What I Got Out of 2015’s SXSW

2015-03-12 09.12.21

More than anything, I love a good conversation. As my friend Patti has reminded us at the salons she’s hosted, the art of conversation is like a muscle. It needs to be flexed, trained, honed, and rested appropriately. I look at SXSW as an opportunity to be a part of many conversations; sometimes, I’m just listening and absorbing, and, often, the engaging comes later.

This was the second year for SXSports inclusion in the Interactive portion. That segment is about all I can handle before my brain goes into overload. But I try to fit as many sessions as possible into each day — when else will I get this amazing opportunity to hobnob with the best and brightest minds (and bodies) of our time?

Here are my take-aways from the panels I attended.

2015 SXSports: Day 1

The Changing Face of Action Sports Media

This didn’t quite give the overview I was expecting. But what it did do was introduce me to Teton Gravity Research through one of the film company’s founders, Todd Jones, and a fascinating discussion about action filming. I came away with a new appreciation for skiing. Go watch their clips. NOW.

Teton Gravity Research’s social/content marketing manager Tana Hoffman walked us through the hundreds of pieces of content generated before a film trailer ever gets out. She’s basically tailoring information of all sorts for folks to share, which provides a wide spread of grass-roots marketing. Brilliant, and oh so applicable.

The Athlete Slash Entrepreneur

Two things roped me in on this one: curiosity about how pro athletes approach their next job and panelist Israel Idonije’splay_e_protectors11_576 business, producing a comic book called The Protectors. I fell hard for Idonije when he talked about how as a child, his parents made him read for an hour each day. He hated it…until he found The Green Hornet. How cool is that?


Mike Kafka, founder of ROO Outdoors, resonated with me: “If you find something you’re passionate about, follow it. It’ll all fall in place.”

2015 SXSports: Day 2

Beyond the Bar Graph: Insights Over Info

Statistics just beg for graphics. Sadly, there were no visuals to accompany all the cool data presented on the topic of wearables. The Austin connection to Under Armour, MapMyFitness, and My Fitness Pal, now all part of the same connected business, had drawn me in. Plus, wearables are just so hot; who isn’t tracking something right now? I was surprised to learn from panelist Mary Beth Thompson (My Fitness Pal) about some of the data that can be collected—blood pressure, glucose, and there are even fertility apps — she called out Glow and OvuView as standouts.

Christopher Glode, MapMyFitness, feels that the process of developing a completely holistic picture of motion through body area network sensors is not far off. We’ll be wearing sensors in our clothing and gear that removes the need to strap on a heart rate monitor or motion tracker.

Battling Tradition to Reinvent Youth Sports

With representatives from US Tennis Association (Kurt Kamperman), USA Swimming (Matt Farrell), and PGA of America (Jeff Price), this panel focused on what are often called “country club” as well as “lifetime” sports. 2015-03-14 11.23.57All of the panelists were forthcoming about the need to develop diversity and provide options for those in lower income brackets to participate. Moderator Christine Brennan showed just what an excellent facilitator can do for an already good discussion. She asked the right questions, effectively managed time, and demonstrated considerable knowledge. This turned out to be a very well done session.

Kamperman, Farrell, and Price all agreed that parents should back off and allow kids to remain unspecialized throughout childhood. According to Farrell, it’s the difference between “invitation” and “promotion,” and he quoted the Aspen Institute’s wording regarding modern health issues (such as overuse injuries, burnout, concussion) of “feeding kids sports with a fire hose.”

UFC: Women Breaking Ground Inside the Octagon

This was the big show of the day for SXSports, and it drew a big, multilingual crowd. I became a Ronda Rousey fan in that hour. Though I box, I’m not a huge MMA fan, but I loved the Olympian’s (judo, Beijing 2008) forthright and down-to-earth comments. The panel started off with a “sizzle reel” that had Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), stating ,“Women will never fight in the UFC.”One year later, he’s shown announcing Rousey as UFC 157 headliner in 2012.

Rousey explained that, when she does a Sports Illustrated or Maxim photo shoot, she’s not at fight weight. She feels it’s important to project her everyday physique, not an unrealistic body image. Rousey said, “I’m strong for a purpose, not thin and emaciated for a look.” AWESOME.

2015-03-14 13.24.56

Because it’s SXSW, you never know who might be in the crowd. Turns out that Olympic gold medalist and first American female Olympic boxer Claressa “T-Rex” Shield was in the audience. I was too star struck for her question to the panel to even register.

The Future of Doping and PEDs

I got to watch the 1976 Olympic 400m finals again, the one where Edwin Moses set a new Olympic and World record (not to mention won gold for the US) with a time of 47.64…but this time, I watched it WITH EDWIN MOSES. Goosebumps. 2015-03-14 15.25.49Moses was part of the panel taking a look at what was coming down the pike in terms of doping and performance-enhancing drugs. One of the more interesting aspects was hearing from pro Tim Johnson (cyclocross) about just what’s involved in athlete testing. Moses pointed out the incredible number of middle-aged men using testosterone and the irony therein (check out this article, “Low T and Cycling, from TexasBikeRacing.com)

“That ‘level playing field’ argument [regarding doping in cycling] is total bullshit.” ~Tim Johnson 

“I completely reject the notion that ‘everyone’s doing it.'”~Edwin Moses

2015 SXSports: Day 3

Sports Mega-Events: Do They Have a Future?

This was the show-stopper panel for me, so much so that it’s gotten its own write up. [Edit: that article is “UT’s Ben Carrington Brings Social Discourse to SXSports.”]

large_gold_starPut these guys on your radar, whether via Twitter, activist Jules Boykoff’s website, or catching Dave Zirin’s “Edge of Sports” on Sirius XM Satelite radio.

“The Olympics afford an opportunity to see female athletes like nowhere else.” ~Jules Boykoff

“We need to build less stadiums and raise more hell if these games are going to go forward.”`~Dave Zirin

Bike Attraction: Urban Bicycling Gets a Makeover

This panel was well intentioned and had great audience interest. It also showcased the most female voices (the moderator plus one of the three panelists), and all were informative. It was, however, a bit of preaching to the choir — and when one audience member asked about the perception of urban cycling as reflecting race and gentrification in the DC area, I scanned the crowd, noting the least diverse audience of any SXSports event I attended. And perhaps that was one of the biggest take-aways: urban cycling needs to work on this image of privileged hipsters blithely riding around (think Portlandia’s “biker” episode).

I loved Tom Smuts’ attitude—the Mad Men Screenshot 2015-03-19 13.10.38writer, who rode his bike to the 2014 Emmy Award show, is working on some funny PSAs. The theme, what he calls “playful activism,” is that “cyclists can be assholes, but they’re also dads and shouldn’t be run over.”

I wish panelist Susan Peithman-Criss could be my new bike buddy. The Portland State University planner recommended following Pretty Damned Fast (“shows cool girls doing what other cool girls are doing” in urban riding and style). Peithman-Criss hates the negative language of “bike wars,” and uses her mom as a barometer for how a city is succeeding in incorporating bicycles as a “tool of exploration.”

Whew. I can’t wait to see what’s on the radar for 2016. Just one request: Keep that Four Seasons location for #SXSports sessions. It was amazing.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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