This week's Featured Fighter is Alice Liao, living proof that you are in control of your life design--it just takes a whole lot of hustle and a fighting spirit. As a high school teacher, Alice tries to lead by example and show her students that we all fight in our own way and that even when we don’t think we’re ready, we have to just try. Read more about Alice, her students, and her fighting spirit in this week's Lovers & Fighters blog post...
YORK CEO Mark McGarry: How do you identify as a 'fighter'?
Alice Liao: The Dalai Lama said something to the extent that: "Some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion." Therefore, if life is making us suffer at various moments throughout our lives, then we are all fighters because we fight to survive. We fight for hope. I’m a fighter because I fight for myself, my family, my co-workers, but more importantly for my students. I emphasize to my students all the time that life is a lot about perception and timing...things don’t come to those who wait-they come to those who act. Your life is destined based upon your actions and your destiny changes as life goes on—what do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? It won’t come easy by any means but sometimes, if you work hard and the timing is right, you can succeed. Every accomplishment that I’ve had thus far started with the decision to just try. So, I did. I took risks and I did things even before I knew I was ready. I did what I was afraid of, I stepped outside of my comfort zones, I accepted all opportunities that came across my path, and I worked really, really hard. That, my friends, is what life is all about. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a fighter—because that’s who we are. We fight for hope--because hope is nearly unshakeable. Hope is deep and we must have hope in our world, country, community, and our lives. We will fight, together.
MM: Can you tell us more about your role as a teacher and community leader? How’s our next generation of fighters looking?
AL: I am currently an Evolutions Teacher at Wellesley High School --we are a 11th and 12th grade interdisciplinary, project-based learning program that utilizes design thinking theories and systems. Our charge: we want our students to embrace their curiosity and to take ownership of their learning. My students are my inspiration. We don’t give our youth enough credit-they are more resilient and capable than we think. We, as a society, do not provide them with enough opportunities to show that they can be change makers in our community. It doesn’t have to be when they’re in college or when they’re an adult. Change happens now. It’s about self-discipline. What a young leader can learn in that 1 hour of training is more than they’ll ever know. They’re learning skills, life skills, discipline and above all, these young leaders are learning about themselves. How they respond to situations and how they can improve. Young leaders need the encouragement to know that they can achieve great things. At the beginning of each school year, I always find myself asking my students: “What would you do in the world, if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Would you stand up against your peers? Or would you try to challenge yourself and change the world? As global citizens, we are responsible to help take part in our world. Though I would argue that we as individuals cannot make that change happen by ourselves. Though we may not have the power to individually make change, we can create ripples of change. In history, we learn things that we may not be interested in but we, as global citizens, are all affected. Everybody is different, yet the issues we tackle are all the same. Young leaders are our future and I do not expect them to eradicate child slavery nor solve world hunger, but I do expect them to be outstanding citizens and create their own ripples of change. I expect them to grow and develop themselves as change makers in our community. When given opportunities and encouragement, they can and will surpass our expectations. As a teacher, I practice what I preach and I hope to be that example for my students-to show them that we all fight in our own ways and that even when we don’t think we’re ready, we have to just try.
MM: What time does your day start ? How do you balance teaching, instructing pilates and other demands of life ?
AL: 5:30am baby! Life these days is pretty hectic! Besides teaching and working out, I am also getting a Masters in public policy and administration. Why I thought this was a good idea is beyond me right now!!
I leave my house by 6:30am and am at work by 7am. Teaching and meetings from 7:30am-2:30pm then sometimes I meet with students till 3:30pm but I try to leave by then so I can make it to a workout class between 4-6pm. I’m usually exhausted by 8pm but will be on a conference call around then with grad school folks. Don’t judge me but I don’t really watch tv during the week--it’s just not my thing! So that definitely helps in balancing all the things I need to get done. One thing I will always do is prioritize my workouts--that helps me create a sense of structure and I set my errands and tasks around that. The beauty of it all is, if it doesn’t get done today, it’ll get done tomorrow...or the next day...or the day after that!
MM: How do you invest in building up your resilience?
AL: Coffee, coffee, and coffee. Just kidding. Definitely 7-8 hours of sleep every night--that is something that I will stay true to. When I was consulting for a non-profit, I was traveling to three different countries in three time zones in two weeks. I kept pushing myself, ignored how tired I was, and was not taking care of myself which ultimately contributed to why I had shingles early on in my life. Whatever you think you need to do, you can always do tomorrow. Always listen to your body. If you’re exhausted, rest...the world will be there waiting for you. I eat relatively healthy and cook as much as I can at home. Purple Carrot has been really helpful for me -- it’s a vegan meal kit that gets delivered weekly. But don’t get me wrong--I still eat cookies, brownies, pizza, beer, FRIED CHICKEN, etc… It’s all about balance and not guilt. I work out 5 days a week because I love the feeling of sweat and challenging my mind and my body. Working out for me is the time that I honor myself. I honor myself by working out and letting go of the day and what I cannot control. It’s important to me to mix up my workouts as well--my workouts are a mix of boxing, yoga and barre. I run a music and mindfulness committee in our Evolutions program and I wholeheartedly believe in creating space for the mind and body to connect. Listening to music and journaling has been the most effective way for me to calm my mind. Every month I write down my core desired feelings, my goals, and 3-4 things I am going to do to achieve those core desired feelings. It’s more about how I want to feel and what I am actively going to do versus a tangible goal such as “getting a hot bod.” (Yeah, that’s been a goal since 1999.)
MM: When throughout your day or week do you find yourself drawing on this 'resilience bank’?
AL: Yoga has played a big role in helping me ground myself and find my internal motivation to continue to do what I do. It also helps that sometimes in my job, I am lucky enough to get notes, emails, and even coffee from my students--it makes it all worth it. To have students who feel that they matter and that they can be young leaders justifies and empowers me to do what I do. Self reflection and forgiveness: When I consulted for the non-profit, I became family with the most amazing people. Yai Norma was one of them. Yai is grandma in Thai. She isn’t my grandmother but she is my champion behind closed doors. She said to me, that giving is part of forgiveness and what we need to mindfully work on is forgiving ourselves, our mistakes and our past. She taught me that forgiveness was essentially a form of nourishment—to help us grow and to no longer feel alone or stuck for that matter. She told me that I would be successful in whatever I chose to do in my career—and I don’t take her words lightly.
MM: Tell us about your experience with fighting in Haymakers For Hope. How did you overcome your fear of stepping into the ring for the first time and what inspired you to commit to do that?
AL: Haymakers was one of the most mentally challenging experiences that I have ever put myself through. To know that you’re going to get punched and to put yourself in the position to get hit is a daunting thing. I distinctly remember my first time in the ring, I left with a pounding headache and a bruised eye. I was nauseous from getting wailed in the head, I cried, and I felt like a child playing dress up in the ring. But as tough as that day was, I got back in the following day and took some punches from my coach. I didn’t dread training, in fact I was ready to get back in and work. This is the fight we all have within us. You put on those big girl pants and buckle up. Cancer has affected us all whether that be through our own experiences, our friends or our family. For me, it started with my grandfather. He was my Ojiichan. He was a fighter. A World War II veteran, the father of six children, the husband of one devoted wife and a baker. Ojiichan passed away in 2007 after battling stomach and lung cancer. But that's not how I remember him. I remember him as the man who played old army hymns on his harmonica, the man who always had a Werther's Original on him, and for the fighter that he was. Ojiichan learned Japanese (he’s Taiwanese but lived through Japan’s occupation over Taiwan) and he learned how to make red bean buns from a Japanese baker because he needed to feed his family. Because as a fighter you do what you have to do to survive. To keep yourself alive, to keep your family alive. I fought to knock out cancer because I can only hope that small act of bravery will create more ripples of change.
MM: Was this recent YORK Athletics brand campaign photoshoot your first photo shoot? How did it go?
AL: Yes, it was! I still can’t believe that I was in a photoshoot--it’s just something that I never thought of. I couldn’t sleep the night before and leading up to it I was anxious--particularly when I came in for the fitting. When I saw Russell, the voice in my head went: Holy crap! They want me to shoot next to him?! In the end, I love how YORK uses athletes as “models” because we’re real and we may not be all muscley or look like Gisele, but I’m still damn proud of who I am and how hard I work. As for the photoshoot….it was so much fun! It’s hard work let me tell you! When Buck [the photographer] kept telling me to relax my face, I had no idea how to do that. Thankfully, I laugh at pretty much anything so the amazing team figured that out pretty quickly! And yes, they made me sweat...actual sweat. I’m pretty sure my arms were a little sore from holding all my positions the next day. I definitely “rewarded” myself with pizza and beer that night! :)
MM: What's your favorite YORK sneaker to date?
AL: I’m obsessing over the Henry Cloud Mesh Palm right now, but I still love and always will love my first pair: The Henry Fighters Edition in Black & White--such a classic.
MM: Anything else you'd like to share about yourself with the YORK community?
AL: It takes a lot of time and self-reflection that includes some suffering, tears, and soul searching to get you to where you are today. It doesn’t come easy but it’s a fight we all have within. It’s about finding out what we want to fight for. So: “What would you do in the world, if you knew you couldn’t fail? Why do you fight?” I fight like a girl. I fight like a girl who refuses to be a victim. I fight like a girl who is tired of being ignored and beaten. I fight like a girl who is making fear a tailwind rather than a headwind. I fight like a girl who has a lifetime of strength and pride in who she is. I fight like a girl who is fighting for hope. I fight like a girl who fights back because we are all fighters…in the end, I’m just another Alice trying to find her way out of her own head and into wonderland.
All photography credited to Buck Harlan Squibb