Episode 52: Visiting with Meta Mickens-Baker and her story, “TRI-umph”
SSPP ep 51 META MICKENS-BAKER “TRI-umph”
Jenette and Kerry welcome Meta Mickens-Baker to chat about her story “TRI-umph,” from the 2021 show in Bloomington-Normal, IL. Meta’s journey to becoming an athlete is funny, heart-warming and inspirational. You might want to put on your running shoes now. On your mark. Get set! Let’s GO meet Meta!
ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:27 We’re in the studio for The She Said Project Podcast, and I think it’s time to get this party started. I’m your host Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project.
KERRY ROSSOW 00:37 I’m Kerry Rossow. Co-Founder.
JENETTE 00:39 Co-host, co-this, co-that.
KERRY 00:42 Yep.
JENETTE 00:43 You’re a lot of “co.”
KERRY 00:44 I know, I almost said co-ho. [Jenette laughs] And that just didn’t sound quite right.
JENETTE 00:47 You had a title in the early days of She Said, you guys called yourselves the show… “sho-conspirators?”
KERRY 00:54 Yes. Yes.
JENETTE 00:55 Where did that come from?
KERRY 00:56 Well, it comes from… I think so, my husband always said we were like the little rascals like we were always just rolling around like, yeah, yeah, let’s do a show. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s go do big theater.” “Yeah, yeah, people will come.” And then so when we were thinking of, like, what to call ourselves, it all felt too serious to say, co-founder, “oh, we’re in the theater.” Like, it just wasn’t us. And we didn’t want to misrepresent. Like, we wanted to be very open about who we were and what people could expect, so I think our graphic designer, Annie Poppin, with that great name that I think she came up with, you know, what, how about sho-conspirators.
JENETTE 01:29 It’s brilliant. No, it really sets the tone and what I love about the creation of That’s What She Said, you know, live performance, empowering women to share personal stories, while the mission is super, you know, important and serious. You guys always did it with such a sense of humor, and you keep that alive. And you constantly reminded me ‘Don’t take it so seriously. Don’t take it so seriously’. Maybe we’re not The Little Rascals anymore. But we’re still that vibrant energy of you know, this is fun. We get to do fun, cool things right.
KERRY 02:00 And we get to meet amazing women. I always say you could just take a dart and throw it into any crowd and pick your speakers that way [Jenette laughs] because there is no shortage of amazing women, which that’s a softball toss for you.
JENETTE 02:11 Hey, caught it! Yes, I’d love to introduce our guest today because she joined The She Said Sisterhood not here in Champaign in our flagship show, but she appeared on stage in our sister show in Bloomington-Normal Illinois. Let’s just bring her on the line. We’re with Meta Mickens-Baker today. Hello, Meta.
META MICKENS-BAKER 02:35 Hello. How are you Jenette and Kerry?
JENETTE 02:38 And say hello to all of our She Said Fans out there, in the podcast world.
META 02:43 Hello to everyone who is listening. Especially my She Said Sisters now around the country.
JENETTE 02:49 Yes. Around the country. Yes. Agreed. Thank you. But you’re just a hop skip and a jump away from where we are, where That’s What She Said started. And do you remember when I called you one day? And I said, Hi Meta My name is Jenette, and I’m producing the show in Bloomington. Would you like to stand on a stage and tell a personal story in front of a couple 100? People remember that?
META 03:15 I do remember that.
KERRY 03:17 Is that really how it happened?
META 03:18 I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at that moment. But yes, I do remember that quite vividly.
KERRY 03:23 And were you a quick Yes?
META 03:24 Somebody had told you to contact me. And I went, I still wonder who that person was, [Jenette laughs] but I thank them now.
KERRY 03:30 Did you say “yes” right away? Or was this a process?
META 03:34 I’m trying to remember.
JENETTE 03:36 I don’t think it was a yes the same day, I think I think you needed a minute to think about it.
META 03:41 Yeah, thank you sent me a video to watch. And you kind of gave me a sense of what to expect and what you’re planning. And so I think I said yes, within a few days. But.
JENETTE 03:51 Are you glad you did?
META 03:52 It gave me a little time to think about it. I am very glad I did. It was a phenomenal experience all the way through; meeting the other ladies and just really forming that relationship with you, and with them. It really did become a little sisterhood of women stretching ourselves.
JENETTE 04:08 That was such a stellar cast. And I’d like to point out that the show Meta was in in Bloomington in the fall of 2021 was actually our first live show back from the pandemic. And we had to do a couple things a little differently. We were at an outdoor venue for the final performance. We chose an open air amphitheater, which was a different environment, a different experience, but I think it paid off, because we ended up having had just a beautiful evening of women coming together with a glass of wine. And you know some she time.
KERRY 04:44 Oh, I think that show I think people were so hungry. We had all been locked up. None of us had been out of pajama pants in two years and it was open air so people felt comfortable coming back, they felt safe. They, the women, the speakers were phenomenal and booze were accessible, it was a perfect night [Jenette chuckles].
JENETTE 05:02 So Mita your story that you cultivated and curated and created and crafted. Oh my god, could I have any more alliteration here? But that you put together for, for that performance. Tell us a little bit about it. We’re gonna play the clip in just a moment. But what made you choose your story of triumph that night?
META 05:21 Very interesting. So you and I had that, one of those first conversations. And you said, just tell me about yourself?
JENETTE 05:29 My favorite question.
META 05:30 I started, telling you about kind of, growing up and living in Bloomington, and then I got to something that was really kind of fun part of my life right now. And that is triathlon, and running, and biking, and swimming. And, you know, I realized how much I really enjoy that. But how that is so different from who I was growing up. And at some point, you said, “I think people might be interested in that”. And it kind of took off from there as a story that when one, you know, it’s so much a part of my life, but also, I know a lot of people try to figure out, can they do those kinds of things as they reach the age ‘past-having-children’ [Kerry and Jenette laugh], I’m not quite middle aged, but like, I’m there, I’ve got another birthday coming up this month. And so I think most people talk themselves out of doing something that they haven’t done when they were younger. And I hope that I helped people see that they really are capable, because if I can do it, really, I’m not special. Other people can do those things, too.
JENETTE 05:34 Well. Meta, first of all, you are very special. But second of all, I think that is the absolute theme of your story. If I can do it, you can do it too. And that was really what you brought to the show and you’re vibrant energy and your big sparkling smile really inspired people that night. So, I think we should go ahead and listen to your performance from the show so our listeners can enjoy your triumph haha. And then check in in just a minute but let’s cut to the clip of Meta Mickens-Baker live on stage in That’s What She Said Bloomington-Normal, Illinois in the fall of 2021. First show back from the pandemic and this is her story, “TRI-umph.”
META 07:18 I – am – an athlete [crowd applauds]. Wait for the story! Yes, me, the girl who was picked last for every sports activity in school. The girl who struck out at softball, the girl who had absolutely no natural ability, and failed every one of those presidential physical fitness tests[crowd laughs]. When I was five years old, my mother took me for swim lessons. But when all the other moms ran errands, my mom stayed clutching the fence yelling, “Don’t drown my baby!” [crowd laughs] So needless to say, I didn’t learn to swim either. I wanted to be on a team. I wanted to win a race. I wanted to not be embarrassed or afraid. I wanted to be an athlete. But since I was the four-eyed class academic, no one expected of me, but I pursued it. I learned to shoot a basketball. So I decided to try out for the girls basketball team in high school. Instead of going to the court that first day, they took us outside to run a mile around the track. I was so exhausted and achy. I didn’t go back for day two, the coach didn’t have to cut me[audience chuckles]. After I earned my degree in biochemistry, I had to take two PE classes in order to teach science. Oh well. I always wanted to learn ballet, so I’ll take that. Well, I was 22 and round compared to all the 18 year old lifelong ballerinas in class. And the teacher said to put our foot on the bare. Everybody’s leg raised in unison, all except mine [Meta chuckles]. The next week the teacher brought out a portable bar. You know, it has two levels, in case anybody needed to use it. All the ballerinas looked at her like she was speaking blasphemy. And I was like, thank you [crowd chuckles].
META 09:35 I realize that might have been the kiddie bar. But thank goodness the class is pass/fail. I passed. I took a much more successful bowling class. So, when the work team said let’s do a team building activity and go bowling. I was all in because you know I could avoid the most embarrassing thing in bowling, which is a gutter ball. No, wrong! It’s not the most embarrassing thing. The most embarrassing thing is not letting go of the ball soon enough, and stepping across the line and going sliding on your back and the over-waxed floor all the way down towards the pins.[laughter] And nobody could come and help me. So, there I was on all fours slipping and crawling back up to solid ground. That was embarrassing. Now, my first attempt at athleticism, as an adult, was ice skating lessons. The rink said that my five year old should wear a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist pads to his lesson; since my athletic track record was not good and I needed to go to work the next day. I wore a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist pads in my adult lesson as well. I’m sure the instructor thought, wait till I tell my friends about the lady who got the kiddie equipment list and followed it. That was until I think you guessed it. I slipped and fell and kept falling until my head went boom on the ice. And I remember her speedskating toward me yelling, “I’m so glad you’re wearing your helmet.” Now I had asked my husband to drive me to the rink in case I got injured, you know, track record. And so on the way home, I said, “Do you think anybody saw my embarrassing moment?” and he said, “I don’t know if everybody saw but everybody heard it.” [Meta sighs] But a few years later, I was 41 and I wanted to really get fit so I wouldn’t have a heart attack at 45 like my dad. So I got a personal trainer and I started strength training. And I enjoyed that. And then I found Zumba. Any other Zumba divas in the room? All right. I am not a morning person. But I like to dance so much that I got up for 5:30am classes for eight years. I started seeing muscles in the mirror and my body started to obey me. So just before my 48th birthday, when a friend started a running group, I joined. I wasn’t fast, but I gradually started to cover the distance, my first 5k, my first 10k. The next spring, I joined a fleet feet training program and I found my tribe. The mentors ran with me. They gave me techniques for techniques and tips for you know safety and how to run faster. That didn’t help, but anyway faster. The fellow runners encouraged me to run my race, my pace. I’m still not fast. Okay, here’s a translation. I am slow. But I have been running year round ever since.
META 13:23 Then I started to ride my bike and found true love. I joined Bloomington cycling fitness for winter indoor training rides, and summer spokeswomen rides and I had a ball. And then I’m one of those spokeswomen rides. A friend said, “Hey, why don’t you participate in the duathlon?” run, bike run. Done. But that was followed by my current craziness. During a New Year’s Eve run, one of the ladies might have been that same spokeswoman, she talks to me into stuff, announced that fleet feet was going to have a women’s triathlon training program. The goal race will be the 2016 a Esprit de She Sprint triathlon. But we had to register before the price went up at midnight [laughter]. Now, I was truthful. I advised them that I could not swim. But they said, “the race is six months away; We’re going to train together and I can do it”. So in order to save an entire $10 [laughter] I went home and registered for the race that night and signed up for the women’s triathlon training program. And I soon found out that I was not just a beginning swimmer. But thanks to “Don’t drown my baby” I was a pretty anxious one as well.
META 14:00 But not to be thwarted. I signed up for a triathlon swim training program too. Now, their goal race was the pioneer sprint in Petersburg, Illinois. “The Pool is only four to five feet deep,” they said “you can stand at any point during the race”, they said, “you got this” they said, and they were so wrong. I got there that morning, I wrecked my bike in transition. And then I went in to see the four to five foot deep pool, to calm my nerves and the line at the bottom of the pool went down out of sight. You should have seen me skanning the walls scanning the deck. How deep is this pool? 13 feet, I can’t do it. I’m taking my bike and going home [crowd chuckles]. But, thank you to the coach who calmed me down. My fleet feet training women group gave me some strategies, and being great encouragers; I was dead last but I finished my first triathlon [applause].
META 16:02 I also completed that Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon, not once but twice. Now, that’s a long race in a quarry that’s about 15 feet deep. So I owe a great debt of gratitude to the swim angels. They are the women in the white swim caps that swam alongside me the whole race [laughter]. Making sure I stayed on course reassured me when I got scared, because my backstroke, which was all I knew at that point, really didn’t let me see where I was going [laughter]. But fast forward to 2021, I’ve completed a combination of 33 sprint triathlons, duathlons 10k, 15k, and half marathon races, and a whole lot of 5k races [applause]. When my friend Julie said, “You’re not the slowest runner. It’s just that those who are slower are afraid to try,” I became a fleet feet training mentor. And I currently encourage and inform a group of African American women who are walking and running and biking and training for triathlons. Thanks to US masters swimming, the many swim instructors, my tri training buddy, maybe every swim coach in town; my swim anxiety is almost gone. And my freestyle is starting to go the distance. When I post my training and racing on Facebook, my greatest joy is when a friend says I got a bike and start riding, your post motivated me. Or “I started running and I completed a 10k” or “I’m learning to swim. I thought, if Meta could do it. Well you know’ [laughter]. My loving and proud husband calls me Flo Jo. And our high school classmates even refer to me as an athlete. Now, one afternoon my son Christian advised that he used me as an example in his AP Psychology class [laughter]. An example of what? “Oh, a midlife crisis!” [laughter] Who told him I was at mid-life; I mean what!? You know, due to my obsession with running, biking and swimming. I’m like no, I’m not having a midlife crisis, because everything I knew about a midlife crisis involved leaving your family and buying a sports car[laughter]. But, then I can see it that if I was having a midlife crisis, I was only leaving home for three hours at a time. At that point, I was only riding a hybrid. It wasn’t even a road bike. And I was coming back better than when I left. At my first duathlon a friend cheered me with a sign that said, “difficult does not equal impossible.” If I can learn to swim, and compete in endurance races, even win a few age group awards, imagine what we all can do. I am an athlete. Scratch that. I’m a triathlete [crowd applause and whoops and hollers].
JENETTE 19:52 So, Meta listening to your story again, do you, do you get all the, the tingles and the feels from being on stage that night?
META 20:00 I do, it really does bring back the excitement of the evening. But also, I think something that you had said, that “these people are here because they love you already. Take that nervousness and really just create energy from it”.
JENETTE 20:13 Yeah.
META 20:14 And so I think all of us, I didn’t know everybody in the audience, but they were friends to someone among our group. And they were such a warm, inviting audience. It was just kind of a magic evening, to sit there on stage. And then just to kind of tell, something that was important to us. And I’ve got to mention that I made a couple of friends before the night was over, which was really exciting. One lady came up to me and said she wanted to ride bikes with me. And so there was a group of us that ride together, and she joined us. So.
JENETTE 20:48 She joined your riding group, because she saw you speak, oh, my gosh, that’s amazing.
META 20:53 And then another lady, much younger than I am, reached out and said, she reached out on Facebook that evening, and said, “We haven’t met, but I heard you speak. And I used to be a runner. But I’ve now had kids. And I would like to start running again”. And I said, “Well, why don’t we run together. And it turns out that she lives very close to me. And we have met on the trail and run together. And we’re planning it to run together some more”.
KERRY 21:19 That is amazing.
META 21:20 There are people there who said, “I think I can do something that maybe I had put aside or thought I couldn’t do.”
JENETTE 21:27 You are truly an inspiration. I mean, Kerry and I ran, what 10 miles before we came to the studio today.
KERRY 21:33 I thought you were gonna say we ran to the fridge, which was accurate. I was like, shhhh [Meta laughs].
JENETTE 21:38 Okay, so we jest, but you are an inspiration for women of any age who want to try something that they thought might be too hard, or it was too late. I love that you shared your trials as a child in the different sports and athletics. I think many people know what it feels like to be that last kid chosen. Kerry you don’t you were like [Kerry chuckles], you know, basketball star. But I know what it was like to be the last kid chosen for any sports team. And yeah, there’s, there might be some emotional scars tied to that [Jenette chuckles]. If I wanted to unpack that today, I don’t know. But you shared some of those vulnerable moments and some of those memories, and then you shared how you made a decision to overcome them and do it anyway. And that’s what people took away from your performance that night.
META 22:30 Yeah, thanks for sharing that. You know, it’s funny, by what I’ve done in the last 10 years, it has left the scars behind. So, the way of stripping them off, I no longer feel scarred by those memories. Now I just kind of smile and go. But now, as I sit here in my home office, I have all my medals from my races hanging up on the wall in front of me. And so yeah, I have changed that perspective of who I was to who I am today.
JENETTE 23:01 Okay, now I have chills. Because that, you know, that’s about transformation, and about maturity and about like, inner inner growth, and you know, being who you want to be in this world. And you made a decision: Meta you are an athlete, and you went for it. What have you been up to in all your sports and races and sporty things?
META 23:22 Good question. First, I’ll talk about swimming. So I swim with the Central Illinois Masters Club. So I swim three times a week, I have a great set of coaches. And the coach encouraged me to participate in the winter swim meet. It was the first time in my life that I ever was in a swim meet – something I never expected to do. So I swam 50 free. And I was first in my age group, but don’t ask how that happened.
JENETTE 23:48 Woohoo!
META 23:48 Because just claim it just claim it. And my son and daughter in-law made me a little metal because they didn’t give ribbons. So, I’ve got that here as part of my inspiration. But, I have improved as a swimmer. So, I’m really excited about that. I’m looking forward to this summer triathlons. And I’ve been riding my bike on a trainer in the living room. And I’ve run all winter I did a holiday streak from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, at least a mile a day. Some days it was a mile some days it was a little more than a mile.
KERRY 24:19 Okay, so you got to tell us what a holiday streak is because I [Jenette laughs] immediately was like she was running naked across the campus.
META 24:26 No, a streak is something that many runners do. So the holiday streak starts Thanksgiving Day, or the day after. And from then until New Year’s Day, you run at least one mile a day. And we keep a Facebook group and you know everybody’s checking in how much they ran. So in that window of time, some days it was one mile. I was training then for 15k So some days it was six miles or seven or eight and then eventually I did the 9.3 You know I did quite a few miles during that window of time, which is a window of time when a lot of people, like they don’t have time to exercise. So, it really is about taking care of yourself during that holiday season. Not just thinking about everybody else, and gifts and holiday parties. So, it’s a way of making sure you keep taking care of yourself. So I had fun with that.
JENETTE 25:19 Love it.
META 25:19 And then after that I mentored a group, I was part of a mentors for the fleet feet training group. And so I ran with a couple of ladies who were working towards a 10k. So I’ve trained and done a 10k at the end of March. 10k is 6.2 miles for anyone who might be like.
JENETTE 25:39 I don’t think I’ve run 6.2 miles in the last two years combined, but okay. So just to clarify, you’re running outside running outdoors? In the.
META 25:49 Oh yeah.
JENETTE 25:50 In the snow, in the snowy months. Okay. Yay.
META 25:54 Yeah. So you know, you, I’ve bought the right shoes, and I’ve got things to put on my shoes to keep traction, I have different layers of warmth, depending upon the temperature and the winds, and whether, you know, there’s snow or rain falling. And then I pray for good weather. And so I have more fun running outside, and I don’t enjoy treadmill running. So yeah, we get out.
JENETTE 26:23 You sure do. You are a machine. I love it. I’m so proud of you. How do you feel like as, you know, an athlete, as a grown up? I mean, how do you feel? It must be not just the accomplishment, but like physically, you, you are taking care of yourself.
META 26:39 I feel really healthy. And my doctor says I’m very fit. And that doesn’t mean my health is perfect. But it’s all, you know, when my blood pressure goes up, I control it partly by running, swimming and biking. And it helps me keep my physical age younger than the age on the calendar, if that makes any sense.
JENETTE 27:01 Oh my gosh.
META 27:01 So I guess that is approaching another birthday. But I am actually faster than I was when I started running in 2012. And I always say if I can get older and not get slower, I’ll call it good [Kerry chuckles]. But I will say that my endurance, actually, has improved. And I would say I’m a better runner today than I have been in some of the then I was in the early years. When I was 10 years younger. I run/walk for anybody who’s listening and thinking that I’m going to sprint past them at a five mile pace. No I won’t. I run it more like a 13 and a half minutes per mile pace. I run/walk. So I recognize I’m not 20. So I run in a way that keeps me from getting injured, But I have a good time. And I find other people who run my pace, And we enjoy running together.
KERRY 27:52 Well, one of the quote, my favorite quotes I’ve kept thinking about when you were talking was, “It’s never too late to rewrite your script”’ you know, this image of either what was put on us of who we are or who we are not. I love that you didn’t accept or receive any of that, that you were not afraid to rewrite your script. And then and then look at you go! Literally! [Jenette chuckles].
JENETTE 28:16 Literally.
META 28:16 Yeah, it has been good to keep going. And then I gotta say that funny razor that comedy act the person I mentioned in my speech, who had talked me into my first half marathon and then my first triathlon. Well, she heard the speech. So she reached out and said, can I talk you into something else yet? And that’s what became the funny thing..comedy…
JENETTE 28:41 Right? You were asked to
META 28:42 To perform it.
JENETTE 28:43 To be a stand up comic in a fundraiser. And what you just said, you know, demonstrates how being an That’s What She Said, can open doors, it can open doors to new friendships, it can open doors to new opportunities. And so I’m so glad you said yes, because it was a different, you know, it’s a different time, where we were, you know, trying to do what we had to do to stay safe. But we really, your cast was just phenomenal. Such a great group of women. I have to quote. So Susan Saunders was the emcee of your show. She’s a local radio personality. And she said at the end of, at the end of The She Said Show, “it was like the best week of a really amazing summer camp. Like it can never be recreated. But you have these memories of these people in this place. Doing this, the thing that you will never ever forget.” And that one sticks with me.
META 29:38 That, that is very well said. It is, It is an awesome memory. And it’s one of those that makes you smile every time we think about it.
JENETTE 29:50 I agree. I also made some amazing friendships from, from that group in Bloomington and you know, we’re gearing up to do it again because That’s What She Said is a safe space for women to share stories. And everyone has a story. Like Kerry said, you know, there’s no shortage of women, we can look around the community and cast the show dozens and dozens of times. Because, you know, women got something to say. And She Said is a safe space for women to do that. So, Meta I want to thank you for joining us on stage for sharing your story, for giving us your updates so that we can continue to cheer you on as we love to do.
META 30:27 Thank you.
JENETTE 30:28 You’re so welcome. You’re such a bright, beautiful person inside and out, and you just make me You make me all warm and fuzzy and happy [Meta laughs].
META 30:36 Thank you, do the same for me.
KERRY 30:38 Well, and I’m gonna I’m so inspired. I’m gonna leave the studio and run to the van.
META 30:44 Well, that would be awesome. And then sometime let me know when you and I can run together.
KERRY ROSSOW 30:47 I’m in, I’m in.
JENETTE 30:50 I’ll meet you in the diner when you’re done and we’ll talk about it. But for all our friends and listeners out there, you know if there’s something you’re thinking about doing and you hear the voice in your head that says, I can’t I’m not enough. I’m too old. I’m too whatever. Listen to Meta she not only faced her fears, but she triumphed and now she is a triathlete and an inspiration. So, if Meta can do it, so can you thanks so much for listening and for joining us today here on The She Said Project Podcast.
KERRY 31:26 Over and out.
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 31:31 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to https://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their
Jenette and Kerry welcome Meta Mickens-Baker to chat about her story "TRI-umph," from the 2021 show in Bloomington-Normal, IL. Meta's journey to becoming an athlete is funny, heart-warming and inspirational.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.