Keka Schermerhorn: In honor of the women before me.
Posted on February 17, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the twelfth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for. Have a story to tell? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org– tell us who you are, a little bit about your journey and what you fight for – in life and sport.
I spent the first fifteen years of my life in Brazil. When I was seven, my mom kept me home from school so that we could watch a historical presidential inauguration. That inauguration marked the end of an authoritarian military dictatorship and the restoration of civilian government. During the dictatorship, there were arbitrary arrests, imprisonments without trials, kidnapping, exile and torture of any who would oppose the regime. Dilma Rousseff, a militant member of the COLINA (National Liberation Command), was arrested, held captive and tortured, for the better part of three years. Decades later, I would cast one of millions of votes to elect Dilma Rousseff, the first female President of Brazil. She is a fighter. Growing up, I loved watching The Incredible Hulk, The Secrets of Isis and Wonder Woman; reveling in the fact that while Bruce Banner needed gamma rays to become a badass, Isis and Wonder Woman only needed a costume change. They were fighters. My grandma gave birth to seven children without ever setting foot in a hospital. She made an arduous 1,500 mile trek from the desolate northeast of Brazil due south to the big city of São Paulo — losing a child along the way — fighting for a better life for her family. In the city, she cleaned houses, traveling hours by bus to and from work. She didn’t get the chance to go to school past the 6th grade, but I credit her wisdom for being where I am today. “Work dignifies” was often followed by “If you are idle, you will rust.” Even after retirement, she insisted in working around the house. I remember when we bought her a washing machine, and she wouldn’t let the delivery men unload it from the truck. “Are you crazy? I’d rather wash my clothes by hand,” which she did, well into her eighties. She was a fighter. When I was nine, my mother divorced my birth father, and we moved into a communal home. My mother and I shared a small room, just off the kitchen where we shared a bunk bed. Just like her mother before her, mine worked long hours, traveling by bus and train, so that she could keep me clothed, well-fed and attending a private school. For years, my mother had kidney stones, a painful and often debilitating condition. She would often need to get injections for the pain and sometimes spend the night at the hospital. Not once did I hear her complain. Once an episode was over, she would do her best Ella Fitzgerald impression; and start all over again. She too made a trek, 8,000 miles due northwest to America, fighting for a better life for the two of us. In her forties, she enrolled in school, honing her language and accounting skills, positioning herself for better opportunities. She is a fighter. I moved to the United States when I was fifteen, with a less-than-rudimentary knowledge of the language. With education being so important for my family, I managed to cram a decade’s worth of knowledge into 3 months of studying; be accepted into one of the best high schools in the nation, and snag a scholarship to boot. I was a member of the boys’ wrestling team. I hit a heavy bag and I lifted weights. I worked construction. I manage an autoimmune disease and chronic pain without narcotics. I earned a college degree in economics, politics and art history. I’m a writer, a photographer, a professional chef and a coach.
I do these things, not because I have something to prove. I do them because the women before me fought hard to make sure I could. I am a fighter. Keka (like Becca, but with a K) Schermerhorn is a professional chef and lifelong athlete who believes in a holistic approach to fitness. As a child she took ballet classes; in high school she earned a spot on the boy’s wrestling team. She has coached kids and adults through high-ropes courses, taught infants to swim and was a certified lifeguard for the Special Olympics. Keka has always been enamored with movement. After college, Keka relied on ballet, boxing and kettlebells as a way to stay fit. When a CrossFit affiliate moved into her gym, she decided to give it a try, and quickly fell in love with the community. Her no-nonsense approach to health and fitness, keen eye for efficient movement and knack for strategy make her a valuable coach. Keka has earned her Level 1, Level 2 and CrossFit Kids Certificates. She is responsible for the CrossFit Kids program at Reebok CrossFit 5th Ave and CrossFit Union Square in New York City. She is also the Head Writer in the North East for the Reebok CrossFit Games, and a contributing writer for CrossFit Games, CrossFit Community, Greatist and Pretty Fit. Photos by Jason Capracotta Follow Keka on social media! Gypsy Fuel Instagram: @gypsyfuel Twitter: @keka_like_becca