Women, students honored | TheUnion.com

Women, students honored

The Northern Mines Business and Professional Women’s Real Women Creative Writing Competition honored four high school seniors at its 16th annual celebration dinner, March 26, at the Grass Valley Elks Hall.

This essay competition is held annually in celebration of National Women’s History Month and is co-sponsored by the Grass Valley Lady Elks and The Union newspaper, along with support from several other local businesses and individuals.

The competition was open to senior students from Western Nevada County public high schools. They were challenged to write about a living, local woman they admire.

These high school seniors and their subjects were invited to attend this event where they read their essays, some for the first time, to the women the essays were written about.

This year’s winners are:

– First Place: Cristiano Montalbano who wrote about Sandra Rockman, a playwright and director.

– Second Place: Donna Nelson who wrote about Cathy Anderson-Meyers, an events director.

– Third Place tie: Emily J. Switzer who wrote about Daisy Switzer, PhD, a forensic psychologist.

– Third Place tie: Chelsea Nielsen who wrote about Alexys Nielsen, a graduate


This year three Honorable Mentions were honored. They are: Kelsey M. Stauffer who wrote about Jamie Anderson, a manager at Carl’s Jr.; Karly Wagner who wrote about Debbie Wagner, RN, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital; and Jonathan A. Hyland who wrote about Barbara Nix, business owner and volunteer.

” The Union staff

Cristiano Montalbano

First place

What happens when a woman who never wanted children meets a boy who always needed a mother?

“It’s a boy,” I can see her telling my “father” Tony, “and he has a beard.”

At the age of 17 I met Sandra Rockman, and her husband Tony Giacalone, 55. I didn’t find them after years of research. They didn’t appear one day on the doorway of my house to tell me that they had always loved me during the childhood I did not spend with them.

Actually, I learned of them in a letter that arrived in the mailbox of my home in Livorno, Italy. You see, I am an AFS foreign exchange student.

For Sandra (mom is her nickname) things haven’t always been easy. Her “yewt,” as she jokingly says in her New York accent, didn’t last too long: her dysfunctional family forced her to grow up faster than her peers.

In her early adulthood she faced the suicide of both her father and brother. In retrospect, she came to understand that they were both bipolar; this only reinforced her decision not to have children.

Always nurturing, her friends couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to be a mother. Sandra, picturing motherhood, could imagine only raising a male who might be cruel or violent to her, to others or to themselves.

In such a difficult world, theater has been a means of escape for her. She started as an actress, became a play director and a playwright, to bring to the stage a truthfulness that might heal others. She directed many plays with Foothill Theatre Company and now is also a freelance director and writer.

Sandra Rockman believes in volunteering and has contributed much to this community. In addition to the AFS organization, she volunteers at the low-income health clinic. She just directed a play called “Tea,” in collaboration with the Community Asian Theatre of the Sierras.

But there is just one reason that makes her more special than any other woman in the world for this teenager. Accepting to host a foreign exchange student, Sandra faced her fears and accepted a 16-year-old boy who was ready to leave his home town just to find a mother somewhere in the world

My mother died nine years ago of a heart attack, and since then I felt I would never again experience the tenderness, the unconditional love of a mother. I am extremely thankful, incredibly proud of the woman Sandra is. That’s the reason why I chose to write about her. I’m her unexpected son, and she fully loves and accepts me. I wouldn’t find anyone more special to write about.

For the last six months a miracle has been taking place in our lives. I am rediscovering the gifts of maternal love and Sandra has discovered the mother within.

Donna Nelson

Second place

Cathy Anderson-Meyers, event director of the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon, put this event on in honor of her dear friend Barbara.

What inspired Cathy to organize a triathlon was first competing in one. She insisted she was only a runner until her debut triathlon in the 1995 San Jose Danskin Triathlon.

The official charity of the series is The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and Danskin donates 10 percent of all entry fees to that foundation. It was that last fact that originally got the attention of Cathy.

She had been watching as one of her best friends, Barbara Schmidt Millar, struggle through breast cancer and decided that she was finally going to do a Danskin Triathlon … for Barb. She fell in love with the idea.

“It was just meant to be,” Cathy said, thinking back to that first experience. Since that time Cathy has competed in 18 Danskin triathlons, including her most recent one in Seattle nearly a month ago, when she finished 11th out of 116 women in her age group.

A tradition was born, but the real result from that first triathlon was that her friend Barbara loved hearing it. “She got quite of a kick out of it all,” says Cathy.

Barbara’s enthusiasm sparked an idea in Cathy. So she gathered together her friends, and the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon was born. This year’s 11th annual race took place on a Sunday and was also the 11-year anniversary of the day Barbara lost her struggle to cancer.

“Our triathlon is totally modeled after the Danskin Triathlons. It’s been wonderful to watch this triathlon grow and grow,” Cathy says.

She has put on workshops for first-timers in all the event areas and helps women become comfortable in their weaker areas. Cathy put on a bike clinic at the South Yuba Club. She also leads a swimming clinic at the Nevada Union High School pool.

Throughout the past 11 years of the Barbara Schmidt Millar Triathlon, more than 1,000 women have taken on the hilly course with her help and support. The event serves at the predominant fund-raising drive for the Barbara Schmidt Millar Memorial Fund, which assists women in need of help funding breast cancer screenings at the Breast Imaging Center of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. The Millar Fund also works to give scholarships each year to deserving Nevada Union students interested in pursuing a degree in a health care-related field.

Cathy Anderson-Meyers deserves a lot of credit for coming up with this event to honor her friend and for growing it every year for the past 11. She gives such encouragement to everyone; we’re lucky to have her energy in our community.

I was lucky enough to participate in the Celebration of Life Triathlon (in spite of the hills) and experience the friendliness and cooperation of so many. I cannot thank Cathy enough for creating an event with an environment so conducive to empowering women and urging them to accomplish feats they never thought possible.

Chelsea Nielsen

Third-place tie

She’s not an amazon, she’s my sister! The most inspirational woman in my life, hands down, is my sister, Alexys Nielsen.

For those of you who have never encountered a woman over 6 feet, let me tell you, there’s a lot to look up to. If I had to compare my sister to one admirable woman from history, I would choose Rosie the Riveter. At age 17, my sister enrolled in the California Maritime Academy where the ratio of men to women is 5:1, and when she graduated four years later, not only did she have a Bachelor in Science Marine Engineering Technology, she also graduated with the highest GPA in the school.

Two months later, my sister signed on with one of the largest oil companies in the world as an engineer. She told me she had to spraypaint her tools pink to keep the boys from stealing them out of her tool box.

Watching her leave for work is like watching storm clouds roll over the sky; it makes the sunniest of days seem somber.

While she’s at sea, Alexys lives on a 900 foot- long ship and works on engines the size of houses. When she is home, Lexy divides her time between family and friends, using her skills to make much- needed repairs to Dad’s house and arguing with herself as she fiddles with mother’s many touchy electronic devices.

Lexy helps me with all of my homework and college applications and even swings by to help coach my water polo team. Lexy was so tough in college she was able to play in the men’s water polo league.

Don’t let me give you the wrong impression, though. Alexys isn’t some sort of amazon woman. My sister is the kindest, smartest and bravest person I know.

She and I collect pressed pennies from every location we visit. Since this crazy rotation of sea and home has begun, our pressed penny collection has expanded to include more than 30 different locations in six different states and three different countries.

I would trade every penny to see my sister’s beautiful face every day instead of just some days, but I can’t. I can only warn the rest of you. If any of you are ever so lucky as to encounter a beautiful gangly girl like my sister, hold on tight, for the goodbyes are nearly unbearable.

My real woman sister never asked anyone to give her the things she wanted. She made them for herself. Now, Alexys is all grown up and making a life for herself, and soon, it will be my turn. I’m so grateful to my sister, for showing me how my own story can end and how tall I can be.

Emily Switzer

Third place tie

When I was very young we were on food stamps. Mom was working at the office every day and going to school every night.

She explained to me why my father had left us, but, untrained in the art of human dilemmas, I had no idea how this really affected me.

A year later, once I had learned how to talk and understand, she told me he had become an alcoholic and was homeless.

I didn’t think that we were poor. Mom spent every waking moment with me. If I wasn’t at school, she would take me to work with her. She always got me the little things I wanted, even if it meant she wouldn’t have any money for herself.

When I was 10, we moved from San Francisco to Grass Valley. She was making good money, and I was finally allowed to go to town by myself. That same year, I was riding my bike to meet her for dinner when I was hit by a speeding Toyota truck.

My upper leg and jaw where broken, my elbow was dislocated and my bike was a useless mangle of metal bits.

Through those three months in the hospital, I can’t remember her leaving my bedside for a single night. She slept in the chair next to my bed, helped me eat and dress, and kept strangers away from my room. When I was able to sit up again, my hair had become tangled and impossible from months of neglect. It looked like we would have to cut it all off. Instead, she combed through each strand, piece by piece, for days.

I didn’t thank her then, but I wish I had.

The following year, it was Mom’s turn to go to the hospital. On Jan. 10, 2001 my mother, Daisy Switzer, was severely injured in the Nevada County shooting. Jumping out of a two-story window to escape Scott Thorpe, a delusional gunman, she broke 38 places in her feet, back, and pelvis.

It took the ambulance two hours to come to her as she lay broken and cold in the rain. She was in the hospital for the hardest six months of my life.

While in bed, she studied for her Ph.D. She didn’t cry when they had to bolt her legs back together or when she couldn’t feel her toes. As soon as she could, she was walking again.

Not only that, but she was refusing to let me do her chores. As soon as she could carry her own groceries, she did so, despite my concerns.

Five years after the shooting, her name was finally added to the memorial plaque in front of her office. Despite this oversight, she never complained.

She is the bravest woman I know, and she has shown me what it means to love beyond all circumstances. I will never let her kindness or courage be forgotten.

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