Thursday, January 3, 2008

Penn Final Projects

This is a posting of a diverse sample of final projects done by University of Pennsylvania students in the English 157 course (Journalistic Writing) for the Fall semester of 2007.

We open with two narratives.

Taylor Wemmer traveled to the national collegiate competition in Columbus and returned with this engaging story on a Penn duo who went for a medal. Wemmer is also a member of the school's ballroom team.

Jim Ballas followed the band Liam and Me and wrote a piece on their efforts to break into the big time in the modern world of rock and roll.

Other postings will follow.

The Trials of Team 364

A Penn duo goes to the ballroom nationals

By Taylor Wemmer

Saurabh Jain and Gabriela Cosma were trying to catch their breath: they had just danced 3 minutes of the two most exhausting dances in the Latin repertoire: samba and jive. Cosma was leaning on Jain’s arm as they both looked up at the giant screen projected on the wall in the front of the ballroom.
“Did we make it?” asked Cosma, scanning the rows of numbers on the screen for number 346.
“I don’t see our number,” replied Jain.
“346 is our number, right?” Cosma looked at the piece of paper safety-pinned to the back of Jain’s shirt. It was.
The two looked at one another, disappointed.
“Oh well, at least we made the semi-finals for cha-cha and rumba,” said Cosma, “I’m going to go sit down.”
Jain looked up at the board one more time, just in case their number had been added in the past few seconds. The screen did not magically produce a 346 so he followed his partner’s lead and went to rest up.
Cosma, 19, and Jain, 26, members of the University of Pennsylvania’s Latin and Ballroom Dance Team, have danced together in collegiate competitions along the East Coast for the past two years. This weekend, however, was one of the most important competitions they would attend: The USA Dance National Collegiate Dancesport Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
“How did you guys do?” asked Kathy Tang, a fellow team member.
“We messed up so many times!” replied Cosma, “We didn’t make the next round.”
She pulled out her water bottle and sat down. Jain joined her, but he pulled out a bag of ice instead. He took off his right shoe and held the make-shift cold compress on his ankle.
“I’m happy about not getting a callback,” admitted Jain, “I am in a lot of pain. I was limping off the floor after the jive.”
Jain had injured his ankle two weeks before, but not while he was dancing.
“I don’t even know how it happened! I was at work and it just started hurting,” said Jain.
This injury could not have come at a worse time. The pair had competed at a competition in Washington, DC two weekends before. Their results were good, but they were ready to do better. They were hoping to solidify their routines, put in extra hours of practice, and give their best performance at Nationals.
Their plan was not exactly working out.
“We haven’t practiced for two weeks. I had four mid-terms since the last competition and Saurabh has been injured,” said Cosma, a sophomore at Penn majoring in Biochemistry.
Jain, who was a Penn grad student and now works in Philadelphia, nodded his head in agreement as he took some pain killers.

* * *

Earlier that morning, the girls’ bathroom was a mess. Everyone was scrambling for mirror space to apply their layers of make-up, attach their fake eye-lashes, or squeeze into their Latin outfits. To feel properly attired, a dancer must wear ten times the amount of make-up she normally wears, twist her hair up in a bun coated in hairspray and gel, and be submerged in fake tanner. It may look good out on the floor, but try not to get too close. You may feel as though you are surrounded by dozens of sun-baked circus clowns in heels.
The day had started with the Ballroom dances, which includes the Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, and Viennese Waltz. These elegant dances required that girls where long skirts or dresses and two and a half inch heels. To compete Ballroom correctly, the couple has to be connected along their right sides in order for the man to lead his partner in the various steps.
As soon as the morning was over, however, the refined dances of Ballroom gave way to the much sexier dances of Latin. The long, stylish ball gowns were put away; suddenly, the skirts got shorter and the heelers got taller.
Latin dancing encompasses a very different style than its counter-part Ballroom. This category includes the dances of Cha-Cha, Rumba, Samba, and Jive. The dance position is very different: partners are connected to one another through a handhold instead of along the body. The outfits are tighter for both men and women. Men wear long-sleeved shirts with deep V-necks, while the ladies wear short skirts that accentuate their hip movements.
Cosma was wearing a short, tight, black dress and satin three-inch heels. She and Jain were one of the many couples in the lobby rehearsing their routines before it was their moment to walk on the dance floor.
“Our frame collapses right here, we need to practice this step again,” said Cosma.
Jain readjusts his position, and counts “rock step, triple step, triple step” so that they start the move together on time.
At six foot one, Jain stands four inches taller than Cosma, even with her Latin heels on. His dark hair is slicked back and held in place by copious amounts of gel.
“This baby ain’t going to mooove!” said Jain, patting his head. Not a hair fell out of place.
The way you look is very important, said Cosma. Your dancing itself cannot change much the day of the competition, but you can control what you wear, how you do your hair, and your make-up.
“Looking perfect can really enhance your overall presentation and gives you confidence,” she added.
Nothing went right on that Saturday, though. Cosma was uncomfortable with her dress because the one she had planned to wear had too many sequins. Costumes with shimmery stones were allowed only for the highest level competitors, so she had to wear an outfit she did not like. Her hair refused to stay pulled back because she had forgotten bobby pins, and Jain’s ankle was simply not cooperating.
After seeing they had not made the semi-final for samba and jive, Cosma and Jain sat down to wait. A few minutes later, the master of ceremonies announced over the loud speakers, “Semi-finalists for cha-cha and rumba, please line up!”
The couple, after a few stretches, joined the other twelve couples in line without high hopes. They walked out onto the floor and danced their routines with smiles despite the mistakes they made and the pain that Jain visibly felt.
With one glance up at the board after the round, they were not surprised to see that they had not made the final. Though disappointed, they were not discouraged. Today was only the
first day of the competition. Tomorrow they had another chance, and they were determined to come back on Sunday with much better results.


The USA Dance National Collegiate Dancesport Championships is one of the largest collegiate competitions held all year. For every couple, Nationals is an excellent opportunity to measure one’s skill level against the best in the field.
“You can really tell how good you are because its Nationals,” said Cosma, “People come from everywhere and it’s generally the good dancers that are willing to take the time to travel.”
“Nationals is a different feeling. You are competing with everyone. If you do well, then it feels good!” said Jain.
This year, the competition was held on November 17-18 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio. Competitors flew in from the West coast, while other teams opted for the ‘team- bonding’ experience: an eight to ten hour van ride from New York, Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia.
Although it is one of the most popular competitions all year, Penn’s ballroom team must sponsor their competitors in order for them to attend because it is one of the most expensive competitions. Not only is the registration fee high ($70 compared to usually $35), but the cost of travel and hotel accommodations is impossible for a student’s budget.
“For a lot of people, this is their favorite comp,” said Leonore Miller, Team Captain of Penn’s ballroom team.
This competition is unique in that it is much larger than just the collegiate category. During this weekend, professional Latin and Ballroom dancers also compete against each other. Hundreds of people attend the evening events to watch these world-famous dancers, the best of the best, compete for first place in the four different dance styles. Over $135,000 in prize money is awarded in the professional events of Latin, Rhythm, Standard, and Smooth.
“Seeing the professional dancers compete is amazing and the show dances on Friday and Saturday nights are great,” said Miller.
“I was really excited about seeing the pros,” said Cosma, “This was the first time I have ever been to Nationals in the three years I have been competing.”
As two of the upper level dancers, Cosma and Jain are one of Penn’s best couples because they consistently place in the top six at competitions. On Saturday, Penn’s team had enjoyed many successes at the competition. Miller was proud of her team.
“We got second in the team match, so we can say we’re second in the nation!” said Miller, “Gabby and Saurabh looked good. They were definitely one of the better couples out there.”


Two vans of sleepy Penn students returned to the convention center at 7:30 am Sunday morning ready to compete. A few had gone out to party and social dance the night before with friends from other teams; they were clearly struggling to wake up that morning.
Cosma had switched into a blue rhine-stoned costumed and had borrowed some bobby pins from a fellow team member. Her hair was twisted back and anchored in place so it would not get in the way as she danced.
Jain popped a few Advil in his mouth and washed them down with water. He was slowly warming his body up before he ran over the routines with Cosma.
“I did not go to the party last night because I wanted to rest myself and my ankle,” said Jain,“I’m really hoping to do well!”
Today, they were dancing in the Rhythm event which encompassed the same dances as Latin but required slightly different technique.
“Rhythm is basically a sloppy Latin!” said Cosma.
After a short rehearsal, they were ready.
“Rhythm dancers, please line up in the on-deck area!” announced the MC.
Jain reached for Cosma’s hand and walked her over to their place in line. The twenty-two couples walked onto the floor for their cha-cha, the music came on, and the dance began.
This was it. Cosma and Jain had just walked off the floor from the semi-final round. Again, Cosma leaned on her partner for support as they looked up at the giant screen, waiting for the numbers of the couples that had made it to the final to be posted.
“Did we make it?” asked Cosma, scanning once again for 346.
Jain’s eyes lit up when he saw exactly what they were looking for, “Yes! Good job! We made the final!”
They danced the final set of cha-cha, rumba, and swing with confidence and pride as their team members cheered them on and snapped photo after photo. The judges circled the floor, watching each couple and marking down the placement that they felt each couple deserved.
Once the last song had finished, the master of ceremonies lined the finalists up for their rewards. Because they announce last place first, Cosma and Jain were hoping not to hear their number until the very end.
Sixth place went to the couple on their left, fifth to the couple they had danced next to on the floor.
“Fourth place to…, Third Place to…,” the MC announced over the microphone, “Second Place to number 346, Saurabh Jain and Gabriela Cosma of the University of Pennsylvania.”
Cheers erupted from Penn’s team. Cosma and Jain went up to accept their red ribbons with beaming smiles.
Despite all the pain, “it was worth it,” said Jain. “We competed against 22 couples and came second, and that is a really good feeling.”

Band on the Rise

Liam and Me flirts with success in the hard world of modern rock

By Jim Ballas

The crowd stops its murmuring as the stage lights go down. Shadowy figures come onto the stage and get their instruments ready.
“I want you all to dance, 2, 3, 4…”
The spotlight suddenly flashes on Matt O’Dowd, 27, lead singer and songwriter of the band Liam and Me. The 750-person hometown crowd at the Trocadero in Philadelphia starts dancing and singing along with the band. To the band, it’s another Thursday night, another chance to show a live audience why they should be famous.
The room fills with the sound of catchy keyboard hooks and a driving bass and guitar. Liam and Me is a five piece dance-rock band from West Philadelphia that has .been together for three years. Matt O’Dowd is joined by Dan Larkin, 23, lead guitarist and backup singer, Kevin McKenzie, 26, bassist, and Jon Briks, 24, drummer. They recently added fifth member Ryan Petrillo, 23, keyboardist and backup guitarist.
Liam and Me is a band on the rise. They have either been on tour or in the studio for 10 out of the last 12 months, furthering their music and their hopes of one day being in the limelight.
“It’s a lot of hard work, playing music every day,” says Dan Larkin, 24, “but I love it. There’s nothing better than being on stage and seeing the crowds dance to our songs.”
Liam and Me has garnered a following, not just in Philadelphia, but extending far beyond their tour locations, including California and Canada. As the crowds grew, this newfound popularity gave Liam and Me the attention of record labels – both major and independent – in the summer of 2006. These labels offered record deals, tour dates and the potential for stardom.
However, the charismatic Matt O’Dowd would not brag about all this success, especially not at a show. He is six feet tall, lanky and his hair constantly falls in his eyes. When singing, he commands the stage with his impressive range (including a superb falsetto) and his trademark dance moves (mostly gyrations in front of his keyboard).
Offstage, he is approachable, friendly and just a bit mischievous, but this dynamic helps Liam and Me maintain their self-proclaimed band image as “sensible adults with a penchant for rock, drinking, and flirtation.”
The band gets ready to perform their last song of the night. Drummer Briks counts it off and the band starts rocking out. Again, the keyboard and guitar hooks are catchy, and then the lyrics come in.
Take a deep breath, try and relax.
Clear out your head, and take a few steps back.
“He’s singing about this whole experience of ours,” says Larkin, after the show. “We’re not quite there, but there’s this anticipation of what might happen.”
The music fades, the lights go down, and the cheers get louder as Liam and Me walks off stage. They will stay and talk to their fans for about two hours, but they have to hit the road soon. They need to be in Canada tomorrow. It’s going to be a long drive.
“So is the life of a band trying to make it, I suppose,” says O’Dowd. “I mean that in the least pretentious way possible.”

First things first
Touring and interacting with fans is only the beginning of what Liam and Me wants to accomplish. In order for a modern band to take a shot at stardom, it is necessary for them to have a demonstration CD -- or a“demo” as it is known -- , as well as word-of-mouth type appeal.
They also have to learn how to deal with a recording industry that is constantly changing, as are its motives and methods of signing bands.
What do record labels look for? In a single word – marketability. A label needs to decide if they can make money off a band’s look and sound.
“We try to make artistic music that is still fun and easy to listen to,” says O’Dowd. “You could call us a pop-rock type outfit.”
And this type of well-written-but-catchy music is what record labels have been searching for recently.
“It all started with the Killers,” says Briks. “They made synthesizers cool again.”
The Killers are one of many on a list of influences Liam and Me has. The Killers helped start a new wave of keyboard pop-rock when they released their 2004 album, “Hot Fuss.”
“Without a band like the Killers, you wouldn’t have the popularity of this type of music,” says Larkin. “They turned what some indie bands were doing into a whole movement, and now there are clones and mimics and mockeries of the original.”
“I guess we’re just paying homage,” he adds.
Liam and Me’s differences, in both style of music and lyrical content, make them a more upbeat band than the Killers, and with more dance-happy music. It gives them – to use one word – marketability.
However, even when the big record label comes calling, a band must be wary. There are many ways labels protect themselves from losing money – often in ways that can hurt the band.
“A few labels tried to screw us over,” says O’Dowd. “We had to get an entertainment lawyer on top of our manager and agent.”
A common technique major labels use is to sign multiple bands to fill the same niche. They try to find a Liam and Me and nine other bands deemed similar in some way. All the bands record an album for the label. When the albums are finished, the label can decide if they want to release it or not, offering no guarantee of the record ever seeing the light of day.
“[Virgin Records] tried to put a clause in our contract allowing them to buy us out if they didn’t like the CD,” says O’Dowd. “They added that the day we were going to sign, so we decided against that deal.”
“I don’t know if we thought they would actually buy us out, but how could we even take that chance after all of this?” asks Larkin.
“And that’s why we kept looking,” added O’Dowd.
After being offered multiple deals from many different labels, both in America and England, Liam and Me signed with Thrive Records, a California-based subsidiary of Sony/BMG. Thrive is mainly known in Europe and America as a prominent electronica label, specializing in club and dance music. Thrive was looking to jump into the pop and rock game, so they offered the band a great deal, including a $200,000 advance for the record.
It seems that Liam and Me was on the verge of success.
“It’s been an awesome journey with these guys, and getting signed only made it better,” says O’Dowd.

In order to understand where they’re going, the band likes to look back on their past.
“We’ve been in and out of music projects together since 1999,” says McKenzie. “It doesn’t seem like such a long time.”
Liam and Me started as high school punk band in Florida called “Mad Mardigan,” created by Dan Larkin. He later added Kevin McKenzie and McKenzie brought in Matt O’Dowd. They had one summer playing together, and then they went their separate ways to colleges around the country.
O’Dowd attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a member of “the Counterparts,” the same a cappella group that featured R&B artist John Legend. Larkin went to University of Florida in Gainesville, McKenzie to Miami University.
“We were far apart, but we’d get together over breaks or vacations to write, play and record,” says Larkin. “Oh, and to kick out our first drummer.”
“We played at our friends’ house on the Florida campus all the time. There were some big crowds, but it was never too serious,” says O’Dowd.
After a few years of rehearsing, the band was asked to play on the 2002 Warped Tour, an annual touring music festival specializing in punk and alternative rock. This made the band reevaluate how they worked together and created a desire for change. Their location and their genre would both soon be shifted.
McKenzie graduated and moved to Philadelphia. O’Dowd graduated and stayed in Philadelphia. The youngest of the three, Larkin transferred to Villanova. McKenize and O’Dowd both got jobs at business consulting firms, working by day and rocking by night.
In summer 2004, Jon Briks was introduced to O’Dowd by a college friend and later joined the band. With a new drummer and with the change from punk to dance-rock, the band began to click. They started by playing local bars and roller rinks, but moved quickly to opening for bigger artists in big venues.
“It happened pretty quickly,” says O’Dowd. “We got a booking agent who got us a ton of shows, so we were constantly playing.”
In February 2006, Liam and Me released a self-produced 10-song album called “There’s a Difference.” Online music site, which features many reviews of bands and albums, called Liam and Me “the best band of 2006 that you have never heard of.”
The buzz was beginning, and that meant the opportunities were growing. Suddenly, playing music constantly got in the way of consulting.
“McKenzie and I both quit our jobs a little abruptly, but we had so much traveling and playing that we couldn’t make it work otherwise,” says O’Dowd.
The attention the band was getting, from shows and the CD, led to an increased buzz in Philadelphia and Liam and Me took advantage of this. They were able to get into label showcases – shows which spotlight up-and-coming bands for record labels.
In the summer of 2006, the offers came in. There were major labels (Virgin, Columbia) and minor labels (Thrive, Decaydence) all hoping for Liam and Me. After taking a few months to consider their options, Liam and Me signed with Thrive Records.
“It was a tough decision for us, but we went with a smaller label that would hopefully focus on us more as a band, not just an investment” says Larkin.

Onward and Upward

More and more gigs. Their first cross-country tour. A contract with a record label. Things were looking up for Liam and Me. They were now on a label and they were due to have a record out in the fall of 2007, a little over a year after they had signed. That would give them enough time to rerecord songs they were keeping and still write new ones for the album.
“We wanted to jump in the studio right away,” says Briks. “The more time we had to work on it, the better we could make it.”
Briks, who mixed and produced “There’s a Difference,” was very involved in the production of the new album as well. He contributed many ideas and added many of the minor instruments to the mix, such as other percussion instruments and synthesized effects.
In the spring of this year, after 8 months in a New York City studio, the band was finished recording. The album was now set to be mixed and mastered, so the band could go back to doing what they love to: tour.
Thrive sent Liam and Me on a summer tour, opening for popular artists such as Shiny Toy Guns, Under the Influence of Giants and Young Love. All of this was in anticipation of their debut album, which would appropriately be called “Liam and Me.”
Then came the problems.
“Our album was going to be delayed,” says O’Dowd. “Instead of a September release, they were giving us a December release.”
Thrive knew the band was mad so they gave Liam and Me extra points on the album. A point is a percentage of the money made from each CD. Liam and Me were going to make more money, but they still wanted a finished CD.
“They said they’d have it finished or give us more points,” says Larkin. “Unfortunately, we got the points.”
Months later, Thrive still hasn’t released the record. The album is finished, but Thrive does not have the money to give it the distribution promised to Liam and Me in their contract. The label is claiming bankruptcy. How does the band respond?
“We’re suing them to get our album back,” says O’Dowd, rather matter-of-factly.
The band’s relationship with Thrive went from strained to broken. Instead of touring to promote their new album, Liam and Me is spending time in lawyers’ offices giving depositions. Though Thrive cannot currently release the album, they will not let it go to the band without a fight.
The legal battle currently rages, and Liam and Me is trying only to get their music back, not their contract. They hope to shop it around to other labels now that it is a finished product.
How will other labels respond to this? Liam and Me turned down other offers to work with an independent label that doesn’t have the same resources as a major label. Will a major label take them back now? This setback is more than just minor, but the band is optimistic.
“We’ve been through a lot, and honestly, this sucks,” says Larkin. “But we’ll get through it and we’ll be fine.”
The success of Liam and Me hangs in the balance, with the band members unsure of what will happen or what they should do next. One thing is certain however; they do not aim to give up.
“We’re a band that loves to tour,” says O’Dowd. “We’ll keep playing as long as people are there to keep listening.”

Modern Times

Three stories about modern trends.

Jamie Callahan writes about the growing number of women athletes who suffer ACL injuries and the research underway to find the cause and a cure.

Erica Tobin writes about the increase in the number of interracial couples, especially among young adults, and tells of the old barriers they face.

Jaclyn Bolno has a new take on an old problem -- domestic abuse. Her story outlines the latest research on the causes of abuse.

A New Epidemic: Women's Knee Injuries

More women atheletes are tearing their ACLs

By Jamie Callahan

Re-watching the game on film was the hardest. She knew what half, what minute, and what play her season ending-injury occurred, and she sat with fear and anticipation- preparing herself to relive it.
And then it came.
There was no one around her.
She just dropped.
“Ugh, I hated watching myself tear my ACL,” Kelsey Nickles, a 21 year-old student athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, recalled. “It just looked… so preventable, you know? There wasn’t even anyone around me. No one pushed me. No one twisted my knee the wrong way. It was just me.”
The disappointment of tearing her anterior cruciate ligament—also known as the ACL -- brought on the larger disappointment of not being able to play field hockey for at least a year. Her ACL would heal after surgery, but she would never be able to get back the time she missed on the field.
Nickles is just one of the number of women athletes that has to feel this disappointment – and recent research has discovered that female athletes are much more prone to this injury than men. The research says that5 are anywhere from 3 to 10 times more likely to tear their (ACLs) than men.
Elizabeth Arendt, MD, Associate Professor at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Minnesota, said in a medical forum that the rates of ACL tears for male and female athletes in similar sports in the NCAA are unequal.
She reported the findings of a research project in which the injuries of both male and female NCAA soccer players from the years 1989 to 2001were examined:
“The rates for ACL injuries in male soccer players went down significantly over time, while the rate in female athletes rose,” said Arendt.

Many reasons
So what are these reasons that make women more prone to tearing their ACLs?
Researchers admit that all of the reasons are not fully known. There are certain factors, however -- anatomic, hormonal and neuromuscular -- that have proven to play a role in the injury.
These factors are in addition to common reasons that men and women tear their ACL’s. In high impact sports, such as soccer, basketball, skiing, ice and field hockey, lacrosse, and volleyball, the ACL allows for common maneuvers that athletes use during competition: cutting, pivoting, and sudden turns.
Stable knee joints are critical to these actions. The anterior cruciate ligament, which runs up the center of the knee, is the primary ligament that allows the knee to bend in the correct direction: where the leg from the knee down bends backwards.
However, if the ACL becomes weak, it becomes harder to keep the knee bending in a backwards direction, and therefore easier for an athlete to dislocate his or her knee. When an ACL weakens, the leg from the knee down is more prone to sliding into an incorrect position forward, and the ligament tears.
Women, however, have to worry about more than just a weakened ACL when considering their chances of injury.
In the same forum, Bruce D. Beynnon, the director of research in orthopaedics at University of Vermont, said that there are physical differences between men and women that can cause women to be more prone to tearing their ACLs.
This theory, medically referred to as “the narrower femoral intercondylar notch theory” is based on the fact that women tend to be smaller in physique than men. They have smaller muscles and therefore, less strength. This lack of strength in their ACLs is seen as a possible cause for a higher increase of injury in females.
“It appears that the increased rate of noncontact ACLs seen in patients with narrower notches may simply be a manifestation of a smaller ACL,” Dr. Arendt confirms.
There are other factors that join with this intercondylar notch theory in assisting the injury among women.

Hormone levels
The menstrual cycle may also have additional effects on female athletes and their performances. In the forum, Dr. Beynnon described a study in which researchers found an increase in the prevalence of injuries during the menstrual phase. The studies showed that certain hormone regimens associated with menstruation weaken the ligament, leaving women more vulnerable during specific cycles.
Finally, in addition to the size of the ACL and the hormone levels, women show a difference in neuromuscular control of their knee joints.
“Three neuromuscular control imbalances are common in women athletes: ligament dominance, quadriceps dominance and leg dominance,” said Timothy E. Hewett, director at The Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
Ligament dominance, according to Dr. Hewett, refers to the way women’s bodies hit the ground and the effect it has on their ligaments.
“The lack of dynamic muscular control of the joint leads to increased valgus motion, increased force and high torque that can stress the passive restraints of the knee joint,” he said
In other words, when a woman lands, her knees cannot handle the pressure that occurs when she hits the ground.
In addition, a woman’s thigh muscles are stronger than the other muscles in her legs. This dominance can cause the knee to have a tendency to stay bent at a low angle during sporting events.
“ACL injury nearly always occurs when the knee is near full extension, where quadriceps dominance may put the ligament at increased risk,” Dr. Hewett said.
Lastly, leg dominance --in which there is an imbalance between muscular strength and coordination on opposite limbs -- is seen to be a cause. Not only is the weaker limb at increased risk of ACL injury, but the dominant one is as well.
“The weaker limb is compromised in its ability to manage even average forces [on the knee],” said Dr. Hewett, “… and the stronger limb may experience exceptionally high forces [on the knee] due to increased dependence on that side.”

Finding the cure
The increase in the amount of ACL injuries in female athletes have spurred researchers and doctors, such as Arendt, Beynnon, and Hewett, into finding answers to the problem
But the answers they found posed an even more important question: Can anything be done to prevent this injury?
Dr. Hewett said he was successful at discovering a form of prevention.
He led a study to evaluate the effect that a neuromuscular training program, which trained women more than once a week for a minimum of 6 weeks.
He found that women that trained in the program by participating in mobile stretching, balance, and strengthening exercises had a 72% lower incidence of ACL injury than untrained women.
In the study, he said, “trained women were not different than untrained men.” By incorporating mobile stretching -- or plyometrics -- balancing exercises and weight lifting, Dr. Hewitt found a program that placed women on an equal playing field with men, and the results indicated a decrease in injury risk in female athletes.
The existence of a training program that is proven to prevent injury leads to a question on why all female athletes aren’t asked to participate in such training?
“I had no idea [training programs] even existed prior to my conversation with a sports trainers after I already tore my ACL,” said Allison Ambrozy, a senior on the University of Pennsylvania women’s lacrosse team.
In her opinion, Penn’s athletic department is remiss in its duties of injury prevention.
“There are a lot of weaknesses with our athletic department… it’s frustrating, I don't expect that from them either. There are people on every level that could help change this, trainers, coaches, strength coaches, but no one seems to have enough incentive to change things, and that’s a shame,” said Ambrozy.

No training here
When asked about whether or not he was aware of any program that could limit the tendency for women to tear their ACLs, Mitch Biunno, head athletic trainer at the University of Pennsylvania responded, “I don’t know much about it.”
Biuno did, however, add that, “I’ve heard of ACL prevention programs that involve different types of stretching, but I don’t know to much about the research and if it is in fact legitimate and effective.”
Ten female athletes at Penn were informally asked if they were aware that they are 3 to 10 times more likely to tear their ACLs, and 9 out of the ten were unaware.
“The only reason I do know that is because I tore my ACL in high-school, no one at Penn told me,” Lauralynn Drury, captain of the Penn women’s squash team, replied to the question.
This could be due to the fact that the University athletic department is not educating athletes on this problem, but as Biunno has pointed out in his statement, the athletic department itself is not fully aware of the issues.
In addition to the relationship between prevention programs and university athletics, there could also possibly be a budding relationship between a different ACL program and athletic recruitment.
When asked whether or not, within the female athlete population, there is a way to find out if certain women are more prone to tearing them, Dr. Hewett responded, “yes.”
“Knee motion and knee loading during a landing task are predictors of anterior ligament injury risk in female athletes,” he said.
In a study he conducted in which there were 205 female athletes that played the high-risk sports of soccer, basketball, and volleyball, Hewett studied the way the athletes’ knees dealt with forces of landing.
He predicted that the prescreened athletes with previous ACL injuries would have less control over their knees when they landed, which would predict ACL injury risk.
At the end of the study, Hewett’s results showed that the methods he developed could be used to monitor neuromuscular control of the knee joint, or how the knee deals with impact, and possibly indicate the need for intervention.
“ [The methods] could help develop simpler measures of neuromuscular control that can be used to direct female athletes to targeted interventions,” he said.
So now, not only are the causes of ACL tears in women known, but there are also ways to decrease the risk of injury, as well as ways of assessing the risk.

Testing can tell
A new test that can assess the risk of a female athlete injuring her ACL by examining how she jumps and lands could cause a lot of problems with athletic recruitment.
What if colleges started asking recruits to have their risk of injury assessed before he or she could be considered for admission? The idea does sound logical from a recruitment standpoint, but is it fair?
“I honestly don't know how I feel about this test, in terms of its accuracy, my mental capacity to deal with knowing I'm at a higher risk, and how they would use it to judge incoming athletes,” said Ambrozy.
The risk-assessment program, or test, could potentially be threatening for high-school athletes and their futures in athletics, but it could also be helpful in indicating which athletes would benefit from the prevention programs.
Since collegiate athletes are more familiar with their bodies due to their experiences in strength training, conditioning, and playing, they have the ability to be more in tuned with their physical limitations. High-school athletes, however, are less experienced and lack strength and conditioning trainings. Collegiate level athletic departments may not have caught on to prevention and risk assessment programs because it is the high-school athletes that can more so benefit from them.
“I feel that many collegiate athletes have a strong intuition and understanding of their bodies. The program may be helpful for incoming freshman and I would like to see that program here at Penn,” said Nickles, who is now recovering from her second torn ACL surgery. She began to consider how things could be different:
“I mean, the fact that I could have known I was more inclined to injure myself, and then taken steps as a freshman to prepare my body… I would do anything to be able to get those years back and play hockey again.”
It’s impossible to regain that time, but if female athletes were more educated on the injury, it could prevent the disappointment and regret that many female athletes now deal with.

So Many Questions...

Why do women stay in abusive relationships?

By Jaclyn Bolno

To many, it is a mystery that eludes understanding. Why do women stay in abusive relationships?
Not the kind where two people occasionally quarrel. The kind where men set women up to accept physical blows by first beating them down psychologically and emotionally.
How could she possibly take it and still stay with the guy?
To understand why, you have to take apart the relationship, piece by piece, and examine it. Once you do you discover:
“It’s not so black and white,” said Elaine Meyerson, Executive Director of Shelter Our Sisters in Bergen County, N.J. “It’s not a punch and you walk out the door.”
People wouldn’t go to a bar, have a drink, and passively accept a blow to the face. But, relationship violence has a lot more to it.
“People build up commitments in relationships that have to be balanced against the price of being a victim,” said Dr. Richard J. Gelles, of the University of Pennsylvania an internationally known expert on domestic violence. “Domestic violence is accompanied by affection, and love, and commitment. It’s not so simple to walk away from.”
So, why do women stay in abusive relationships? Here are the main reasons:.

Self-esteem, shmelf-esteem.
Poor self-esteem is definitely across the board.
“It’s like peeling a banana,” Meyerson said. “Somehow they begin to strip your self-esteem little by little and you wake up one day and you have none.”
Robyn, who shared her experience in exchange for having her identity protected, was
always told by her husband what she had to do to be a better person. He beat because he cared.
“He said he did it because he loved me and wanted me to be the best person I could
possibly be,” she said.
Erin Guberman, 22, said her boyfriend used her insecurities and doubts to convince her he was the only one who truly cared.
You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You’ll never find anybody else like me. Nobody will ever love you. Your family and friends don’t love you. These abrasive phrases were used by Guberman’s abuser to make her believe that nobody on the other side loved her as much as he did.
“When you feel like you have nothing left to fall back on, you stay,” Guberman said. “Even though it’s scary, and painful, you stay, because he’s still telling you he loves you.”
Lifelong victim, Tawanda, whose privacy is also being respected, knew her abusers were adding to her problem, but her true predicament was negative self-image.
“My extremely low self-worth and my desire to be loved, accepted, and a part of a family at any cost [made me stay],” she said. “Even if it meant my freedom, my safety, my security, and ultimately my life.”
Janine Latus, author of If I am Missing or Dead, finally worked up the courage to divorce a man who equated love with control, jealousy, belittlement, and sex.
As Latus put it: “Insecure women are more likely to put up with it and insecure men are more likely to do it.”
Battered women literally lose faith in themselves.

“I asked for it.”
Once convinced she’s no good, the rest is easy.
“Somehow they get into a relationship and he makes them feel like they’re nothing and
then they feel compelled to do whatever he wants them to do because they fell in love,” Meyerson said.
Most abusers don’t take responsibility for their actions because they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong.
Latus would be asked, “Why did you have to go and push my buttons? You know better.”
But it’s impossible for victims to know better when abusers have an indefinite amount of buttons that could be pushed at any moment.
Guberman’s boyfriend always found some reason to hit, leading her to believe that she was not doing something right simply because she could not figure out what she was doing wrong.
Robyn did whatever was asked of her to prevent her husband’s eruptions. Yet, “In actuality, anything could trigger a beating,” she said.
“Women just keep trying to do more and more and more to make him appreciate them,” Meyerson said. “In that process, he finds something else that he doesn’t like that she did.”
In addition to the man telling her it’s her fault and she asked for it, Latus blamed certain cultures for sanctioning the idea that abuse would not occur if one was a better wife.
“You absolutely believe that it’s your fault,” Latus said. “You look around you and say, ‘Look at all these other couples, they’re so happy, I must be doing something wrong.’”
She added: “As girls, we’re always trained that we’re the ones who did something wrong.”
This generalization comes from the mouth of a former victim.

Believe it or not, they’re in love.
The beginning is often a fantasy. Abuse progressively gets worse, but it’s the reminder of a once engulfing love that keeps victims hanging on.
Tawanda recalled how her first abuser treated her like his queen, showering her with gifts and telling her all the things she wanted to hear.
Guberman was a princess and her abuser was prince charming. They clicked on every single level. She described her fairytale as exactly that: too good to be true.
“He knew that wining and dining me, buying me gifts, and making me feel so special and loved right away would get me right where he wanted me,” Guberman said.
Victims always hope somewhere behind the rage are the men who once did nothing to hurt them and everything to make them feel loved.
“A lot of the women still love the guy, they just want the abuse to stop,” Meyerson said. “They hold on to hope and hope that it’s going to get better.”
Abuse hurts. Love heals.
“I actually was in love.” Guberman said. “It was the most f***ed up love I’ve ever had in my life, but the only way you can stay in an abusive relationship is if you actually do fall in love.”

“Aww, he apologized…again.”
Violence followed by seemingly sincere apologies creates the cycle of an abusive relationship.
Abusive episodes release amounting tension followed by periods of reconciliation and charm.
“The makeup sex is wonderful and so is the drama afterwards,” Latus said. “They give you flowers, they give you jewelry, they give you presents and it feels good.”
This sense of excessive love gives abusers the upper-hand.
“Apologies give false hope to the victim and lead them to stay,” Guberman said.
Victims can only hope this phase will prevail. It never does.

“I’ll help him change!”
Charm does not prevail because abusers do not change. Even so, many women believe they have the power to adjust his behavior.
“I had a part of my body that was telling me that this is wrong and that this is only going to get worse,” Guberman said. “But there was a part of my body that said, ‘I want to fix him. I want to make him better. I want to be the reason why he is going to change.’”
Abusers chip away at their victims’ self-esteem to a point where many believe that if they modified their body or attitude, he wouldn’t be abusive anymore.
“You always feel that if you were more loving, or supportive, or thinner, or have bigger breasts, or whatever, that you could heal him,” Latus said. “He would be happy now because you’ve made him happy.”
But that will never be the case. The cycle of abuse speaks for itself.

“A bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. Right?”
Even if change was not going to come, many women fear facing the world alone.
“We treat people if they’re alone as if they’re not worthy of a partner,” Latus said. “A partner enhances things, but it’s not the only way to be important and valuable.”
Guberman was terrified of breaking up with her boyfriend. He had worked so hard to isolate her from family and friends that she had to hold on to whatever she had -- if she wanted to have anything at all.
As she put it: “Even though he was the one hurting me, I kept going back because he was always there. Always calling. Always wanting to be with me when I thought my family hated me and my friends did not like me anymore.”
Rather than pushing her away, Robyn’s husband managed to make her increasingly dependent.
“He took away my ability to function on my own with his constant degrading remarks,” she said. “I actually needed him to tell me what to do because my decision-making skills were crippled.”
Simply put: being alone is lonely.

“Support myself? And the kids?”
Women have a lot of financial fear about going out into the world alone, especially when children are involved.
Our culture does much to keep women financially dependent on men. Many men threaten women that they’ll get nothing if they leave. So they stay.
According to Meyerson, some women accept getting beaten up every once in a while if it means getting food on the table.
Even when fearful for her and her daughter’s lives, Robyn stayed because she did not
believe she could take care of her daughter on her own.
Latus tells those women who stay together for their children to separate for the sake of
their children; otherwise they will grow up emulating what they believe to be acceptable behavior.
Exhibit A: Robyn’s three-year-old daughter thought it was okay to hit Robyn when she did not get her way, often mimicking her father by saying: “You’re a bad mommy, you’re no good.”

“Who’s going to believe me?”
Many women wonder who is going to believe them and, more importantly, what they are going to believe.
Some cultures view the end to marriage as a woman’s failure to keep her family together.
Latus feared the humiliation of admitting she was a battered woman to the world. Others may wonder what she did to deserve it or insist they would have handled the situation differently.
“People…will look at me with pity and treat me forever after as a battered woman,” she said. “Or they’ll say…that they never would have…made it…possible for this man…who was known and loved, to beat them up.”
And there’s always that fear of others not believing the reality of the situation.
“Our so-called ‘friends’ saw the engaging, personable side of my husband,” Robyn said. “Who would believe me? Look at this respectful person – he would never do such a thing.”

“Reality? Where?”
Reality ceases to exist in the upside down world of domestic violence.
“Part of the reason to stay is because you can’t believe that it’s really happening to you,”
Latus said.
The abuse dominates all that was once known and victims forget how they should be treated.
As Guberman put it: “If you don’t have time to be by yourself, then you don’t have time to even get a grasp on reality and say ‘I shouldn’t be in this. This is bad. This is hurting.’”
The beginning is a fantasy victims long to call reality. But according to Meyerson, it is when you are preoccupied with fantasy that “You get totally absorbed and you realize one day that you’re totally controlled.”

“Women leave an average of seven times before they make their final move,” Meyerson said.
There’s fear the violence is going to get worse if she leaves, fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, fear of custody, financial fear.
“Any time there’s fear, that’s emotional abuse,” Latus said.
Only victims are so used to fear, they sometimes don’t realize that not having fear is an option.
Today there is a better understanding that domestic abuse is a problem and the community is more willing to respond. Shelters throughout the country work to get women back on an equal footing and show them they are not alone, the law is behind them, others can relate. Relationship violence is complicated, but efforts to understand it must be made. Let the effort not stop here.

Two Philadelphia Profiles

Amanda Steren spends a day with Inquirer Food Critic Criag LaBan and emerges with a profile of the a hard-working critic and foodie.

Johann Diedrick rides the streets of Philadelphia with Ronald Blount, a taxi driver and cab driver union activist.