Strong Women. Better World.

Suiting up and sparring with Piña Pozo & Alejandra Rodriguez-Larraín

May 09, 2021 University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace & Society in partnership with the U.S. Department of State Sports Diplomacy Division Season 1 Episode 10
Strong Women. Better World.
Suiting up and sparring with Piña Pozo & Alejandra Rodriguez-Larraín
Show Notes Transcript

Travel to South America with Bolivia’s Pina Pozo Rios (Founder and Director of “Las Super Poderosas” television show and soccer academy) and Peru’s Alejandra Rodriguez-Larraín (CEO, Peru Runners; Founder and CEO, Flama Foundation), who sparr about playing the long game as pioneers in sports business and their secrets for how to keep running when life throws a few punches.

Carole: (0:05) Welcome to the Strong Women, Better World podcast series, a global storytelling project created by strong women using the power of sport, education, and social innovation to create a better world. Each week we travel to another corner of the earth and we exchange ideas while exploring Title IX’s ripple effects around the globe. Hello, hello. I am your host and ref, Carole Ponchon from Lyon, France. And it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the metaphorical ring as two fearless women spar about their trailblazing journeys in sport. Buckle up and get ready to rumble. In today's episode, we travel to South America to hear from two strong women who share a passion for sports and the importance of innovative community-based projects to empower and inspire a new generation of girls. In the right corner from Bolivia is Carmen Pozo Rios. Pina, as we call her, is the founder and director of Las Super Poderosas. Initially a TV show, the project shifted to become a magazine and expanded later into a Soccer Academy. Pina is a pioneer as the first woman to talk about sports in a country where men traditionally dominated the field. Driven by herr relentless will to give a voice to all athletes and to help people through sports Pina’s relentless spirits will undoubtedly shine in the ring.

Pina (1:40) Hi. Hi everybody. I am Pina from Bolivia. I'm happy to be here and ready to put on my gloves. 

Carole (1:48) Thank you Pina. And we're joined in the left corner by another powerful leader in sport, Alejandra Rodriguez-Larraín from Peru. Alejandra you will have to correct me in the pronunciation, maybe. Ale is CEO of Peru Runners, as well as founder and CEO of the Flama Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping girls and women get involved with sports. As one of the few business women in Peru’s sport industry, and an accomplished, marathoner. Alejandra knows how to push beyond her limits. 

Alejandra (2:24) Hi. Hello. I'm so happy to be here. And yes, actually, that was a great pronunciation of my name. 

Carole (2:31) Ladies, I am so impatient and cannot wait to learn about your pioneering work and how you are standing on the shoulders of other Title IX Titans. The ring is yours. So, off we go for round one.

Pina (2:48) Hey Alejandra well, we have a lot in common. And one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is our participation in the Global Sports Mentoring Program or what we call the GSMP. The GSMP is a sports diplomacy, women's empowerment initiative sponsored by the U.S Department of State and implemented by the amazing team at the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. So I wanted to give the audience this important background before jumping straight into deep end. And I want people to understand a bit about you. So I'm going to start with two fun questions. Are you ready Alejandra? 

Alejandra (3:32) Yes, I'm ready. 

Pina (3:34) Okay. Ale, what is your go-to guilty pleasure. 

Alejandra (3:41) Oh chocolate. Definitely. 

Pina (3:44) Does it help you when you're running, I don't think so. If you could travel in the time, where would you go? 

Alejandra (3:51) That’s a question I actually ask myself alot, I think I would love to travel to the early years of the 20th century. And just to, just to see how women, how I would feel like a woman in that time and then see what I would have done as a woman in that time. And yeah, I'm always curious about that and how will my life be different? What things I would have done? If I would be a rebel and try to change things in that time? I always fantasize about being born before. Yeah. 

Pina (4:27) Wow. Yeah, that must be something nice to see now that we live in the 21 century, right? Thank you, Alejandra for sharing all this with us, it was a nice way to get in warm up. And now let's get into the match with more in in-depth questions. Alejandra, our two countries are facing some similar challenges, including the fact that due to economic and sociological restrictions, girls and women are rarely given the opportunities to participate in sports. What do you think is needed to make a positive shift in direction? What should be done to make our people more active? 

Alejandra (5:08) That's a very interesting question, and I think it has lots of answers. First, I think we need to start working with parents and because it's a cultural issue. I think girls need to be more active earlier and they, that's the only way they will stay active through their whole lives. So working with parents and with a whole society and community is very important. And then I think having the government on board, talking a little more about access for girls to sports and just handing us the tools to, to help women and girls get into sports is very important as well. So I think those are two very key, important issues, and we, we need to address in order to make our people more active. Here in Peru, only one of every three, people are active. And then from that one person that is active, 70% are men. So that means that, that we have a lot of women that are not moving in the country and we need to change this. 

Pina (6:15) Exactly, and in our countries, girls are born to serve, right? That's what they teach them. What they teach us, when girls are born, but we were changing that. And I'm happy to hear what you're saying. That is so true. When we were at the GSMP in 2017, I saw you running every single day, and you got my attention. You have to tell me more about your passion for running. I'm really curious about what makes you run, Alejandra?. Are you running away from something or you're running towards a goal? What's the story here? 

Alejandra (6:53) My story with running started when I was really little, my father is a marathoner and he's the founder of Peru Runners, a running club and organization that I now lead. So for me, it was so natural to see that everyone was running around, you know?  I don't know if they were escaping from something, but I knew that everyone was on the move all the time. My mother was very sporty herself, so when I was at school, I was in a track and field team. And then when I was 24 years old, I decided to run my first marathon. And that's when I really started to have will to, to run everyday towards a goal. At first you think the goal is a marathon, but in the end, I really think you run because it's a tool to get to know yourself. It's a way to feel your freedom, to know your limits, to dream, to think. So, I think that's the fuel that I get from running every day. And it's amazing also to have a marathon in your plans and to know that you have a goal, but it's, it's very interesting because you feel like that's your finish line, but in the end, there are no finish lines. You know? You get to the finish line of your marathon and then you want to get to the next one. And it’s, uh, I think, uh, a symbol of life, like a marathon and running for me is just like life. And I think through life, you have to get to know yourself so that you can learn how to, how to relate with others and what you can do in the world and running- that's what running gives me very important tool to get to know myself every day. So yeah, I was running everyday during the program. Actually, I had the New York City marathon coming up ahead and it was very difficult to do the training plus studying and everything, but it was worth it. And I was so glad that some of the sisters were nice enough to come with me some mornings and they were my victims. (Laughs) So, that's also a great thing about running here in Peru. We have lots of running groups and Peru Runners is a very united community, so you feel supported, you have friends, it's not only about the running, but more about the support that you get from the community. So that's also great. 

Pina (9:13) Yeah, you have, the running is part of your life. And I picture you, like when you get to be 80, 85 years old running on the streets. So nothing’s going to stop you Alejandra, nothing. 

Alejandra (9:29) I picture myself like that too. And sometimes when, when people in running are kind of thinking about goals and times and distances. All I think about is my real goal is just to keep on running when I'm 90 or a hundred years old, that's, that's a real goal I think.

Carole (9:47) Hey ladies, this is the ref speaking. I have to call a foul. Actually just begging for you to bring us to the end, picture for us or paint for us, how it is to run in Peru, with no air in the lungs or what is the landscape? Can you paint it for us? 

Alejandra (10:06) Okay. So first I live in Lima, the capital city in Peru, so we are next to the ocean and we have an amazing boardwalk called the Malecon. So it overlooks the ocean and it’s more than 30 kilometers or 20 miles. So you can really get to run next to the ocean for two hours, three hours, whatever, whatever you feel like. And that's what I do every morning. And we, we mainly, mainly run, just try to discover different parts of the city that we sometimes only get to know when you're a runner. And then also when I travel in Peru, like to Cusco or to the North, we get to run in the Andes, which is also an amazing landscape. The lack of oxygen is a little challenging there, but it's also amazing. And the views of the mountains and the rivers, just are worth it.

Pina (10:59) Good. Yeah. I'm waiting for you in La Paz, Alejandra, to run here too. 

Alejandra (11:04) Yes, that'll be tough, but you could make it. 

Pina (11:08) Last, but not least. You're an extra busy, and active business woman. Can you tell us what is your secret power to being laser-focused on how you find a way to get things done, no matter what the challenges are? Was there a moment in your life when you learned the skills to set goals, prioritize, and use a strategy. 

Alejandra (11:35) I think my secret power is that I work on something that I am passionate about. I know that sport has changed me and what has sports done for me. So working with sports and with community is just so, um, gives me so much energy that that's where I get the energy and the focus from. Working somewhere else I think it wouldn't be so easy to know the strategy and to know what to do. So I feel very empowered, very energetic, working in sports. And I think these skills to set goals, also sport has taught them to me. I think naturally I was born with this kind of strategic mind in a way, but sport has given me the tools and the ways to make that better. When you have to run a marathon, for example, you have to have a plan and then there's a goal, but then you struggle not every day comes the way you like it, not everyday, you're feeling the way you're supposed to be feeling. So I think that experience in the training for a marathon gives me a lot of what I do strategic-wise in, in the work I do.

Carole (12:52) And that's the end of round one. We are now moving to round two. 

Alejandra (12:57) Well, Pina, I cannot wait for you to showcase your work in this boxing ring, but first let's warm up our audience with two questions designed to catch you off guard and uncover your personality. So Pinita, if you were an animal, what would you be? 

Pina (13:15) I would definitely be a dog. A dog, because these animals are so loyal, their love is unconditional and they are always with you the moment you need them. So you can always count on them as them you can always girls, you can count on me. 

Alejandra (13:36) Oh, that's amazing. Okay. This one is a tough one. If you could only eat one food. For the rest of your life what would it be ?

Pina (13:49) That's so hard. That’s so hard because I love to eat, but um, I don't know. That's, that's a hard one. You've got me, but I think I would get, I would stay with a salad with chicken so I can, I can survive. It would be, it wouldn't be my favorite one, but it will help me to keep on moving, and going. 

Alejandra (14:16) Thanks for sparring, it says a lot about you. One thing we haven't discussed yet are the insecurities women and girls face in our communities. In fact, in our countries, Peru and Bolivia, violence against women is endemic. We are sadly among the countries with the highest percentage of rapes in the world and you know that this is a topic dear to my heart. Can you tell us how you are using your platform as a sport person and in particular, why you started a Soccer Academy to empower girls of Bolivia to be strong? Did you have a personal experience or was it just because of someone you know? 

Pina (14:54) It was because of somebody that I know, actually she's my best friend and she's a soccer player. And I was the journalist who went to cover all the games and everything related to soccer. And we couldn't find girls playing soccer in the city where I live, La Paz there were no girls that play soccer and La Paz was, uh, had a bad team in Bolivia and Bolivia doesn't have a really good team because people don't care about it. But we said, we can do it. I'm a very competitive person and I said, “Why can't La Paz have a team? That's not good.” So, we talked about it and we decided to make the Soccer Academy first with the idea of just having girls with good soccer level. But on the way we found out that soccer was our tool to empower them, to make good leaders out of them and to fight this violence problem, we are suffering. So we ended up having clinics, having learning centers with them, teaching them to be good leaders, how to be strong, how to say no when it's necessary. So we have good coaches now that learned from us because we had to learn on the way too. It was not easy for us, but they are learning. We are learning with them and I think we're on the way to power good girls and to show the way that girls can do it, that girls can be strong. 

Alejandra (16:26) Sis, that’s really inspiring and I think it's amazing all that you've got accomplished. So getting back to the ring, you asked me about my secret power and obviously that's something important to you too. Let's just look at the name of your organization. Las Super Poderosas. First of all, what does this mean in English, tell us? And secondly, what is the story behind Las Super Poderosas Soccer Academy.

Pina (16:51) Well, Las Super Poderosas means the superpower for girls. First, we have these television programs that cover all the sports in LA Paz. And we were very funny with Zinka because we made a lot of mistakes on television and people say, aye, these crazy girls. And we didn't like that. So they changed that into the, oh no, they are not crazy. They are, they have a power, they are super, they are strong and they have this power, so they started calling us La Super Poderosas. And we said, so we have this power to change people’s lives, to give visibility to people, to motivate people, so we’re going to keep with the name. So we put the name to our Academy too, and we believe in the name and I think it's around now and the girls that are part of our Academy, believe in it so hard that they believe they are super powerful girls too. At first, it sounds kind of funny, but I think it's very strong because it tells about the strength all the girls have and all the coaches have, and we have, so I think it's a good, a good name for us and nobody has done that so far in Bolivia. So we are Las Super Poderosas the only ones. 

Alejandra (18:13) That's an amazing name. I love it. And I think, uh, language is so, so powerful that just, just hearing the name inspires already. Well, last but not least, I picture you as a fearless woman. You have a lot of energy and you're always on the jump in on opportunities and make sure you get the most of your life. You are an incredible sports journalist and the first female sports journalist in Bolivia. Wow. Tell us about your craziest moment? Was it the Olympics, the World Cup? I want to know your best story. Maybe even two of them just tell us. 

Pina (18:50) Well, I thank God I had, I was lucky to be in the World Cup, one World Cup in the United States. And. Eh, three Olympic games. I think all of them were amazing because I got to see and interview, these amazing athletes, people that you just see them on television or magazines or the newspaper, right? But I was next to them. I was with a microphone next to them and I think that was everything to me because they are so inspiring, the things they do. They're the super athletes, the best athletes in the world. And as a journalist, you cannot ask for more. But the funniest moment for me was in Rio de Janeiro, I went to watch Usain Bolt obviously, and I couldn't help it. He ran, he won the 100 meters and we, one of our sisters, Maira Coll, from Bolivia too, we went to the mix zone to see him. We didn't want to interview him, we just wanted a picture with him. And that was very hard to do it because it's something that you cannot do it in the mix zone and the athletes don’t do that right. Or the journalists don't ask those kinds of questions. So we went there and we were the last ones and Maira has only the last 1% of her cell phone battery on. So we were waiting, waiting there for him. And he passed by and I said, “Usain, can we have a picture with you a selfie?” He looked at us and he says, “Okay.” And he came and we had the picture and Maira’s cell phone died, and I started to screaming so hard. And I say, “I love you. I love you. I love you, Usain Bolt.” And he was laughing and all the journalists went to him and tried to have a selfie too. And I think they did, but they were laughing at us because of my reaction and that was so spontaneous I couldn't help it, and we got the picture. We were very happy. I think that was the funniest moment that I will never forget in my life. 

Alejandra (21:12) I think it's amazing that you get to travel so much and all the things you get to experience. And so Pina, I have one final question. How are you a better sports journalist as a result of your GSMP participation? 

Pina (21:25) GSMP changed my world, gave me another pair of glasses to see the world. Now I'm not just the person who goes and interview. I'm the person who goes and finds out more and helps the person, the athletes to have more visibility, to motivate them more, to find the stories that are behind them, right? And to share that with the world. And I feel more important too, because I'm doing something that nobody does that, people don't care about women. Now I do. So women in Bolivia are getting more visibility and more credit because of my microphone, because of my magazine and I'm happy to do it. I'm very thankful to GSMP for opening my eyes. 

Carole (22:12) What a way to end this round two. This is the ref speaking, and to avoid any misunderstanding, Pina, did you try to paint to us that you were running faster than Usain and Alejandra or simply that you have the skills to be at the right place at the right moment? 

Pina (22:30) I think I was at the right place at the right moment. And you know what, that makes, that's something important be the right place at the right time, because you can change somebody's life. 

Carole (22:43) What a transition to round three? Let's move on ladies. 

Alejandra (22:47) Okay. We're running out of time, but let's have a lightning round before our buzzer sounds. What's your definition of empowerment, Pina? 

Pina (22:55) Empowerment to me is, it's a hard question. A person who can believe somebody, a person who has no fears, who has no fears when somebody says, “no,” a person who works on dreams, fights for the dream for her or his dream, and a person who is able to show it, to share that with everybody. 

Alejandra (23:26) Yeah. I love that you mentioned fear because I think that for me, empowerment is being fearless to show your inner strength. In the Flama Foundation we talk a lot about the flama, the flame, so that was the inspiration for our name. And that flama, for me, is that inner strength that you have and when you're empowered, you can really show it and use it to empower others and to inspire others. So for me, that's, that's empowerment. 

Carole (23:57) Ref speaking here. I could not help, but end this friendly fight with a sincere thank you to our audience. And guess what? The winner of today's episode is communities around the globe who are benefiting from greater equality and inclusivity. Thank you ladies for your priceless time and energy. You're the stars here and today. So I leave you with the final words. 

Alejandra (24:21) It was wonderful to share this episode with you, Pina. Thank you so much for stepping into the ring and helping us learn more about your work to advance gender equity in sports in Latin America. And thanks to our audience for tuning in on this week's episode. We hope you learn something new about women's sports in Bolivia and Peru, and that you leave feeling inspired to make a difference in your own community. Social change is a team sport, and we are counting on you to join us as we celebrate the global impact of Title IX. Here are some easy ways to get in on the action. 

Pina (24:57) Yes, click the “like” button, subscribe to our channel, and share these podcasts with your family, friends, and colleagues, leave your questions and comments on our social media. And remember, you can listen to more episodes of the Strong Women, Better World podcast series on your favorite podcasting platform .