Tricia Small Journalism

Skinny vs. Healthy

“You’re so skinny. I bet you never eat.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I could probably retire at 25. I also hear “but you’re so tiny,” “these clothes were made for people your size,” “you can pull off anything because you’re so skinny,” “you’re so lucky,” etc. etc. All of these are meant as compliments, at least most of the time. I understand that. But number one it discredits my lifestyle, and number two it perpetuates a mentality that there is this one ideal body type: thin.

I have been skinny in the past. I have a small frame and fast metabolism. I was an athlete, a horse back rider, gymnast and soccer player. I spent a lot of time outside. I was an active kid/young teenager. Going into my sophomore year of high school, I started feeling weird. My energy was low. I never felt 100% I was having heart palpitations and getting weak and dizzy spells. I had anxiety all the time. I would go weeks where the feeling in the pit of my stomach made it almost impossible to keep food down. I quit soccer. I was way less active.  I lost muscle mass really quickly.

Beyond just regular teenage girl, “I don’t like the way this piece of clothing looks on me,” or “my legs are so muscular they look weird compared to the rest of my body,” I didn’t have body image issues. I had never worried about my weight. I had never even thought about counting calories or paying attention to what I was eating. So while I was not starving myself to stay skinny or to keep my weight down, I did get addicted to the way my body felt when I didn’t eat. I liked being in control of not feeling good, because I didn’t feel good anyway. I struggled with self esteem issues and had panic attacks on a regular basis. I was wearing a size 00 and had hardly any muscle tone, and no body fat.

Going into college, my anxiety was much better. I paid a little more attention to how I ate. My friends and I worked out four times a week together. It was probably the best I had felt in a long time. And then there was a lot of ups and downs. More anxiety spells, some different medications that changed my metabolism. Working out and eating “healthy” was kind of on and off. For a couple of years I fluctuated from a size 0-2 to a size 4-6. I felt better physically when my weight was a little higher, but for the first time ever I was incredibly self conscious about how I looked. I had always been super skinny, so to see myself looking different was hard. I didn’t know how to reconcile feeling less sick but feeling unhappy with how I looked.

When I was 21, my dad had a heart attack. My dad was 46 years old. He is not a big guy. He played flag football. He and my mom both thought they were eating relatively healthy. The doctors were fairly certain my dad’s heart attack was the result of decades of smoking cigarettes, but it was enough of a scare that all of us starting researching exactly what was in the food we were eating. Basically what we found is that we eat food-like products. My mom and I started following blogs. We started looking at families who ate zero processed foods. We bought cookbooks. We pinned recipes. We did more and more and more research and the more we did, the more we were disgusted by the way we had been eating in the past.

Some of the things that were the first to go: anything “light,” non natural peanut butter, flavored greek yogurt, anything with bleached enriched flour or processed sugar, canned soups, canned sauces, instant oatmeal, our brand of “whole wheat” bread, shredded or sliced cheese, fruit juice and things like pre-packaged apple slices or packets of nuts (lots of sodium).

A lot of things that we chose thinking we were picking “healthier” options were really not any better. They had tons of chemicals to make up for what was taken out to reduce fat and calories. It became less about looking at the fat and calories, and more about the ingredient list. We started paying more attention to what kinds of foods fuel your body and what a truly balanced day looks like.

In the 2 1/2 years since all of this started, I’ve continued doing research. I’ve continued to cut things out of my regular diet as I learn more about what they are. I’ve committed to a lifestyle that is about health, not weight. It’s about feeling good, taking control over my own health: physical, mental and emotional and honoring God with how I treat the body and soul he’s created. Instead of doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts that are not good for my particular cardiovascular health needs and are focused on torching calories and dropping weight fast, I do vinyasa and power yoga on an almost daily basis. (Think higher impact/intensity than what you typically picture as deep stretch yoga). I do steady running to strengthen my heart and as an outlet for my anxiety. And I definitely eat a lot. I choose whole ingredients for their nutritional value, complex carbs, healthy fats, tons of fruits and vegetables and I don’t feel bad about eating something with a lot of fat and calories every once in awhile if it’s all REAL food.

Your personal fitness is about what works for you and what makes you feel good. Not all bodies are created equal. Not all taste buds are created equal. And not all personal nutrition choices are created equal (I can’t eat meat, it has a face, can’t do it). The goal is never “get skinny.” The goal is always to feel strong, feel empowered, feel comfortable, feel beautiful, feel confident, feel healthy. Here’s a little bit of what that looks like for me:

Workouts: First of all, understand that your overall fitness is about 75% diet and 25% workouts. You cannot outrun a bad diet. You’ll see a much bigger change in your body much more quickly if you change just your diet vs. just changing your activity level. I wake up between 5-5:15 five days a week and do a yoga or cardio routine. I don’t do a lot of yin yoga (slow, deep stretching). I do a lot more vinyasa flows that mold breath and movement and I usually focus on balancing poses that build core strength, binds and twists for detox and lower body strength, and inversions for upper body strength. If I do a yin routine, it’s usually a quick one before bed, or on a day that I’m really sore from an intense practice or not feeling well.

DO NOT look at yoga and say “well I’m not flexible I can’t do that.” Yoga is so much more than that, and your body is capable of so much more than you can possibly give it credit for. It’s about positivity, doing what works for you, and connecting to the power and strength of your own body. Lemme tell you how many times I’ve fallen out of poses, flopped over trying to get an inversion, gotten frustrated because I can’t do a pose one day that I’ve done a million times. Fitness is always a journey and yoga is no different.

I try to do cardio once or twice a week, but that’s not my main focus. I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m just trying to build endurance and cardiovascular strength. And as mentioned above, it’s an outlet for my anxiety. I listen to loud music and I block out everything but my own heartbeat and breath. Some days I have to push really hard and I don’t want to do it and it makes my chest hurt and the whole thing is a struggle. Listen to your body and never go beyond what your body can handle, but also know when you need to push through and suck it up when it gets hard. I always go based on my form. If I can maintain my form and keep going even if it’s uncomfortable, I push through, if my form starts to fail, I take a break.

Food: I eat complex carbs and protein for breakfast. Things like greek yogurt (plain, full fat) with fruit and a little bit of honey, natural peanut butter, steel cut oats with berries cinnamon and honey, I have a sprouted whole wheat bread I like without tons of chemicals that I use for toast, fruit smoothies, mueseli and eggs. Eggs are my best friend.

I carry around snacks with me at all times. At any given point in time, I probably have carrot sticks/raw green beans/edamame, grapes/strawberries/cherries, a Lara bar (fruit/date/nut bar), raw mixed nuts and lemon water in my bag with me. When I get up and work out my metabolism is revving all day, and so if I’m hungry, I eat. It’s usually every two hours or so until dinner.

There’s a brand called Amy’s that does natural, organic food that is actually pretty good/reputable. I eat those canned soups for lunch (low sodium and no added nonsense) a lot. I also will eat avocado and tomato sandwiches, throw a bunch of vegetables in a pan with some olive oil and put it in a corn tortilla, lots of salads and organic blue corn tortilla chips with natural salsa or hummus.

A lot of days by dinner I’m not super hungry. Some days I’ll just eat hummus with vegetables or have an avocado smoothie.  A lot of times I’ll make scrambled eggs with vegetables. If my workout was really hard that morning and I am hungry, I’ll make a sweet potato, or quinoa with stir fry vegetables. If I have some time I really like stuffed portabella mushrooms and roasted asparagus, and if I’m feeling super fancy I’ll do some sort of salmon or tuna or whole wheat pasta/pasta alternative ie. spaghetti squash with homemade sauce or vegetables and olive oil.

Some tips and tricks:

-If you’re not a morning person, do not commit to a morning workout. I like being awake early. Don’t like getting out of bed so much, I’m not saying it’s not a struggle, but once I’m up I like being up that early. I like starting my day that way. I also cannot make myself come home after a day of work and then go work out. Choose a time that works best for you and your lifestyle, but then commit to it. Make it a non negotiable for two days a week, then bump it up to three, then maybe bump it up to four or five. Lay out your work out clothes, create a schedule for yourself, make it as easy as possible and limit your outs.

-Throw in super foods/metabolism boosters whenever you can. I put chia seeds and cinnamon in pretty much everything. I put lemon, lime and mint in my water most of the time. Pumpkin seeds are good. Things like berries have a lot of rich antioxidants so I put them in my salads or my oatmeal or my yogurt.

-Meal plan. Can’t stress this enough. Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan. You are less likely to overeat or go out and eat something that’s fast and easy but not necessarily nutritious. You will save money when you’re grocery shopping. Your meals will be more thoughtful and your life will be easier. Busy day? Choose a crock pot recipe. Have an intense workout planned? Plan to eat more carbs and/or lean protein.

-I process my food right after I go to the grocery store. I cut up a lot of fruit. I put everything in visible containers. I freeze some vegetables for eggs/tacos. I hard boil eggs. I make oatmeal for the week. I make up smoothie packs. When you make healthy food visible, easy to grab, easy to cook you’re more likely to eat it.

-Drink a lot of water. I drink 32 oz. of water first thing in the morning. I carry an insulated water bottle with me all the time. It’s good for your metabolism, helps keep you from overeating, and flushes out your system. Just good stuff all around. Fancy it up with an infuser and add berries, lemon, lime, herbs (watermelon and rosemary is one of my favorites, or lemon, lime, cucumber and mint). You can use sparkling water. Just drink water!

-I have some go-to craving busters when I’m over the rabbit food thing. Frozen banana and avocado, raw cacao powder, raw local honey, some almond milk (I like Califia Farms) or iced coffee in a blender and you basically have a rich chocolate shake. Dark chocolate is my jam. Chocolate is actually packed with nutrients and antioxidants, but look for 70% or more cacao and watch out for added sugar and other processed additives. I like frozen fruit dipped in dark chocolate. HEB carries gluten free rice pita chip type things that are all natural and I like those with natural peanut butter and a little sea salt. Raw nuts are always great for a quick energy boost and to curb hunger. Another favorite is kombucha.

-Be mindful of things like calories and fat (ie, nuts are really calorie dense so know that if you eat a handful of nuts it’s a lot of calories. Avocado is packed with healthy fats, but it is still high in fat so maybe don’t eat six avocados in one day), but pay more attention to nutritional value and how food nourishes your body. And don’t beat yourself up if you eat something outside of the parameters you set for yourself or miss a work out or plateau. It’s a journey. It’s a process. You’re a beautiful human being with flaws. Focus on positives and how good you feel rather than shaming yourself when you do something “bad.”

People ask me a lot if it’s hard. Giving up meat was never hard. Processed sugar was a little bit hard, because you don’t realize how much stuff it’s in. Eating out can be hard sometimes. Bread is a really hard one for me.  But the more I learn about what is in stuff, the easier it is to say no to it. Empty calories and processed junk just really does not even appeal to me. And because I eat so clean 98% of the time, I don’t feel so bad if I say yes to the ravioli with cream and cheese once in a month. Like if I’m going to eat something not super healthy, I’m not going to waste it binging on processed/packaged empty calorie stuff. I’m going to pick something expertly prepared with real ingredients. So for the most part, it’s not hard. The benefits far outweigh saying no to stuff.

I am physically thin. Yes. That’s a reality. Right now I wear a size 0-2. But my body is all lean muscle. I am almost capable of holding my body weight up on the palms of my hands. I am not skinny. I am strong. I am fit. I am nourishing my body with healthy food and becoming a kick butt athlete and it feels great. I am not “lucky.” I am not immune to weight struggles. I am committed and put a lot of time and effort and thought into how I treat my body. And there are things that I’m not so good at. I drink a ton of coffee. Like a whole lot of coffee. And I still drink alcohol sometimes. I don’t binge drink regularly, but it does happen. Sometimes I will eat the cookie or the cupcake. Some weeks I’m exhausted and I just really don’t feel like getting up to work out. I may only make it three days. But I don’t get discouraged and I keep working at it and I keep learning more and getting better.

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Chicago Gang Member Tried for Murder

A former La Raza gang member testified Tuesday, March 7, 2012, that he heard fellow gang members refer to “the enemy” minutes before they walked into an alley and a Rogers Park man was shot and killed.

The victim, Jose Regalado, was in the parking lot behind his apartment working on a friend’s car when Justin Rouse shot him in the head, prosecutors said in opening testimony at the Cook County Criminal courthouse. According to prosecutors, Rouse was one of five La Raza  gang members involved in the shooting on June 15, 2008. Former gang member Erick Roman told prosecutors that he met La Raza gang members nicknamed Lobo, Psycho, Mollo, Monster and Shadow in Lincoln Park, near Lake Michigan, minutes after the shooting. According to Roman, when asked if he shot Regalado, Rouse said that he “had to hide.”

Regalado was in his early 20s and living with his girlfriend in June 2008, the prosecution said. After Rouse fired the gun, Regalado was taken to St. Francis Hospital and pronounced dead. According to the prosecution, a medical examiner confirmed a gun shot wound to the head as the cause of death. Roman told prosecutors Regalado was a member of the Latin Kings, a rival gang.

“We were enemies. We had been enemies for a long time,” Roman said.

Roman has been convicted on two separate burglary charges and was recently arrested on a marijuana charge. He was also found in contempt of court when he failed to appear  in court for the same case in October. According to the defense, Roman’s record made his testimony unreliable.

“The witnesses do not live by our code of conduct. They live by the code of the streets where you do what you can to save your own skin,” the defense said.

Roman told prosectors he met with La Raza gang members at a gang member’s house before the shooting to tell them he wanted to leave the gang.

“I guess it just wasn’t meant for me. I wanted to get out. There were too many problems,” Roman said.

Rouse was charged with first degree murder, and if convicted could serve up to life in prison.

The New Way to Smoke

Fifty years after cigarette smoking was first linked to a significant increase in cancer risk by the American Surgeon General Report, a new way to light up has caught fire in the United States, specifically among young people.

E-cigarettes, nicotine inhalers that heat a flavored liquid into a vapor, giving the smoker the same rush as a puff of a traditional cigarette, are gaining popularity despite uncertainty surrounding potential health risks. Because the “vaping” phenomenon is so new, the jury is out on the long term risks associated with smoking e-cigarettes. While initial studies have shown that the electronic versions contain fewer trace elements of harmful toxins than a traditional cigarette, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe.

In an open letter on e-cigarettes, the American Lung Association states, “The American Lung Association is very concerned about the potential safety and consequences of electronic cigarettes, as well as claims that they can be used to help smokers quit.”

Part of the appeal of the e-cigarette is the potential to help heavy smokers wean off their nicotine habit. Studies seeking to prove the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit smoking have been problematic and produced mixed results. Some smokers continue to light up traditional cigarettes, substituting the e-cigarette only when necessary in public spaces. However, others have found that purchasing the e-cigarette has helped them kick their cravings.

Estuardo Loranca, a 20-year-old food service worker for the University of Texas, says that he feels the e-cigarette has made him less dependent on cigarettes. Although he has had the urge to smoke traditional cigarettes, the previously two pack a week smoker hasn’t picked one up since switching to the e-cig eight months ago.

“Before when I was waiting to go on break it was like, ‘I can’t wait to go have a cigarette I can’t wait to go have a cigarette,’ and it’s not like that with the e-cigarette. I don’t have those urges. I just take it out and take a puff and that’s it,” Loranca says.

The model he bought allows him to adjust his nicotine level as he weans off his addiction. Loranca says that the switch for him has been relatively easy, without the anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms he experienced when trying to quit cold turkey a few years ago. He also says that he will most likely continue smoking the e-cigarette even when he reaches his eventual goal of kicking his nicotine habit completely.

“I want to get off the nicotine and maybe switch to a flavor, like a fruity flavor. There are hundreds of flavors out there. I think I’ll get to the point where I enjoy the e-cig the same way I enjoy hookah,” Loranca says.

The many flavors are a large part of the current marketing strategy for e-cigarette promoters, and large part of the problem for those concerned with them. A January newscast by CBS news on the topic reported that most smokers become addicted by the age of 18, and almost all smokers become addicted before age 21. Loranca admitted to have started smoking more than six years ago. There is concern that e-cigarettes will act as a gateway for young smokers to become addicted to tobacco products, rather than encouraging current smokers to quit.

Another controversial aspect of the current e-cigarette market is the lack of FDA regulation. As of right now, the Federal Food and Drug Administration is not involved in the manufacturing and distribution of the e-cigarette products. This means that e-cigarette companies can’t be held accountable for what is in their products. A fact that Loranca says makes him thankful that the e-cigarette has made him a less frequent smoker.

“I’m actually not even using it as much as I expected to. It’s almost disappointing in a way because I kind of enjoy smoking, but at the same time I’m happy about it. That’s less toxins going into my body,” he says.

Despite overwhelming evidence that smoking cigarettes greatly increases the risk for heart disease, lung disease, and at least a dozen cancers, 44 million Americans continue to light up every day. For decades, smoking was glamorized by prominent figures like Edward R. Murrow and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Now it is the e-cigarette whose use has taken on a similar glamorization, attracting young people but raising skepticism among parents and medical professionals who encourage consumers not to fall victim to the same deceptive practices used by big tobacco companies in the past.

Life as an Anxiety Ridden Human Being

An anxious knot of fear twists in her stomach, and her heart races in an irregular pattern. Panicked thoughts fill her mind as she struggles to remain calm.

For Krista Pollock, a 39-year-old mother of four, this is a normal day. Pollock suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, a mental health disorder affecting 6.8 million adults in the U.S., according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. GAD, which is characterized by persistent and usually irrational thoughts of worry and fear and is thought to stem from a variety of causes, can manifest in different ways and change how one participates in everyday life.

“It [GAD] has caused me to have a lot of unnecessary fear that without, I would enjoy a lot more in life. I tend to worry and overreact when feeling anxious about something very minor. Even something that seems so small to one person, can be huge to me, like grocery shopping,” Pollock says.

While according to the ADAA, anxiety tends to occur more often in women than in men, anyone can suffer from GAD. Each individual has a different experience with anxiety, but the persistent fear is consistent among those who suffer from it.

“Anxiety is an equal opportunity disorder. It doesn’t care how old you are or how wealthy you are,” says anxiety counselor Karen Muranko. “For generalized anxiety disorder, you’re afraid of everything. Some people have a specific fear, like you can’t get on an elevator or you can’t get on an airplane, but with generalized anxiety disorder you can be afraid of anything. It’s very random.”

Certified life coach and author Kristen Baker says those who suffer from anxiety may experience excessive worry, tension, apprehension, racing thoughts, trouble sleeping, nausea, shaking, racing heart, heart palpitations and avoidance behavior. There is no hard and fast rule regarding these symptoms, but according to Baker, at least one or more of these symptoms is present in order for a patient to be diagnosed with anxiety. They can impact the lives of anxiety sufferers and make leading a normal life challenging.

“Avoiding things, fearing and having worst case scenario thoughts and racing thoughts can make you so afraid and uneasy. Eating habits are affected; one may not eat or feel nauseous if they do; some may overeat. Your energy is zapped; you can feel like you will die,” Baker says.

Those suffering with anxiety consider this constant fear normal. Many don’t realize this excessive worry is a mental health disorder until new symptoms appear. Diagnosed in her thirties, Pollock says her experience with anxiety started much earlier than that. Her persistent symptoms finally convinced her to seek a diagnosis.

“Looking back, it [GAD] is something I’ve had for much, much longer than when I was diagnosed. I’d say all the way back to high school. My main symptom has been heart palpitations. I have them daily. The onset of these is what made me realize there was more going on inside me that was real than I had thought. Meaning I never would have thought I suffered from anxiety until I started experiencing these symptoms,” Pollock says.

Others who suffer from anxiety feel this same way. Many people who have GAD do not seek treatment because they are unaware what they feel is not normal. Some realize their feelings are unusual and irrational, but believe it’s something they should simply “get over.” For other people, it is a fear of the stigma that surrounds mental health disorders.

“People don’t want to have someone with a mental health disorder as a neighbor or a coworker or a relative. In their mind, everyone with a mental health disorder is dangerous,” Muranko says.

For Pollock, a combination of medication and counseling have allowed her to function despite her anxiety disorder. Muranko recommends seeking help from a therapist and investigating alternative treatments like hypnotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy before using medication. According to Baker, anxiety is a normal fear response, but when someone suffers from an anxiety disorder, the way he or she thinks and responds to situations and events is often with irrational worry and fear. Changing one’s thoughts and perceptions can help to overcome these anxious thoughts and feelings.

“Sufferers of GAD can lead a normal life. They just have to be willing to pack up their anxiety and carry it with them. Part of that involves recognizing that as human beings we’re all terribly flawed and imperfect, and that control over our lives is at best fleeting and elusive,” says anxiety expert Dr. John Cook.

Unfortunately, GAD and other mental health disorders are often misdiagnosed. There are no specific tests that give a definitive diagnosis the way they do for other illnesses like viruses or cancer. After a physical exam rules out a physical cause for symptoms, a physician will either recommend a psychologist or ask a serious of diagnostic questions, says Baker. These questions can be subjective, and related disorders can be confused. These disorders can also often go hand in hand.

“People tend to get frustrated with things if they have chosen not to seek treatment or the treatment they are currently on is not working. If someone is not on the path to wellness, they can feel that frustration and that can lead to depression,” Muranko says.

College student Katy Schoech, 19, suffers from a combination of anxiety and depression. Her condition has had a significant impact on her life and the way she participates in every day experiences.

“I feel that I am controlled by my anxiety. It’s a lot harder to be in large crowds, deal with many of life’s problems or be in cars, all of which give me anxiety personally. It has sometimes made it harder to stay focused on school; it has made it difficult to interact with people or be in large crowds, especially if I am worried about having panic attacks,” Schoech says.

Pollock also says she sometimes believes GAD controls her life. She avoids certain situations because she knows her anxiety will be more severe. However, she says she also feels she does as much as possible to be normal.

“I don’t think having anxiety sets me apart from other people. It is what it is. Some people are caring and try to understand, and others don’t care to,” Pollock says.

For those suffering with anxiety, the feelings of panic and fear are very real. Some find themselves crippled by their disorders, while others like Schoech and Pollock make an effort to live a normal life with their condition. As Cook says, living a normal life with anxiety is possible if the sufferer is willing to accept his or her condition and work through it.

Texas Spring Baseball’s Third Team

Clusters of baseball fans trickle into the Alamodome. It is two hours before the first pitch of the night. They are in no hurry. Inside the clusters become mixed waves of red, blue and orange all seated together. Rangers fans and Astros fans. Diehard followers and casual observers. They wait for their teams to take the field for batting practice, ready to analyze players in anticipation of a quickly approaching opening day.

Outside the babble that rises up in the stands, Miguel Ybarra stands in the late afternoon sunlight with his young daughter anxiously awaiting another team. The small girl squeezes clenched fists to her chest, bending her knees and looking up at her dad with a wide smile as a feathered hoof steps out of the first towering red trailer.

One by the one the eight Budweiser clydesdales clamber out into the parking lot outside the stadium to take their place in the lineup. Ybarra has to remind his daughter that they are here to look and not touch as she inches closer the towering animals.

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Ybarra photographs his daughter in front of the Budweiser Clydesdales outside the Astrodome Stadium

Ybarra is originally from St. Louis, the official home of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and he and his daughter are at the game specifically to give the young horse-lover a glimpse of the team.

“These guys are kind of a staple in St. Louis, and I really wanted her to see them. This is great because we already live here we didn’t have to travel anywhere special,” Ybarra said.

This group of eight horses has a home base in Ft. Collins, Colorado, but they spend about 320 days of the year traveling to Budweiser sponsored events, like the MLB spring exhibition game at the San Antonio Alamodome, according to team manager Todd Radermacher.

“It took two days of driving to get here. We went from Ft. Collins to Amarillo, and then came here and then we take off for Houston right after this,” Radermacher said

The team doesn’t travel light. Three tractor trailers hold ten horses weighing between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds each, the traditional Budweiser beer wagon, approximately 1,200 pounds of harness equipment, plus the supplies to keep ten clydesdales happy and healthy.

Eight horses are paired up to pull the red, white and gold beer wagon for each appearance, with two alternates rotating in and out as the team travels. Stronger horses are stationed at the back of the caravan where they bear the most weight, while more agile “showy” horses are typically at the front of  the lineup, said trainer Zachary Uding.

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Uding stands with the team as they prepare to make their entrance into the Astrodome

This team is one of three traveling Budweiser Clydesdale caravans that tour the U.S. for the majority of the year. Each of the horses has to meet strict requirements to travel and represent the Budweiser brand. They have to be male, must stand at least 18 hands (six feet) high, weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, and have a bay coat, black mane and tail, and a white blaze down the middle of their face.

“When a colt is bred, it stays on the farm until it’s old enough, and then it goes to a training facility for one to two years before it joins a team. We usually retire horses back to the home farm after about eight years,” Uding said.

Uding, who has been traveling with the West Coast team for two years, said that the time and care they put into the horses is representative of the dedication and craftsmanship that goes into Budweiser beer.

“We want to make sure that they’re getting quality care, the same way we care about the process of brewing our beer. Do we have to spend five hours grooming before an appearance? No but it’s how we do things,” Uding said.

Although the meticulous attention to detail is a reflection of the Budweiser brand, for the clydesdale’s young fan, simply being near the animals is enough. She reluctantly waves goodbye to the horses as Ybarro pulls her by the hand toward the stadium, where she will wait for her favorite team to take the field.

Shane Whalley Challenges Binary System of Gender

As snow fell heavily outside an Indiana home window, a blue-eyed child got dressed to play in the snow. Slipping size five feet into snow boots, the young child pulled waist-length braids out of the way to put on a boy’s coat. A small victory.

Shane Whalley is now a 52-year-old education coordinator for the gender and sexuality center at The University of Texas. The job involves giving workshops and educating people about gender issues, including introducing them to the gender neutral pronouns ze, hir and hirs, which Whalley feels suit hir better than traditional male or female pronouns.

Whalley spent the better part of hir life struggling around hir gender identity. For a person operating in a world where everyone is supposed to be either masculine or feminine, falling somewhere in the middle can be a challenge.

“I like to say that when we’re born, we’re given a gender notebook. We are given rules covertly or overtly all the time by our family, church, school, peers, media. Do this, do this, do this,” Whalley says.

Whalley identifies as gender queer, meaning ze doesn’t feel strongly connected to male or female. Whalley describes hir way of operating in the world as a “blended space” that is somewhere between the two genders.

“I identify as female, because that’s what’s on my birth certificate, and that’s okay with me. But I don’t identify as a woman. That concept doesn’t make as much sense to me,” ze says.

As a child, Whalley battled with her mom, a southern woman, about what it meant to be not just a woman, but a lady. Hir mom put hir in ballet classes, hoping it would make her daughter more graceful. They argued over what toys Whalley could buy and play with, and what clothes ze could wear.

“Getting clothes at the beginning of the school year was always challenging,” Whalley says. “What she thought I should be wearing, and what I thought I should be wearing were very different clothing.”

Despite early battles over gender expression as a child, Whalley conformed to hir mom’s strict gender ideals and continued to live hir life as a woman into her 20s. After graduating from a religious boarding school, ze started college at a public school in Indiana, dropping out after three major changes. Whalley then moved to Boston, where hir parents were working for their church’s national headquarters, and got a job with the church as well.

“When I got my job, I signed a paper saying homosexuality is wrong, and that anyone who was found out to be homosexual could be fired. And when I signed that piece of paper I thought I was straight.”

At a time when identifying as gay was simply not socially acceptable, particularly in hir church home, Whalley didn’t think of hirself as gay despite never dating men. Whalley listened to friends talk about the feelings they got around boys, but had never felt that hirself.

“I just thought I was going to be lonely. Like I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen to me,” ze says.

After two years working at the job in Boston, Whalley’s church hired a new woman employee. They became friends, and later more than friends. Whalley and her partner struggled to navigate their new relationship and what it meant about their sexual identity. Both knew they could be fired if anyone found out. For Whalley there was the added stress of coming out as a lesbian to hir parents.

“My mom just asked me point blank. She was at my house for dinner, and she just asked if Sue and I were more than friends, and I said yes. She told me I made her physically ill, and I was going to be the ruin of the family and that she would rather I drink coffee and tea than be a lesbian.” (Christian scientists don’t drink caffeine)

It would take a move to California, a college degree, another move to New York, and a job at Cornell University before Whalley truly embraced hir gender identity. During hir time at Cornell, Leslie Feinberg, author of the book Stone Butch Blues, came to speak at the University.

“When Leslie came to speak, her hair was in a flat top and she had on a double breasted grey pinstripe suit, a shirt and tie, and looked immaculate,” Whalley says.

Hearing Feinberg speak and reading the book turned Whalley’s world upside down. Ze cut hir hair into a flat top, got rid of all the women’s clothes in the closet and replaced hir wardrobe. At age 34, Whalley had come out for a second time.

“It took me awhile, but I got really comfortable. I felt the most embodied that I ever had. When I looked in the mirror it was like ‘Oh I look like myself and not like a bad drag queen.’”

The transformation for Whalley came from letting go of being the person, the woman, ze thought hir mom wanted hir to be. After meeting Leslie Feinberg, Whalley felt for the first time that hir gender identity didn’t have to mean ze had somehow failed.

“My mom had always taught me that if I didn’t conform, I wouldn’t be successful. So that fear of not being able to get work and find love and not not not not not if I didn’t do it a certain way, it kind of held me in line. When I met Leslie I was like this person has written a book, been invited to an ivy league school to give a talk, and looked fantastic. And like in my world that was success,” ze says.

Embracing hir sexual orientation as queer and hirself as gender queer was met with another set of backlash from Whalley’s family. The reaction of hir parents and pushing against the rule book that had been so ingrained in hir since birth led to serious mental health challenges.

For a year and a half, Whalley didn’t speak to hir parents. The only form of communication between them were letters sent by hir family, which Whalley brought to a therapist’s office, terrified of what was going to be in them.

The turnaround for Whalley’s mom finally came when she realized it was okay to talk to people about having a lesbian daughter. Where she expected to be met with condemnation and harsh judgement about her skills as a parent, she was met with community and support.

“Before it was always when we went to church and I brought my partner, she was introduced as my friend. You know this is my daughter Shane and her friend. Of thirteen years. Yeah, right. But this one time we walked into church and my mom said ‘This is my daughter Shane and her partner, Denise,’ and I was like what just happened.”

When Whalley’s parents died, ze felt good about the relationship she had with them. They realized Whalley was their only child, and willingly worked through uncomfortable and challenging conversations about who ze wanted to be.

Whalley was aware of the pride her mom had for hir and hir decision to walk hir path and “walk it fiercely.” The struggles Whalley faced with hir family, and the challenges ze faced during hir 13 year journey to define hir gender and sexuality resulted in a strong, articulate, and truly embodied human being.

“I think that process of really melting down to the dust and then building myself back up again meant that I got to be who I am and do what I do now, but it wan’t a gentle process,” Whalley says.

Whalley sees hirself as an ambassador in the LGBTQ community, using hir experiences and confidence to educate others on gender and sexuality issues and challenge what we think we know about traditional male and female roles. Ze has now served as UT’s education coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center for 6 1/2 years, working to provide students with as much information as possible.

“I believe that gender nonconformity is part of the human experience and always has been part of the human experience, and we have gone through points of history where it is more allowed to happen and parts of history where it is more sequestered, and I think we’re coming out of the shadows.”

Whalley has ridden the third wave of feminism from the beginning, living through a period of time where identifying as gay was largely stigmatized, especially throughout the nineties at the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Whalley began defining hir gender identity at that time, when hir “blended space” was relatively unknown to mainstream society.

We are socialized not to talk about subjects like sexuality, religion and race with people we don’t know well. Our ingrained social scripts can often mean we lack authenticity in our everyday interactions. When we are confronted with something outside the norm, we struggle with it. It’s awkward. Whalley is truly an ambassador, pushing against the binary and diffusing the awkwardness with quirky anecdotes and infectious friendliness.

Whalley sees society moving slowly toward acceptance, and hopes to see a change in the social scripts. Instead of guesswork and a fear of asking questions around gender identity, we would be upfront about our identity. “Hi, I’m Tricia, she and her.”

Transparency, and authenticity, are key to these interactions. In Shane Whalley’s perfect world, everyone would be able to identify they way they want to without fear of hate or discrimination. Everyone would be able to access any and all resources they need as that identity, no matter what their body looks like.

“We get caught up on legal standing and body parts, and how people feel about themselves is third. I would like to see that be first,” ze says.

Whalley is aware of the uphill battle gender rights activists still face. We’re still far from equality. The hope is that through hir work and sharing hir own experiences, the change will keep happening.

“I live in a space that is new to a lot of people, and super comfortable to me…How you bridge that disconnect is hard. I think it’s just culture, and in time if all of this stays the course, we’ll have culture shift.”