the sport of empowerment

Image courtesy of L.A. Derby Dolls

Image courtesy of L.A. Derby Dolls

If you take a closer look Inside the rough-and-tumble, no-holds-brawling world of roller derby, you’ll see that there is much more that meets the eye. Sure, this full-body contact sport has a reputation for being hard-core and just plain aggressive, but roller derby is also a sport of empowerment and camaraderie.

Andrea Acosta, who goes by the alias of Vanna Fight, explains what she enjoys the most about being part of the L.A. Derby Dolls, “I love that we are all friends and get along very well. At one point we can be hanging and have fun, and on the other get serious and competitive. It’s really cool to experience that on and off switch.” 

The L.A. Derby Dolls is one of the most well-known all-female roller derby leagues in California. The volunteer-run organization was founded in 2003 by Rebecca Ninburg (a.k.a. Demolicious) and Wendy Templeton (a.k.a. Thora Zeen).  

Andrea, is a rookie player for Tough Cookies, one of five teams under the organization. Despite being an L.A. native, she first heard of this community of roller derby skaters after reading an article. After going to see an L.A. Derby Dolls’ match, Andrea described being hooked.

She says knowing nothing about skating, other than it looked fun, “It was something I had to check off my list, it was exciting and I love that empowerment aspect. Andrea added, “So I bought a $50 pair skates from BIG 5, and as soon as the next training session started I was there.”  

After three years of preparation, and training for three hours twice a week, Andrea officially joined the league in October 2014. 

“It was difficult and challenging but I love that is fun, it’s a lot of work but so much fun. I take off my gear at the end of the day and just knowing I was able to do something that I wasn’t able to do a few weeks ago, it’s rewarding.”
— Andrea

Though it's been around since the 1930s, roller derby has been catching on popularity in recent years. The contact sport is played by two teams, each team has about 14-18 players, five of those players are actively skating around the track. All the rough-and-tumble is created when a scoring player called the “jammer” passes other players of the opposing team. The more players the jammer laps, the more the points are earned. In essence the sport is played in offense and defense simultaneously.

Andrea says that the game has taught her about, managing time, being a leader, making an opinion and express that opinion effectively. It has also taught her about working with different personalities.    

Despite being involved with the sport for three years, Andrea hasn’t been seriously hurt. She said the key for this is, 

“to not overthink your next step, just go for it. By the time you think of what next step you’ll execute, it’s probably too late.”
— Andrea


It’s important to point out that every member of the the league has an alias, a unique alias. Actually as per league’s rules, every member has to come up with a name that not only describes them, but also that doesn’t overlap with other player’s name. To keep track of this, there is an online roster as a guide to what names have been used already.

In Andrea’s case, she says it was a bit difficult to come up with her alias. It was during work, when she was pointing firmly to something and her coworker mocked the way she used her hands as if she was showcasing something, just like Vanna White from Wheel of Fortune. Andrea changed the last name to Fight, to give a little aggression and intimidation to the entire name, she said.   

Like many of the Derby Dolls, Andrea not only competes but also volunteers her time to help run the organization. Every summer, the Doll Factory opens its doors to host a job and health fair. The L.A. Derby Dolls work with various entities to offer self defense classes, health awareness workshops, resume building, blood drives and they work with a mobile mammography unit to offer free screenings.

“...the L.A. Derby Dolls organization thrives because of the members who volunteer their time and skills. The organization is made up of current and former skaters, referees, and the derby doll army -- fans who volunteer for the league. L.A. Derby Dolls is diverse, and we are all passionate about the sport of roller derby.” Andrea said.

[This article was originally created and published for La Opinion]

The Turning Point

Image courtesy of Tamara Mena

Image courtesy of Tamara Mena


If adversity is the building blocks for success, then Tamara Mena has built a village. To overcome the type of adversity that Mena has come across, one needs an exuberant amount of drive.

Tamara lost the ability to walk after an automobile accident, she suffered a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed mid-chest down, leaving her bound to a wheelchair, losing the ability to talk temporarily at age 19. She and her boyfriend were on a taxi when the accident occurred. He did not survive the accident. Tamara describes the experience as excruciating. “Losing him was worse than to lose my ability to walk… without a doubt there is no comparison.”

Despite this life-changing experience, she sees herself as a survivor not a victim.

Tamara was born in León Guanajuato, México, and moved to Modesto, California, at the age 13. She gives credit to the way she handles adversity to her upbringing, and she says most of all, to her mother,she added, “My mother has been a huge support and has always believed in me, she is a great example to me.” Tamara said.  

After her accident and regaining the ability to speak, she decided to go back to school.  She graduated with a major in communications receiving top honors from California State University Stanislaus. Before the accident, she had set her sights in studying for international business. Tamara explains the change in the field of study,

I definitely took a different route, I just wanted to do something I felt passionate about.
— Tamara Mena


Never losing sight of her goals, Tamara continues to work to accomplish anything she set herself to do. She’s now a motivational speaker, ambassador to various organizations and a mentor. She’s the founder of Young Women’s Peer Support, where she mentors other young women with spinal cord injuries at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Did I also mentioned she models? She first started to model before her accident and continues to do so. Tamara has modeled internationally. Her first breakthrough modeling gig was with Modelle & Rotelle in Rome, Italy. She was the only U.S. and first Latina representative at the show.  

I don't let the situation define me. Sure there are plenty of things I can't do, but there other things I can, like modeling. It’s something I don’t think I would’ve been able to do because of my height. Tamara said. 

To add to her ongoing efforts to promote awareness she most recently modeled during New York’s Fashion Week 2015. Working with the Vertical Foundation, she walked the runway with her fellow handicapped peers in the FTL Moda 2015 runway show to raise money to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries. She says her experience modeling at the show gives her a sense of pride, 

I’m just so grateful to have been there, I never stopped believing in myself and fighting for my dreams and it was just a huge sense of accomplishment.
— Tamara Mena

Tamara also competed on Nuestra Belleza Latina 2013, a television reality show/beauty pageant. She says, while she wowed the judges and the audience, she felt the organization wasn’t ready   for a representative like herself. She says there were a few instances where she felt like the organization didn’t make an effort to include her for some activities. “I don’t need to be given special treatment, I was hoping they would be open to including me. It’s all about inclusion.” Tamara said.

Regardless of whether people are ready to embrace diversity, she says her commitment to break barriers is a continuous effort.

Now, she focuses on working on meaningful projects and events with a greater purpose. She represents organizations, and currently acts as an ambassador for Ekso Bionics and Red Bull’s Wings for Life Foundation.

Tamara will be running for Red Bull’s Wings for Life Foundation on May 3rd in Santa Clarita, California to raise funds to help people with spinal cord injuries.

[This article was originally created and published for ChicaFresh]

this latina found The key for sucess

Image courtesy of Nataly Valenzuela

Image courtesy of Nataly Valenzuela

Life has a funny way of making you pay attention to the things that truly matter.
— Nataly Valenzuela said after recalling the time when life took a pivotal turn.

It was about five years ago that Nataly, social media reporter, television host, and radio personality, found herself at a stagnant point in her life. She was working a job that was nowhere near what she intended to do, and she was in a relationship that had long run its course. But her wake-up call came after a routine checkup when she was diagnosed with mild cervical dysplasia, (this is when cells change in the cervix and could potentially lead to cervical cancer if left untreated).    

“I knew I had to do something, I needed to change things up in my life.”

Fearing the removal of the abnormal cells would damage her reproductive organs, Valenzuela rejected her doctors procedural recommendation and decided to take a more natural approach to a path of wellness. She embarked on a holistic lifestyle, a lifestyle that pushed and helped her turn the wheels of her life again. She began working out, and completely changed her diet. She started the raw diet regimen, and she eventually became vegan. Valenzuela also began meditating, and became a Buddhist practitioner.

I did everything in a year to heal mentally, physically, and emotionally because at the time, I realized my emotional and mental health were contributing to my physical health.
— Nataly Valenzuela

At the six-month marked her condition hadn’t gotten worse but it hadn’t improved either. This did not deterred her, she continued with her new lifestyle. Her relationship with her boyfriend at the time became strained and eventually ended. A little after the break-up she decided to quit her unsatisfactory job.

“I realized that it is not just about what you eat but it’s also about everything else in your life… My job and the relationship I had with this guy was the very thing that catapulted me into being unhappy.”

Her lifestyle changed, coupled with fitness, it improved her health and outlook to life. A year the cervical dysplasia had vanished. She says this was the result of, “Combining physical, mental emotional, and nutritional health.”

Nataly decided to take a program to become certified as a holistic health coach. She also created a blog, where she blogs about living well. “It’s about putting yourself in the rhythm of the universe… and helping others.”

Taking on this type of lifestyle was uncharted territory for Nataly. The T.V. host and radio personality battled with self esteem and body image issues most of her life, something that dates back to her teen years. “I remember feeling sad and being depressed because I was picked on because of my weight.”

In her blog, she talks about trying every diet pill, starving herself and even making herself throw up after meals. She said it only happened once or twice because, “I was so grossed out by it that I never did it again.”  

While in high school, she worked at the dean’s office, one day the dean asked her what she wanted to do when she grew-up. Nataly replied, she wanted to be an actress, something she wanted to do since she could remember. You know you have to lose 20 pounds or more, and actresses smoke to reduce appetite, her dean told her. She remembers feeling devastated hearing those words from the dean, but she this did not deterred from her dream and she was determined to make it happen.

Nataly studied communications and theater, but she soon realized, she didn’t want to pursue acting anymore after a friend introduced her to the world of radio.

She’s currently a social media reporter for Time Warner Cable, where she covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the L.A. Galaxy. She’s also a T.V. host for Unimas’ Lanzate and a radio personality for K-Love. But how does she managed her holistic lifestyle and the superficiality side of her job?

She says there have been instances where she’s had producers suggested her to lose weight and former coworkers commenting on what type of shoes she should wear and the type of car she should drive.

She says, “I just don't let it affect me. I stay grounded, and try to stay true to myself. I still have an issue with food but this is something I constantly work on.”

As a social media reporter, she sees how social media can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Nataly added, “There is a subculture of young girls being half naked and telling other younger girls how they should look like.”

This lead Nataly to start a social media campaign, #lovebeyond. She says the entire idea behind the campaign is to promote empowerment and encourage women, especially young women to 

love themselves beyond anything else.
— Nataly Valenzuela

[This article was originally created and published for ChicaFresh]