Zara Northover’s Olympic-Sized Determination

April 6, 2010

The road to the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a difficult one for Zara Northover, filled with injury and financial hardship. The Sewanhaka High School graduate grew up in Elmont and realized her dream competing for the Jamaican National Team.

She qualified for the Olympics in the physically demanding shot put despite a bulging disc in her back and a torn meniscus in her knee. Northover, whose parents are Jamaican, only had surgery once she returned from China.

But when you hear her words, you realize it was a transformative experience.

“It was all worth it stepping off that plane into China,’’ Northover wrote via email from Arizona. “It was all worth it as I walked in the Opening Ceremonies shaking hands with other athletes, coaches, officials from different countries all over the world. It was truly an amazing and breathtaking experience that I will never forget.

“There was a serenity in knowing that I am standing in a place with people from countries who are constantly at war with each other but yet we’re all in one stadium, living in one village and competing for the same goals. We were happy and we were sharing an experience of a lifetime together. It was nothing to be taken for granted, but a moment to be remembered for the rest of my life.”

For two weeks of bliss, Northover endured years of deprivation. The life of most Olympic-caliber athletes is not the jet-setting one of snowboarder Shaun White or the celebrity endorsement machine that is swimmer Michael Phelps. No, it is of daily struggles to hold down a job and pay bills while finding the time to train. To compete you need to constantly fundraise.

So the midpoint between her last Summer Games and the 2012 London Olympics finds Northover, 26, still fighting to remain in the sport. A 2007 graduate of Northeastern University, Northover could be living comfortably and close to friends and family. She’s had offers to coach.

She gave up a job at the University and ventured far from her comfort zone to train with renown field events coach Mohamad Saatara, the throws coach at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. That’s where she is now, training hard to remain relevant in an unforgiving sport.

When she moved to Flagstaff in September 2009, the job in the school athletic department fell through. Northover was forced to sleep on a friend’s couch and live out of her Ford Focus. She applied for public assistance. This was as far from Olympic dreams as you can get.

“I hit a rock bottom,’’ Northover said. “ I was getting offers from schools to come and coach and offers to work full-time at different places. But I knew that those offers wouldn’t enable me to train the way I need to in order to truly compete on the next level.”

Then she reaggravated her back injury, halting her training. Northover landed a job in December and has been working as a community organizer for A league of Neighborhoods. President Obama worked a similar job out of college. Now her back is better and she is training once more. Things are looking up.

She is on pace to compete at the Jamaican National Championships from June 26-28 in Kingston, Jamaica. And then she hopes to join a mission to Europe in conjunction with Christian-based Athletes in Action.

“Though situations may be tough, even though you may have paralyzing doubt, if you believe in yourself and you keep moving in faith, then anything you set your heart and mind to will come to pass,’’ Northover said. “I hope from this mission I will be able to continue to inspire those whom I come in contact with while also learning a great deal from others and myself. Every day I strive to make a difference in the world. Even if it’s just by helping one person, then it’s an accomplishment for the day.”

“Moving in faith” is Northover’s credo. And when you learn how she came to pick up the shot in the first place, you appreciate her spiritual message all the more. She only joined the track team in high school to lessen the load. Basketball was too much of a commitment for Sewanhaka’s junior class president. So she changed sports, threw the shot on a lark and suddenly found her path.

Help Zara Northover take her inspirational story overseas. She is looking for help financing her mission. Go online at and enter Northover’s tracking number CCC#: 5534030 into the “Give a Gift” box. Or send a check. Make checks payable to “Athletes In Action” and do not write Northover’s name in the memo line of the check per IRS guidelines. Send it to:

Zara Northover
901 S O’Leary Street
Apartment 23
Flagstaff, AZ 86001

Blog originally posted at LI

Keep It On Long Island

December 12, 2008

Just met with Felice Cantatore, the general manager of the Long Island Press. They are working on a new web portal that just might change the way you surf. It’s called KIOLI.ORG, short for Keep It On Long Island. And the vision is a big one.

KIOLI.ORG hopes to bypass Newsday and Craigslist as your one-stop reference point for everything Long Island. If you check out the Dec. 11-17 edition of the Long Island Press, you’ll find the centerfold is all about LIOLI.ORG. It’s point? Support home-grown businesses as opposed to big box retailers or even the Amazon.coms of the world.

The site is smart and insightful. I believe Cantatore, one of the driving forces behind the concept, and the Long Island Press have hit on something important. Especially in these dire financial times, if you are going to spend a dime, spend it where it will do the most good to the local eceonomy.

For example, KIOLI.ORG endorses Mario’s Pizzeria, a local chain, over California Pizza Kitchen. Or even P.C. Richard over Best Buy. (That’s a personal tough one for me, but I get the point.)

Anyway, check out the site and see how it can help your business grow.

Blog originally posted at LI

Grab A Domain Name Today

December 4, 2008

So you want to get on the web. It starts with a domain name — preferably one featuring your company, product or service.

But what if the name you want is taken? There are more than 100 million domain names registered worldwide, according to one domain registrar. Many websites are simply parking pages with Pay Per Click advertisements. ISPs and web hosters will often point unused domains to a parking webpage with PPC advertising.

In other words, most registered names are not being actively used. So if there’s a domain you must have, track down the owner and make an offer. The going rate for regional domains can be as low as $400 to $1,200. That’s a reasonable figure.

And in this economy, individuals or companies sitting — cybersquatting is the less flattering term — on a domain name may be more willing to part with one with a little negotiation.

Domains are real estate. If you think of it in those terms, then a good domain name is worth paying for.

I’m in the business of acquiring domains and helping others come up with the right fit for their venture. I recently brokered a deal between a regional sporting goods store and a domaineer for the rights to a domain that best represented their company.

But if you balk at paying big dollars for a name that’s already been registered, then I can help you dream up a whole host of options — names that have yet to be registered.

Even if you aren’t prepared to launch your web business yet, getting the name and adding it to your portfolio for future use is vital. Get yours now before someone else grabs it instead.

Blog originally posted at LI

Fun Networking Group

October 25, 2008

I arrived at Rookies in Huntington on Thursday evening not knowing what to expect. It was my first meeting with the Huntington Chamber of Commerce’s Under 30 group. I’ve been a member of the Chamber for nearly a year. I’ve found the general networking sessions useful.

But this was a little different. The Under 30 group, which is a misnomer because half the members are over 30, is really about connecting new and young entrepreneurs. (As an aside, they want to come up with a better, more fitting name. Young Entrepreneurs makes sense. Apparently there’s already a Chamber group for high school students with that name. So if you have a good idea, suggest it.)

What made this networking session, open to non-members for a $10 cover, different was the atmosphere. It was more vibrant. People were more relaxed. And one member gets to spotlight what they are doing with a short presentation to the group. Did I mention the beer and wings were free? All and all a solid event.

Blog originally posted at LI

Financial Crisis Ripple Effect

October 10, 2008

As an entrepreneur running a startup online publishing company, I look a the bloodletting on Wall Street — and my IRAs and stocks — and wonder what effects this will have on the advertising climate moving forward. For me the losses are paper. It’s as if it’s not even real. Not yet anyway.

But my concern is how the financial crunch might impact our industry as a whole. The industry was already well into a time of transition and falling revenues. So are even tougher times ahead? Will companies stop advertising? Will people stop taking out classifieds or buying photos from our web sites? Maybe even stop subscribing to the daily paper (I know this already happened) or monthly magazine to cut costs?

No one seems to be looking ahead. We’re all rubberneckers driving by a car wreck. But I can’t help but wonder — fear — what’s next.

What are your thoughts or observations?

Blog originally posted at Wired Journalists

The Business of Search

October 9, 2008

Just got back from the Search Expo at the Javits Center on Tuesday. The event took up just one corner of the of the convention hall. But the 50-plus exhibitors there seemingly had a unified theme — namely that your busainess needs to have its own Internet marketing campaign and that monitoring SEO and SEM are as important as paying the utility bill each month.

There’s a lot of competition for your ad dollars and how to use them. That’s a good thing. If you have a product and aren’t selling it with the aid of an Internet ad campaign — what are you waiting for?

In fact, there’s an arguement going around that a strategic SEM (Search Engine Marketing) campaign makes spending regular money on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) a moot point. That’s because many people try to fake their way to the top of the search rankings. It’s far simpler to buy an ad on the first page.

I will say that most small businesses don’t have web sites properly configured for SEO. In that instance, spending some money for one-time search engine optimization is a smart investment. Many firms can do the job. (Gratuitous sales pitch) My company, Build N Click, offers a $300 SEO package. If you want to talk, drop me an email:

But the point of the Search Expo was to sound a warning. If you aren’t investing in online advertising, you better have your web site positioned for maximum results. Neither is a luxury anymore.

Blog originally posted at LI

Web Analytics

September 23, 2008

One of the seminars I sat in on at the Web 2.0 Expo last week at the Javits Center was one on web analytics. The headliner was Avinash Kaushik, the so-called Analytics Evangelist for Google. And he made what’s usually a confounding and boring part of the web utterly come alive and seem vital to any business.

The bottom line is there are several free tools online that you should be using to measure traffic to your web site. (If you don’t alraeady have a web site, well, that’s another story. What are you waiting for?) Start with Google Analytics.

Then buy Kaushik’s book: Web Analytics An Hour A Day. Trust me, he breaks down countless ways to wring useful information from your web traffic, tools that can help optimize your site and profits.

Blog originally posted at LI

Reinventing Yourself

August 8, 2008

Thinking back on Halloweens past, there was a thrilling aspect to transforming yourself into something you were not. It was easy to throw all your child-like energy into the change. Pirate, zombie or soldier; didn’t matter. You pulled it off spectacularly — if only for one night.

Reinventing yourself in real life? Not so easy. At least for me.

The bulk of my professional life has been spent as a journalist. In fact, I started writing for my high school newspaper at 16 and landed a part-time job at a daily one year later. So one year removed from my reporting job at Newsday, my instincts are still grounded in the craft.

But I’m finally letting go of that persona and embracing my new identity as an entrepreneur and small business owner. In a way, the new approach is being forced upon me. You either think and act like a businessman or you risk seeing your business become irrelevant.

I have an added hurdle. I didn’t go the franchise route, where the blueprint for success is handed to you. No, I’m trying to meld my life-long passion for publishing with business. My business plan doesn’t make sense to everybody. Even my wife — at times — has a hard time grasping what I’m trying to do.

I see the value in what I’m doing. The people I serve understand it. Monetizing the product is where the business man within needs to find his way. The dog days of August — a dead period for my venture — only serves to exacerbate the issue. I’m getting close. But I’m not there yet.

Blog originally posted at LI

Keep Interns Engaged

July 26, 2008

It’s been a tough summer for my internship program. We rolled into June with three college students who were interested in spending up to 10-15 hours a week as an unpaid intern with my web development company. After having lost touch with our most promising guy, we’re down to zero interns.

A spate of bad luck? Yes. Could we have managed our interns better? No doubt. You could say we got what we paid for. But I’m not buying it.

I’m personally frustrated because after directly overseeing two successful internships last summer, I stepped back and let someone else run with it this time. After all, the interns were directly reporting to that person anyway.

Bottom line: We didn’t do enough to keep our interns engaged. It’s a lesson learned.

What was different from a year ago? Well, last summer:

+ We set office hours on a week-to-week basis. Be versatile, but insist on getting your intern in the office at least once a week. Rising gas prices probably hurt us more this time around.

+ We gave them general tasks at first, even if it had nothing to do with the skill they were interesting in learning. That way, when they did get to do work related to their field, it was as much a reward as anything. They appreciated the opportunity more.

+ Talk to your intern. Make sure they are satisfied with the general experience. To be fair, one of our interns jumped ship to take a full-time job (related to but not directly tied to his skill set) with benefits.

+ Dangle a carrot. Offer a cash bonus at the successful conclusion of the internship. Or better yet, the possibility of a part-time job.

I’m headed to a job fair this week. The goal is to land another intern or two. I’ll be thinking about our hits and misses from the last year and ways I can personally improve the intern experience. And I’ll take more of a leading role in keeping our interns engaged.

Unpaid and inexperienced they may be, but for a small firm like mine, interns are a godsend.

Blog originally posted at LI

No Reason To Fear Transparency

July 17, 2008

I’m currently in the wilds of New York state on business. I ran into an unexpected road block yesterday — and no, construction limiting traffic to one lane isn’t what I’m talking about. (Although the wait was excruciating!)

I met with the manager of a mall to pitch her on upgrading their web site. What I thought was a glaring omission on the mall’s current site — namely, lack of a diagram of the mall detailing shops, kiosks and restaurants — was actually by design.

The mall’s web site was deficient in so many other ways. But ultimately, the manager rejected the need for a revamped web site, and if I read between the lines correctly, it was because the mall didn’t want to advertise its current state.

Let’s face it, signs of economic downturn are everywhere. In much of New York outside of the City, that’s been true for many years now. Mall management (and ownership) seem to think that not publishing an interactive map of the mall — which might show some vacancies — is an easy way to hide the current state of the place.

Wrong. The people who frequent the mall know this all too well. Yes, the half-finished Steve and Barry’s superstore that will never open is a tell-tale sign of something amiss. Locals can’t be fooled. So why hide the obvious?

Instead, do the right thing by merchants who still call the mall home. Play them up in every way possible. That means an interactive web site. Who knows, you might even bring in new traffic or lure a new tennant?

Blog originally posted at LI

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