Wrote and edited profiles for Hyundai “Agents of Change” campaign featuring people who have changed the world for the better. Published in TIME, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly and Sports Illustrated.
1. Brianna Wu: Activist Gamer Extraordinaire (click here for more)
2. Madison “Peach” Steiner: Why the World Needs More Kindness (click here for more)
3. Erik Weihenmayer: On Living a Life of Purpose (click here for more)
4. Dr Robin Murphy: Robots – The Next Frontier for Disaster Prevention and Response (click here for more)
5. Roger Gordon and Barbara Cohen: Food Cowboy – On Using Technology to Help End Hunger in the U.S. (click here for more)
6. Debbie Sterling: Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Engineers One Toy at a Time (click here for more)
7. Albert Manero: The Making of a Superhero: Providing Bionic Arms to Disabled Children (click here for more)
Erik Weihenmayer: A journey of transformation
Agents of Change. The pioneers. The explorers. Those who push the limits. Who refuse to back down. Who help others realize their own potential. We celebrate those stories. We celebrate Erik Weihenmayer.
Since he was young, Erik Weihenmayer knew that by the time he was a teenager he’d be blind from juvenile retinoschisis. What he didn’t know was, decades later, he’d not only have a family and a fulfilling job, but he’d be the first blind person to climb the Seven Summits—and stand atop Mount Everest.
In those early days of blindness, Weihenmayer remembers sitting alone in the school cafeteria and confronting a primitive vulnerability. Besides the day-to-day struggle of adapting, his biggest fear was that he would live a life without meaning or purpose.
“You feel like a raccoon that’s just been cornered,” he recalls. “You don’t know anything about your potential. You don’t know how to break through the brick walls.”
Shortly after losing his sight, Weihenmayer joined up with a recreational program for the blind in Massachusetts. The group embarked on different adventures like tandem bike riding and canoeing. One weekend they went rock climbing and he immediately took to the tactile and problem-solving challenge of trying to make his way up the face. As his hands and feet became his eyes, he experienced the world through touch, sound and intuition. Learning how to climb revived a sense of purpose that would eventually take him around the world as an adventurer, athlete, and activist helping others find ways to live their own lives of meaning.
As a kid, Weihenmayer had read in Braille about Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, but it wasn’t until he was in his late 20s and an accomplished climber that he began to seriously consider tackling Mount Everest. There were plenty of doubts—both his own and others—about whether the overwhelming challenges of the climb were too great for someone who couldn’t see. “I was on the Summit track,” he says. “I thought maybe I would just do six out of the seven. Maybe this was too far out of my reach.”
A turning point came when Pasquale Scaturro, who had led other successful expeditions up Everest, approached Weihenmayer about putting together a team to help him climb the mountain. “A lot of times, opportunity comes from meeting the right people who believe in you and want to help you,” he says. “It’s also about who you choose to believe.”
As with many of Weihenmayer’s accomplishments, which include kayaking the Grand Canyon and completing the eight-day adventure race Primal Quest, climbing Mount Everest was as much a journey of the mind as it was the body. “Each day the mountain beats you down and you think, ‘I can’t do this if it gets any harder,’ and yet you know, of course, that it’s going to get much harder,” he remembers. “You have to discipline your mind so that as you move forward, moment by moment, you are not catastrophizing or checking out mentally because that can mean your last step. The fear is always present, but I try to channel it into focus and awareness. That only happens through lots of practice. You never know you’re going to reach the top until you do.”
But as the Sherpas say, even when you reach the top you’re really only halfway there. You still need to make it down safely, which is when most accidents happen because climbers tend to be less vigilant. The true summit, Weihenmayer says, is when you’re able to take the lessons you learned from the mountain and apply them to your life and share them with your family and community.
For Weihenmayer, the biggest lesson learned from climbing Mount Everest was what can be accomplished with a great team. “We had a lot of critics say that I’d cause a huge disaster up on the mountain,” he says. “Instead, 19 out of 21 of our climbers reached the top.”
In 2005, Weihenmayer co-founded the organization No Barriers to help share this lesson. Inspired by a climb he took with Mark Wellmen—the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park—and Hugh Herr—an engineer and double-leg amputee who built his own bionic limbs—he wondered how the three of them, who’d all accomplished a great deal despite adversity, could come together and help others push past their barriers. A decade later, the organization is leading transformative expeditions and adventures around the world with veterans, youth and people with mental and physical challenges.
Weihenmayer is currently working on his third book, which explores the No Barriers message of “What’s within us is stronger than what’s in our way,” and examines the life lessons and people who have taught him how to keep moving forward. “People think I’m an anomaly, that ‘inspirational blind guy,’ but I’m just a normal person,” he says. “To separate yourself from me is to separate yourself from your own obligation to live a life of purpose. I want to help people discover how to do that, to find the light within themselves.”
Learn more about No Barriers and take a pledge to face your own challenge at their website
Looking for more inspiration? Learn about how these “Agents of Change” are making the world a better place.
Adam Garone: From Fashion Statement to Raising Awareness
Agents of change. The advocates. The dreamers. Those who make it happen. Who raise our awareness. Who save our lives. These are the voices we celebrate. We celebrate Adam Garone.
In 2003, Adam Garone, his brother, and two friends grew moustaches as a social experiment to see if they could bring it back into fashion during the month of November. The following year, they met up to discuss what the experience meant for them on a personal level and how changing their appearance generated conversation. Inspired by the work women were doing to raise awareness for breast cancer, they decided to grow moustaches again, though this time to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer. Over a decade later, the Movember Foundation has grown to over 5 million participants worldwide and raised more than $650 million dollars to fund research and support programs in four key areas, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health, and physical inactivity. Garone tells us about his journey toward advocacy work and how the Movember Foundation is helping to save lives by changing the way we talk about men’s health.
Did you always want to be an advocate?
Yes, though I never thought I would be an advocate on this scale. When we started the foundation, I was at a stage in my life where I wanted to do something charitable, something good for the community. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew I didn’t want to just make a donation.
What were the challenges you experienced in launching the Movember Foundation?
Imagine the challenge of getting people to support an organization based on the concept of men growing moustaches. In the beginning, I personally tried to get the then CEO of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia to endorse us so that we could raise funds on their behalf, but he just laughed and said, “That will never work.” Nonetheless, that year we raised $54,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, which was the largest single donation they’d received to date. We had to convince people that this could be a serious movement, though the fun of growing a moustache was an easy way to bring attention to the issue.
How did you create such a groundswell of support?
Movember is the perfect word-of-mouth campaign. The mechanics of Movember are really no different from running a 10k in support of an organization, except you’re embarking on the journey for 30 days and its interwoven into every part of your life. We got started by inspiring a roomful of people who then went off to inspire another roomful of people, and so on. Now we’re a global movement in 21 countries.
How do you maintain a buzz around the cause of men’s health year after year?
We run the Movember Foundation like a for-profit organization. Our brand is central to everything that we do and so our challenge is to remain fresh and relevant. Each year, we change the brand creative and add different research projects to fund. By adding new causes, you increase interest and participation by new and passionate people.
What inspires you as an advocate?
Even though I’ve been doing this for 13 years, I’m still so amazed by the stories I hear from the men we’ve helped. We’ve funded research that will forever change the way prostate and testicular cancer will be treated and diagnosed. When I eventually walk away from this pursuit, I know that we have already had an everlasting impact on men’s health.
What’s behind the Foundation’s success?
There’s no silver bullet, no one thing that makes us successful. At the heart of it is the Movember community. The Movember staff is the roadies in the background making sure the stage is set. The true rock stars, the true heroes, are the “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas.” Also, we have fun. Our tagline is “having fun, doing good.” We want people to enjoy the journey. Lastly, there is broad recognition now that the state of men’s health needs more attention.
Why do you think men’s health has received little attention?
We live in a society that has a specific notion of what it is to be a man today, which can have a devastating effect on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. We’ve attached ourselves to an unhealthy image of what is a “real man,” grounded in outdated perceptions created in the 1940s through to the 1970s. When men believe they are not meeting these standards, they can feel shame and defeat. We know that men are often more reluctant than women to talk about their feelings and less likely to acknowledge the impact of significant life events—such as relationship breakdowns, loss of a job, financial difficulties, or becoming a father—on their mental health. When it comes to health, men don’t talk, don’t take action and are dying too young from things that are manageable and curable. It’s the apathy that men have toward their health. The Movember Foundation has a vision to make men’s health a public priority.
What are you most proud of in your work at the Foundation?
On a personal level, I’m proud of the way the Foundation has given men a voice, especially in regards to mental health issues. On average, eighty seven men die by suicide every day in the U.S. This should be considered a crisis and yet there is still so much stigma associated with mental health and we don’t know how to talk about it. We need to drag it out of the shadows. Beyond the funds we raise, we need more men to share their stories.
What is the role of women—or “Mo Sistas”—in men’s health and in the Foundation?
While Movember directly combats and addresses men’s health issues, women are the ones who are sparking health related conversations and fundraising for this cause. They are often the decision makers regarding family health – booking doctors’ appointments, encouraging check-ups, and taking care of others when they are sick. They play a critical role when it comes to men’s health.
This year, for the first time, both men and women can raise money for the Foundation by being active. What initiated MOVE?
Movember has always been about men’s health overall. Physical activity is the most impactful thing we can do for our health. Many of us live a more sedentary lifestyle, sitting is the new smoking. We’re not moving enough and it has such a profound impact on our mental and physical health.
Not only is MOVE the first four letters of Movember, MOVE is directly linked to the Foundation’s goal of addressing the holistic person and having an everlasting impact on men’s health. While we’ll always be about men growing moustaches, now men and women can sign up at Movember.com and commit to being more physically active for the 30 days of Movember. Just as with growing a moustache, you get friends, family, and colleagues to donate to your efforts. Your MOVE commitment can be big or small—walking to work, taking the stairs, daily yoga, running, or a combination.
What’s next for the Foundation?
At this point, we are seeing the impact and significant breakthroughs of the research for men’s health that we’ve been funding for the last 10 years. The Global Action Plan (GAP)—which we started five years ago and connects clinicians and researchers from around the world to accelerate health outcomes for men living with prostate and testicular cancer—were originally met with resistance. Cancer researchers aren’t used to collaborating and often they only share their findings when they’re successful. What doesn’t get shared—and what’s more likely the outcome—is what doesn’t work. Because of these collaborative global efforts, I think we will see more progress in the next five years in prostate and testicular cancer research than we’ve seen in the last 30 years.
Your original goal was to see if you could bring the moustache back into fashion. Has Movember accomplished that?
We’ve seen millions of men growing and women supporting the moustache during Movember. Since 2003, the power of the moustache has raised $650 million and helped fund over 1,000 breakthrough men’s health programs in 21 countries. When the moustache is raising critical awareness and funds for important men’s health causes, it’s always in fashion!
To learn how to get involved in the Movember Foundation, visit https://us.movember.com/?home
Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Engineers One Toy at a Time
Agents of change. The originators. The disruptors. The ones who look beyond the status quo. Who refuse to accept inequality. Who inspire the next generation. These are the voices we celebrate. We celebrate Debbie Sterling.
When her high school math teacher recommended she consider majoring in engineering at college, Debbie Sterling imagined an old man driving a train. “I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what engineering was so I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders,” she says.
Later, a student at Stanford, she remembered her teacher’s advice and signed up for a mechanical engineering class. She realized two things on that first day: engineering was what she wanted to study and there was a significant gender gap in the field. She felt behind her male classmates who’d known since they were kids that they wanted to pursue a career in engineering.
“I didn’t feel as capable as my male peers,” she says. “I know now that I was as capable; I was just at a disadvantage because I didn’t have engineering training prior to that point in my education. I was always playing catch up.”
After graduation, Sterling worked in branding and marketing. But her life took a turn one afternoon when she participated in an “idea brunch,” and one of her friends expressed frustration over the dearth of women in the engineering industry. As a kid, her friend was motivated to become an engineer after playing with her brother’s hand-me-down construction toys. She wondered if that’s why there were so few women in the field—they simply weren’t inspired at a young age.
“It was a light bulb moment,” recalls Sterling. “I knew that I was born to create a toy to get girls interested in engineering. I didn’t grow up playing with construction toys and I was never encouraged to get involved in engineering. I realized that there were probably millions of girls out there who wouldn’t get the kind of nudge I received from my math teacher—and I wanted to give them that nudge even earlier in life.”
Sterling spent the next year researching and saving money before taking the entrepreneurial leap and devoting herself fulltime to Goldieblox, a company that builds toys designed to encourage girls to explore and learn more about engineering. Her background in branding proved helpful in many ways as she developed her idea. “The problem to solve was not that girls are not qualified,” she says, “but that many of these toys are marketed in an intimidating and ‘boys-only’ way.”
One of the most important discoveries Sterling made in her research was the importance of developing a story for young girls. “If you give a pile of blocks to a girl and tell her to build something, she’ll say, ‘Why?’ But if you tell her she needs to build a staircase to help a dog get his treat, then she’ll say, ‘Let’s get started!’”
Sterling’s original idea was to make a prototype to bring to toy fairs and sell to “mom and pop” shops, but when she sought advice from people in the industry, she was met with resistance. Instead, she decided to crowdfund the project to build a community of advocates and prove that there was a demand for toys geared toward girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Her Kickstarter campaign raised over a quarter of a million dollars. “It was a validating moment,” she says. “We were doing something that I knew would change the world.”
In 2014, Goldieblox beat out over 20,000 small businesses in a contest by Intuit to have their commercial played during the biggest night in football. Inc. Magazine named the company one of the “World’s Most Audacious Companies of 2014” and the Toy Industry Association awarded it the “People’s Choice Toy of the Year 2014.” Most recently, Sterling was appointed by President Obama as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, and named TIME’s “Person of the Moment.”
To inspire the next generation of women engineers, Sterling believes parents also need to be more involved in encouraging girls to pursue STEM studies. “When I was a kid, my parents used to say to me that I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer. Those were the high paying, prestigious jobs. Now, being an engineer is in that same category. And we are helping women get there.”