A soldier’s widow, a storyteller, a baker, an astronaut, and a healthy-living guru walk onto a stage…
There is no punchline. Rather, it was the scene at Kirkland Performance Center Thursday night as women throughout the Eastside gathered to hear from five inspiring local women as part of 425 Magazine’s Women to Watch.
The inaugural event was attended by nearly 300 people, and focused on inspiring and encouraging women. Five empowering talks were given by Lisa Hallett, co-founder of Wear Blue: Run to Remember; Audra Mulkern, farm-to-table documentarian; Megan Wagstaff, Founder of Lady Yum; Soyeon Yi, South Korea’s first astronaut; and Marilyn McKenna, founder of It Matters.
In 2009, Hallett’s husband, U.S. Army Captain John Hallett of the 5-2 Stryker Brigade combat team, was killed in action in Afghanistan. As Hallett recounted the experience of receiving the news from her husband’s rear unit commander, her voice wavered and the crowd was still and silent. “They had to be wrong,” she said as she remembered the disbelief she felt in that moment.
So she turned to running as the coping mechanism that she’d leaned on throughout her husband’s military career. “It was a tangible accomplishment in a world that felt totally out of control,” she said. “I pounded the pavement with sorrow for all the dreams and love I’d lost. I pounded the pavement for strength, for the stress of raising three children without the strength, love, and guidance of their father.”
It wasn’t long before she was joined by others who had been touched by the loss of a loved one due to combat and Run Blue: Run to Remember was born. Today, the group runs to honor all military members killed in combat and has evolved into a network of active duty and retired service members, military families, Wounded Warriors, Gold Star families, and community members.
Hallett reminded the crowd that everyone is tested by hard times, but it is how you cope and follow through that matters. “I have seen the other side of tragedy,” she said. “I know when life gets hard and ugly, that’s when we have to dig deep and we have to find our grit, because what is waiting on the other side is absolutely worth it.”
Three years ago, Mulkern had never picked up a camera or opened a Twitter account. She asked herself, “Who do I think I am?” when she broke into the world as a writer, photographer, and farm-to-table documentarian. She said she felt that to share her stories, to share other’s stories would be bragging, until she met a stranger in an Uber who said he was the fastest man in Canada. “I realized he wasn’t bragging, he gave me an accurate portrait of himself.”
Mulkern set her sights on women in agriculture ranging from urban community gardens to rural family goat farms and everything in between.
“No one was telling their stories, not even them,” she said. “They were doing amazing things and no one knew about it. These women belong on the covers of magazines and the front pages of newspapers.”
Mulkern said had she not told the story of these women, the stories would have gone untold, she encouraged the crowd to look for these stories. “I know that sometimes the hardest thing is hitting the send or submit button, but what kind of impact could you have if you did? I challenge you to find the untold story and tell it, even if it is yours,” she said.
After growing up in a small, secluded logging town in Alaska, Wagstaff couldn’t wait to go to college and get into the real world of fast food, multiple television channels, and shopping malls. However, almost immediately upon entering this world she felt like she didn’t belong.
“The girls thought I was so weird because I never owned a purse,” she said of her first few weeks of college. “I went out and bought five because I didn’t want to be weird. I continued to do things like that for the next five years, I let society and other people dictate my actions.”
After college, Wagstaff took the first mortgage job that came along (so she could buy more purses) and got married, yet after a few years the marriage fell apart. As she was packing her things to move, she came across her handbag collection.
“As I was staring at the pile of purses I knew I had to make a change,” she said. “I felt that if I didn’t do something awesome, I knew I was doing a disservice to other women my age.”
Wagstaff quit her job and turned to a counselor who told her that she was ‘tired and needed to go play.’ Taking the advice and running with it, Wagstaff started playing, imagining, and creating new things based on skills her parents had taught her during her youth, which eventually led her open her Kirkland-based shop, Lady Yum.
“When you start using all of your brain and stop relying solely on logic to make decisions, you lose the fear that holds you back because you stop giving society permission to make you feel that way,” she said.
Yi, an engineer by trade, had always done all her experiments in the lab but one day she asked herself, what if she did her experiments in space instead. So she set out to become South Korea’s first astronaut.
Unlike most astronauts, Yi said she had a restful night of sleep the night before her launch. The next morning, she boarded the bus bound for the launch pad determined to follow all the traditions of those astronauts who had come before her, however disgusting they may be. This meant urinating on the bus’ wheels, or in Yi’s case, pouring a bottle of water on the wheels.
“They say ‘you cannot pee on the tire, you are a woman’,” Yi said. “I say I want to pretend to pee on the tire, a woman can do everything. I was upset because I couldn’t pee out there; (it was) so sexist.”
Despite the lapse in tradition, Yi had a successful flight and subsequent stay on the International Space Station before returning home.
While Yi’s experiments yielded results, she says the greatest take-away from her trip was perspective.
“I realized how blessed I am,” she said. “What an incredibly lucky situation, maybe God made me go to space to realize that. I complain because my iPhone 4 is seven years old, but I have a phone. I complain about Comcast, but at least I have internet.”
One day in 2007, Mckenna, wife of former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, had what she describes as a “really bad day” which prompted a three-year weight loss and lifestyle transformation. At the end of that journey, she was down 120 pounds and running marathons when she decided to write her weight loss book, Eat Like It Matters.
“I titled my book Eat Like it Matters, because that is what I do now,” she said. “Eating like it matters is more like living like it matters. This evening the other four incredible women here are living like it matters.”
McKenna shared a handful of inspirational insights with the crowd. She explained that transformational change happens when the path of change is less than the pain of staying the same, and self-care has more to do with setting appropriate boundaries than treating yourself.
McKenna explained, however, that these journeys cannot be completed alone. “I reached out for help I found a wealth of love and support, coming at me in every direction,” she said. “Now I am in a position where I can reach back behind me and pull someone else up… I find it comes back to me a thousand fold.”