How It Really Feels To Be Made In America

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In what messed up universe is being called Pocahontas an insult?

Reading the recent letter from members of the Cherokee Nation to Senator Warren, I have been cast into reflection; I have looked back through the three-pound hardcover edition of the compilation Three American Indian Women: "Sarah Winnemucca" by Gae Whitney Canfield, "Sacajawea" by Harold P. Howard, and "Pocahontas" by Grace Steele Woodward.

I understand and hear the objections of the authors of the letter to Senator Warren. Claims are very potent instruments of power and self-determination, of possession and property, of means of survival for a group of people. As my mother's daughter, I also understand that for an individual, claims are also powerful as our tie to history and family, our sense of identity, and in certain circumstances, a means of survival. My mother is like Senator Warren, born in Oklahoma half a generation before us. Senator Warren's family had the power and privilege to pass down the story of their Cherokee ancestors through six or more generations, told parent to child at an early age in hopes that those ancestors would not be forgotten — a story that Senator Warren's generation feels safe to tell openly.

In contrast, my mother's family used silence and denial to hide an ancestry that was plainly written on our faces. For a person of mixed ancestry, throughout our nation's history, being claimed by father, by family, by tribe, could mean life or death. My family's story is lifted from national census information from the late 1800s and into the twentieth century and disassembled from false stories told to keep children from being taken. As I attempt to speak of the complex yin and yang of pressing a claim for a Nation of People versus being claimed as an individual, it may seem that I am playing a game of semantics and that these are two very different definitions of the word claim. They are not, and I am not. These are two low dimensional slices through the highly complex structure of history, slices taken from different angles.

Senator Warren is not the only public figure to make claims of Native American ancestry. Perhaps the "easy button" soundbite to call Senator Warren Pocahontas was influenced by prior incidences. Winston Churchill at one point purported to be related to Pocahontas. This unsubstantiated story was furthered by his son, who, on a trip to South Africa, incensed when asked to specify his race, wrote: "Race: human. But if your objective is to determine whether I have colored blood in my veins, I am most happy to be able to inform you that I do, indeed, so have. This is derived from one of my most revered ancestors, the Indian Princess Pocahontas, of whom you may not have heard, but who was married to a Jamestown settler named John Rolfe." There was also Wayne Newton's campaign in the early part of this century to use forensic anthropology to find Pocahontas's bones and bring her home from Grave's End Church in England, where she was buried in 1617. So strong was the pull of the story of his Algonquin ancestral connection passed down to him, and the force of the mythology of a woman who was Amonute, nicknamed Pocahontas, and the force of the personality and accomplishments of the real human being who lived over four hundred years ago.

Pocahontas's life overlapped that of the English settlers of Jamestown by only ten years. When she met John Smith, she was somewhere between eight and twelve years old. He was an adventurer and a soldier of fortune who claimed to have ten years of experience fighting in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Many of the twenty-six-year-old Smith's claims were viewed with skepticism by his contemporaries. If he had any experience as a mercenary in Africa or Asia, it seems logical that he may have honed the technique of befriending a child emissary to learn the language and rough outlines of the local culture; a child who was old enough to be attracted by his charisma, but young enough not to have an agenda of her own — at least not initially.

Historical accounts paint a picture of Pocahontas befriending nearly every one of the more than one-hundred original Jamestown settlers. There is doubt cast on John Smith's story of her saving his life with a dramatic intervention. However, there are archival accounts of her saving the lives of others within the colony and credit given to the mature young woman for its overall survival. I read settlers' descriptions of her, a stunningly intelligent adolescent, curious about the strange stunted and bearded creatures who were building their structures in a place previously abandoned due to the frequency of hurricane landfall. She is unstoppable in the face of her family and community's antagonism toward the new arrivals. Older generations of her tribe and their neighbors had already seen a hundred years of pirate ships and English privateers stealing their young boys to be sold into slavery in the Caribbean while leaving behind the curse of influenza and smallpox.

I think of the ruminations that I have seen recently by David Brooks, Ezra Klein, and Malcolm Gladwell about identity, community, and tribe. Ezra and Malcolm spoke to each other about the facets of identity that we claim in current daily life in the United States and how easily these are manipulated by others and by our own fears and sense of being under attack. David Brooks described how in the United States, we have moved from a community-focused people in the 1930s to an individual-focused people in the 1960s and 1970s, and are now transitioning to a tribe-focused people whose tribalism manifests in all aspects of our lives, particularly in politics.

I think also about DNA. Nearly all the base pairs that make up the human genome are identical in everyone. It is only the tiniest fraction of our DNA that makes us uniquely individuals. Our DNA is the only truly objective written human history, and it is a history told globally and collectively by all of us.

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How Fitness Saved My Life and Became My Career

Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da

If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.

In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.

These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.

After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.

About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.

When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.

Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.

Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.

Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.

This article was originally published September 12, 2019.