‘You don’t know what you don’t know’

Homer Olympian Tela O’Donnell Bacher speaks at TEDx talks in Anchorage.

The theme of the TEDx Talk in Anchorage on March 19 was, “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.” TEDx is an independent licensee of the national organization, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), whose mission is “to spread ideas.”

Zachary Aregood (he/him) is the TEDx Anchorage Event Organizer. He chose the theme of the evening after reflecting on his own childhood in Anchorage, and remembering when his biggest moments of growth took place. They were always during an uncomfortable instance of feeling bombarded by not only new information, but new concepts. In other words, moments of realizing that “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know.”

Homer’s very own Olympian, Tela O’Donnell Bacher (she/her) was a speaker at the TEDx event and spoke about “being a girl in the male-dominated space of wrestling, and wrestling’s journey to becoming a more gender-equitable community.” Through that lens, Bacher has taken the lessons she’s learned through her own uncomfortable moments of realizing what she did not know, and she is using “the power of sport to create major cultural shifts that can make our state and our world and our communities a better place for everyone.”

Bacher described how as a young teenager she petitioned the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to allow her to wrestle for Homer Junior High, and how, with the help of some incredible mentors, she progressed in her sport to become a member of the first U.S. Women’s Wrestling team. She represented our nation in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Bacher rose to great heights personally through the sport of wrestling, but her message is even loftier.

“Sport has the power to change the world,” Bacher said, quoting Nelson Mandela.

Bacher’s talk focused on the issue of gender inequality. She related how when a Homer woman, Duffy Murnane went missing in October 2019, and Bacher joined in the search, she didn’t know the extent of gender-based violence in Alaska.

“Alaska has the highest rate of missing persons in the United States,” Bacher said. “It is three times higher than the second-highest state. The World Health Organization estimates that 30% of women across the world experience domestic violence or assault; Alaska’s rate is nearly twice as high at 57.7%, according to a 2020 survey from the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.”

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Once Bacher learned about the staggering numbers of gender-based violence right here at home, she decided to do something about it. Utilizing methods she learned through her work as an ambassador to Pakistan through a U.S. State Department Sports Diplomacy Mission, Bacher leads the Alaska chapter of Wrestle Like a Girl, called Alaska Girls Wrestle.

Alaska Girls Wrestle intentionally uses games and sport to help build understanding and awareness of gender equality and human rights. They develop and support female coaches. They provide resources and education for girls who want to further their career or education through sport. They run wrestling camps that are accessible to young women from Alaska’s rural communities, and they actively teach girls to safeguard themselves from harassment, predation or other unsafe experiences that women have, for too long, endured as part of being in a male-dominated field. This is change for good.

But Bacher was just one-eighth of the roster of TEDx Anchorage. Brooks Banker (they/them), the education and prevention specialist at STAR (Standing Together Against Rape) in Anchorage, who also is a bearded drag queen known as Golden Delicious, described evolving gender norms and highlighted the importance of being respectful before making assumptions when communicating with people you don’t know.

“Language is ever-evolving,” Banker said, and our experience of the world is shaped in part by the words we say. By asking someone their preferred pronouns when meeting them, or simply by not using gendered words like “Sir” or “Ma’am,” we can show our respect to people we don’t know, thus creating a world that’s more inclusive. This is change for good.

At TEDx Anchorage, there were talks on transforming hardships into healthy lifestyles, developing a better work-life balance, the renewable energy potential in Alaska (it’s bigger than our fossil fuel potential), women’s empowerment through endurance racing, heeding advice from anti-mentors, and how to create positive change by intersecting our passions with our opportunities and then igniting our imaginations.

Ben Kellie (he/him) gave the final TEDx Talk of the evening. Kellie grew up in Nikiski and currently lives in Anchorage. Kellie is the C.E.O. and Founder of The Launch Company, which launches rockets that deploy satellites into orbit. He is a rocket scientist. But Kellie’s talk wasn’t about rocket science; it was about igniting our imagination through the intersection of passion and opportunity. It was about creating positive change in the world and specifically, in Alaska.

According to Kellie, first you must know your passion. For Tela O’Donnell Bacher, her passion is wrestling. Then, according to Kellie, you must realize a problem, A.K.A. an opportunity. According to Banker, language is ever-evolving, and thus what was known as a problem yesterday, can be called an opportunity today. For Bacher, the opportunity is to create gender equality here in Alaska. The rest is limited only by your imagination.

So what is your passion? And what is the opportunity you can apply it to? Use your imagination.

According to Kellie, “the only way to be sure of an outcome is to quit or not try.”

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Libby Bushell is a freelance writer living in Homer.