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An Interview With American Ninja Warrior’s Allyssa Beird

As regular readers of this blog know, it is generally focused on art and creativity. However, those themes can expand far beyond what one might think. In the case of possibly America’s most well-known teacher, and almost certainly the most athletic, creativity comes in the form of finding the right balance between her full-time career in the classroom and her passion for competition. That person would be one Allyssa Beird, one of the biggest names from the television sensation that is American Ninja Warrior.

I recently had the chance to communicate with Ms. Beird and got some wonderful insight into her world.

For those who don’t know, she has always been an athlete. She started out in gymnastics at the age of 3 and competing in that sport until she was 18. During middle school, she began cross country and continued through high school in which she also went into track and field. Later, she would get into marathon running and eventually obstacle events like ANW.

Before every run, she makes sure she warms up properly and has visualized the course a few times. “I find a quiet place, close my eyes, and try to run through the course in real-time, timing myself after a few run-throughs in my head,” Beird stated.

And in case you are wondering, the camaraderie between competitors on the show is real, it’s not just something made for ratings. “The ninjas are like my second family. There’s even a hashtag across social media of #ninjafam,” she stated. She mentioned that she actually gets more emotional when friends reach their goals than when she reaches them. One example was when Michelle Warnky and Jesse “Flex” Labreck made history by completing the Cincinnati City Finals this year.

Some of her closest friends from the show include the aforementioned Warnky and Labreck as well as those she started her journey with, Jenny and Dave Cavanaugh. And of course, we can’t forget James McGrath.

“The ninja community is one of the most warm, welcoming, amazing communities of which I have ever been a part,” Beird mentioned.

Photo Credit: The Ninja Coalition www.ninjacoalition.com

When it comes to her work as a teacher, she mentioned that there are several aspects of the job that relate in some way to the competition.

While there is sometimes a mixed reaction, all generally positive when students and parents first meet “Ms. Beird,” she finds her mild celebrity status a bit humorous. And, after a brief time of answering student questions and parents interested in chatting, things go back to “business as usual” in her classroom.

Even though she doesn’t use many ninja-specific elements in her classroom, Beird knows there are lots of things that apply to ninja competition, school and as a general approach to life overall. Goal-setting is one such idea. She likes to help students set goals and make progress to achieve them. And when they get there, they have a buzzer celebration in which each child gets his or her picture taken while hitting a buzzer similar to the one on ANW. The picture goes up on the wall along with the goal. “It’s really motivating!” Beird stated.

Whether the goal is something to do with math, reading, writing, etc, it’s key to have them. “If students truly believe that they can succeed in doing something through hard work, there is never a reason to give up, even when things become difficult or confusing,” she mentioned.

Photo Credit: The Ninja Coalition www.ninjacoalition.com

And when it comes to her role, she says that teaching and competition have similarities in a few ways. The ability to respond instantly and adapt to unexpected events is critical. And when they happen, having a lot of mental fortitude is essential so that the bumps along the road do not affect her decision making.

And for those of you out there who might be considering making an ANW run of your own, she’s got a little advice for you.

If you live near a ninja gym, make sure to go. If not, find another option to train like a park, playground or structure you can use to make your way across like an obstacle. Build your strength with exercises including the all-important pull-ups for the upper body. But perhaps the single most important thing is to be ready. “There is not a right way or a wrong way to train for ninja, but I think it’s best to truly feel ready when you hit that ‘submit’ button on your application,” she stated.

 

Randy Johnson – Baseball Legend and Fantastic Photographer

For those of you who follow the world of sports, and particularly baseball. You probably know Randy Jackson, AKA “the Big Unit” as a great pitcher with intimidating speed and a Hall of Fame career. But, what you might not know is that he is also a talented photographer.

Randy Johnson

He studied photography in college before dominating the major leagues for years. And since his retirement, he’s been focusing on this, his other passion. From metal concert photos to fast cars to landscapes and still life work, Randy has created some impressive art.

Randy Johnson shooting

Check out his official website for yourself.

Amazing Photos from the Sochi Olympics

For almost the last two weeks…

like many people across this planet, I’ve be captivated by the spectacle that is the Olympics.

And as a photographer and artist at heart, I truly appreciate the artistry of athletics and the creative wonders such an amazing event can produce.

Given my appreciation for such things, I thought I would include some scenes that both chronicle and inspire.

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These first three photos where taken when workers at the Sochi games formed a giant heart on the halfpipe in honor of the late Sarah Burke, the woman who was instrumental in getting the event into the Olympic Games.

1

Canadian skier Alex Bilodeau celebrates with his special needs brother Frederic after winning gold.

2

The storied Jamaican bobsled team making their entrance during the Opening Ceremonies.

3

Maddie Bowman sailing her way to gold in women’s halfpipe skiing.

4

Bode Miller speeding down the slopes in what will likely be his last Olympics.

5

A unique perspective taken from the Bobsled venue.

6

An amazing long exposure shot of a downhill snowboarding race.

7

This one is of the beautiful Sochi sky over the Biathon course.

Beautiful architecture built around the national pastime

It’s the heart of summer

at least in the United States. And in the good old USA, while it may no longer be the top spectator sport, baseball still holds the nickname of the “national pastime.” And if you stop to think about it, why wouldn’t it be? Sunny playing fields, hot dogs, the crack of the bat hitting a ball, ballpark souvenirs…the list goes on.

One of the most artistic elements of the game is actually not something you might see on the field but rather the field (or more accurately the structure that holds it) in an of itself. Over the course of the more than 100 years the games has been played on a professional level, cities across the country have seen the rise and fall of numerous ballparks and many of them have been true gems of the craft of architecture.

In the early years of professional baseball, the venues often features open and simple steel structures. The next generation of ballparks included the often “multi-purpose” site which tended to be much bigger but less conducive to baseball than some other sports. Around the same time, enclosed domes with little character began to pop up in cities with notoriously bad weather. In the last two decades or so, the trend has seemed to come full circle going back to the smaller, open structures of old.

Here are a few of my favorites that are currently in use today:

As a Pittsburgh artist, and a life-long Pirate fan, my bias has to lead me to love the beautiful PNC Park.

PNC Park

Progressive Field in Cleveland was one of the first to revive the traditional ball field look.

Progressive Field

Camden Yards in Baltimore is not new by any means but a stunning site to see.

Camden Yards

The sheer history of Fenway Park makes it another wonder on the baseball universe.

Fenway Park

One more oldie but goodie, Wrigley Field in Chicago, has a very specific feel and charm.

Wrigley Field

Hockey masks as art? You bet.

This blog has featured a number of examples in the past showcasing how two seemingly separate career fields – art and sports – can collide in beautiful  and sometimes unexpected ways.

Sitting at home the other night watching the Pittsburgh Penguins (I am a Pittsburgh-based artist after all) take it to the New York Islanders, I took notice of the goaltenders’ helmets. I had forgotten just how interesting they can be.

Probably just about every goalie in the NHL wears a mask with a customized design that fits them as an individual. Maybe it showcases his personality, is a play on a nickname or has some other significance or even none at all, these masks are painted to be 100% unique.

Below are a few of the really cool examples from images taken by Sports Illustrated. A few are dated but still pretty awesome.

Some really interesting masks:

Vesa Toskala  Toronto Maple Leafs

Worn by Vesa Toskala of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Cam Ward Carolina Hurricanes

Worn by Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes

Peter Budaj Colorado Avalanche

Worn by Peter Budaj of the Colorado Avalanche 

Marc Denis Tampa Bay Lightning

Worn by Marc Dennis of the Tampa Bay Lighting

Last but not least…

Marc-Andre Fleury Pittsburgh Penguins

Worn by Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins

The chain reaction caused by some popular music

Most of us have heard the stories…

Websites like Youtube have at least launched, if not completely built, the careers of some of today’s most popular pop music artists. Two such examples that come to mind right away are the band Karmin and teen sensation Justin Bieber. No matter you think of them and their music (I could live without JB), there is no doubt they are big-time today.

This being the case, perhaps it is no surprise that in our digital age, massive chain reactions can occur inspired by a single song or artist. Last year perhaps the most widespread example would have been LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It.” This year, without any doubt whatsoever, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” takes the drown.

The catchy tune has been covered if you will, in Youtibe videos uploaded by everyone from U.S. military servicemen to members of the American swim teams from the 2012 London Olympics to the cheerleaders for the Miami Dolphins and the players for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And at this point, it doesn’t seem like there are any signs of a slowdown.

The aforementioned chain reaction is fascinating.

Check out a few of the covers mentioned below:

Artistic photos form the 2012 London Olympics

As stated in an earlier post, I do indeed believe that the arts and athletics can and do go together in some situations. That being the case, here are some wonderfully artistic photographs capturing the athletic feats that have occurred thus far in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Enjoy.

Gabby Douglas of the U.S., women’s all-round gymnastics champion.

Michael Phelps, perhaps the greatest Olympian of all-time, dominates in a 200m event.

Gold Medal winner and vault specialist Mckayla Maroney.

Oscar Pistorius, the first Olympian without legs, makes history in Track and Field.

Jessica Ennis of Great Britian fulfills overwhelming expectations to win the Heptathlon.  

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