Finding Balance & Greening Your Laces: Q & A with Pro-Soccer Player Natalie Spilger

Natalie Spilger is a professional soccer player for the Chicago Red Stars and the CEO and Founder of GreenLaces.org, an organization she created to inspire other professional athletes and people around the world to be a little greener. Natalie talks to us about her green inspiration, the challenges of finding "balance" in her everyday life, and some of her favorite promises from fellow pro-athletes. She's also one smart cookie who graduated from Stanford in 2005.


MindBodyGreen:
Can you explain what Green Laces is and how it works?

Natalie Spilger: GreenLaces is an organization that improves our planet by inspiring personal action, connecting a community and educating a greener generation. How it works is simple:

  1. You get a pair of 100% recycled plastic GreenLaces and wear them to show everyone you love the earth.
  2. You join thousands and make a personal “Promise to the Planet” online.
  3. You give 40% of your GreenLaces purchase to one of our partner NGOs that support green education and community action.
This movement creates a visual presence in our communities and is propelled through community heroes (like thousands of Olympians and pro athletes) who inspire their communities to follow in their GreenLaced footsteps.

MBG: What inspired you to start Green Laces?

NS: My interest in environmental issues began when I was growing up in drought-prone San Diego.  It continued as I pursued my degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford, and really became a part of my identity after college when I was traveling and witnessed extreme environmental degradation in places like Morocco and Guatemala.

I entered the working world not sure what I wanted to do, and spent 2 years at internet start-up Oodle.com.  Finally in 2007 I decided I wanted to give-a-go at changing the world and was hired as an Energy Engineer for EMCOR Energy Services. After countless hours of counting light bulbs, a light went off in my head.  I did not want to "green" buildings, I wanted to green people.  

At the 2007 Green Building Expo in Chicago, I had two important "a-ha" moments. First, I started to realize how many people I could reach and inspire through a social construct that I was very familiar with: athletics. Secondly, I felt so proud to be an environmental steward and  I wanted to outwardly express this to the world. At that time, there was no symbolic way to do so. GreenLaces was born out of that combination.

MBG: You have a number of pro athletes involved -- what are some of your favorite promises that they've made?

NS: Here are a few of my favorites;

Dhani Jones, from NFL's Cincinnati Bengels and The Travel Channel's "Dhani Tackles the Globe" -  Promise #489: "I, Dhani Jones, promise to ride my bike to work 50% of the time and get 3 of my teammates to ride their bikes."

Cat Osterman, Olympic Softball Phenom, USA - Promise #209: "I promise to walk to work almost everyday, to start using reusable grocery bags, and to try and urge my community to get recycling bins!"

Lachlan Milne, Olympic Slalom Canoeist, Australia - Promise #80: "I, Lachlan Milne, promise to sell my Subaru Outback and get a small car or a hybrid."

Alecko Eskandarian, from MLS Chivas USA / LA Galaxy - Promise #220: "I, Alecko Eskandarian, promise to recycle and do whatever I can. I am all about it dude - I am saving energy."

Andrew Newell, Cross Country Skiing Olympian, USA - Promise #1056: "I promise to ride my bike as much as I can and NEVER use bags from the grocery store."

MBG: You're a pro soccer player AND you run Green Laces -- how do you find "balance" in your life?

NS: You should have seen my original response. It was mumbles and jumbles of paragraphs that I was unable to even sort through. Okay, focus…balance balance balance.

What I came to is this: I am in balance when I am imbalanced...until things get really crazy, and then it is disastrous. In sports terms, I am a Sumo Wrester; I like the battle of pushing and being pushed. I am hard to budge, but when I finally am off balance…watch out below. The aftermath is a cycle of calling my mom and asking her how she ever did it and going through a process of self-guilt (how could I have let that happened?, dropped that ball?, forgotten that?, been late again?), detachment and self forgiveness (sigh, deep breath, cruse word, well – I am doing the best I can, and I am still a happy person…that does not even seem happy). And trying to prevent it from happening again (re-programming my calendar settings, alarms, syncing technology with my iPhone, downloading the newest organizational apps, sticky notes, excel sheets, marker-notes on the back of my hands, read a book on balance, yoga, more yoga etc.). Wash, rinse, repeat.

I think the answer you were looking for is in that last part. I genuinely want to "do-it-all" and delusionally think I can. That might never change, so I have to do my best to prevent the fall by using tools and habits that help me juggle my dreams and then keep reminding myself that I am happiest in the ring, so I’d better get up quickly after I fall.

MBG:
What does mind/body/green mean to you?

NS: Wow – great question. Mind/Body/Green is using your mind to process personal events, stories, data and link them together to form opinions about what it means to be green. Then, you use your body to act in accordance with that green vision.

MBG: What are you reading? Do you have a favorite book?

NS: I just read An Unquiet Mind. I really only read books given to me by friends, or "How to" books. I love learning how to knit, sew, crochet, fix my car, get organized, etc.

I’d have to say one of my all time favorites was The Giving Tree. I love Shel Silverstein.

MBG: Favorite quote?

NS: I love the quote from Marianne Williamson that Nelson Mandela famously used in a speech.  "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most...And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

Also love Horace’s "Rule your mind or it will rule you."

MBG: Favorite healthy food?

NS:
I really love Quinoa and breakfast foods. One of my all time favorites is a recipe of my mom’s called Brown Rice Cakes. Mix brown rice (left-over from last night’s meal), eggs, cinnamon, vanilla extract. Then scoop out pancake sized portions onto a grill and flip when golden brown. Top them off with pure maple syrup and apple sauce. Mmm, so good. (Hi mom!)

MBG: What's one thing we can all do right now to be greener?

NS: I am all about people being "green in their own shade." Rather than preaching what one should do, I encouraging people to personalize their actions. What really works for me is to get obsessed with giving up ONE thing. My life goal is to completely give up plastic bottled water (I am going on 3 years) and my recent obsession is giving up plastic straws and lids. Last year it was seeing if I could go a full year without buying any new clothing or electronics (only used and refurbished)…I made it all but 1 week.

For more on Natalie and Green Laces:
GreenLaces.org






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