Monday, May 27, 2019


Julie Foudy, are you listening? I've tuned into all ten episodes of Laughter Permitted, and I am ready for more!

In the podcast that was launched in March of this year, soccer legend, Olympian, analyst, reporter and the founder of the Sports Leadership Academy for girls interviews female trailblazers in sports.

One of the great things about this podcast is its unpretentious, down-to-earth vibe.  Julie manages to highlight just how spectacular each of these women is, while also allowing them space to talk about struggles and the stuff of their everyday lives that others can relate to.  Julie's sense of fun is infectious, as evidenced by the laughter she elicits in her guests

The guest list so far includes these women athletes:  Abby Wambach; Simone Biles; Kerri Walsh Jennings;  Jessica Mendoza; Mia Hamm;  Mikaela Shiffrin; Sydney Leroux Dwyer; Mary Carillo; Simone Manuel & Katie LeDecky; and Allyson Felix.

My nominees for other interviewees:  Janet Guthrie, Claressa Shields, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Surya Bonaly, and Katelyn Ohashi.

To subscribe to the podcast, go HERE.

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Janet Guthrie was the first woman in history to qualify for and race in the prestigious Indianapolis 500, and yet few people have heard of her name.  She perservered for years as a professional race car driver, but her career was truncated by relentless discrimination. The same sexism which cut her career short also erased her name and accomplishments from public consciousness.  

In the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, QUALIFIED, director Jenna Ricker counters the effects of institutionalized sexism on Ms. Guthrie's professional life and legacy; she does so by using interviews and archival footage to tell the inspiring story of Janet's struggles and astounding accomplishments. It's powerful stuff, and in this Q and A, Ms. Ricker reflects about the process of making the film as well as about the film's heroine.

Q: How did you first learn about Janet Guthrie?  Most people today have never heard of her.

A: I attended my first Indianapolis 500 in 2010 at the invitation of my producing partner, Greg Stuhr. I wasn't a race fan, but I was instantly hooked; it truly is the "greatest spectacle in racing". Even though I've attended the race since, it wasn't until a few years ago that I learned of Janet Guthrie. On our annual road trip to Indy. I asked Greg if he knew the first the first woman to compete at Indy. "Janet Guthrie," he said, "in 1977." 

Q: What motivated you to make a film about her?

A: In that moment of hearing her name, I was instantly intrigued, and a little concerned. Why didn't I know the about this woman who accomplished something so incredible? That led me to her autobiography, Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle. After reading that and going down the Guthrie research rabbit hole, it was her tenacity against tremendous obstacles that I found inspiring,frustrating, and that ultimately motivated me to pursue making this film. 

Q: What did you learn from Janet and her life story?

A: Like so many trailblazers, going after what she wanted most came at great sacrifice. But within that, her story illustrates that confidence does not exclude vulnerability, and the value of finding grace in defeat.  Her story also illustrates that we have so far yet to go in terms of equality. 

Q: Was there anything you learned about Janet that surprised you?

A: Racing wasn't the only incredible thing Janet accomplished at a time when most women were guided toward the kitchen rather than a career. From a very early age, her individualism and desire to test the limits had her parachuting from a plane at 16, earning a pilot's license at 17, hitchhiking around Europe at 20, and earning a degree in physics at 21, which led her into her first career as an aerospace engineer. She also submitted an application for NASA's Scientists in Space, a program that was eventually scrapped. She accomplished all this before racing ever entered her mind. 

Q: What did you learn about yourself while you were making this film?

A: I discovered that I really enjoy the process of making a near-entire archival documentary. I come from narrative - writing and directing - so this was a completely new challenge and required a lot more patience from an editorial standpoint. I also found that the film became a kind of unexpected responsibility. I found a kinship with Janet that was motivating. I'm not risking my life racing at 200 mph, but so many of her obstacles and triumphs echoed aspects I've experienced as a female filmmaker. It made me even more determined. We can't underestimate how important it is to see and celebrate women accomplishing exceptional things. If you can't see it, you can't be it. Marginalizing, or more often forgetting, women's history means the next one who comes along with big ideas has to scale a similar mountain all over again. 

Q: What were some personal highs for you while making this film? What were some of the lows or struggles you faced?

A: This film had an embarrassment of highs, which included producing this project with good and exceptionally talented friends (Nina Krstic, Greg Stuhr, andCaroline Waterlow); discovering so much excellent archive; getting access to the Indy track and driving a golf cart around it (though I did ask if a Corvette-pace car was available); and the conversations on and off screen I got to have with all the characters in the film. That these outstanding people with such interesting, dynamic lives trusted me and shared so many personal highs and lows of their own is something I'll always cherish. 

The lows or struggles, thankfully, were few and far between, but every production has theirs. I would say ours was working with a tight budget, which meant we had to make some tough choices on who to include for interviews. And, a couple times when we reached out to someone we hoped to interview, sadly we found they had recently passed.

Q: What would you like people to take away from this film? 

A: I'd like this film to leave people inspired, frustrated, and motivated. I'd like it to cause people to consider what might have been had Janet shared the opportunities of her male counterparts. If the film can accomplish those things, then hopefully it can also add to the evolving conversation of merit versus opportunity that many women and minorities face.

Q: Where did you find all the footage that you used in the film? What was it like to put it all together?

A: I knew going in that I wanted to tell this story with as much archive as possible. This creative choice meant that if we didn't have it in archive, we wouldn't tell it. That parameter could have been a real killer, but we lucked out in spades. We found several sources of archive, including never-before seen footage of Janet and her brother, Stewart. Between award-winning archivist and producer Nina Krstic, our tireless coordinating producer Connie Honeycutt, and producer and research extraordinaire Greg Stuhr, they really found a ton of gems! Putting it all together with my fantastic editor, George O'Donnell, was at times overwhelming, but in the best way. In fact, the hardest part was all the archive we had to leave on the floor. 

Q: What kinds of feedback have you received at film festivals where Qualified has screened?

A: Audiences have shared a love and admiration for Janet that is so touching. They've felt her frustrations, identified with her challenges, and some have said she's inspired them to pursue their dreams/change careers. Others have shared their anger that Janet never got the chance they feel she deserved, that women are still outnumbered by miles in the sport, or that she is so accomplished yet they never heard of her before this film. It's just been a tremendous response, which is all you can hope for.

Q: What words of wisdom do you have to share for coaches, parents, teachers, and other people who impact the lives of young females, particularly girls and young women who are interested in sports and less "feminine" sports?

A: I would urge all those people who influence young females to be very mindful of the language they use. Adjectives and pronouns are powerful and sneaky. When young women only hear "he" being used in the general sense, or when certain sports, activities or desires are being ascribed by gender, it forms a subconscious barrier that supports the status quo. It would be especially helpful if this mindfulness extended to dealing with young males, as well.  We have to start changing the conversations with both genders, I think, if we hope to see significant change that moves the needle. 

Q: Did anything in particular strike you about the people who you interviewed and whose interviews appear in QUALIFIED?  Was there something that they all had in common?

A: I was struck by the similarities in all the racers, regardless of gender. There's a relentless desire to pursue their limits and that of the machines they drive that is the antithesis of an adrenaline junkie. Their competitiveness seemed to have everything to do with the symbiosis and precision of driver and car and the thrill of getting everything right at the right time during a race. I was so taken with the wisdom and perspective that came from racing in an era that was marked by both tragic death and massive ingenuity. They're all just so damn smart... and witty - very witty! 

Q: Are there any other films about female athletes that have resonated with you or that you feel parallel the life of Janet Guthrie in some way?

A: The drama inherent in sports is thrilling, agonizing, heartfelt and hard won; this is why we love them, why they resonate so deeply. But we don't have nearly enough stories about female athletes achieving and succeeding at their goals out there, which is maddening. Maybe the story line in A League of Their Own comes closest to paralleling aspects of Janet's life. there's a similar focus on dedicating all your time and energy in pursuit of a sport you excel at, succeeding at it, only to have the rug pulled out from under due to your gender, and then be left out of the history books.  Ugh!

Q: If you screened this film for a bunch of grade school students, what are some questions that you would want to ask them at the end of the film?

A: This is a great question!  I think I would want to know what they thought about all the hostility Janet faced. I would ask them why they think people had such a hard time accepting and supporting Janet in the sport? I'd be curious what they think of the fans who held disparaging signs up.  And I'd like to know if they think things are better today, and if so, in what way. 

Q: What are you working on now?  What's next for you as a film maker?

A: I'm working on the narrative version of this film. There is so much story that would never have fit in a documentary,  and I'm excited to further develop those story pieces in the narrative. There's also a couple of series that I'd been working on previously, but once we got the green light for QUALIFIED, I had to put  them aside. So, I'm looking forward to picking those up again. Like race drivers, filmmakers are always on to the next track, looking for that perfect ride, and aiming for the finish line. 

Jenna Ricker wrote, directed and produced her first feature film, Ben’s Plan. The coming of age story was awarded Best Drama at the AOF Festival, Distinguished Debut at the London Independent Film Festival, and Ricker was honored with the Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker. Originally from California, she moved to New York to study acting at the Tisch School of the Arts and the Atlantic Theater Company. While volunteering as a script reader and working in a commercial production house, she began writing and directing theater. Her first screenplay, The Garage, was a quarter finalist of the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship. Security, her first collaboration with Greg Stuhr, was selected for the IFP’s Emerging Narrative Program. She co-wrote and directed their second collaboration, The American Side, hailed as an “adrenaline-charged pop-noir mystery” (The Hollywood Reporter), and starring Greg Stuhr, Matthew Broderick, Alicja Bachleda, Janeane Garofalo and Robert Forster. Ricker wrote and directed a 5-part short docu-film series for DOVE’s Self- Esteem Initiative. QUALIFIED*/, her first feature documentary, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America.


"There have always been achieving women.  There were successful women auto racers at the turn of the century. You can go back to antiquity to find women doing extraordinary things, but their history is forgotten or denied ever to have existed.  So women keep re-inventing the wheel.  Women have always done these things and they always will.'"

     - Race car driver Janet Guthrie, when asked about the                       significance of being among the first group of women                      inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980

Qualified, the documentary about Janet Guthrie, premiers on ESPN on Tuesday, May 28th, at 8 and 9:30 p.m.  After Tuesday, the film can be viewed streaming on the ESPN App and on ESPN+


Janet Guthrie was the first woman in history to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500, yet few people today know her name. She perservered with her career in race car driving in the face of brutal sexism; director Jenna Rickman brilliantly captures Janet's story in Qualified, an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Following its ESPN premier on Tuesday, May 28th, at 8 and 9:30 p.m., Qualified will be available for streaming on the ESPN App and on ESPN+.