out of her mind in Rio. After a disappointing showing in London in 2012, Katinka and her husband/coach Shane Tusup set out on a mission to come back to Rio stronger, faster and richer. By in large, they’ve done just that together. Thus far, Hosszu has set a new world and Olympic record and won three gold medals. Her dominance in the pool is unquestionable. Unfortunately, some commentators would like you to believe that Tusup and his coaching prowess are responsible for Hosszu’s success. Let’s be very, very clear; Hosszu is responsible for Hosszu’s success. Yes, Tusup has coached and likely inspired her, but at the end of the day, each and every athlete is responsible for his/her own success. Hosszu alone swam every practice and every meet. Hosszu alone earned each and every win and each and every dollar. She got her body up day in and day out, battled depression and defeat, and sacrificed normalcy for greatness. Any suggestion otherwise is rooted in pure sexist thought.

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But that’s not why I’m most upset at the coverage Hosszu’s been receiving. In addition to not being able to take credit for her own success, Hosszu’s had to endure pretty incessant conversation about her the health of her marriage and coaching relationship. From his poolside reactions, it is clear that Tusup is passionate about his swimmer’s success. He’s often found standing poolside intensely watching, cheering and directing Hosszu in practice and competition. Rumor has it that he has no qualms about letting her know when he’s proud or when he’s disappointed in her performances. He’s a coach who requires greatness from his swimmer. His passion has drawn attention from the public and questions about whether his coaching reaches abusive levels. Hosszu has repeatedly assured us that while there is no doubt that he is an intense, demanding coach, they have a healthy, loving relationship.

But Hosszu’s word doesn’t seem to be enough because, apparently, not only is she not strong enough to win on her own, but she’s also not strong enough to stand up for herself and endure grueling, strict coaching and training. The suggestions that Tusup is somehow abusing his wife and encouraging the usage of performance enhancers seems to be rooted in the media’s paternalistic view of female athletes, not fact. The world seems to hold a view that female athletes should be handled with kid gloves and shouldn’t be yelled at or pushed to the limit. We generally don’t bat an eye when we see intense men coaching men, but the sight of a man yelling at his female athletes often draws red flags. It draws red flags because society still wants women to be docile, helpless creatures who can’t handle toughness. Sure, some men can be abusive and some coaches can take it too far, so we should be mindful of dangerous behavior. But we’re dealing with an able-minded, world-class, adult athlete who has willingly entered into this relationship. Hosszu willingly decided that she needed a change and that her husband and his style of coaching were the best fit for the change. Hosszu and her swim times have shown that she is satisfied with Tusup’s coaching and their marriage. That should be enough.

Many seem to want Hosszu to be abused athlete, driven to cheating for the glory of her husband. That ain’t the story she or the facts are telling, so I’m not buying it.  The story I’m buying is one of the intense will and desire to win even if it’s painful and even if it’s unconventional. Some athletes need constant positive, calm reinforcement to be successful. But some athletes need coaches who pull greatness from them with yelling, intensity and relentlessness. It’s ok if athletes who need the latter happen to be women because you know what, women are tough. Women don’t always need to be coddled and they don’t always need someone to intrude into what works for them, even when it doesn’t fit society’s mold. If Hosszu needs demanding coaching to be great and she wants that intensity to come from her husband, we should be ok with that.

 

OLYMPIC SACRIFICES

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I LOVE the Olympics.  I’m really not even exaggerating when I say that.  I haven’t missed the opportunity to watch any of them since the time I had the slightest bit of control over what I watch.  And for an unreasonably long time, I just KNEW I was going to one day compete in them myself; definitely as a gymnast and then for sure as a sprinter.  Even when my hopes of being a world class athlete were replaced with more realistic goals for this 5’4.5″ frame of mine, my love for the games and support of the athletes remained.  There is something thoroughly inspiring and infectious about watching people dedicate their lives to a specific craft and then become the universe’s greatest performer of their craft.  For all the problems my country has, it’s usually an occasion for me to cheer on the red, white and blue proudly.  But this year, I find myself in a peculiar position; my heart isn’t 100% into the Olympics.

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