Photo album: A love letter to the human body

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

For many, the Winter Games are a celebration of national pride and the triumphs of the human spirit. But this Valentine’s Day, we’re also thinking of the Olympics as a love letter to the human body.

How flawlessly can we twist on skates mid-air? How fast can we propel ourselves across a stretch of snow? What’s physically possible for us to achieve, and what form does this perfection take?

New York-based photographer Howard Schatz took on the latter question in his 2002 photography book Athlete, a collaboration with his creative partner and wife Beverly Ornstein. By photographing 125 Olympic athletes, they revealed an incredible diversity of shapes and sizes among our world’s champions.

Juxtaposing wiry with stocky, tall with short, male with female, the series lovingly disproves the notion that an “athletic” body should look one particular way.


Photography by Howard Schatz


Photography by Howard Schatz


Photography by Howard Schatz

And all together…


Photography by Howard Schatz

[photography by Howard Schatz, enlargements via reddit]

Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day, the Olympics, or another occasion altogether, how did you show love this week?


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Meet 3 winter athletes who defy convention (and get bonus points for style)

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

Stereotype: Jocks are boring.

Broken by: Hubertus von Hohenlohe, wacky Mexican ski rock star

Hubertus von Hohenlohe gets a gold metal in awesome.

A world-class photographer, pop star, and (incidentally) German prince, he’s also a six-time Olympian in men’s Alpine skiing, and the only athlete representing Mexico in the winter games. And he’s 55 years old.

“We (in Mexico) are 100 million people and the only chance we have (of winning a medal) is up to me, but we don’t have to look at it like that. You have to see it as I’m an ambassador of this country, an ambassador with style and a human force that goes beyond the result,” Hubertus says in this interview for CNNMexico.

To represent Mexico, Hubertus has opted to compete while wearing a special Spandex ski suit patterned after the traditional dress of Mariachi musicians.

By raising some eyebrows this time around, he’s hoping to raise the profile of Mexican athletes in future Olympic games.


What a “style ambassador” wears to compete in the Olympics.


Stereotype: You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

Broken by: Jacki Munzel, 50-year-old speed skating powerhouse

Four years ago, Jacki Munzel was watching the Winter Olympics on TV with her daughter.

“We looked up at the TV and speed skating was on… She said, ‘You could try speed skating.’ And something inside of me, that fire from within, it grew and I was like, ‘Yeah, I could do that’,” Munzel said in this KSL interview.

Jacki had never speed skated before she made the decision to start training for the 2014 Olympics, though she wasn’t totally starting from scratch.

A professional power skating coach who trains NHL players, Munzel has been ice skating her whole life. In 1984, she even qualified to go to the Olympics for figure skating. But tragically, when a life-threatening eating disorder took her off the ice for those games, Munzel put her Olympic dreams to rest.

Then, thirty years later, after much training and re-training, Jacki ranked in the top ten for speed skating nationals and beat her personal best by 15 seconds in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Although her time wasn’t fast enough to get her to Sochi this year, her story proves that, well, there’s always 2018.


Jacki was a fierce competitor against speed skaters younger than her children.


Stereotype: Girls aren’t strong enough to ski jump.

Broken by: Lindsay Van, Jessica Jerome, and women athletes the world over

For the first time EVER, women will be allowed to compete in ski jumping at this year’s Winter Games.

This is partially a result of the efforts of two U.S. women skiers, Lindsay Van and Jessica Jerome, who spoke out about the injustice of being excluded again and again by suing the Vancouver organizing committee for gender-based discrimination in 2010.

“I didn’t do it to prove anything, but people needed to see that women in this sport are capable of jumping really far, and we’re capable of having our own event,” Van said for NBC Olympics.

The lawsuit raised enough attention that in April 2011, women’s ski jumping was approved as an official event for the Sochi Games.

We’ll be cheering for all of the women ski jumpers who compete this year as they soar through the air like magnificent Valkyries!


Lindsay Van flies the length of 1.5 football fields, NBD.
[image via Sparknotes]

What inspiring, kooky, or otherwise amazing athletes are you rooting for this winter?


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People in the Global South are wearing impossible t-shirts

Following last Sunday’s punishing Super Bowl, we came across this interesting Mental Floss article that gave us pause. It begins:

After a Big Game in any sport, fans and players are going to be clamoring for commemorative merchandise, often just minutes after the game ends. To meet this demand and cash in on the wallet-loosening “We’re #1” euphoria, manufacturers and retailers produce and stock two sets of t-shirts, hats and other merchandise, declaring each team the champ.

Huh! So that means the world is now in possession of a great grip of “Broncos: Super Bowl XLVIII Champs”-printed textiles, yeah? What on earth can be done with them?!

Apparently, until 1996, the suckers were just incinerated. What a waste! But since then, the nonprofit World Vision has been collecting and distributing the swag to less affluent people overseas.

This interesting infographic tells the tale:

nfl infographic updated1 Where Does The Merchandise Go From Losing Super Bowl Teams? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Interesting infographic courtesy of Blue Soda Promo

The recycling/waste-not-want-not aspect of this strikes us as pretty cool, but it’s also a bit weird, isn’t it? Or at least a bit surreal. All over the world, every year, more and more people are wearing clothes that appear to be commemorating major American sporting events—but they’re all completely fictional.

What’s your take on all this? Tell us in the comments.



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From Vietnam to blind baseball: one veteran’s volunteering story

From Milserve to Team Rubicon, the opportunities for vets to continue serving after they’ve come home are increasing. According to a recent report by Civic Enterprises, becoming involved with community service can greatly help the transition to civilian life. This is one vet’s story. 

During his time with the Air Force in Vietnam, Jeff Hottensen lived on almost every continent in the world. When he returned to NY after a little over two decades, he saw an ad in the paper to volunteer with a blind baseball team in Babylon. Eighteen years later Jeff is still stepping up to the plate.

“All those years in the service, I never had a connection to anything. No place was home,” he says. “I wanted to be part of a community, to do something and not move every two and a half years.”

Jeff, now 65-years-old and a customer service rep at AAA, grew up playing stickball in Manhattan and loves that baseball is a sport almost anyone can play. Twist the rules a bit, throw unlikely players on the field, and the game becomes even more high stakes.

Jeff (left) at a recent exhibition game at Citi Field, home of the NY Mets. (Photo via Camille Hottensen.)

“Not only are they beating a disability, but they are beating the system. It’s so much more thrilling,” he says.

Beep baseball works like this: A sighted pitcher throws a beeping ball to a blind or visually impaired batter who is blindfolded to combat any advantage. After hitting the ball, the batter uses their hearing to run to first, even better third base, which is also beeping. No balls are thrown. If the fielder gets the ball before the batter reaches the base, they’re out. The game is over in six innings.

Jeff is currently with Rockville Centre-based Long Island Bombers and has had just about every role from catcher to base judge to umpire at the World Series — in addition to describing items at the gift shop so the players can bring home souvenirs when they travel. He’s suffered bumps and bruises, broken fingers, even a concussion, yet he returns year after year.

“I learned, which I never thought I had, that caring feeling,” he says. “I surprised myself.”

From national service to community service

The first time Jeff met the players he was nervous about how he would act. He’d never been around the blind before.

“I was so scared of saying the wrong things,” he says. “I remember meeting this guy Jack who was running the team. He said ‘Good to see you. Oh wait, I can’t. So maybe it’s good for you to see me.’ ”

The immediate joking made Jeff feel right at home. Eventually he was able to transfer the leadership skills he honed in the Air Force to volunteering. Early on in Vietnam, for example, Jeff was thrown into a role as Branch Chief and had to manage people of all genders, races, and ages.

“I loved seeing young kids come in, teaching them, and watching them grow up,” he says. “Before they ship out you’ve made them into somebody respectful. You saw them build their self-confidence.”

With the Bombers, whose players are increasingly younger, empowering them to not fall into a depression because of blindness is part of teaching them how to swing a bat.

“Her mom said her life has changed so much and that this is the best thing that has happened to her,” Jeff says about a new sixteen-year-old recruit who’d recently gone blind. “How can I quit now? Those things keep me going.”

In later years Jeff has become more involved with organizing. If the weather is bad, he sets up a phone chain. If they’re stuck at the airport on the way to the World Series, he makes sure the players have something to do. Each year Jeff also arranges the LI Classic, a local tournament.

A second family

Above all, being a part of the Bombers reminds Jeff of the tight knit camaraderie he experienced in the Air Force. He and his usual roommate at the World Series, Jim Hughes, have been with each other through marriages, births, career changes, and more.


The Long Island Bombers have been around since 1997. (Photo via the team.)

“The two of us have just grown up together. He was 18, I was 40-something when we both started. Unbelievable,” Jeff says. “You build lifetime relationships over this. You really do.”

It makes occasions like winning a game at the World Series even more special. The year was 2005, the field was Houston’s Meyer Park. Jeff was catching; the Bombers hadn’t won a game yet. It was the last one of the series. Frank Guerra got a hit that tipped the game in their favor. He jumped into Jeff’s arms, and the rest of the team went crazy.

“I just thought it was the greatest moment,” Jeff says. “Without winning a game they might’ve lost a lot of courage and confidence, and not gone to the next World Series.”

Not like the team needed much cheering up to begin with. Jeff is continually struck by is how the players don’t view their blindness as a handicap, a philosophy they spread through local clinics and demonstrations at places like Camp Abilities.

“I never heard one of them complain about something they couldn’t do,” Jeff says. “It’s made me less tolerant about people who whine about nothing.”

The positivity is addicting. Soon, Jeff and his wife are thinking about becoming snowbirds, spending half the time in New York and half the time in Florida. He’s already putting feelers out to see if he could start a team down south and add more years to his umpire uniform.

The question remains: Will he ever strike out with beep baseball? The likely answer is no.

“I’m staying for at least 20 so I can get my retirement pay,” Jeff says, laughing.

Inspired to volunteer? The Bombers are always looking for extra hands to carry bats, spot bases, and wear blindfolds. Get in touch by emailing

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Opportunity spotlight: Sports for non-Olympians

The 2012 Olympic Games kick off today! Though few of us will live the dream today and compete, there are lots of other ways to get involved in some healthy athletic competition while making the world a better place.


Not an Olympic champion? No worries. You can still become a great athlete and give back!

Good Sports partners with local sporting good manufacturers to provide athletic equipment, footwear, and apparel to disadvantaged youth across the country, lowering the cost of participation in activities that might otherwise be inaccessible. Besides the obvious benefits of an active lifestyle, “kids who participate in sports enjoy better nutritional awareness and improved self-esteem.  What’s more, these kids are 57% less likely to drop out of school, 49% less likely to take drugs, and 37% less likely to become teen parents.” They’ve provided over $6.5 million in equipment to more than 400,000 young athletes to date. They’re looking for an intern, so if you’re in Quincy, MA, interested in the sports industry, and want to support a great cause, check out them out!

Coaching Corps trains college students to be volunteer coaches in after-school programs in California. The organization also develops and promotes best practices in youth sports and after-school programming and advocates for public and private support and investment in youth sports for low-income communities. They’re currently looking for thirty people to join their AmeriCorps program. You’d do some coaching yourself, help recruit volunteers, and receive lots of training in youth services.

The Union Settlement Association knows it’s never too late to promote fitness. They’re seeking a volunteer Exercise Leader for older adults. The organization works with a predominantly immigrant population in East Harlem, serving over 13,000 residents every year. Their programs include education, childcare, nutrition, senior services, counseling, the arts, job training, and economic development. The exercise leader would get older residents excited about physical activity by running a weekly fitness class that caters to a range of mobility levels. If you’ve got an hour to spare every week, share your passion and motivate some older folks to stay healthy!

And, of course, there is the Special Olympics. With nearly 4 million athletes around the world, the Special Olympics is the largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities in the world. Over fifty local chapters are listed on Idealist, and they hold events year round. Check out opportunities near you to work with these remarkable athletes.

Know any other great opportunities to get involved in athletics? Have a great sports story to share? Tell us about it!

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Fun in the sun: Volunteer opportunities for you right now!

By Amy Potthast.

Summer! Aching for reasons to be out in the sun all day, everyday? Or just want to keep moving?

Planting a community garden is good for you, the community, and people needing food. Photo by USFS Region 5 (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Consider volunteering outdoors this summer. There are countless ways you can build karma while working on your tan – and you can find most of ’em on Idealist. Read on…

Restoring and maintaining natural places
People can overuse or over-love forests, rivers, and trails. Non-native plant species can take root and overpower the natives.

When a natural area is damaged in these and other ways, you can take steps to bring it back to life.

Work with others to:

Keywords when searching volunteer opps on Idealist: restoration, environment, ecology, watershed, invasive plant species.

Gardening, farming, and permaculture
Tending the earth in sustainable ways is good for community, people who are food-insecure, and for you.

Connect with organizations and neighbors to:

Keywords when searching volunteer opps on Idealist: gardening, permaculture, agriculture, education.

Sports and recreation
Being outdoors can be all fun and games. There are lots of ways community groups advocate for healthy, active lifestyles, from engaging clients in physical activities to organizing fundraising events involving athletic contests.

Find ways to move this summer:

Keywords when searching volunteer opps on Idealist: sports, recreation, health.

Note: volunteer positions — even outdoors — exist for people of all abilities. Look for or ask about volunteer positions that accommodate your needs, whatever they are.

How are you quenching your sun-thirst this summer?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at

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Gooooooooals in International Development

Can football (soccer) help build a better world? Those working in the field of Development through Football would certainly say yes.

We learned about Development through Football through an organization called streetfootballworld, which “interconnects and strengthens long-term social development initiatives that use the unique potential of football to transform the lives of disadvantaged individuals from around the world.” The unique potential of football lies in its sheer popularity through the world, simple rules, minimal equipment costs, team values, and health benefits. The sport can be incorporated into efforts of education reform, intercultural exchange, youth development, and more.

If you’ve never heard of Development through Football, you may be surprised to know how active the field is. Streetfootballworld’s network includes about 70 organizations in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe that are currently using the model. Click here to search for one in your area.

Also try a general search on Idealist for soccer, basketball, tennis, or your favorite sport. You might find some fun volunteer opportunities or other ways to combine sports with your social activism.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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