Flame Bearers: The Women Athletes Carrying Tokyo's Torch celebrates the journeys of Tokyo’s unsung women Olympians & Paralympians and provides action-oriented analysis of the issues closest to their hearts. We share their rarely heard stories and are a microphone for women who are true masters of resiliency. Through storytelling, we use sport as a vehicle for issues such as racial justice, disability bias and pay equity.
This podcast is made possible by the Harvard Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program.
Kamila Dosmalova (Kazakhstan): Being the Only Woman on the National Team
Kamila started taekwondo when she was 9 years old and was the only girl on the team; years later, she's still the only woman, this time on Kazakhstan's Parataekwondo Paralympic team. In this episode, we speak with Kamila and her coach, Sultan, with the help of her friend and colleague, Meyept, Manager, National Paralympic Committee of Kazakhstan who translated our conversation live from Russian. In this conversation we discuss what it's meant for Kamila to be the only woman throughout her journey as well as how she's navigated her disability.
Jessica Long (USA): Perfection, Faith & Paraswimming
Jessica Long is one of the most successful athletes in Paralympic Games' history, holding 23 medals with 13 of them being gold. As she heads into her fifth Paralympics, Jessica shares that while her gold medals are "super cool", for her, it's "really about the journey."
In this episode, this naturalized American swimmer from Russia shares what it's like to grow up adopted, without legs, and born on a leap year, and how she strived to find perfection as a means to fill what she felt were voids in her life. Jessica lets us in on her connection to God and discusses how her faith has evolved over time.
Ni Nengah Widiasih (Indonesia): Para Powerlifting & Her Support System
At the age of four, Ni Negah Widiasih lost use of her legs at age four due to polio. In Rio she made history, becoming Indonesia's first Paralympic powerlifting medalist. Ni Negah is a firm believer that 'You were born to stand out, to be appreciated and loved for who you are.'
According to her, her journey to Tokyo is thanks to the unwavering support of her family and friends. Despite her unique set of challenges, Ni Negah is determined to go for the gold while rolling with the punches. I spoke with her with the support of a translator, Rea Candra if any when there where times when she preferred to speak in Indonesian.
Contributing experts include Carol Pandak, Rotary’s Director of PolioPlus; Rea Candra, Translator
Jacqueline Simoneau (Canada): Artistic Swimming, Family & Friends
In this episode, we speak with 4X Pan American Games' gold medallist and soon to be 2X Canadian Olympic Jacqueline Simoneau. At home, she's Jacqueline and in the pool, she goes by Jackie. We hear how her journey to the Olympic pool has been “synchronized” with hard work, a touch of glamour and the loving support of family and friends. We explore how the sport of artistic swimming evolved from the days of vaudeville as well as how gender plays a role in unexpected ways.
Contributing experts include: Lynda South-Simoneau (Mother), Rob Simoneau (Father), Christian Simoneau (Brother), Claudia Holzner (Current Duet Partner for Tokyo), Steven Findlay (Jacqueline's Boyfriend), Eric Myles (Chief of Sports, Canadian Olympic Committee), and Vicki Valosik (Professor, Georgetown University).
Audio clips from: FINA's Artistic Swimming World Series 2021's Jacqueline Simoneau's 'Mesmerising Solo Free Routine', Summer sports' Jacqueline Simoneau/Karine Thomas - synchronized swimming Duet Final - pan am games toronto 2015, TheThings Celebrity '12 Strict Rules Synchronized Swimmers Have To Follow', The Hearts Center Community's 'Song - Canadian national anthem "O Canada"—All four verses!', and CBS Sports' Synchro Swimmers Karine Thomas and Jacqueline Simoneau - Partnership.
Danusia Francis (Jamaica): Gymnastics & Positive Manifestation
At age five, Danusia watched Elena Zamolodchikova of Russia compete on TV, and decided then and there that she wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. 22 years later, Danusia's dream is coming true: she'll be Jamaica's second-ever Olympic gymnast.
In this episode, we begin by talking about how Danusia got into gymnastics, talk about what it means to represent Jamaica, and transition to discuss the power of positive manifestation. Danusia has missed the last two Olympics by literally one spot each, so she knows a thing or two about resilience, and she wants to pass it on.
Contributing experts include: Wanda Tebby (Danusia's Mother), Ms. Val (Danusia's Gymnastics Coach, UCLA), and Devon Harris (Founding Member, Jamaican Bobsled Team).
Deja Young (USA): Mental Health & Choosing Life
Being a "non traditional athlete" with brachial plexus has never held Deja back. Even though her condition was caused by medical malpractice during her birth, this 2x Paralympic gold medalist (100m & 200m) says she wouldn't change a thing if she could: she's where she is today because of what she's been through.
In this episode, we talk about what it was like growing up with brachial plexus (also called shoulder dystocia), explore how she got into running, and turn to Deja’s ongoing battles with mental health, including her attempted suicide. We end with Deja’s choice to be an outspoken advocate for mental health issues and her offer to be there for others so they never feel alone.
Thank you to Deja for her incredible honesty and leadership in mental health and suicide prevention.
NOTE: This episode contains themes that some people may find upsetting, including descriptions of depression and suicide.
Contributing experts include Delora Young (Deja's Mom) and Professor Rosemary Purcell (Head of Elite Sports and Mental Health, University of Melbourne).
Audio from YouTube, 'Athletics | Women's 100m - T47 Final | Rio 2016 Paralympic Games'; PBS's 'The Americans with Disabilities Act at 30 years: What comes next?'
In Deja's episode we promised to share support resources. Please note this list is not comprehensive, and nor does sharing links equate to endorsements; rather this is our attempt to amplify the important work being done and to help provide listeners with resources so they know they are not alone.
-Find your local helpline across international lines: https://findahelpline.com/i/iasp
-Learn about Athletes for Hope and how athletes everywhere experience mental illness. Also watch Victoria Garrick of USC share her personal story in this TEDxUSC talk called Athletes and Mental Health: The Hidden Opponent: https://bit.ly/AthletesForHope
-Learn about National Institute for Mental Health's helplines and finding the right provider for you: https://bit.ly/NIMHDeja
-Call 800-273-8255 24/7 to speak with someone via the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Learn more here: https://bit.ly/NSPLDeja
-Text "NAMI" to 741741 for 24/7, confidential, free crisis counseling via the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Learn more here: https://bit.ly/NAMIDeja
Love this podcast. So many different stories, topics, points of view. Each episode a pleasant surprise. Host Jamie does a great job of interweaving the individual stories with the topics the individuals cover, resulting in a consistently day-changing experience in listening.
Wonderful Variety of Athletes
I found this podcast completely on accident and loved it from the first episode I listened to. I absolutely love the diversity of the women interviewed and that it’s not your typical “popular” sports only. Even more - I love the focus on the Paralympians. My biggest complaint - the episodes are not long enough.
Love this podcast but since we are featuring women in sports then the guests need to emphasize what women are doing for social change. The episode about rugby features professor Brooks who goes on about men in history & the NBA & NFL taking a stand for social change but does not touch on the WNBA, NWSL or Megan Rapinoe and their trailblazing work for social justice. Letting this man go on about men just seems wrong.
I also love that you feature specialists to discuss topics associations ated with the athlete’s struggles in life. Can you try to find female specialists? They must exist