Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
As the world gears up for the Sochi Games, we reached out to these three amazing women to talk about everything from their first runs to high-speed crashes to race and gender politics. The opening ceremonies take place on Friday, February 7. Here's the complete schedule of events.
Jazmine Fenlator, 28, bobsled
A lot of people think I'm on the Jamaican bobsled team. It's a question every black bobsledder gets, even if you're wearing a USA shirt. My dad used to love watching Cool Runnings with me. When I told him I got an invite to try out for the US bobsled team, his first words were: "Sanka! You dead, mon? Let me kiss your lucky egg!" Growing up biracial, I never really thought about things: I mean, you have some acceptance issues, but I grew up in a predominately white town. The side of my family I'm closest with is all white, so it's not necessarily a topic of conversation. You get a lot of naive questions, but I welcome those. The more people I can teach and tell about bobsled, the more cheers we'll have in Sochi. Not many people can relate to bobsled, and it's hard to spectate. It's a grueling, blue-collar sport. To support my bobsled habit, I've sometimes worked three jobs in the offseason. We do all the work on our sleds. We carry our sleds. There's no caddy, there's no pit crew. We handle all those things on top of trying to be the best athletes within our sport in the world.
Click here to read our extended interview with Fenlator. Women's "bobsleigh" heats begin on February 18.
Katie Uhlaender, 29, skeleton
I always challenged men in foot races or whatever as a kid growing up, because it was a way of challenging myself—but you have to accept that men are born with testosterone. You can beat them for so long, but eventually they're gonna catch up. There is a double standard: My father was a major league baseball player, and I grew up thinking I could have the same attitude on the field that he did. When I did that in real life, people thought I was a total bi-atch. [Laughs.] Women are held to a different standard, but there's a reason. Because we are mothers, we have a different role in society. There are certain benefits we get being women—and we deserve them! But don't take advantage of them. You have to walk the line and show that you have self-worth. If you lose yourself, then no one's going to respect you. Miley Cyrus, the girl crossed the line! You can be sexy without licking a hammer.
Click here to read our extended interview with Uhlaender. Women's skeleton commences on February 13.
Maddie Bowman, 20, halfpipe freeskiing
Some people don't understand that you can ski in the halfpipe. They think it's cool and kinda crazy. It's like a polar bear-grizzly bear mix—a pizzly. It's a new species and it's super badass! I was a racer before, but it felt a little too serious. My parents were a little resistant, but then they skied with us and realized we think about things before we jump off of stuff. They definitely get nervous. You can't have my mom video a run at all because it's so shaky—she always misses it! The first time I ever did a "left nine"—it's two and a half spins, and I'm spinning down the wall, rotating to the left—I was so excited I completely forgot the rest of my run; I just sort of made it up. Most skiers, we can think pretty quickly on our feet—or off our feet if we're falling. We like to push the limits, but when the limits push back, it's always a rude awakening. Concussions and injuries are something everyone worries about. But you can't be out there worrying about getting hurt, or else you're more likely to get hurt. If I got hurt, knock on wood, I don't know what I would do. Maybe I'd actually be a real college student.
Click here to read more about Bowman. The women's halfpipe competition is on February 20.
And in a Facebook post, the organization linked to a Washington Post list of "Seven American Women Who Made a Difference in 2013," including US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. These links were enough to spur John Pisciotta, who runs Pro-Life Waco, to launch a national boycott. "The Girl Scouts were once a truly amazing organization, but it has been taken over by idealogues of the left, and regular folk just won't stand for it," Pisciotta told Breitbart News. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also took up the cause with a full-on panel on the offending tweet.
Ultimately, though, the campaign is about more than a couple of social-media postings: On its website, the "CookieCott 2014" campaign argues that the boycott is a protest of the Girl Scouts' "deep and lasting entanglement with abortion providers and abortion rights organizations." This includes, it claims, promoting role models like Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Hillary Clinton, Amnesty International, ACLU, and the National Organization for Women, and supporting "youth reproductive/abortion and sexual rights" via its membership in the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
The bullying seems to have worked: In a blog post Wednesday, Girl Scouts offered "our sincerest apologies," noting, "To be clear, Girl Scouts has not endorsed any person or organization." Is that sort of meekness consistent with the organization's quest to "build girls of courage, confidence, and character"? Ponder that while you try to resist those Samoas.
Jehane Noujaim's The Square, which won an audience award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and is on the shortlist for an Oscar this year, delivers a fierce and frenetic portrait of life on the Cairo streets during two years of Egypt's ongoing political unrest. Based on more than 1,600 hours of footage, the film tags along with several revolutionaries—among them Ahmed, a fiery grassroots activist, Magdy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Khalid, a foreign-born actor—as they struggle against a suffocating regime and attempt to breathe new life into Egypt's governance.
The Square made headlines when it became Netflix's first major film acquisition—it will stream exclusively through the service starting January 17—and also because its only scheduled public screening in Egypt was canceled at the last minute. The country's censorship board still hasn't give Noujaim, whose past work includes Control Room and Rafea: Solar Mama, permission to screen the film in public.
The doc's narrative arc initially hinged on the deposition of Hosni Mubarak and subsequent election of Mohamed Morsi as president. But history is often messier than we would wish to tell it. In January 2013, as Noujaim scrambled to meet her Sundance deadlines, she learned that her main characters "were back in the streets again saying, 'Morsi is using the tools of democracy to create another dictatorship.'" The story wasn't over.
In the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, ski jumping has taken center stage—it's the first year women will be allowed to compete, a milestone the New York Times Magazine recently explored at length. But let's not forget another extreme sport premiering in Sochi this year. That would be women's (and men's) free skiing, which encompasses halfpipe (hair-raising tricks done off the edge of an icy, steep-walled half cylinder), slopestyle (jumping off rails and obstacles), and ski cross (in which four skiers barrel simultaneously through a downhill obstacle course).
Maddie Bowman, 19, is a rising star in this new Olympic realm, one that seems to scream skate park more than professional arena. A favorite in the halfpipe, Bowman cut her teeth on the steep terrain of North Lake Tahoe. Even though thousands of viewers will be watching the sport for the first time in February, Bowman doesn't really care if they see her kind as a bunch of park rats: "I think we want people to see that side of us—just being kids goofing off. That's what we do. That's why we love what we do. That's how we've gotten so far in skiing."
Okay, but what does it take to rule the halfpipe? Here's Bowman in her own words.
On her sport's spirit animal: It's like a polar bear-grizzly bear mix—a pizzly! As the ice is melting, the polar bears are migrating south into grizzly territory and they're mating, and they have this baby that's a hybrid. So two hybrid pizzlies could make a baby pizzly. It's a new species, and it's super badass.
On whether freeskiing is male-dominated: I don't think we think about it that way. We love skiing with the guys; they're our friends. I grew up always skiing with boys. We're out there trying to do the same things and push ourselves. We're definitely all in this together.
On breaking with traditions: I was a racer before, but it felt a little too serious—a little too strict. I just kind of fell in love with the whole idea of skiing around with your friends and having fun, trying new things, and being creative. It allowed for a lot more freedom.
On mastering a trick: The first time I ever did a "left nine,"—it's two and a half spins, and I'm spinning down the wall, rotating to the left—I was so excited I completely forgot the rest of my run; I just sort of made it up.
On anxious parents: My parents are both ski race people, so when I first started switching over, they were a little resistant, but then they came and skied with us and realized we think about things before we jump off of stuff. They definitely get nervous. You can't have my mom video a run at all because it's so shaky—she always misses it!
On falling smart: Most skiers can think pretty quickly on our feet—or off our feet if we're falling, and hopefully fall the right way. We like to push the limits and that's what makes our sport fun—pushing those limits and getting that adrenaline going. Sometimes the limits push back. It's always a rude awakening when that happens.
On those rude awakenings: Concussions are something everyone worries about. If I hit my head, I always make sure to get a new helmet and stuff like that. But you can't be out there worrying about getting hurt, or else you're more likely to get hurt.
Alternative paths: If I got hurt, knock on wood, I don't know what I would do. Maybe I'd actually be a real college student.
A "controlled car crash." That's how US bobsled pilot Jazmine Fenlator, 28, remembers her first run. "I was sliding down a mile of ice with my head buried in the bottom of the bobsled," she says. "I'm getting jostled around and I'm not understanding why I'm moving so much." She ended the run drooling and shaking, but she was hooked.
Bobsledders, many of whom, like Fenlator, hail from track-and-field sports, have to be some level of crazy to send their bodies careening down steep ice passages at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. But it's not just the risk of bodily harm that makes the experience intense. "It's a grueling blue-collar sport," Fenlator says. "We carry our sleds. There's no caddy, there's no pit crew." And, like many Olympians in less-prominent sports, the athletes often have to dip into their own coffers to pay for their training. At one point, Fenlator and her teammate had to scrounge up $20,000 for a new sled—which meant a slew of side jobs.
Their dedication paid off in early December, when Fenlator joined five teammates on the podium for a World Cup sweep—the first since 2001* for US women's bobsledding, and a hopeful indicator of what may lie ahead for Team USA in Sochi.
Mother Jones: What kind of reactions do you get when you tell people what you do?
Jazmine Fenlator: A lot of people think I'm on the Jamaican bobsled team. It's a question every black bobsledder gets, even if you're wearing a USA shirt. Or a lot of times people don't know what bobsled is, so they'll reference luge or skeleton. It's a hard sport because not many people can relate to it, and it's a hard sport to spectate. You only see it every four years on TV, and it doesn't have a lot of popularity, which we're trying to change. So, you get a lot of naïve questions. But I welcome those. The more people I can teach and tell about bobsled, the more cheers we'll have in Sochi.
MJ: How does one become a bobsledder?
JF: I was a senior in college in 2006-2007 at Rider University as a track and field athlete. I started to realize that I was a little bit behind the pace I needed to qualify for Beijing. I was really going to focus on revamping my training when my coach mentioned bobsled. I didn't really take him too seriously, but he submitted my athletic resume and the team invited me to a tryout camp. I jumped on the opportunity. It's not everyday a national team invites you, especially if you've never done the sport before.
MJ: Had you ever even imagined bobsledding?
JF: No. I'd seen Cool Runnings and watching the 2002 and 2006 winter games, but I did not actually know much about it.
MJ: What do you remember from the 2002 games, the inaugural year for women's bobsled?
JF: For Team USA to bring home gold, as well as Vonetta Flowers winning the first medal in winter sports for an African-American, was huge. I remember watching her and Jill Bakken push that sled down the start ramp on the final run and the announcer saying, "This is where Olympians are made, this is where medalists can break or make it." They kept their composure and they did just what they needed to do and came across the line screaming.
"It's not everyday a national team invites you [to try out], especially if you've never done the sport before."
MJ: What was bobsledding like the first time you did it?
JF: I had no idea what is happening. I was a brakeman, so you don't get to see where you are going. My helmet doesn't even fit properly, I am getting jostled around in this sled. A lot can happen in your brain in a minute, I've learned.
One of the coaches stood at the bottom to make sure that the newbies weren't getting motion sickness or about to run and call a taxi and head to the airport. I'm breathing heavy and have drool and snot probably everywhere. I can't unbuckle my helmet. I'm shaking, and I feel like "Aaah, I don't really know. How many times do we do this today?" He's like, "Great, 'cause we have a couple more training trips to go! Head right on the truck and go back up." It was a pretty incredible experience. Extremely humbling.
MJ: How do you shave seconds off your time?
JF: You're searching for thousands of seconds that add up to equal hundredths. I've gotten third in a race by six-hundredths. You can't even blink that fast. And you can be like, where did I lose that time? Was it a piece of tape flapping on the side that I forgot to take off when cleaning my sled? Was it this little mistake here or there? You can't just be a great athlete. You can't just be a great pilot. You can't just have great equipment. You're looking for a combination, because it's not just one thing. That's why you're in the weight room, and sprinting every day—to shave off hundredths in your 30-meter time, and lift 5 or 10 more pounds in the squat. Because all of that adds up.