Ask an Alum

Photograph by Lori Van Houten

How to Be a World-Class Athlete... at 78

John Weber ’65DM, a retired dentist and professor at Cornell Medical College, started running triathlons in his late sixties. Last year, at age seventy-seven, he became an Ironman All World Athlete champion.

Columbia Magazine: What’s an Ironman Triathlon?

John Weber: The Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim in open water, a 112-mile bike ride, and then a 26.2-mile run. It’s one of the most difficult one-day endurance challenges in the world.

CM: How did you get started with the Ironman?

JW: I began running marathons first. My children had grown up and I was single again at sixty and thinking about retirement. My two oldest were living in Boston and training for the marathon, and they convinced me to start running, too. I thought I was too old, but figured that I’d give it a try.

I wanted to get in better shape — for one thing, I was back on the dating market for the first time in a long time — but I quickly found that after a good 10K run, I just felt better. I ended up doing twenty-five marathons before someone suggested a triathlon. The addiction grew from there.

CM: Tell us about your training schedule.

JW: I’m always training. It’s too difficult to come back if you stop. But my season really starts with the world championship in Kona, Hawaii. That’s in October, but I go out to Hawaii around August 15 to train. When I’m there, I’ll do around one hundred miles on the bike twice a week, one 20-mile run, one 15-mile run, and then I’ll swim the Ironman distance twice every week. I just do that in rotation. Come race time, I know every pimple on that course.

CM: Are you on a special diet?

JW: I’m not a fanatic. There are some people who live on dried chicken breast and avocado. That’s not me. My diet is a mixture of most anything, but nothing in excess. I have ice cream once a week.

CM: What are your goals now?
JW: I won a world championship at seventy-five and my next chance of winning one will be when I age up to the eighty-to-eighty-five age group in 2018. Right now, I’m in the seventy-five-to-seventy-nine group, competing against younger athletes. People think that a few years wouldn’t matter in your seventies, but they seem to!

But really, I’m not so concerned with medals. I’m just happy to be able to continue to do what I do and enjoy the company of my fellow athletes — wherever they are in the world.

If medals don’t motivate you, what does?
JW: For me, a triathlon isn’t just a sport; it’s a lifestyle. I’m seventy-eight years old, and when I go for my annual physical, my GP shakes his head and says, “This is really just a well-baby exam.” That feels good.


Rev. Thomas Worcester ’77CC was named president of Regis College, a Jesuit theological school affiliated with the University of Toronto. Worcester, who will take his new post in August, is currently a professor of history at the College of the Holy Cross, where he specializes in religion and politics during the Reformation.

Balcony, a short film by Toby Fell-Holden ’13SOA, won the highest honor at the Iris Prize Festival, the world’s largest LGBTQ short-film festival, in Cardiff, Wales. It debuted in 2015 at the BFI London Film Festival, where it also won the top prize. Balcony tells the story of a girl in a racially divided neighborhood who falls for an Afghan refugee.

Cyrus Habib ’03CC was inaugurated as lieutenant governor of Washington State, becoming the highest-ranking Iranian-American elected official. Habib, who has been blind since age eight, was a Rhodes Scholar in English literature and also received a law degree from Yale. He has served in the Washington State House of Representatives and the Washington State Senate.

Joanne Kwong ’97CC became president of Pearl River Mart, New York’s iconic Asian-imports store. After nearly forty-five years in business, Pearl River closed its SoHo location in early 2016. Kwong, who is the daughter-in-law of the original owners, set up a pop-up version in Tribeca in November and plans to officially reopen with a permanent store.

Three Columbians won creative-writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, which gives financial support to promising artists. Camille Rankine ’09SOA and Diana Marie Delgado ’08SOA, graduates of Columbia’s MFA program, and Morgan Parker ’10CC were all recognized for their poetry.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft ’63CC got a fifth Super Bowl ring after his team’s comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons. Kraft now has more Super Bowl wins than any other NFL team owner in history. Kraft also owns the New England Revolution, a Major League Soccer team, as well as Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where both the Patriots and the Revolution play. Kraft played running back and safety on the Columbia football team, and the Columbia football field is named after him.

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Strong Opinions

Photograph by Bloomberg / Getty Images

President Donald Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch ’88CC, a federal appellate judge from Colorado, to the US Supreme Court.

At Columbia, Gorsuch was a weekly columnist for the Spectator and a founding editor of the Federalist. This alternative student newspaper, “in the tradition of Hamilton and Jay,” was originally called the Federalist Paper and was intended to offer a broad spectrum of viewpoints on controversial issues. At both publications, Gorsuch exhibited traits for which he would later be famous: intellectual rigor, excellent writing, and conservative values. On a largely liberal campus, Gorsuch’s right-leaning tendencies stood out and had a lasting influence; as a 1989 Spectator article noted, “The key focal point of contemporary conservatism at Columbia was the establishment of the Federalist Paper in 1986.”

Gorsuch graduated from Columbia in just three years and then attended Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as Barack Obama ’83CC. Gorsuch clerked for Supreme Court justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, and he later received a DPhil from the University of Oxford, where he conducted research on the ethical and legal implications of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Gorsuch was nominated to his current seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2006.

Like Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat has been vacant since his death last February, Gorsuch adheres to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. He is a proponent of originalism (the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was perceived when it was enacted) and textualism (the idea that laws should be interpreted literally, without considering legislative history).

Gorsuch is best known for his opinions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases, which challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. In both cases, which ultimately went to the Supreme Court, Gorsuch took the side of the plaintiffs on the grounds of religious freedom. As he wrote in his concurrence to the Hobby Lobby decision, the law “doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”

8 under 30

Eight alumni were featured in Forbes’s annual “30 Under 30,” which recognizes six hundred innovators across twenty different industries, from science to social entrepreneurship.

Tsechu Dolma ’13BC, ’15SIPATsechu Dolma ’13BC, ’15SIPA 
Social Entrepreneurship
Dolma founded the Mountain Resiliency Project, which addresses poverty and hunger in her native Tibet. 

Kendall Tucker ’14CCKendall Tucker ’14CC 
Law & Policy 
Tucker is the CEO and cofounder of Polis, which is working to improve mobile canvassing and campaign analytics.

Emma Cline ’13SOAEmma Cline ’13SOA
Cline’s first novel, The Girls, which follows a Charles Manson–like cult, spent twelve weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Xiyin Tang ’09CCXiyin Tang ’09CC
Law & Policy
Tang is an intellectual-property lawyer who has represented Google, Spotify, and Amazon in copyright and digital-streaming cases. She also teaches at Yale Law School.

Matthew Lovett-Barron ’14GSASMatthew Lovett-Barron ’14GSAS
Lovett-Barron is a neuroscience researcher at Stanford, where he focuses on how brain cells produce alertness, motivation, and emotion.

Sabrina-Natasha Habib ’16SIPASabrina-Natasha Habib ’16SIPA
Social Entrepreneurship
Habib is the cofounder of Kidogo, which provides early-childhood care and education in East Africa’s urban slums.

Lishan Az ’12SEAS Lishan Az ’12SEAS
Az designed On the Safe Side, a game that helps new students navigate the USC campus, where she is an MFA student.

Nicole Moskowitz ’15SEASNicole Moskowitz ’15SEAS
Health Care 
Moskowitz is the cofounder and CEO of IntuiTap, which uses imaging technology, pressure sensors, and predictive analytics to make spinal taps more accurate and less painful.

Joseph Michael Lopez

Photograph by Joseph Michael Lopez

Joseph Michael Lopez ’11SOA had no undergraduate degree or formal training when he applied to Columbia’s MFA program in photography, but he was accepted on the strength of his documentary images of New York street scenes. Now, twenty of his photos, each taken in a different neighborhood — including South Shore, Staten Island (above) — are on display at the Museum of the City of New York as a part of its Future City Lab exhibit.

Parks and Recreation

A sociologist contemplates a human ecosystem

For Erich Goode ’66GSAS, Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, with its polymorphous crowds and carnival spirit, is the ideal petri dish for his abiding fascination: social deviance and control. The seventy-eight-year-old sociologist can often be found there, a Mead notebook in his hand, observing the human pageant.

“In a setting like this, what do people consider untoward behavior?” Goode said recently from a bench on the west side of the fountain. “Here we have a very tolerant atmosphere, where someone can walk past in a clown costume and no one turns around, or an unkempt, barefoot man can preach incoherently about God and apples, and people just smile and nod. But at what point does behavior become too eccentric? Where do people draw the line? How do they judge, and what do they do?” Goode gestured at the scene. “How does this” — the pigeon feeders, the pot dealers, the chess sharks, the acrobats, the singers, the drummers, the cops — “all hang together?”

Photograph by Jeffrey Saks

To Goode’s knowledge (and to Google’s), no one has made such a study of the 9.75-acre rectangle that on some days feels like the center of the world. Goode has taken on that task, one for which he is especially well suited. He moved to the Village in the mid-1960s and promptly got into fisticuffs with a local tough who considered him a beatnik interloper. After earning his PhD from Columbia, he began perambulating the neighborhood in search of a subject. “I’d ask myself, ‘What’s the most interesting thing around me?’ The answer was drug use.”

Goode began interviewing people, and his study led to a book called The Marijuana Smokers, published in 1971. That led to an invitation from Knopf to write a textbook on drug use. That book, Drugs in American Society, is now in its ninth edition.

Goode left the city in the 1970s and taught at several East Coast universities. He retired from Stony Brook University on Long Island in 2000 and moved back to New York in 2007. That December, the city began a six-year landscaping project in Washington Square Park, foiling Goode’s wish to study the whole organism. But with the renovations complete, the park’s capricious life now lies open to Goode’s trained eye. He visits three times a week for two or three hours, and has interviewed sixty people on a number of behaviors and activities: feeding squirrels, playing music, ranting, smoking, drinking, performing, sleeping. “People’s evaluations of what is inappropriate tend to center on responsibility toward others — whether a behavior will hurt, offend, or intrude on others’ rights,” Goode said.

The style of law enforcement in the park reflects this ethos. “The police ignore a lot of rule-breaking. Drug dealers cruise right here. Drug dealing is for the most part tolerated or semi-tolerated.”

Then there is the category of behavior that Goode calls “performative deviance” — people with some shtick or obsession, often in flamboyant garb, who are “letting fly a certain aspect of their personality in a place of maximum tolerance.” Some of these people have psychiatric problems, while others are experimenting with their eccentricity.

“What’s interesting to me is that all kinds of people feel welcome here,” Goode said, as a man dressed in red walked past singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and ringing a gold school bell. “No one feels frozen out. I love the idea of cultural, racial, and sexual variety and tolerance.” He closed his notebook. “Tolerance is my lodestone.”

Paul Hond

Alumni Podcasts Worth a Listen

Photograph by Jon Premosch / Buzzfeed

Another Round
Cohosted by Heben Nigatu ’14CC

Heben Nigatu and her cohost Tracy Clayton like to describe Another Round as “happy hour with friends you haven’t met yet.” Jokes and booze flow freely, but Nigatu and Clayton also tackle serious topics (race and gender are big themes) and welcome A-list guests like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Hillary Clinton.

Lisa Chow ’12JRN, ’13BUS

Produced and hosted by Lisa Chow ’12JRN, ’13BUS

Economics reporter Lisa Chow follows the messy early phases of new companies, including her own: the first season detailed how her boss and cohost, public-radio veteran Alex Blumberg, launched the podcasting company Gimlet Media.

Dana Chivvis ’09JRNSerial
Produced by Dana Chivvis ’09JRN

In 2014, the true-crime podcast Serial became a cultural
phenomenon, with over eighty million downloads worldwide. The first season investigated the 1999 murder of a high-school student, and the second season reexamined the story of a US soldier who went AWOL and was captured by the Taliban. Dana Chivvis makes regular appearances, often acting as host Sarah Koenig’s investigative copilot.

Stephen Dubner ’90SOA

Freakonomics Radio and Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
Produced and hosted by Stephen Dubner ’90SOA

Inspired by their best-selling book Freakonomics, journalist Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt use Freakonomics Radio to explore familiar ideas — from dating and parenting to sports and politics — in unexpected ways. Dubner has also recently launched Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, a quiz-show podcast for the New York Times.

Austin Mitchell ’08SEAS

Profiles:NYC and Crimetown
Produced by Austin Mitchell ’08SEAS

Like an audio version of Humans of New York, Profiles:NYC tells one-minute stories of everyday New Yorkers Austin Mitchell meets on the street. Mitchell is also a producer of Crimetown, a new series from Gimlet Media about organized crime and corruption in Providence.

From Bags to Riches

Steph Korey / Photograph by Masha Maltsava

Steph Korey ’15BUS was in her last semester of business school when she got a call from a grumpy friend, stuck at the airport with a broken suitcase.

“She didn’t know whether to shell out a lot of money for high-quality luggage or to buy something else cheap that wouldn’t last,” Korey says. “We got to talking about why there wasn’t an affordable, durable option on the market and wondered what it would take to make one.”

Korey wasn’t just a sympathetic ear. Before coming to Columbia for business school, she’d run the supply chain at the affordable eyewear startup Warby Parker, coordinating the logistics of getting the raw materials from supplier to manufacturer and the final products from manufacturer to consumer. And the friend on the phone was her former colleague, brand marketer Jen Rubio. Within three months, they had launched the luggage company Away.

To develop their suitcases, Korey and Rubio interviewed eight hundred people about their travel habits — starting with how they pack and get to the airport: “We wanted to map out the whole experience to figure out the pain points.” They learned that people’s top concern about their luggage was weight, since they were either wrestling with carry-ons or paying extra for heavy checked bags. And, their research showed, the first two things to break on a suitcase are the wheels and the zippers.

On Korey’s last day of classes at Columbia, she packed a stack of take-home exams into an old suitcase (“Before I started a luggage company, I was also lugging around a cheap, half-broken thing”) and headed to Asia, where she met with manufacturers. Working with two industrial designers, she developed a product that incorporated stronger wheels and zippers and an outer shell made from a light metal often used in fighter jets.

“Every one of our materials has gone through extensive durability testing. It’s basically like throwing the suitcases out of a third-floor window over and over again,” Korey says.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of the Away suitcase is the built-in battery and charging dock. Travelers can plug phones and other USB-enabled devices directly into the suitcase, which has enough power to refill an iPhone battery five times over.

“We hadn’t originally thought about putting a charger in the bag, but we kept hearing the same thing from potential customers: ‘I know there’s nothing you can do about this, but the most annoying thing about traveling is that my phone is always dead,’” Korey says. “So we did something about it.”

Away’s business model is similar to that of Warby Parker or Casper mattresses, for which Korey has also worked. Like a luxury brand, the company invests in high-quality materials and manufacturers. But since the suitcases are only sold online, there is no retail markup, making them significantly more affordable (between $225 and $295, depending on the size).

After raising $2.5 million in its first seed round, Away officially went into business in time for the 2015 holiday season. With a successful year of sales under their belts, Korey and Rubio plan to branch out into other travel products.

“We don’t have any more launches finalized,” Korey says. “But we definitely have a lot up our sleeves.”

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