Tami Fitzpatrick's story is so intense, fascinating and astonishing that you'll surely wonder if you're reading a movie script. But, the story of this entrepreneur is real and incredibly true. She skeptically moved to Beirut with her oppressive husband (and had three children by him) and ended up leaving the country and her marriage under dramatic circumstances.
It was upon her return home to the United States that she launched the business Thunderbolt International (TBI) with inventor Edward Shaver and sold three million dollars in tornado defection software.
But, Tami's story doesn't end there with a happy ending tied up neatly in a bow. It's not just about good business sense—it's about empowerment and standing up for yourself—and worth—when no one else will. It's about taking risks, following your gut and doing the right thing—which is extremely different from doing the easy thing. Fitzpatrick walked away from TBI because she was undervalued. But, today, her company Entropy Technology Design, Inc. is launching Nimbus 4, an advanced, real-time, severe weather detector—including real-time lightning and tornados—that's a true game changer. But, to hear the woman who lived it talk about it, it becomes clear that it's more than just saving lives and getting people out of harm's way—it's a movement to change the world and how we help one another.
“I want women to understand you don't have to sacrifice," says Fitzpatrick. “There's always a way out." Here, Fitzpatrick explains in her own words how her journey unfolded, what it's taught her and what she wants other women who feel trapped—be it in a relationship or career—to know.“I was in a marriage of ten years that was oppressive, depressing, isolating. I followed this man to where he lived [in Beirut] believing that it was going to be a fairy tale princess kind of lifestyle for myself and it was completely the opposite. We had three small children and for the first five years that we lived in Beirut, he never took me to the US Embassy to register or meet any other Americans. The seclusion was very real and I didn't tell family or friends back in the States because I didn't want them to see that I'd made such a huge mistake. After I hit rock bottom, I realized I had to find my own way out. He didn't do anything to help me. When I woke up the next day and was still alive, I went, 'Wow! I'm still here!' Something snapped inside of me—something that I pull from even today. I said, 'You're the only person who's going to get you out of here—you're not going to rely on someone else, you're not going to rely on family—it's going to be you and I've got to dig deep inside and find the strength to get out of this impossible situation.'
Three months after, I managed to get myself contracted by the State Department, working in the public affairs office of the US embassy. Five years later when war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah—I knew that was my opportunity to get out. The Ambassador approved us to leave on a military chopper. I told my husband, “I'm leaving—you can come or you can go—but I'm leaving."
So, with one suitcase each, and bombs going off everywhere, we managed to leave on the last chopper out of the country. It was exhilarating because, after 15 years, I saw the light and I knew I was about to be free. I was about to go back on my turf, to my world. Within three weeks of being back in the US, I had the kids in a new home, a new school and I was about to set off some bombs of my own to free myself from my marriage. He gave me nothing—no child support, no money—but, I said, “That's fine, I want nothing from you! I will take care of the three kids, I will do everything myself."
I pulled from that inner strength when I started my first business, Thunderbolt International, selling severe weather lightning detectors. I sold three million dollars' worth of these devices. I met the inventor Edward Shaver and as he explained his technology to me, I knew it was something that I could market around the world. I'm unafraid of unchartered waters and I've always been entrepreneurial. When I was young, instead of dreaming of getting married and having children, I fantasized about having a business career and inspiring other women.
But, ultimately, Thunderbolt failed—the product itself didn't fail but I refused to give up 51 percent ownership of my company to a creditor that wanted to control everything. I fought back on that and when I refused to give in, I lost everything again. I took a few months to lick the wounds. I had to sell my car so I could take care of my kids and pay the rent. I had to sell my furniture to keep my kids supported. And then I asked myself, 'Okay, what do you want to be when you grow up?'
I was continually pulled back into this environment because Shaver, really pioneered this industry with the first handheld lightning detector back in the late 90s. That's why I stay with this because I saw the value in Thunderbolt and I realized no one was doing what we're doing. I started Entropy by turning to Mr. Shaver and saying, 'Look, I believe in what you're doing, I believe that you have even more things to invent, better than the Thunderbolt.
Let's get back in this arena again.' We started with a negative—I had nothing in my bank account—and I went out and raised a million dollars towards the 1.5 million goal. We started from scratch and what we've created with the Nimbus is so incredibly powerful that it will literally change the way that the world reacts to weather.
My dream is that when it's fully developed, it'll feature sensors that can be placed on cable and phone towers and building—and then cover entire cities, states and nations with its detection.I want the Nimbus beacons to be visible from miles away as a sign of weather and safety information—but also a visual sign of hope. I want to create facilities where people see those beacons and know they can come to that area for food, shelter, clothing and more. It's much more than providing safety. Once I really make the billions of dollars that I believe Nimbus will make, I have this dream that I'll give it back into finding the women who aren't visible—the ones like me at my darkest hour. I didn't have internet or a phone.
You get swallowed up and forgotten. You're sitting alone in the corner of your room and feel like the world doesn't know you're there. I want to find a way to pull women out of that when they don't have any other way to wave their hand and say, 'Hey, I'm here.'
Women think they're supposed to hide the pain and they're supposed to accept that's just the way things are. But, every woman has her strength, and every woman has her story. Feeling you must accept what you're given is simply no longer true. Don't accept it— fight back. I'm not saying fight with claws—I think it's important that we're classy, sophisticated and have dignity. But, don't accept being put down simply because you're a woman. Believe in yourself and trust yourself. All women are strong. We share that common thread."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.