A third of estate agents say first time buyers they deal with are being supported financially by parents or grandparents, according to research by equity release service Key Partnerships.It quizzed 104 estates agents across the UK and said that nearly half recorded an increase in the number of first time buyers being helped by family.Perhaps predictably Key Partnerships says equity release is one of the main ways grandparents in particular can raise funds to help grandchildren get on the property ladder, but that only 36% of estate agents were aware of this.Key Partnerships says most first time buyers turn to their parents or grandparents for help with a deposit, which on average is £33,000 according to lender the Halilfax, up from £17,500 ten years ago. In London, the average first time buyer deposit is £91,400 and in the South East, £44,000.“Estate agents are valued as a source of financial guidance and it is clear that those who can discuss equity release as a potential alternative fund-raising solution will be able to benefit from an additional revenue stream by referring potential clients to a specialist as well as securing more house sales,” says Will Hale, a director at Key Partnerships (pictured, left).Although controversial in some quarters because of the way compound interest is often calculated on equity release loans, nevertheless they are popular and are now more heavily regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority than in the early years of the industry.Key Partnerships says its business grew by 71% last year and that the average equity release sum was £100,598.equity release first-time buyers February 7, 2017Nigel LewisWhat’s your opinion? Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.Please note: This is a site for professional discussion. Comments will carry your full name and company.This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.Related articles Letting agent fined £11,500 over unlicenced rent-to-rent HMO3rd May 2021 BREAKING: Evictions paperwork must now include ‘breathing space’ scheme details30th April 2021 City dwellers most satisfied with where they live30th April 2021 Home » News » More first time buyers being helped by family, say agents previous nextProducts & ServicesMore first time buyers being helped by family, say agentsResearch by equity release firm points to increasingly pressure on young buyers to get financial helpNigel Lewis7th February 20170683 Views
Franchised estate agent Belvoir has somewhat cheekily suggested that struggling sales and letting agents worried about the tenants fee ban should join its network, as it reports a good first half of 2018.The company also says it estimates that the industry, which by Rightmove figures is 20,000 strong, now only includes 10,000 independent agents.Belvoir, which claims to be the largest franchised agent brand in the UK, says it has added 3,000 properties to its management total and £3 million in additional turnover within the group, which currently has over 300 branches across the UK.It claims this expansion is driven largely by ten agents joining its ranks so far this year, more than signed up during the whole of 2017.Belvoir Group CEO Dorian Gonsalves (pictured) says this is being driven by more of the UK’s independent agents throwing in the towel and either selling up or joining a franchised network.“There are 13 million people renting properties in the UK, with 4.5 million households and the sector continues to grow,” he says.“I have already forecast that there will be continued growth over the next five years, and at the same time the number of lettings and estate agencies will undoubtedly fall, partially because of changes in legislation, plus the tenant fee ban that is on the horizon for 2019.“Belvoir has developed a readymade exit strategy for any agent who may find themselves struggling, or who simply decides that the time is right for them to sell.“Our innovative Assisted Acquisition Programme and our dedicated Acquisition Team enables Belvoir franchisees to buy up these businesses, integrate them into their own business, and then go on to look for the next opportunity.”half year results independent estate agents letting agents Belvoir tenants fee ban franchised estate agents May 25, 2018Nigel LewisWhat’s your opinion? Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.Please note: This is a site for professional discussion. Comments will carry your full name and company.This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.Related articles BREAKING: Evictions paperwork must now include ‘breathing space’ scheme details30th April 2021 City dwellers most satisfied with where they live30th April 2021 Hong Kong remains most expensive city to rent with London in 4th place30th April 2021 Home » News » Agencies & People » Independent estate agents now only half the industry, claims Belvoir previous nextAgencies & PeopleIndependent estate agents now only half the industry, claims BelvoirUK’s largest franchising agency makes claim as it suggests many are “struggling” as tenant fees ban looms.Nigel Lewis25th May 201801,159 Views
Following our story yesterday that major US equity fund Francisco Partners may be considering a takeover of Purplebricks, the agency’s shares staged a significant rally on the London Stock Exchange rising by 5.2%.Its shares started the day in poor shape at 90p each but rallied soon after trading started, rising at one point to nearly £1 a share before ending the day at 95p. Yesterday FT.com’s Live Market Commentary editor Bryce Elder suggested that Francisco Partners is probably not the only equity fund looking at a Purplebricks takeover or acquisition.Purplebricks’ stock started the month well, topping out at £1.35 a share, but after the company made the shock announcement that its CEO and co-founder Michael Bruce would be leaving the company, and that its Oz operation was to close, it tanked to £1.07p.Fund timesDespite this, as we reported last week, another City fund recently began hoovering up Purplebricks stock. Toscafund Management revealed that it had acquired nearly three million extra Purplebricks shares making it the eighth largest holder of the company’s stock with a total share of 5.64% of the hybrid estate agency.But if the company were to be taken over, one winner would be Michael Bruce and his wife Isobel, who own 33.1 million shares in the company which, even at today’s much reduced price, would gross them a windfall of £31.32 million.Former Capital CEO Paul Pindar, who was an early backer of Purplebricks, retains 10.8 million shares in Purplebricks with his wife, Sharon. Purplebricks Toscafund Francisco Partners May 23, 2019Nigel LewisWhat’s your opinion? Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.Please note: This is a site for professional discussion. Comments will carry your full name and company.This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.Related articles BREAKING: Evictions paperwork must now include ‘breathing space’ scheme details30th April 2021 City dwellers most satisfied with where they live30th April 2021 Hong Kong remains most expensive city to rent with London in 4th place30th April 2021 Home » News » Agencies & People » Purplebricks shares rally following rumours of US fund takeover previous nextAgencies & PeoplePurplebricks shares rally following rumours of US fund takeoverThe hybrid agency’s stock rallied by 5.2% yesterday to nearly £1 a share on the back of speculation about its future.Nigel Lewis23rd May 201901,901 Views
The Corner Club, a private members’ club in Oxford, closed at the end of last month after failing to agree the terms of an extended lease with the council, which owns the building.The members of the club received an e-mail stating, “The Corner Club located at 16 Turl Street closed its doors on Friday for the last time. For some months we have been attempting to negotiate an extension to the lease with the landlord and/or to vary the terms of the lease… Unfortunately, we have now been informed by the landlord that they are not prepared to do so and, as a result, the management has reluctantly decided to close the business.“We very much regret having been forced to make this decision.”The Corner Club, formerly The QI Club, was bought by A Curious Group of Hotels in 2007. For the past three years the club has been continually redeveloped to attract further membership.Andy Hill, a spokesman for A Curious Group of Hotels, said, “We have invested an enormous amount – about £1m – in the business to get where we are now, and unfortunately six people have been made redundant… We had been talking with the council for a long time, but the cost of the lease and the rent were too high and the council wouldn’t shift.“We were looking to redevelop the ground floor, with dining on the first floor and a club on the upper floors.”The Corner Club was a popular meeting place for many of Oxford’s societies and a venue for Milkround companies to host recruitment events.Carl Anglim, Chief Executive Officer of Oxford Fashion Week (OFW), hosted many OFW team meetings at the venue.He commented, “The Corner Club was full of potential but over two-years it failed to make the most of Oxford’s creativity. The ground floor was wasted with the exception of a lacklustre attempt at a bar in early 2009 followed by a desperate attempt at a gallery in the latter part of the year.“OFW was well accommodated by the Corner Club so I am sad to see one of Oxford’s design conscious institutions disappear, but I cannot help but feel that it could have been so much more.“Oxford demands creative places and as the economy improves we should challenge Oxford’s designers and entrepreneurs to bring us innovative new places to discover.“Meanwhile, we will be making the most of Oxford’s rich existing collection including the Grand Cafe, Malmaison, the House, the Randolph, and the High Table.”Minoo Dinshaw, third-year Balliol college student added, “The service was erratic and expensive but I certainly got fond of it. The cocktail manager impresario Frank is an exceptional human being.”Cllr Colin Cook, the City Council’s executive member for city development, said it was marketing the building for new businesses.“There have been expressions of interest and officers will be negotiating with potential applicants who want to take on the lease for the building. Hopefully a deal will be struck at some point in the new year,” he said.
Manual’s Graduation Rate Plunges After State Audit Cuts Down The Number Of Home-SchoolersBy Dylan Peers McCoy FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmail The graduation rate at Emmerich Manual High School plummeted to 57% last year after a state audit found the school did not have the proper documentation for many of the students designated as leaving to home-school, according to new data obtained by Chalkbeat.That’s down from a 78% graduation rate at the Indianapolis school the previous year, a rate that a Chalkbeat investigation found obscured a large number of students who left without diplomas as home-schoolers but weren’t necessarily continuing their education at home.When students are labeled as leaving to home-school instead of listed as dropping out, they are removed from graduation calculations — a practice that can boost graduation rates. Manual had initially reported 39 students who were expected to graduate in 2019 were removed by their parents to home-school.But the routine audit by the state determined the school did not have the correct documentation for more than a dozen of the students.The final tally of students leaving to home-school was 26 — fewer than half the number reported in the class of 2018 when 60 students were marked as leaving to home-school.As a result of the audit, the graduation rate fell 21 percentage points in 2019.“It probably calls all the earlier grad rates into question,” said Russell Rumberger, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who directs the California Dropout Research Project. “If they found it in one year, why wouldn’t they find it in other years?”In an email to Chalkbeat, an official overseeing the school, Misty Ndiritu, questioned why the state flagged so many students in its audit: “There was an inordinately large number of denials accompanied by very vague and generic reasons for the denial.”“At the surface, it certainly seems alarming to see such a drop in graduation rate, however from what we can determine, it appears that the drop is primarily due to a change in process at the Department of Education,” wrote Ndiritu, turnaround school director for Noble Education Initiative, which handles daily management at the Indiana schools.The school missed the initial appeal window because the “audit results went into junk mail,” and the school is now reviewing whether the denials are correct, Ndiritu wrote.Adam Baker, the spokesman for the Department of Education, said in an email that “we are here to be a resource for schools and if there are any misunderstandings or if the clarity is sought, we are happy to have that discussion.”The decline in the Manual graduation rate is coming at a particularly significant moment. Manual and its sister schools, Thomas Carr Howe High School and Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School, were former Indianapolis Public Schools taken over by the state in 2012, and have been managed for years by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA. The schools are expected to exit state oversight next year, and in order to keep control of the schools, the network must-win charters.The Indiana Charter School Board, however, rejected applications for the schools last month. And Indianapolis Public Schools is making a play to take back control of the schools, with a proposal to bring in new charter operators at Manual and Donnan and to close Howe. The State Board of Education is expected to decide on the fate of the campuses at a meeting Wednesday.Howe’s graduation rate was 85% in 2019, down from 92% in 2018. The school’s data was not audited by the state in 2019. Howe had an uptick in the number of students labeled as leaving to home-school: There were 19 last year, up to five students from the prior year. The number of dropouts also rose to three last year up from zero. Charter Schools USA did not respond to a request for comment on the Howe graduation rate.The state began auditing graduation documentation with the class of 2017. The Indiana Department of Education typically audits over 100 high schools each year with the aim of cycling through all campuses every four years. The reviews focus on whether schools have the required records for students who are removed from the graduating class, including teens marked as leaving to home-school, transfers to other high schools, and students who are considered missing.In total, 26 Manual students from the class of 2019 were flagged by the audit and recategorized as dropouts.State and local authorities do audits of graduation data precisely because graduation rates “can be gamed,” said Rumberger, who described the practice of removing students who leave to home-school from graduation calculations as “kind of an accounting gimmick.”When students are labeled as leaving for home-school, schools are required to document the withdrawal with a form from the state signed by the parent. If there are problems with the records — such as if the parent didn’t sign, the school used the wrong forum, or the documents say that the student is actually seeking a high school equivalency — the student is reclassified as a dropout.Baker, of the Department of Education, wrote that the audits typically find fewer than 1,000 students each year who are returned to the graduation calculations out of graduating classes that include over 80,000 students statewide.“We are always working towards ensuring data is as accurate as possible and therefore we view this as a professional development opportunity for schools to learn more about [their] cohort and how the graduation rate is calculated,” Baker wrote.A law passed last year aims to ensure that students are not inappropriately labeled as leaving to home-school. It requires high schools with large numbers of students leaving to home-school to demonstrate “good cause” to the state board before removing them from the graduation calculations.The state, however, will not begin enforcing the law until the class of 2020, and officials are still considering how to measure whether a school has shown “good cause.” Indiana State Board of Education staff told Chalkbeat last year their intervention in schools is likely to rely on a paperwork review, similar to that used in the Department of Education audits, rather than in-person interviews with students and parents.
The two-pronged testing approach revealed clinically relevant abnormalities in 89 percent of medulloblastomas, which account for nearly a fifth of all brain tumors in children. Combining the two tests was found to be particularly useful for these patients.“The importance of genomic profiling in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric brain cancers is reflected in the World Health Organization’s recent decision to classify such tumors by the genetic alterations within them, rather than by broad tumor type” says study co-senior author Susan Chi of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, an assistant professor of pediatrics at HMS. “Targeted therapies are likely to be most effective when they’re matched to specific abnormalities within tumor cells. Our findings show that precision medicine for pediatric brain tumors can now be a reality.”The co-lead authors, with Bandopadhayay, of the study are: Shakti Ramkissoon of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Jaeho Hwang of Harvard Medical School, and Lori Ramkissoon of Dana-Farber. Co-senior authors, with Chi, are Rameen Beroukhim of Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women’s, and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, and Keith Ligon of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, Brigham and Women’s, and the Broad Institute. Precision medicine — in which diagnosis and treatments are keyed to the genetic susceptibilities of individual cancers — can play a major role in treating children with brain tumors, suggests a study by investigators at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.“Although there has been a great deal of progress over the past 30 years in improving survival rates for children with cancer, advances in pediatric brain cancer haven’t been as dramatic,” says co-lead author Pratiti Bandopadhayay of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, who is also an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS).“In a recent study, brain tumors accounted for 25 percent of all pediatric deaths attributed to cancer. In addition, many of the current therapies can result in long-term difficulties in cognitive or physical functioning,” adds Bandopadhayay.In the largest clinical study to date of genetic abnormalities in pediatric brain tumors, researchers performed clinical testing on more than 200 tumor samples and found that a majority had genetic irregularities that could influence how the disease was diagnosed and/or treated with approved drugs or agents being evaluated in clinical trials. The findings, reported online today by the journal Neuro-Oncology, demonstrate that testing pediatric brain tumor tissue for genetic abnormalities is clinically feasible and that in many cases the results can guide patients’ treatment.Since emerging from research labs more than a decade ago, targeted therapies for cancer have significantly improved the treatment of certain types of leukemia, digestive system tumors, and breast cancer, among other malignancies. (Pathologists and cytogeneticists performed the testing in a federally approved clinical laboratory — certified under Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments as the only type of labs in the United States whose findings can guide patient treatment. Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, the researchers noted, is one of the few centers in the country to regularly analyze the genetics of patients’ pediatric brain tumors.)The researchers plumbed the genomes of 203 pediatric brain tumor samples, representing all major subtypes of the disease. They analyzed 117 of the samples with OncoPanel testing, a technology that sequences the exomes — the sections of DNA that hold the blueprints for making specific cell proteins — for irregularities in 300 cancer-related genes. They also studied 146 samples tested with OncoCopy, which examines how many copies of genes are missing or overabundant within the tumor cells. Sixty samples underwent both forms of testing, which allowed researchers to explore whether combining the two tests was more powerful than each alone.Of the samples tested by OncoPanel, 56 percent harbored genetic abnormalities that were clinically relevant —i.e., that could impact a patient’s diagnosis or be targeted by drugs already in clinical use or under study in clinical trials. (Many of these drugs cross the blood-brain barrier, the dense web of cells that can prevent medicines from exiting the bloodstream to reach the brain.)Among the findings:Alterations were found in the gene BRAF, one of the most commonly mutated genes in pediatric brain tumors, and one for which several targeted drugs are being tested.
That botanical Switzerland is in the ancient lineage of water lilies, specifically in a species that used to live in the runoff of hot springs and is now extinct in the wild. These lilies have figured out how to bypass the father’s input into feeding the next generation by starving a part of the seed holding the father’s genes and instead nourishing the kids solely from maternal tissue.“It looks like what mom has basically done is locked dad out of the kitchen,” said Rebecca Povilus, who conducted the research while a graduate student working at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. “This is just a fundamentally different way of negotiating resources than what’s been seen in any other angiosperms so far.”Angiosperms — the scientific term for flowering plants — are all around us, and their seeds are critically important to feeding the world. Some two-thirds of human calories come from angiosperm seeds, in particular a part called the endosperm, which nourishes the embryonic plant, according to Arnold Arboretum Director William Friedman, senior author of a paper on the work that was published last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.This tasty endosperm is what we grind to make bread, roll up in seaweed for sushi, or grab by the handful from the popcorn bucket at the movies.The mother plant bulks up the endosperm with her own resources to nourish the baby plant, much like a yolk feeds a developing chick. But unlike in chickens, humans, or any animal, flowering plants reproduce through not just one fertilization, but two.The first is the familiar blending of maternal and paternal genes spawning the embryo. The second fertilization creates the endosperm. The presence of paternal DNA means that the father can influence how the endosperm is used. This happens through a process called imprinting, in which different genes are activated depending on whether they come from mom or dad. (Imprinting also occurs in humans.)Researchers have exploited this phenomenon to explore tension between paternal and maternal interests. Mom’s best strategy is to apportion resources to the healthiest seeds, those that have the best chance of carrying her genes to the next generation regardless of who the father is. Dad’s strategy, by contrast, is to maximize resources to the single seed that his pollen grain fertilized — regardless of its fitness — since pollen from many fathers has likely fertilized the plant’s other flowers.In previous research, scientists sought answers by breeding plants with extra sets of chromosomes and crossing them with genetically normal plants, which gave rise to seeds with twice the number of paternal or maternal genes, magnifying parental strategies and making them easier to observe. In seeds with additional doses of paternal genes, the endosperm grew bigger — and more abnormal seeds developed — while the endosperms with a larger maternal contribution were smaller, close to normal size.The current research, conducted by Povilus, Friedman (who is also the Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology), and Pamela Diggle of the University of Connecticut, replicated that earlier work, but did so in an ancient lineage of plants to see if the parental struggle looked the same at the dawn of the evolution of flowering plants. For Friedman, the research is the latest in a nearly 25-year quest to understand how mothers and fathers interact within the confines of a flowering plant seed.The findings echoed the earlier work when it came to the endosperm. But the researchers also discovered that the water lilies had developed a way for the mother to gain control over what happens in the seed by bypassing the endosperm almost entirely.,While the father plant has genetic influence on the endosperm, it has little to do with another part of the seed called the perisperm, which doesn’t typically have a role in nourishing the baby plant. In the study’s water lilies and a handful of other species, however, the perisperm is enlarged and, Friedman estimated, provides 95 to 99 percent of embryonic nourishment.“This tissue isn’t unique to water lilies,” said Povilus, who received a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology in November. “Until now, nobody’s been able to suggest why it might be useful for a seed to store its nutrients in maternal tissue instead of endosperm. So, what we’ve been able to do is show why, at least in water lilies, a perisperm might be a useful thing to have.”In addition to shedding light on the basic biology of the lily and on the broader theory of interparental conflict, the work also highlights a crucial issue in conservation biology: preserving species that might be hanging on the brink of extinction.When the researchers decided to focus on an ancient flowering plant lineage, they faced a problem: Most of these lineages contain species that grow from the forest floor into the canopy, or are aquatic. Such plants are too big for easy greenhouse cultivation. Moreover, their life cycle spans several years, meaning a researcher growing and cultivating multiple generations, as was needed in this case, would have a long wait for results.Povilus explored the characteristics of different aquatic plants and found a water lily that had once grown in the outflow of African hot springs. Nymphaea thermarum was physically small enough to grow in the Arboretum’s research greenhouses and had a generation time of five months, meaning several experimental generations could be grown in a reasonable timeframe. The plant is preserved in botanical gardens, including Botanische Gärten der Universität Bonn, which provided seeds.The lily grew so spectacularly — Povilus at one point had 500 to 600 plants — that she wondered how it managed to go extinct in its natural home.“Now that I’ve worked with it, I’m actually shocked that it’s extinct in the wild,” Povilus said. “A single fruit can have 300 to 400 seeds and most germinate. Long story short, it reproduces really well.”That, Friedman said, teaches an important lesson about the danger habitat loss presents to plants and animals all over the world. Even those that reproduce readily in their natural environment face rapid extinction when the habitat is damaged or destroyed, as occurred in this case and is happening now for countless species.“That’s precisely why the Arnold Arboretum and other botanical gardens around the world are so important to providing safe harbor to endangered species — especially in light of global climate change and environmental degradation,” he said.Understanding how Nymphaea thermarum reproduces will yield important conservation insights, Povilus said. Though she’s moved on to a postdoctoral fellowship at the Whitehead Institute, she plans to continue working with the plant.“This is a great illustration of the fact that exploring and preserving biodiversity can be really important for basic scientific research,” Povilus said. Related Wild ambition at the Arboretum Darwin takes flight A learning gap is filled with plants Expeditions in Idaho and China kick off 10-year campaign When it comes to the kids, mom and dad don’t always agree, waging an age-old battle of the sexes that starts in the genes. The struggle is universal enough that it extends even into the plant kingdom, where Harvard researchers say they’ve found a rare zone of calm — and where mom always wins. Seminar ponders results of breeding, training by studying pigeon acrobats Arboretum offers increasingly rare course in their morphology
Emerging markets will soon overtake the rest of the world in producing the majority of new data on the planet. They’re developing information infrastructure without the legacy trappings inherent in today’s mature economies. As a result, countries like Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Russia are contributing to the growth of the digital universe at a furious pace. By 2020, the Digital Universe study forecasts that their data will go from 40% to 60% of the total information in circulation.The intersection of mobile, cloud, big data and social is phenomenal. Often referred to as the Third Platform or the Nexus of Forces, it is a huge driver of data growth in the digital universe. Organizations from many different sectors are taking advantage of this environment and reinventing their business models to become software-defined enterprises – businesses that are able to harness this sheer volume of data to make better, more informed decisions.Ultimately, the growth of the digital universe means there is an ever increasing pool of valuable data to analyze, which will give rise to new opportunities for organizations to better understand customers, improve overall customer experience and develop new revenue streams. To take full advantage, IT departments may need to hit the restart button on how they think about storing data when it comes to data lakes and hybrid cloud models.These are truly fascinating times. Technology enables individuals, organizations, and enterprises to scale communications and collaboration worldwide. The more that information is shared and mined, the more valuable it becomes for everyone.Dive deeper into the 2014 Digital Universe report here. The depth and breadth of the data-powered world we live in today is already staggering and I am intensely curious about what the world will truly look like in the Digital Universe of 2020. The EMC Digital Universe study today launched its seventh edition. This highly anticipated study always makes a big splash because it focuses industry attention on the incredible growth rates of data. By 2020, the amount of data in our digital universe is expected to grow from 4.4 trillion GB in 2013 to 44 trillion GB.Some other points from the research that stood out for me include:The number of devices or “things” (tablets, smart phones, clothing, fridges, cars, anything with a sensor) able to connect to the Internet is already approaching 200 billion and 14 billion of those are actually connected to each other. This collection of inter-connected things, commonly referred to as the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is surprisingly only a small fraction of the total digital universe. Fast forward to the end of the decade and we are going to see this number grow to 10% as 32 billion devices are plugged in and generating data.
Mirna Valerio pulled to the side of the highway and took some deep breaths. Panicked, and feeling like she was having a heart attack, she took a few minutes to regroup on the shoulder of a busy interstate. She finished the drive but scheduled an appointment with her doctor, who told her that if she wanted to watch her then-five-year-old son grow up, she needed to lose weight.Valerio was a big woman based on sheer genetics, but before moving to New Jersey the year before, she’d kept active her whole life. She played field hockey and lacrosse in high school, and later ran occasional road races. Growing up in Brooklyn, she was used to traveling by foot. But since moving to New Jersey, she drove everywhere and didn’t have time to exercise anymore.The doctor’s warning pushed her back toward exercise. Valerio started with 17-minute miles on a treadmill, then signed up for a road race. She volunteered at the New Jersey Trail Marathon and became aware the race was also offered in 50-kilometer, 50-miler and 100-miler versions.“I thought, oh my god, these people are crazy,” says Valerio, 40. “The race director, Rick, one of the race directors of the NJ trail series, he’d say we’ll see you next year at the trail marathon. Then I signed up and just did it,” in 2012.Encouraged by her newfound trail-running community, she did the same with a 50K trail race a year later. She struggled during the race but just kept going. She remembers the encouragement from volunteers and other runners, and at the finish line, “I was hooked,” she says. “I can’t say I was hooked while I was doing it, but the minute I finished, I thought, wow, that was great. I’m going to do it again, and I’m going to better my time.”As of November, Valerio had run seven ultramarathons, including her first 100K, the Javelina 100K in Arizona, which took place on Halloween and All Saints’ Day.She doesn’t exactly burn up the trails, running a roughly 12-minute pace most of the time, but Valerio, who stands 5 feet, 7 inches, runs doggedly, and often. She’s displayed discipline throughout her life, beginning with her vocal training at the Juilliard Pre-College Division, a program of the New York City music academy which prepares singers and musicians for conservatory. Instead of singing professionally, she channels her energy into teaching and running.Valerio now lives in the foothills of Appalachia in Rabun Gap, Georgia, where she teaches and coaches cross country at a private school, and she finds few things more satisfying than hitting a local trail.“Personally what drives me to the trails is being outdoors,” Valerio says. “I love living in the country. I was a city girl but I love being in the country and being in nature as much as possible. It makes me a healthier person, makes me a nicer person. I just love the fellowship of being a human in nature. We’re meant to be outside, we’re meant to be moving outside.”Valerio’s not sure of her maximum weight back in New Jersey, but early in her renewed exercising, when she’d noticeably lost weight, she checked the scale: 302 pounds. Today she weighs about 240 pounds, a fairly steady figure that serves as inspiration to her supporters and a target for trolls and detractors on social media and her popular blog, Fat Girl Runs.She started writing FGR in 2011 while training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., which she has now run four times. Her posts focused not on the goal of weight loss—“The weight was coming off, so I wasn’t concerned about it and didn’t care about what others thought.”—but about health and fitness generally. Sometimes months passed between posts.Then, early last year, Valerio received an email from Rachel Bachman, the Wall Street Journal’s fitness and exercise writer. The ensuing story boosted her traffic before an extended profile in Runner’s World a few weeks later exploded it. Valerio had become an inspirational icon for a certain segment of would-be runners who just needed a nudge in the right direction.For her part, Valerio is bemused by the attention.“A lot of people say, thank you for being out there, thank you for letting people see you, thank you for being you, thank you for giving me permission to go outside and run and show my body, to try to run even though I’m fat. That’s surprising to me that there were so many people afraid to exercise or run out in public and let people see them. That’s depressing, but also really cool it opened the door for them.”As a teacher, both in her personality and profession, Valerio has embraced the role of inspiration, using motivational advice and selfies alike to reach her audience. In 2016, she wants to run at least a couple more 100K races, a triathlon, and her first New York City Marathon. Eventually she wants to run a 100-miler, but she’s doubtful it will happen this year.Valerio offers four pieces of advice: First, just get outside, no matter the weather. It will pay off on numerous levels. Second, turn off your television, computer and phone more often. Third, engage your children in outdoor activities. Finally, “just lace up and go.”“You’ve got to let go of preconceived notions of what running is,” Valerio says. “If you think you’re running, you’re running. Just because someone is faster doesn’t mean they’re more of a runner than you are. Let go of all of that. Just get outside and try.”Michael Wardian started running because it was cheap and efficient.The former college lacrosse player had laid down his stick during the tail end of his junior year but wanted to stay fit. “I picked up running because it was cheap and I was poor,” Wardian says. “It was really effective, because you could do an hour run and be good for a workout for the day.”He started running longer and longer, and then while visiting a friend’s house during Easter, his friend’s mother talked about recently completing the Boston Marathon. “I thought if that lady can run a marathon, I can run a marathon,” Wardian says. “I asked her if she could help me, and she was kind enough to give me a program. Now I know, she just copied it out of a training manual.”He was hooked. Today, Wardian, 41, who lives in Arlington, Virginia, has become a running celebrity. He qualified for the Olympics in 2004, 2008, and 2012, and although he didn’t actually compete he did represent the United States in 50K and 100K world championship races over that stretch.It made sense for Wardian to make the jump from marathons to ultras, but even he has been surprised by his 2015, which included the Vermont Marathon, the Western States 100 Miler, the 105K Buff Epic Run, the SpeedGoat 50K, the Chaski Challenge 80K in the Andes Mountains, and the Spartathalon—a 246K run from Athens to Sparta.All the while, Wardian has maintained a regular job as an international ship broker specializing in vessels carrying humanitarian food-aid cargo.“As I was growing up, I wanted to be the best lacrosse player in the world. There’s not a huge future in that,” Wardian says. “I never thought of myself as a runner, but now I’m one of the best in the world at what I do. It’s cool to get to challenge yourself against people in the North Pole, or Antarctica, or the far east. In college I would have been happy to finish a marathon. Now I’ll do a 100-mile race and the next weekend do a 50-miler. I race back to back to back.”Wardian’s advice for other runners? Be consistent, even if it’s only running short distances. “It builds on itself and becomes part of who you are and what you do,” he says. “You start to crave it, then get faster as your body becomes used to it. It’s very reflective of the amount of time you put into it. Mostly it’s this: If you do the work, you get the results. There are no judges in this sport. The clock is the clock no matter where you are in the world. I like that about it.”SHININGSophie Speidel got hooked on trail running during an early version of Blue Ridge Outdoors’ own Blue Ridge Burn 10K race in the late ’90s, when it was held at Walnut Creek Park near Charlottesville, Virginia.That event launched a passion that most recently culminated in the completion of her tenth—and final—Hellgate 100K. Afterward, Speidel took to her running site, Shining’s Ultra Blog, to reflect on the experience.“I had taken a calculated risk for this final ride, gambling that the warm 50 degree temps overnight and 70s during the day would not be an issue; I was wrong,” Speidel wrote. “After 42 miles of cruising comfortably near PR pace, on the hot grind up from Bearwallow Gap, the course once again reminded me who was in charge. And that’s the way it should be.”Speidel has been an athlete for her whole life, including playing lacrosse for the University of Virginia. After graduating, she and her husband both participated in sprint and international-length triathlons. She dabbled in road marathons before discovering trail running at the Burn.Ahead of her 40th birthday, Speidel heard about the Hard Rock 100 and the Barkley Marathons, both 100-mile trail races that attract an intense bunch of grizzly runners. She ran her first ultra in 2002 at the Holiday Lake 50K near Appomattox, Virginia, and then a year later ran her first 50-miler at the Mountain Masochist Trail Run near Lynchburg.“I was really hooked,” Speidel says. “Ultra-running attracts a lot of likeminded folks, refugees from other endurance sports: road marathons or triathalons or folks being athletic for the first time in their lives. That’s what is attractive for me, just the people.”Speidel, 53, runs from her home base in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband. They’ve raised three children, ages 23, 21 and 18, two of whom have also played lacrosse at the collegiate level. When she first got into ultra-running, those children were 9, 7 and 4. Running provided an outlet for release.In a race, “you just have to focus,” Speidel says. “I’m a mom. How great is it when all you have to worry about is, are you eating enough? Are you moving at a reasonable pace? Isn’t it beautiful out tonight? Are you eating enough? You have to be very present, and pay attention to things you don’t normally get a chance to think about. I think about the moment I’m in. I check in.”That enables her to be more present when she is with her children, her students or the young athletes on the junior varsity lacrosse team she coaches. In fact, her “shining” nickname was bestowed on her by her 2005 team in honor of the Aaron Carter pop song, “Girl You Shine.”Don’t be surprised if you see one of those girls, inspired by Speidel, coming sometime soon to a trail race near you.WARRIORTrue runners become consumed by what began as a hobby, spending more time on the trail and running through life’s ups and downs.Anita Walker Finkle ran through cancer and out the other side. Finkle, 49, a Roanoke resident since 2003, started running in high school, first to supplement her soccer play and then as her primary focus. She walked onto the cross-country teams first at the University of Texas at El Paso and then at West Virginia University.Finkle ran her first marathon in 1996. Later, as she trained for more marathons, one of her training partners talked her into signing up for her first ultra, the Beech Mountain 50K in 2001. The following year she ran the Umstead 100, her first 100-miler. In January 2002, she met her future husband at the finish line of the Salem Lakeshore Frosty 50K. The following weekend they went on their first date, both running the Charlotte Marathon.“That was our social life, to go out and run,” Finkle says. “I think I always liked running and hiking, but I didn’t like carrying the big backpacks and everything. Here in Roanoke, this is trail mecca. It’s so beautiful and the people are so good to hang out with.”In 2010, Finkle went in for a mammagram after she found a lump in her breast. Doctors told her the lump was just a cyst, but to be cautious they took a biopsy. Initially the cyst looked to be non-invasive, but further investigation revealed a highly aggressive cancer that required not only surgery but chemotherapy. Those treatments lasted from July through September and were followed by a course of radiation.During radiation treatment, Finkle not only ran a 5K race in Roanoke but began training for the Indianapolis Marathon. “It was real slow, but [husband] Jay ran the whole way with me. I was exhausted but I was able to do it.”Finkle continued periodic intravenous treatment until the following spring, and then “I was just able to run through everything,” she says. That included the Crooked Road 24 Hour Ultra in 2011, along with a handful of 50Ks and, last year, the Umstead 100 again.In late 2011, Phil Phelan set out to quit boozing and turn his energies toward a life passion: documenting all of the trails, both official and vigilante, that ran through North Carolina’s Linville Gorge.Phelan, 35, had grown up exploring the gorge. He moved with his family from Texas to Raleigh, North Carolina, when he was 9 and spent weekends and summers traveling back and forth between the city and gorge. When he went to work on the guidebook, Phelan decided to really delve into the gorge’s many trails.“The U.S. Forest Service acknowledges 17 trails; there’s more like 300, the majority of them cut illegally,” Phelan says. While he doesn’t want to promote illegal or vigilante trails, he says they’re an important part of understanding how the gorge trail system works.“The problem is the fact that you have a trail—let’s say you head down on Babel Tower Trail,” he says. “At 1.4 miles you’ll take a right. But there’s an illegally cut trail not on the map one mile down. You’ll come down to that illegally cut trail that’s not on the map and get lost. That’s the problem with Linville these days. When you’re leaving things like that out, what’s a guidebook for if it’s not telling you everything?”Another aspect of Phelan’s fascination with Linville Gorge involves its cliffs and boulders. He’s constantly looking for unmapped and undiscovered spots to climb, both within and beyond the gorge.Although most of his work goes toward his books, Phelan also has won attention for his record-setting runs. He just notched the fastest-known-time on Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, completing the 575-mile journey in just over 17 days.[divider]Read More[/divider]
Sign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York Vice President Joe Biden (Left) joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Right), who announced a sweeping plan to rebuild New York.With Vice President Joe Biden by his side, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined a sweeping plan Tuesday to “re-imagine” New York, a complex blueprint to rebuild the state’s infrastructure in response to damaging storms such as Sandy.Cuomo unveiled his plan, which has been in the works for more than a year, one day before the governor’s annual State of the State address. The governor said the plan was too complex and intricate, so it “deserves a presentation and time of its own.” He detailed major projects as Biden viewed the presentation, which the vice president said should be a blueprint for the rest of America.“We’ve gotta get back on our game,” Biden said of the United States’ infrastructure.After Sandy, the governor called on his administration and state leaders to “literally re-imagine the state,” he said, after Sandy wreaked havoc on shore lines, power grids and paralyzed nearly every major transportation system in the state, including the Long Island Rail Road.The result was a comprehensive—and expensive—plan to create more than 1,000 projects at a cost of nearly $17 billion. Some are as complex as retrofitting the entire New York City subway system and undergoing the most fundamental redesign since the system was created. Others are small, community-based experiments, such as creating a “Citizen First Responder Corp,” which would train 100,000 New Yorkers in emergency preparedness.The plan will be funded by a portion of the $60 billion the federal government appropriated for the state after Sandy.“Extreme weather is the new reality, like it or not,” Cuomo said. “What caused it is a separate discussion for another day.”Many of the projects Cuomo outlined for LI have already been announced, such as building dikes, levees and flood walls around the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, creating two “micro grids” in both Nassau and Suffolk counties so communities could operate their own electric grid when the main network goes down and adding strategic fuel reserves on LI and across the state.The plan will also expand the existing New York Rising program to include 22 other communities statewide, including Bay Shore.“What we went through was horrendous,” Cuomo said, “but at least we want to learn from it.”Keeping with the theme of Mother Nature’s destructive force, Cuomo also noted that the current weather detection system is “inadequate” and “dangerous.” He called for the state to more than quadruple the number of weather station sites to 125 from the current number of 27. More sophisticated weather stations could report real-time information regarding extreme weather and flood conditions to emergency management officials, which would help streamline response efforts, according to the plan.The $5 billion plan for New York City’s subway system includes an effort to close all 540 openings in the subway system before it can be flooded, and to retrofit all stair openings that go into the subway system.The state will also allocate $257 million to strengthen John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, and to build a flood wall around LaGuardia.The state additionally intends to launch the first College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, Cuomo said.The presentation at times felt like a history lesson on Cuomo’s part, noting New York’s desire to expand out to sea for more than two centuries. That logic doesn’t work anymore, he said.“We have to think in different terms…about our relationship with the coast,” he said. “The ocean is still moving in” Cuomo added, “and it’s reclaiming the shore line.”Biden’s presence appeared to be a mostly symbolic gesture to demonstrate how the federal government and states can work together to help rebuild.“We have to re-imagine America,” Biden said. “We have to do what you’re doing,” he added, turning to Cuomo.