Run 4 All Women MA

R4AWMA.jpgI am excited to share that on Sunday, August 13, 2017, I will be running in a 50-mile relay to empower women and raise funds for Planned Parenthood League.  Run 4 All Women was born in the early weeks of 2017, right before the inauguration, as many were worried about what the future would hold. Founder Alison Desir, was searching for a way to reconcile the frustration and fear she felt; was there a way to affect real change? The story of how this movement has grown is a fascinating one – I urge you to read more about it here. In short, Run 4 All Women uses running as a vehicle for social change, and to organize/conduct running events that empower women to be the change they seek. I am especially excited about this opportunity because it brings together many things I care deeply about, including running, grassroots activism, and social change.

The one-day MA relay begins in Gloucester MA and ends in South Boston at Thomas Park. The route will be supported by a van with a driver and a navigator. Four runners will take turns running approximately 4 mile segments, with each 4-mile changeover location being accessible by car (with parking) or public transportation. Here is a map with the route:


We are stronger together, so join us on our journey of empowerment, grassroots activism, and advancing the cause of women’s health issues. Here are some ways you can become involved:

RUN WITH US! Runners (women AND men!!) are invited to join the run at changeover locations, and walkers will be invited to join at the last 2 and 3 mile locations. To sign up for a leg, please fill out this Google doc. Volunteers are also welcome to provide support along the course.

MEET US AT THE FINISH! Friends, family and allies are encouraged to gather at the end of the route to greet runners as they finish the journey, at Thomas Park in South Boston.

DONATE! Funds raised will be benefit the local Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts:

If you’ll be out of town the weekend of the event but still want to catch up on how it went, you can join us at OTTO for a pizza and community building fundraiser.


Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your continued support as I pursue new and exciting adventures!!

Takeaways from Breaking2

It’s now been a month since my Breaking2 experience and I can honestly say not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about or referenced it. Whether it’s keeping up with the friends I made there via WhatsApp or social media, looking through photos on my phone, or simply needing to channel the energy from those 4 days during the tough parts of recent runs, I think it’s safe to say that the experience has definitely changed me. In the spirit of wrapping up describing my experience, I thought I’d share one last reflection about what has stuck with me the most. These are in no particular order.


One of the things I’ve shared over and over again is how little ego there was with the people I met. I was running with blazing-fast runners from all over the world, but these same speedsters were running with me during the 5K, Breaking2Together and the long runs. It was the first time I was around that many runners and not ONE person asked me what I was training for. The question instead was “How did you get into running?” No one asked me for my times so they could secretly judge me on how fast a runner I was. No one blew by me on a run without taking the time to run with me and get to know me. I can honestly say it was the most free I felt around running, and I actually felt like others saw me as a true runner – not just someone who is trying to fit into the running world. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a very real feeling I have and one I’m holding onto. This photo illustrates for me the community we built. All of these guys BLAZED through the 5K, but stayed and cheered everyone on until every single person had crossed the finish line. I love this image and I can remember being there like it was yesterday.



I remember watching all of the details of the Breaking2 attempt unfold. In the beginning it was Eliud, Zersenay  and Lelisa all running as a pack. Eventually, the trio would start to separate, with Lelisa falling behind first, and eventually Zerseney. And while the historians will remember that Eliud is the one that came within 25 seconds of the goal, I can say I was there to watch Zersenay and Lelisa cross. As I was scrolling through the photos after my trip, this photo of Lelisa really hit me: 

Lelisa - Cory

                                                                                                                               PC: @corywhartonmalcolm

I love so much about this photo and what it represents: that he stuck it out and finished even though he got lapped and was clearly in some pain. He defied those tho questioned whether he would make it or whether he’d give up. He may even have been forgotten by those who shifted all of their focus onto Eliud.  I think I feel like I can relate to Lelisa in this moment – especially when I’m at practice. I know I’m one of the slowest that shows up every week, I know there are others who look at me and wonder why I’m there, or question if I’m fast enough to be on the team. And if I’m being completely honest, I ask myself the same questions some days. The redemption in this photo is the moped support who never left him even when the pacers couldn’t run with him because they were pacing Zersenay and Eliud. As I watched him pass us every lap I kept thinking “At least he’s not alone.” There are moments in practice or on a long run when I feel very alone and therefore self-conscious about how slow I am. But if I’m lucky, I get a word of encouragement from Kyle at practice, a high five from Coach Dan, or I’m able to muster up the mental fortitude to push myself through. Watching Lelisa at Breaking2 reminded me that there’s always going to be someone who’s last, and if it ends up being me at practice, I have to do with Lelisa did: keep pushing and moving forward.


I have been lucky that throughout my athletic endeavors, I’ve had some phenomenal coaches. Through my current job I have seen it all – from subpar to outstanding coaches and it’s clear the difference they make. At Breaking2 I met coaches from run crews around the world and it was clear they took the time to build relationships with the runners in their community. They had a vision for their crew and it was exciting to hear where they wanted to go next. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to meet and spend time with Coach Bennett, the NRC Global Run Coach. PIM_B2-5875

His entire coaching philosophy is his belief in better and the potential he sees in every runner. I’ve been following him on social media for a while, but at Breaking2 I not only got to meet him but also spend a lot of time learning from him. His hunger for improvement – for himself but mainly for others – is contagious. One of the highlights of the whole trip for me was during the last quarter mile of the 5K on the Monza track, he ran me in. He literally ran alongside me and encouraged me to dig deep to push farther. “Think about what Eliud did on this track a few hours ago! This is YOUR Breaking2, Rachel!” I visualized so much during that talk and for the first time I could see myself as a real runner. He ran me to the finish and it was the strongest I felt at the end of a 5K! Coach Bennett

The following day, Coach Bennett asked me some questions for an interview for Nike and one of his questions was “What is your Breaking2?” The question caught me off guard – I had never even considered that idea. Coach Bennett was able to break down what the deeper meaning of the question was and after the interview we talked about what it means for me. I told him some of my big goals – goals that I literally haven’t told anyone because I’m usually so self-conscious around other people. I feel like if I tell others my running goals, they’ll immediately judge me for being so slow. But Coach Bennett’s reaction? He smiled, said, “Great! Now that you said them out loud, you’ll reach them.” Just that simple statement made me feel empowered (and motivated) to chase those goals. Thanks Coach Bennett!Coach Bennett2


One of the things I’m constantly sharing about my trip is the people I met. Everyone was a runner and everyone belonged to a run club or crew. But what blew me away was what some of these run crews were doing. Here are a few samples of some of the groups: 

  • Belgrade Urban Running Team (BURT) is a group of runners, as well as those who have to become. We don’t care whether you live for sports, or sport is only one chapter in your everyday life. We invite all friends who want to #bridgethegap and enjoy socializing after each urban run.
  • Zagreb Runners:no plans, no boundaries, no limits, no reasons, no rules, no destinations… Just run, party and repeat! We don’t run to earn, we don’t run to compete, we don’t run to win! We run to understand, to have fun, to get lost, to help, to smile, we run to live… Join us! You don’t need anything, just RUN WITH YOUR ♥!
  • 442 Crew – We had troubled past, but we’re focusing on future full of miles and smiles. Belgrade Urban Running Team and Zagreb Runners realised that they share same passion, lifestyle, same ideas for brighter future, mutual love and vision that running crews can and will overcome politics! We are two cities, two nations, two running crews, but we are one family and one love.
  • We Run Clan – We are the first Polish running crew of it’s kind; uniting a group of people from all walks of life who share the love for running. We are serious about running, but more serious about being part of something more important than the time above the finish line; meeting like-minded people in places all over the world.

The common themes that stood out to me as I learned about everyone’s run crew were: community, uniting others, bridging gaps, and wanting to be part of something bigger than racing. It was so cool to not only hear about them talk about these things, but to see it in action. There was also no rivalry between crews – I saw a high level of mutual respect. Maybe it was because they are all running for a greater purpose than just getting fast, but I feel like my whole perspective on running has shifted since meeting them.


To say being part of this entire Breaking2 experience was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity is a huge understatement. Life-changing? Absolutely. I would say that the shifts in my thinking about running, the new energy I bring to workouts, the relationships I am building within my running community, and the connections I have around the globe have all contributed to making me not only a better runner, but a better person. So to EVERYONE who was part of this journey with me, THANK YOU, and I can’t wait to do it all over again soon!!

IMG_0570IMG_0536IMG_1110IMG_0544 (1)

Pacers and SHEroes

So just to recap what happened in the first 48 hours of Breaking2, we ran a 300-person relay in Piazza Duomo, got inspired by Coach Bennett every time he had the mic, watched the Breaking2 attempt trackside, and ran a 5K on the exact same course – all while getting to mingle with some of the greatest runners across the globe. Pretty epic.

Well, Sunday morning comes around and we were all grateful for a morning when we didn’t have anything scheduled until 10:00am. Kate and I are still trying to stay warm in our sleeping bags when all of a sudden this beautiful violin music starts to play. Talk about the best alarm clock ever – and even though it was earlier than I think anyone was planning on waking up, the sheer beauty of the music made up for it. Then Kate said, “I think that music is live!” Admittedly, I doubted her in the beginning, but then the more we listened, the more feasible it seemed. We finally looked out the tent door, and sure enough, there was a LIVE violinist playing or the whole camp.


Running with Breaking2 Pacers – Coach Bennett then told us that the Breaking2 Pacers were going on a shakeout run with us. He gave a pretty inspiring speech about the critical role the pacers played in the attempt the day before (my thoughts on that will be in my next blog post) and then they joined us at camp. After running their hearts out the previous day and spending most of the day after the attempt celebrating, they woke up early to run with us. They showed up with so much joy and energy, it was contagious. You’ll note in the photos their joy and excitement. The shakeout run ended up being about 6km, but the highlight is that every 400 meters, they would stop and dance. It was more like a shakeout party with some running thrown in. Have a look at these photos captured by @marekogien:

pacer entrance marek


pacer closeup marek

pacer profile marek

front of the pack marek

pacer crew marekpacer group run marek

dancing duo marek

kid in play pacers marek

pacer crew run marek

dance circle marek

smiley pacer marek

big desk pacer marekmoo with pacers marek

shirtless pacer marek

excited pacer marekgroup shot with pacers marek

Long Run with Shalane Flanagan – A few hours after the Pacer Party, we went on a long run with Shalane Flanagan! We had a choice of a 30, 60 or 90-minute run. It was the run with the best weather and some sweet views en route to Milan.


PC: @maxmenning


PC: @maxmenning


PC: @maxmenning


PC: @maxmenning

shalane long run

PC: @marekogien

caleb and ilario jumping marek

PC: @marekogien

long run group shot

PC: @marekogien


PC: @maxmenning

Meeting Allyson Felix! I have always admired Allyson Felix, so you can imagine my surprise when they asked if I would be willing to show her around camp and film an Instagram story for Airbnb! We filmed the story (it took a few takes to get it right) and then I got to hang out one-on-one with Allyson – we talked about everything from running, to elementary education, to being an athlete in college. I was completely starstruck while simultaneously impressed with how down to earth she is. We actually had a TON of fun filming the story even though I was nervous about messing up in front of my shero! Here are some screen shots from the final Insta story that Airbnb posted:

Thanks to @fredgoris for capturing these candids during the shoot:



And thanks to Allyson Felix for her time – it is a day I will never forget!


Campfire with SHEroes! As if the day hadn’t been EPIC enough, we had dinner and a Campfire talk with Joan Benoit Samuelson, Shalane Flanagan, and Allyson Felix. So much power, speed and awesomeness all on one stage, hosted by Coach Becs. The stories and advice they shared inspired everyone at camp.


PC: @maxmenning


PC: @pimrinkes

MaxMenning-CampfireTalk-9 (1)

PC: @maxmenning




PC: @pimrinkes

Monday morning yoga: Of course any good running event always has some sort of yoga element. So our last morning together, there was a yoga session led by Isabelle Fuhrman. Great way to stretch out and reflect on the whole experience! (PC: @pimrinkes)








And that wraps up the “epic events” recap of the trip. Still so many thoughts running through my head that I want to share – but that’s for the next post. Thanks for reading!

Witnessing History & Running an EPIC 5K!

B2 nighttime

                                                                                                                                                 PC: @tomschlegel

Nothing quite like a 3:30am wake up call when got to bed at midnight and hadn’t slept much the previous 24 hours. But once we rubbed the sleep out of our eyes, we were nothing by amped to go watch THE event – the reason why we were all there in the first place! It was a short walk from the campsite to the entrance to the track and getting to witness literally everything that was going on, caused all of us to get hyped about it all. It was still dark but the track was lit up with blue and red lights and signs everywhere. While we weren’t even running, you could sense the nervousness from everyone, and we all knew that no matter the outcome, we were about to witness history.


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

barrier 2 marekbarrier marekIMG_0321


There we were, part of the live event while the television show was hosted by Sal Masekela with commentary provided by Paula Radcliffe, Craig Masback, Kevin Hart and Shalane Flanagan. All spectators were gathered by the finish line holding signs and leaning right up against the barriers not wanting to miss any of the action. It’s hard to describe what it was like to watch this historic event, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

morning marek

                                                                                                                                                     PC: marekogien


                                                                                                                                                     PC: marekogien

action marek

                                                                                                                                                     PC: marekogien


                                                                                                                                                           PC: @airbnb

josh dun marek

                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

Lelisa by Melo

                                                                                                                                                              PC: @Melo

eliud with pacers

                                                                                                                                                     PC: marekogien


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

Hart interview Tom

                                                                                                                                                 PC: @tomschlegel


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

eliud finish

B2 clock - gautier

And then the celebration began!!


                                                                                                                                                  PC: maxmenning


                                                                                                                                                  PC: maxmenning

eliud laying down

eliud by cory

                                                                                                                               PC: @corywhartonmalcolm


                                                                                                                                                  PC: maxmenning


pacer MaxMenning



pacers gautier

                                                                                                                                          PC: @gautierpellegrin


eliud lifted up cory

                                                                                         PC: @corywhartonmalcolm

the champ marek

                                                                                                                                                     PC: marekogien

final 3 marek

                                                                                                                                                     PC: marekogien

I’m still processing all the thoughts in my head about what happened during that 2 hours and 25 seconds, but they will be shared during another reflection post that is brewing in my mind right now.


After witnessing history, we walked back to camp for some breakfast and to reflect on what we all just watched. Despite most of us running on fumes, the buzz of excitement was palpable in the air. I think it’s fair to say we were all hoping for a nap. But then Cory gets on the mic and announces…


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

That we were going to run a 5K – ON THE MONZA TRACK – the place we just watched the fastest marathon run EVER. “Don’t eat too much – you’re going to run very soon!” As if the excitement of that wasn’t enough, when we went back to our tents, we had some surprises waiting for us – a full running kit!

running kit - claire

                                                                                                                                               PC: @clairemueller

Even though we were just at the track a few hours prior, arriving this time felt different – maybe because we were ACTUALLY ON THE TRACK this time!


Same race car used during Breaking2 paced us for the 5K!                                           PC: @pimrinkes





                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes


                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes

As we ran along the exact course that the world’s greatest runners had just run on a few hours before, the pure joy of being there was evident on all of our paces. You could feel the speed of the track and you knew you were on sacred ground.


                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes


                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes


                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes

After I cross the finish line I went back and realized that I crossed the EXACT same finish line that Eliud Kipchoge, Zersenay Tadese, and Lelisa Desisa had crossed the same morning. To say I was humbled wouldn’t even be close to accurate.


Definitely THE most epic 5K I’ve ever run and one I will NEVER forget. The energy, the support, the pure joy of running, the desire to find our own “breaking2 moment” – just looking through the photos brings me back to this run. I am so grateful I got to run it with this amazing group!


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

Traveling to and Day 1 of #Breaking2

Traveling from Boston to Milan This adventure began on the evening of May 4, when I arrived at the Boston Airport. My flight was supposed to leave at 5:20pm and arrive at JFK by 7:00pm, allowing plenty of time to catch my 10:20pm flight to Milan. But because traveling isn’t stressful enough, the President decided to visit NYC the same evening, causing all air space to be cleared for hours before and after his arrival and departure, so all flights in/out of NYC were put on hold. The hours kept ticking away and it got to the point where I wasn’t even sure if I’d get to JFK on time. Huge props to Kate at Nike who literally worked tirelessly and kept in touch to ensure that she would get me to Milan. My favorite text was, “I WILL NOT REST UNTIL YOU ARE ON A PLANE TO MILAN” and she really meant it! Fortunately, the flight landed in time for me walk to the correct terminal and arrive just as the flight was starting to board. That is also where I met fellow Airbnb contest winners, Caleb Duquense from New Orleans and Ryan Shaffer (goes by Shaffer) from NYC. (NRC Toronto Pacer Eric was also on our flight)

JFK airport

We then proceeded the biggest plane I’d ever flown on. When I traveled to Ghana we were on a big plane, but this one was two floors and even the coach seats were quite spacious. I’d like to say the flight went without any incident, but unfortunately I got violently ill a few hours in. After puking my guts out, I returned to my seat where I suffered through an hour of a raging headache, before falling asleep for a few hours and woke up feeling much better.

We landed in Milan, and after breezing through customs, met our driver as well as two other contest winners – one from Korea and one from Taiwan.

Milan airport

We then started the drive out to Monza and for parts of the drive the Alps provided an an incredible backdrop. We finally arrived at Parco di Monza where Nike and Airbnb had literally built Breaking2 Camp.

camp opening

me against fence

I stayed in yurt 25 with my awesome tentmate Kate, from the UK.

yurt outside

yurt inside


Here are some photos of what the rec area of the camp looked like:

rec area


Breaking2 Together – Not long after we arrived, our first event was announced – “Breaking2 Together” a 300+ person relay in Piazza Duomo. Nike built a 42-meter track in the middle of the square:


42 meter track

piazza duomo skillyx

                                                                                                                                                         PC: @xskillyx

duomo skilly

                                                                                                                                                     PC: @xskillyx

They decked us out in  #Breaking2Together shirts and the new Nike Pegasus shoes:

B2together squad


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


This event was hosted by Carl Lewis & Kevin Hart (who ran the very first and last legs of the whole relay)

Lewis and Hart

                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

Runners were put on teams and each member of every team ran the track 3 times, for a total mileage of a marathon with the ultimate goal seeing if together we could break 2 hours for a marathon.

team bibs SKILLY_

                                                                                                                                                         PC: @xskillyx


                                                                                                                                                         PC: @xskillyx


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

Ilario MaxMenning

                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

caleb relay SKILLY

                                                                                                                                                         PC: @xskillyx

team white PIM

                                                                                                                                                     PC: @pimrinkes




                                                                                                                                                         PC: @xskillyx

There was also DOPE live band during the whole relay.

violin MaxMenning

                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

B2T band

                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning


                                                                                                                                               PC: @maxmenning

Some of us wandered around the city centre after we ran and that’s when I got to learn about some awesome running crews in eastern Europe including Belgrade, Zagreb & Warsaw. It was fascinating to hear about how these crews are striving to #bridgethegap through urban running crews. Some of my favorite photos (taken by the talented @marekogien) are from our unintentional walking tour of Milan that night:

Friday night 2

friday night

We got to back to camp quite late – ate dinner around 11:15pm – and that was when we were told that our wake up call would be at 3:30am. A majority of us were already running on fumes and adrenaline but the buzz and excitement of Breaking2 was on the forefront of our minds and Coach Bennett reminded us that it was our responsibility to go out and support these runners and pacers. It was the only evening of the trip in which everyone went to bed without much fanfare.

That time I won this thing…

Mile 20 one

A little background on me: If you had asked me just 5 years ago that I would become a runner, I would have probably laughed in your face! I would have said, “I’m a swimmer, not a runner…I don’t do well on land.” And yet, here I am, someone who over a few short years has run 4 marathons, countless other races, and can finally call herself a runner. It’s been quite a journey, and to say that running has changed me would be a huge understatement. Now that I’ve been in it for a few years, I can’t imagine my life without running.


Nike’s Breaking2 Project  Nike has been working on an audacious goal: enable a sub 2-hour marathon time. To help achieve this, Nike has been working with a diverse team of leaders across several fields of science and sport with a holistic approach to athletes, product, training, nutrition and environment. It is summed up best in an article that Nike published in December: “Breaking2 provides an opportunity to explore whether the impossible is within reach. It is the ultimate embodiment of Nike’s mission: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete on the planet.”

The attempt features star runners Lelisa Desisa, Zersenay Tadese, and Eliud Kipchoge


And will take place at the Formula One track in Monza, Italy. (More info can be found here.)


Nike teamed up with Airbnb and held a contest in April for a chance to win a trip to go and witness the Breaking2 attempt in person. Along with the usual info needed to enter a contest, entrants had to answer the question, “Why do you run?” This is a question I get asked often, especially since I am still relatively new to running. Most people who know me already know the answer, but for those of you who may not know, I started running to fulfill a promise I made to one of my former students – that when he turned 18, we would run our first marathon. My student was Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, and I knew I had to complete the pact we made. I shared a bit of my story for this contest, knowing that everyone who entered had a story to tell.

I’M GOING TO BREAKING2 IN ITALY! When I enter contests, I never go into them thinking I’m going to win, or that I even deserve to win. So you can imagine the shock I felt when I received an email saying I had won this contest! I had to re-read the email a few times because I couldn’t quite believe that it was real. When it finally settled in that this was really happening, I was blown away. I just kept thinking to myself, “Me? Really?” And then I got the confirmation email, and flight/lodging info and then it hit me that I am going to Milan, Italy. I am thrilled and beyond excited for this incredible opportunity! I hope to post updates here while I’m gone, but if for some reason I have trouble connecting to the internet while I’m gone, I will definitely be sharing my experience when I return. Here’s hoping I get to witness history in a few days!

pace car



The Richard Family has established the Richard W. Charitable Foundation to invest in education, athletics, and community to support his now famous message, “No more hurting people. Peace.” 

“This foundation will be a legacy for Martin, allowing us to ‘pay it forward’ and make a difference in ways that would make him proud but also be source of healing and purpose for us,” the Richard family said in a statement published on their blog. (You can read the full statement here.)

The first initiative of the foundation was to recruit a team to run the Boston Marathon, Team MR8, named for Martin’s initials and his favorite number and age. I am humbled and honored to be one of the runners chosen to be on this inaugural team. The team is comprised of 72 individuals ranging from local Dorchester residents, to U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to executive director Blake Bolden of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, to a former colleague of mine, Nikolas Franks, to parents of past students, Jose Calderon and Robert Cleary. It is truly a privilege to be on a team of dynamic people who all believe in keeping Martin’s legacy alive towards creating a more peaceful world.

My fundraising responsibility as part of this team is to raise $7500 for the organization. I know there are many worthy causes to support, but this one that is very close to my heart. Please consider donating to help me reach my goal! You can read more about my story on my fundraising page at:

Please feel free to re-post and share this information to anyone you think would be interested!! Thank you for your time and consideration!!



Tagged ,

Run for Martin Richard

Run for Martin Richard

The Richard family is accepting applications from runners wishing to compete in the 2014 Boston Marathon to raise funds for a foundation that will honor their son Martin’s legacy. Deadline to apply is January 17, 2014. Check out their full statement at: #RunForMartin #Boston #BostonMarathon #TeamMR8

Reso-flections for the New Year



I always hear two big themes around this time of year – reflections on the past year, and/or resolutions people are going to make.  As a general practice, I think reflecting is a good exercise. It’s good to go back and remember both the great things and challenges that I have been through.  Resolutions are a bit different for me.  I always hear people “swear” they will stick to them this year and often this is followed by a litany of reasons (ahem, excuses) as to why things didn’t work out the previous year. Making new year’s resolutions has not been something I have ever been in the habit of doing. Occasionally I might, in my mind, think about what I would make as my resolutions, but I don’t actually declare it.  Maybe because I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold to it. It feels a bit like setting yourself up for failure, I suppose.

I don’t want to appear as noncommittal, because that’s actually not true. In fact, I value commitment as a character trait. I think what it really comes down to is: will I be able to fully commit to “X” in the way that I want to? There’s a choice to be made: dabble in a lot of things and spread myself around, or deeply commit to a few things. For me, I’ve discovered the importance of the latter over the last few years. Two of my biggest fears in life are failing, and letting others down. As a result of these inherent fears, I’ve gravitated towards wanting to commit to fewer things instead of having multiple surface interests. Over the last several years, the biggest commitment I have made is to lead a life that is defined by nonviolence. My trip to India and southeast Asia last year was a humbling experience as I was able to see and experience things I couldn’t even imagine until being over there. That trip only reaffirmed my pledge to nonviolence and I can honestly say it is the one thing I am still fully committed to.  Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. It’s seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.”

In the spirit of resolutions, I am going to publicly declare some actions I need to work on in order to help further my obligation to nonviolence.  I think it’s important to note that these are directly related to my personal reflections of what turned out to be a challenging 2013 for me.  So I’ve dubbed the term “reso-flections” to capture the idea of resolving to help improve who I am by reflecting on things from this past year. I welcome anyone who would like to join me in any of these reso-flections to please do so.  Most importantly, I’m urging my friends and fellow ahimsakas to hold me accountable to these things. So here they are – in no particular order:




“Patience and perseverance, if we have them, overcome mountains of difficulties.” – Gandhi.  I confess that I lose my patience more than I care to admit. Over the past year I have been realizing that being impatient doesn’t ever fix anything – it really just makes me more aggravated. Transitioning from teaching to traveling to returning to grad school has taught me some valuable lessons about patience. Stepping back and remembering that I don’t know what’s going on in a situation or with a person I come in contact with reminds me that I need to exercise patience the same way I hope people will with me.




For me, this means being less judgmental and more compassionate. This one is closely connected to being more patient. I am trying to train myself to respond to situations with compassion first – because I would hope that others would respond to me the same way. I love the Plato quote above because it’s so true.  I don’t know the trials others are facing when I meet them, but if I err on the side of compassion I will hopefully not add to that person’s challenges.



This is one I have recently picked up from a friend of mine. He is constantly pushing what I like to call the ‘positive agenda’ and it is actually a great habit to get into.  I remember I was visiting him in Virginia in August and I was trying to make a decision. He was listing the positives of both options and when he was done I said, “Okay, and the cons are?” His partner said, “No.  He doesn’t do cons. He just focuses on the positives.” I still think about that comment a lot, and recently saw this quote that sums it up well: “Nothing positive will come from being negative, and nothing negative will come from being positive.”




There are a lot of elements to this one and I have a future blog post brewing on this. My personal goal is to eliminate cursing – even (especially) in sarcastic ways.  Another element I am working on is choosing my words carefully, realizing that while some words may not be taken literally every time, there are subtle implications in the use of words.  For example, I have become more conscious about not casually using the word ‘hate’ (‘I hate traffic.’), ‘shoot’ (‘Just shoot me a text), and any form of the word ‘kill’ (‘Jon Stewart really killed it on last night’s show.’) Instead, I’m striving to always speak with a language of love, and swapping out the powerful negative words, for richer, more constructive ones. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.




This is something I definitely am guilty of not doing enough. When I am impatient, lack compassion, or don’t watch my words, I lose my ability to love others the way I should. Love always wins in the end, and that’s the way it should be. I want to be a person who loves others first – before making assumptions or judgments. I am grateful for the friends in my life who consistently model this and they serve as reminders that I need to do it more. I am hopeful that like other things in my life, the more I do it, the better I’ll get at it. 




This is a really hard one for me and I’m still trying to figure out how to make this happen. I find it infinitely easier to love others as opposed to allowing others to love me.  However, the events from this past April left me in a space where I had to allow others to love me in order to get through it all.  When I reflect back on the first few weeks of the aftermath, I am still struck by the way others loved me. I remember the texts, emails and phone calls, I remember people opening their homes to me so I wouldn’t have to be alone, I remember the meals I shared with friends because they knew I was too distracted to think about eating, and I remember the visits from friends months later who came to check-in on me. But most of all, I remember the immense amount of love I felt. Friends from the other side of the world and the other side of the country were constantly reminding me that I am loved and it was powerful thing when I felt like my back was up against a wall.  While the circumstances that led to this outpouring of love are not ideal, I will forever be thankful for the reminder. It allowed me to see know that it’s okay to let others love me.




Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence, named ‘Kingian Nonviolence’ is described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.  One of the principles is: “The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.” This nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and people attain their full human potential. When I first heard about the Beloved Community, I was immediately attracted to what it stands for. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘beloved’ is defined as “dearly loved or dear to the heart” and ‘community’ defined as “a unified body of individuals”.  If you put those definitions together, I think it becomes a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. really wanted: a dearly loved unified body of individuals.  There is a quote from the book Freedom Song, by Mary King, that I think does a nice job of describing what Beloved community could look like: “What sustained us from day to day was an intense feeling of interdependency – the sense that we had only one another to rely on – and a spirit of comradeship.” I also think of this Mother Teresa quote:



I am striving to build this Beloved community and I hope you will join me.

So there you have it – my reso-flections at the dusk of 2013 and the dawn of 2014. I am grateful for all that the past year has taught me and looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead. Thanks for joining me on the journey – it’s been a much richer experience being able to share it with you. I’m wishing all of you health, happiness, love, and peace in the New Year!




Long Walk to Freedom: Remembering Mandela

Dear Ms. Moo,
I was wondering if you are going to make any more posts. I really enjoy reading them because they are very informing and comforting. I think Nelson Mandela would be a good topic because I know that he wanted peace but I don’t know much else. I hope to hear from you soon!

When I received this email, I realized I had never taken the time to write about the passing of Nelson Mandela. It also was a good reminder that there are people reading my blog and I should be better about posting. So big thanks to the friend who sent me the email – I needed some motivation! 🙂


One of the reasons why I didn’t write about Nelson Mandela closer to when he died, was because the impact it had on me was profound. I have been a longtime admirer of his, and for me he was one of the last living ahimsakas in our world. But I am glad to hear you’re interested in learning more. There is so much to tell about Nelson Mandela and his life, I’m not entirely sure where to start.  If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I always enjoy talking about Gandhi and his life.  I thought I would share about Gandhi’s time in South Africa and how his commitment to nonviolence was established while there, as well as how part of Mandela’s legacy was rooted in work Gandhi had accomplished while he was in South Africa.

Gandhi in South Africa

At age 23, Gandhi left India and traveled to South Africa, hoping to earn a little bit of money and to learn more about being a lawyer.


Only one week after he arrived, he was asked to go on a long journey that included transportation by train and stagecoach. When Gandhi boarded the first train of this journey, railroad officials told him that he needed to transfer to the third-class passenger car.  When Gandhi, who was holding first-class passenger tickets, refused to move, a policeman came and threw him off the train. That was not the last of the injustices Gandhi suffered on this trip.  As Gandhi talked to other Indians in South Africa (derogatorily called “coolies”), he found that his experiences were not isolated incidents but rather, these types of situations were common. During that first night of his trip, sitting in the cold of the railroad station after being thrown off the train, Gandhi contemplated whether he should go back home to India or to fight the discrimination.  After much though, Gandhi decided that he could not let these injustices continue and that he was going to fight against the discrimination. Gandhi spent the next 20 years working to better Indians’ rights in South Africa.

Birth of Satyagraha


It was during his time in South Africa that Gandhi founded the phrase ‘satyagraha’, which means ‘soul force’.  Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha is both a personal and social struggle to realize the Truth, which he identified as God, the Absolute Morality.  Gandhi sought this Truth, not in isolation, self-centeredly, but with the people. He said, “I want to find God, and because I want to find God, I have to find God along with other people. I don’t believe I can find God alone.  If I did, I would be running to the Himalayas to find God in some cave there. But since I believe that nobody can find God alone, I have to work with people. I have to take them with me. Alone I can’t come to Him.”

In practice, satyagraha was a focused and forceful nonviolent resistance to a particular injustice.  A satyagrahi (a person using satyagraha) would resist the injustice by refusing to follow an unjust law.  In doing so, he would not be angry, would put up freely with physical assaults to his person and the confiscation of his property, and would not use foul language to smear his opponent.  A practitioner of satyagraha also would never take advantage of an opponent’s problems.  The goal was not for there to be a winner and loser of the battle, but rather, that all would eventually see and understand the “truth” and agree to rescind the unjust law.

Gandhi’s 20 years in South Africa helping fight discrimination was foundational in his development of satyagraha, which would later help lead India to its independence.

Mandela in South Africa: The prisoner who became president


young mandela 2

Mandela grew up in South Africa during apartheid (in the language Afrikaans, the word apartheid means ‘the state of being apart’), which was a social system in South Africa that forced white and non-white people to live in separate areas.  Non-white people meant black people, people from Asia and people of mixed race.  A white and a black person could not marry.  Black and white people could not share a table in a restaurant or sit together on a bus.  Black children and white children went to different schools, and sports teams were all-white or all-black, never mixed. When Mandela was growing up, black people had little say in how South Africa was run. The government was whites-only.  Most black people were poor and worked as servants – they worked on farms and in factories and gold mines.

In 1944, Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress, or ANC.  The ANC wanted black South Africans to have the same human rights as whites.  Mandela led young people in the ANC.

anc flag

Many white people, as well as black people, spoke out against apartheid.  Mandela admired Gandhi, who had used peaceful protest in India.  Mandela thought that perhaps peaceful protest could get rid of apartheid, without fighting.  Speaking out was dangerous though – in 1956, Mandela and 155 other people were arrested for treason. (Treason means attempting to overthrow the government of one’s country.) After a trial lasting five years, he was set free in 1961.

In 1960, people held a demonstration against apartheid at Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, and the police shot dead 69 black people.  The government blamed the ANC and banned them from existing. As a result, Mandela had to hide and use disguises since he was being hunted by the police. Meanwhile, millions of people in other countries supported the anti-apartheid movement.  Many nations stopped trade with South Africa, and sports teams and entertainers refused to go there. But the government still refused to change.

sharpeville 1960

In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested again and accused of plotting to overthrow the government.  In 1964,  he was given a life sentence in prison.Mandela was sent to prison on Robben Island, along with other ANC leaders.  He spent a total of 27 years in prison, and was allowed one visitor every 6 months.

hands in prison bars

madiba in prison





Mandela became the most famous prisoner in the world.  He did not give up – even the prison guards admired him.  From around the world, the calls got louder: Free Nelson Mandela!

free_mandela    Berlin, Weltgewerkschaftskongress, Probe des Festprogramms

In 1990, South Africa’s new president FW de Klerk set Nelson Mandela free.

mandela leaves prison

One of most amazing things about Mandela was his ability to keep fighting for what he knew was right, despite his circumstances. Even after being imprisoned for 27 years, he was able to walk away with and not look back. One of my favorite quotes is this one, which I believe speaks to the power of forgiveness:

as i walked out the door

Mandela and de Klerk agreed: no more fighting. Mandela called on all South Africans to work together in peace.

mandela and de klerk

In 1991, Mandela became leader of the ANC.

ANC youths wait for ANC President Nelson Mandela a

In the 1994 elections, all black people in South Africa were able to vote for the first time, and the ANC won the election.  mandela votes

A new government took over and in May 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president – he was 75 years old. Among many of the things he accomplished while in office, he is credited with helping the country of South Africa become a multiracial democracy.

mandela in May 1994

Gandhi and Mandela

Gandhi-Mandela together

Gandhi has been called “the liberator of India in South Africa” and is also seen as a founding father of Mandela’s South Africa of equal rights for all people.  Gandhi and Mandela came to a shared conviction that all suppressed people, whatever their differences of religion or ethnicity or caste, must stand together against their oppressors and, in Gandhi’s words, “cease to play the part of the ruled.”  Only a changed mindset could change the structure of white, colonial power.  Mandela many time referenced Gandhi as his biggest inspiration and he considered him his role model.  Nelson Mandela has been compared to the Father of the Nation of India by many historians and experts. There are striking similarities between both  great leaders that brought them international repute and followers.  The path of nonviolence trekked by them to free their country of slavery and dominance raised them to the same pedestal.

In a recent article on, (click here for the full text), the author does a nice job of showing ways in which Gandhi inspired Mandela. Here are some highlights:

  • Both Gandhi and Mandela are considered world leaders for their undying efforts towards the liberation of their country and bringing justice to the countless fellow countrymen.  Neither of them sought violence for achieveing the freedom of their land. Their morals were high and clear-cut about fighting for the nation in a dignified and nonviolent manner.
  • Mandela is referred to as a true Gandhian by the Indian democrats and diplomats.  He is famous as one of the heirs of the Gandhian ideology of nonviolence and struggle for human rights.  They both spent a lot of time in the same prison in Johannesburg, Fort Prison.  Morever, Gandhi lived in South Africa from 1893 to 1914 and was also a victim of racial hatred while traveling in the country.  Gandhi and Mandela were both lawyers and Mandela went on to establish the first black law firm in South Africa.
  • Gandhi had always believed that there would be someone in South Africa to take up the cause of the blacks and work towards the freedom of the country from oppression.  Social and political injustice would be shunned by the masses and the land would be free.  On receiving the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela spoke profoundly of Mahatma Gandhi and how his teachings helped South Africa overcome Apartheid.
  • Both these leaders are respectively hailed as the Father of the Nation in their countries.  They are loved and respected across the masses and ages.  They are paid homage by the international community for sacrificing their lives for their country and taking the cause of humanity to different corners of the globe.

Both Gandhi & Mandela demonstrated to the world they could build inclusive societies, in which all Indians and South Africans would have a stake and whose strength, they argued, was a guarantee against disunity.  They both left legacies behind that we can learn from.  For me, the most striking thing is how they both walked a long road to freedom, and all the while stayed committed to nonviolence. I hope my fellow ahimsakas will join me in continuing to learn from these two great leaders as we strive to make the world more peaceful.

Gandhi and Mandela 2