”I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” states Toni Fields’ facebook status update. After this interview, I learn she manages to do both at the same time.
Snowboarder, all-around athlete, humanitarian and lawyer-by-day, Esquire Fields came to my attention thanks to a long-time, New Yorker friend of mine, “Deka” (Brian Paupaw), who is a snowboarder and humanitarian himself for founding his non-profit “Hoods to Woods”. Brian set up the introduction between us and I was pretty much floored with Toni’s life resume.
As Toni carves her unique, personal impact in a sport where African-American/Mexican women (because she has the best of both worlds!) are seldom seen as participants, she is assisting in influencing the next generations and spreading the image and experience that a sport carries no color and no gender.
Toni’s skills are not just limited to a snowboard. Naturally athletic, she has run marathons around the world (most recently one that ran along the Great Wall of China), she is a triathlete, a business developer, a well-rounded student – having spent years studying in Miami, NYC, and LA universities to hold the title of Esquire and yet this lady with endurance of steel has a contrasting heart of gold as she lends her hand in helping to improve the quality of life for those in need in villages in Kenya, Uganda and Guatemala.
She shares a bit of herself in this in-depth interview and you can understand her personality and how she’s able to “do it all”…it reminds us, we have no excuses!
RRRG: Hi Toni, tell us where you are from?
Toni: I was born and raised in Stockton, California. I attended Fordham University in New York City, the University of Miami School of Law in Florida and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for graduate business school. I currently live in Los Angeles, but I am relocating back to NYC in a few months.
RRRG: How did snowboarding come about for you?
Toni: I was in Aspen one year for the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival. I was working at the Festival and I met at lot of celebrities who surprisingly were snowboarders. One of my friends suggested we visit Snowmass for a snowboard lesson and within 15 minutes I was connecting my turns. I’ve been hooked ever since!
RRRG: Nice! Do you have any mentors that inspired you?
Toni: There are so many great athletes in the sport of snowboarding, many of whom have inspiring stories of achievement and athleticism. However, what truly inspires me are people who are willing to do their part to make the world a better place for someone else in need. 2006 Olympic Half Pipe Gold medalist Hannah Teter inspires me because she saw a glimpse of the world’s poor and didn’t turn her back on their suffering. She combined her passion for snowboarding with her business savvy and started a business called Hannah’s Gold (www.hannahsgold.com), which donates the sales of maple syrup to a poor community in Kenya. Similarly, Sean Busby, a professional snowboarder with type 1 diabetes started “Riding on Insulin”. He offers snowboarding camps to children with diabetes (www.ridingoninsulin.org). Both Hanna and Sean found a way to merge the two biggest passions in their respective lives to help those who need it the most. Talk about finding your purpose in life! Being a great snowboarder is a good gift, but an even better gift is being a great human being.
RRRG: That couldn’t be more beautifully said. Another interviewee we have on here, Gabi Viteri mentions Hannah’s efforts as well.
You are athletic in so many ways; you run marathons, participate in triathlons, snowboard, surf, skate, bike, played basketball and many other activities…are there any other new ones you’d like to try?
Toni: As a kid I grew up in a very athletic household. I was the proverbial tomboy and played pretty much every sport. I financed college on an athletic track scholarship and continued to run competitively in law school. After graduate business school I started a full time legal career and like a lot of young professionals trying to advance up the corporate ladder, competing in sports didn’t fit into my 100 hour work week so I took a hiatus from athletics to focus on my career. The decision made me very unhappy, but I felt the pressure all 20-somethings face to start a “real” career, make a lot of money and become “successful” (whatever that means). I was content to travel down that road until life reminded me about what is really important.
My step brother (who was in college at the time) committed suicide and his death forced me to rethink what I wanted out of life. I didn’t want my life to pass me by while I sat behind a desk, so I rearranged my priorities. Shortly thereafter I started snowboarding, running marathons and competing in triathlons. This past Spring I ran the Great Wall of China Marathon and I have previously run the World’s Top 5 Marathons. Next up is the Antarctica Marathon, along with a handful of other marathons/triathlons around the world. My goal is to run a marathon on every continent and see the world through the eyes of my passions. Each time I tie a running shoe or adjust a binding I am reminded that life can be everything I want it to be as long as I am not afraid to try and I am not shy about defining what success means for me.
RRRG: I’m so sorry to hear about your brother…he is great reason for inspiration. Describe more of your family life and your youth….
Toni: I was a very hyper child. Too bad energy drinks weren’t popular back then. My parents really could have used them to keep up with me! My story is one of a lot of people in America today…I am a mixed race person from a blended household. My mom is Hispanic who’s family immigrated to this country. My dad is African American. When my parents divorced my mom remarried a White man with two sons. Our family photos are tangible evidence of America’s melting pot! I got joked about having a black brother and a white brother, but it didn’t matter because in the end we were family. As a child it was hard for me to fit into any one ethnic group. My hair was too fine and my skin too light to be considered “Black”, yet I didn’t speak Spanish and had mixed features, so I wasn’t considered Hispanic either. My athleticism was a way for me to gain social acceptance in school and it helped me build a healthy self-image of myself.
RRRG: Interesting (and beautiful) background, Toni. Not only do you keep fit from sports….but you eat fairly healthy too I understand?
Toni: Calories and hydration are the name of the game for me. I am a pretty thin individual and the types of sports I compete in require a lot of calories and hydration. I have to force myself to eat high caloric smoothies and snacks, in addition to drinking plenty of fluids. I have to admit my weakness is Fruity Pebbles cereal. I can easily down two boxes in one sitting!
RRRG: You took silver home from a NASTAR (NAtional STAndard Race) competition…..after only a second season of snowboarding! That’s impressive….
Toni: When I first learned to snowboard I quickly realized that the fastest way to increase my skills was to focus on technical elements. Slalom snowboard racing really forced me to become a technical rider and drastically increased my abilities on the mountain in a very short period of time. As a competitor, snowboard racing was the place where snowboarding became a lifestyle and not just a vacation. NASTAR is a great environment for amateur racers to experience snowboard slalom racing. The races are gender specific, so you have an opportunity to meet racers from across the country in your sex and age group. Besides NASTAR, I also race United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA), which is a more competitive snowboard specific league.
RRRG: What areas are your favorite to ride? Do you have a “home” mountain?
Toni: My favorite mountain is Steamboat, Colorado. I currently live in Los Angeles, so my home mountain is technically Mammoth. I travel so much that I spend just as much time in the mountains of Colorado as I do Mammoth. I delayed my relocation to NYC after the season just to ensure I got enough powder days out West. Like I said, I have my priorities in order! Haha!
RRRG: What is your favorite style of boarding? And why?
Toni: I’ve tried them all and freecarving really feeds my need for speed. But I really love to put on my earphones and freeride. It is the ultimate feeling of freedom! Freeriding gives me the rare opportunity to tune out the world and soak in the beauty of the mountain.
RRRG: What was it like when you first started to learn to snowboard?
Toni: I grew up skateboarding and I’ve been surfing for a few years now, so learning to snowboard was a natural transition. However, learning to snowboard can be frustrating for any beginner. Falling on your bottom, getting whiplash and hitting your head on the snow is not fun! But if you have a competitive spirit and you refuse to quit you will start to feel the dynamics of the board. If you accept the pain as part of the learning curve your first linked turn will come faster than you expect. I picked up snowboarding very quickly, but I also invested a lot of time/money at snowboarding camps and snowboard race camps to improve my basic skills. I wanted to ensure I learned proper techniques and I really wanted to practice getting better. Knowing how to get down a mountain is one thing…knowing how to get down ANY mountain is another!
RRRG: In what ways do you train for snowboarding? Do you have suggestions for girls just beginning on good techniques to practice and focus on?
Toni: I am a big advocate of getting time on the mountain. That is the best way for any new rider to develop her snowboarding skills. Everyone’s riding ability is different, so for one person linking turns may be their focus, and for another person it might be learning how to control their speed on a jump. Whatever area you need to work on the key is getting on the mountain and investing time in practice.
RRRG: Did you feel fear….or even intimidation at any time in this sport? How did you tackle this?
Toni: I think a healthy amount of fear is necessary for athletes to rise to the occasion. Every time I load in a race gate, or step on a starting line, my adrenaline is pumping and my self-talk is rehearsing my race strategy. I visualize the entire race in my head before the gun ever goes off. If I have a bad run or my race gets off to a bad start, I force myself to regain control of my thoughts. Your thoughts produce emotions and once your emotions run wild you are held hostage to their insecurities. So I remind myself that I have done this before and I can do it again. I refuse to focus on who my competition might be and I instead focus on doing my best. I replay all my practice runs in my head and I try to recapture the rhythm by body felt during practice. Remaining calm under pressure and being able to re-focus after a fall or bad start is the key to remaining competitive.
RRRG: Have you had any incident where someone “called you out” due to your gender or ethnicity on the slopes? If so, how did you handle it?
Toni: The truth is there are not many Black snowboarders on the mountain. Of the Black snowboarders out there, there is an even smaller percentage of Black women riders. Ironically, a large part of the snowboarding culture has embraced hip-hop music and Black entertainment. Snowboarders tend to skew young in age, so the combination makes them more welcoming to different races on the mountain. No one has ever said anything offensive to me, but occasionally I get a few friendly jokes from the locals when I am riding with a group of Black snowboarders. It is quite a sight for them to see a pack of 30 Black snowboarders mashing full throttle down a mountain. We are the new “cool” kids on mountain! LOL!
There are supportive communities for Black riders on the mountain, the largest being the National Brotherhood of Skiers (www.NBS.org), an international African-American ski/snowboard organization with clubs nationwide. Also, I co-founded an organization called Da Soulboarders (www.soulboarding.com), which helps build community amongst Black snowboarders. The number of minority snowboarders are growing, especially as social economic factors change more favorably for minority households. Snowboarding is an expensive sport and many Black children are never exposed to it due to the high cost of entry. I support a charity called Hoods to Woods Foundation (www.hoodstowoods.com) that exposes minority kids in Brooklyn, NY to snowboarding. Charities like Hoods to Woods make it possible for more minority children to experience the joy of the mountain.
RRRG: What kind of board will you be riding on this season?
Toni: I have three different snowboards and a carving board. The one I ride depends on the terrain of the day and whether I am racing. My favorite board of late is my Lib Tech Banana Rocker. It hugs groomers and allows me to get a really good carve, plus it pops when I hit jumps. It is a really fun board!
RRRG: Do you have sponsors?
Toni: Not formal ones. However, I have awesome friends who work in the snowboard industry who have lent their company’s logos and products to my competitive endeavors. These company’s recognize that while not everyone will become a professional athlete it is important to celebrate the athlete in us all, regardless of our professional endeavors. People are complex and we cannot be defined by just one label. Oftentimes people ask me what I “do” and I often reply “I’m a humanitarian and an athlete. Oh, and I also happen to run a business and practice law whenever I have the time.” This response doesn’t go over well with my corporate buddies! Haha!
RRRG: Hilarious! What are your future plans/goals in regards to snowboarding? And in general?
Toni: Snowboarding is sport that brings me joy and allows me to stay competitive. I came to snowboarding as an adult, so I appreciate it differently than people who grew up with it. As a busy entrepreneur with a legal career, snowboarding provides me an outlet that no other sport can give me. As such, I invest the time and resources necessary to orient my professional work life around my snowboarding schedule. The reality is I am not going to the Olympics and snowboarding is not my livelihood. However, a big part of being a competitor is finding a way to compete and stay fit despite all of the other demands on your time. That is finding balance in your life.
RRRG: Please talk about your humanitarian work. I’ve seen that you have traveled the world..Africa and Central America and helped in having wells for water built, helped feed those in need..it’s immensely impressive. How did you get involved with these organizations and what have you been doing recently?
Toni: My goal in life is to be the type of person who walks out the personal values I believe in. Extreme poverty is something I saw as a kid when I traveled to Mexico to visit my grandparents. I remember seeing children my age begging on the street for food. I wasn’t any more deserving than those kids, I just so happen to be born in the richest country in the world. My humanitarian work started small by financially sponsoring a child in Central America. Writing letters wasn’t enough, so I decided to visit my sponsor child with a church team building a school in her community. The experience was life-changing. The poor know how to love organically because they do not have materialism and celebrity fantasies defining their culture. The poor taught me how to love, how to serve those in need and how to laugh without a care in the world. From there I went into full-time work with a charity building water wells primarily in Africa. Working in Kenya and Uganda humbled me as I heard hundreds of stories of abuse, war, famine and disease, Yet, the people remained loving and generous! That work allowed me to merge my passions and make life better for hundreds of people. Today I still volunteer my time with various humanitarian organizations and my church. My goal is to serve in Africa for a year developing micro-finance opportunities in rural communities.
RRRG: In what ways do you prevent injuries from happening since you are so active…how do you prep your body for a race? Or endurance?
Toni: Riding on a mountain at high altitude for 8 hours requires a lot of endurance. I tend to stay fit enough to run a half marathon on any given weekend. My endurance training is really the cornerstone of my athletic lifestyle. Consistently maintaining my running mileage has allowed me to stay injury free and has made competing a part of my lifestyle all year long, not just when there is snow on the ground.
RRRG: Any shouts? :)
Big shout-outs to Da Soulboarders, National Brotherhood of Skiers, Bad Boarderz and Hoods to Woods!
Interview by Christine Cauble