Alejandro: What is your favorite food or dish?
AnnMaria: Jelly beans.
Alejandro: Jelly beans. Okay.
AnnMaria: All those coaches I had for years said, you will never win anything if you don’t
have a good diet. My daughter, Ronda especially really get on me about it. The youngest daughter Julia, she’s like me but I had chocolate chip cookies for breakfast when I was training.
Alejandro: Wow! Well that just goes to show that you can do anything no matter what you
Okay. So how about, is there a morning routine that helps you get your day started with the right mindset?
AnnMaria: Well, I absolutely hate mornings. I normally wake up around nine or ten but yes, I
usually do sit-ups and push-ups every morning just because, you know, you see those little babies and those little baby arms that are like all flabby and that so I just decided to do it. Normally do some sit-ups and push-ups, I take a shower and head out the door.
Alejandro: No stretching? You stretch?
AnnMaria: Not in the morning, no.
Alejandro: Not in the morning. Okay, but at some point you do that stretching or that’s no
longer part of the day?
AnnMaria: A lot of times I do during the day just because I’m sitting at a computer working
and, you know, after you’re sitting there for a couple of hours, you kind of need to get up and stretch.
Alejandro: Got it. Okay. All right. And who is your go-to band or artist when you cannot
decide on something to listen to?
AnnMaria: My to go band or artist? I really like Rolling Stones.
Alejandro: Okay, you can’t go wrong with that. Beautiful. What question would you most like
to know the answer to?
AnnMaria: What question would I like most to have the answer to?
AnnMaria: It would be, how to get more people to know more about our software and all the
great stuff we do.
AnnMaria: And if I can find a thousand things and every one of them has a little bit of an
effect, it’s kind of like the long curve that we try, you know, Google Ads, and Facebook Ads, and Instagram Ads. None of that works. We get the big software conferences, the big teacher conferences and that didn’t really pay off. So it seems like what works for us the most and maybe this is the only answer, is we do a lot of things. Maria and I, Diana who is our project manager, between the three of us, we probably… I’ve gotten to the point we’re now doing two blog posts a day. We have at least one, if not two accounts on every possible type of social media including some I’ve never heard of. And every one of those brings in a few people and they add up to a bunch of people, but I just…
Alejandro: You’re finding your audience. What medium is the most powerful medium to
finding your audience? Well, that’s… You know what? I feel that that is a pain that every business out there feels even the ones that are super established and have been for many, many years and are extremely large enterprises. They’re still trying to figure out what’s the best way to get there so I’ll join you on that question. That’s a good one.
What do you do to get rid of stress? Are there things you do that help you get rid of stress?
AnnMaria: When I’m traveling a lot, I swim because, I mean, I spent a lot of my life traveling
and I’m going to tell my story, say we’re cool . So I go swimming. I love to go hiking in the woods so I do that a lot. And then when I’m in Santa Monica by the ocean, so walking on the beach. So a day out in nature or a swim, those two. And judo, of course. Sometimes I just go and choke people and I feel better.
Alejandro: If neither of the peaceful methods work, just go and choke somebody.
AnnMaria: Hey, don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.
Alejandro: That’s right. Well, you know what, talking about outdoors and all that, let’s go
right to where you grew up, what the neighborhood was like. And if you can just give us a visual picture of what that household looked like.
AnnMaria: Well, my dad was in the service when I was young so we lived on a lot of Air Force
bases and then he got a job in Pakistan as a civilian on the base. So we lived there for a while. And I would say my childhood really, really varied. So I might be in base housing with just my mom or my dad would station somewhere. Or I might be in Pakistan in a house with some, you know, a maid and a gardener in a camp and some horses. And then I might be in St. Louis, Missouri in a house where my dad was going to school in the GI Bill. We didn’t have a lot. Then I in Halifax, Nova Scotia living with family.
Alejandro: Wow. How long were you in Pakistan?
Alejandro: How long were you in Pakistan before?
AnnMaria: I think about a year and a half. We came back to the U.S. right when I started
Alejandro: Is it when you’re there, do you always live near families that are also part of, you
know, whose partner is in the military? Did they put you in similar communities or did you live in whatever the best place is? How does that work?
AnnMaria: No, in fact there was kind of an international incident when I was small because
there were so many of us. My parents had four kids by then and my dad was a civilian. He wasn’t in the Air Force anymore so we had a house off base. And one day, the boy who lived down the way, he told me to go get him some water or something. And I said, “Go do it yourself.” And he picked up a stick and hit me with it because it’s Pakistan where girls are supposed to do what they’re told by boys.
And so my boy went over to his house and I think his name was Mohammed. But anyway, they went over his house and they knocked on the door and they asked him to come out. And then my two big brothers who were, you know, probably eight or nine proceeded to beat the crap out of him.
And then there’s a big fight and my parents had to go talk to his parents and so no, we did not live in Pakistan around other people from base.
Alejandro: Was that pretty common with older brothers that that tend to happen a lot?
AnnMaria: Well I think my brothers were the typical brothers. We fought all the time. People
would say, you don’t hit a girl but it doesn’t apply to your sisters. I mean, me and my two brothers and my sister, I’m one that’s much younger so I…
Alejandro: You went at it.
AnnMaria: You know like a baby, right but my brothers, yes, we went at it. But if any one
touched any of the rest of us, any of us, we’re on. I think that’s pretty typical in families and a lot of siblings.
Alejandro: Yes, I agree. I have two older brothers and we used to box. And when I say box, I
mean, they just beat the crap out of me for like three years straight. No on e taught us. It was just in the basement boxing. But anyways, so what did your parents…? It seems like you guys were very close knit. And did the moving around, was that helpful? Did that help you get closer, develop a stronger relationship with your parents? And what did your parents want most for you growing up? What was something that they made it very clear?
AnnMaria: I don’t think it helped develop a strong relationship with my parents because dad
was gone a great deal of the time. So he would be stationed somewhere where he would get combat pay or hazard pay so we wouldn’t see him for six months a year, two years on end.
I remember more than once, he would come home and whoever was the youngest kid at the time would come running at our mom and say, “There’s a man in the shower!”
And some of the time, my mom would take a job on the base wherever he was and be with him and then we’d be with various relatives. I don’t think that made us particularly close with my parents but certainly with my brothers and sister. Wherever we went, we were game because we had a good group and I think that’s why I always wanted to have a lot of kids. I have four and if my husband hadn’t passed away, I would have had six or eight, I think.
Alejandro: Wow, that’s wonderful. So I want to jump straight to when you began with judo at
12 years old. And I’m dying to find out what inspired you to do that. Was it your parents? Or was it you? Was it out of curiosity? How did that work?
AnnMaria: Well, it’s funny because I always tell people this, I should think of a better lie than
the truth. That was back before Title Nine passed so a lot of sports could say, we don’t accept girls. And most sports didn’t girls. I was this short, fat little kid that sat in my room and ate, and I had super thick glasses. I’m so short but I have contacts.
So my mother said to me, “You can’t spend your life like this. This is not healthy.” And she put me in the car, and she drove me down to YMCA and she pushed me out of the car and said, “Join something,” and drove away.
So it was definitely not my idea and I’ve been and there’s swimming which would be a fat little girl, right, put on swimsuit. And there was track, which would be a fat short little girl running very fast. And there was judo and I saw another kid from my class at school I recognized. There was a girl doing it so I figured judo and then I tried it. Like I said, me and my brothers and sisters fight all the time so, shoot.
When I went into tournaments, like when I get into a national level, and there was a lot of very proper Japanese and American kids, you know, girls that I was competing from middle class, upper middle class families that were brought up to behave well. And then you had me and, you know, by the time I was on the world team, I was training in East Los Angeles which is the [inaudible – 00:16:53] and yes, they were all like, “Let’s get a grip. It would be nice.” And I would just kind of grab you like, come here. They didn’t know what hit them.
Alejandro: As you progressed through judo, ended up and then going to college, and then
you became an exchange student and then have gone to Japan. Is that right?
AnnMaria: Yes, I went to Waseda University in Japan. It was gorgeous.
Alejandro: Yes, I’m dying to find out. How was that experience? Was that the first time in
AnnMaria: Oh, yes. It was funny because this is in the 1970’s. I’m old, right. So Japan being
a powerhouse in business hadn’t helped yet and I was getting my Bachelor of Science in Business and I went to the Dean and said, “I would like to do an exchange program in Japan to study Japanese business,” which is not 100% truth. The truth was, I wanted to go there to practice judo but I didn’t have the money to fly to Japan and train any more than the money to fly to the moon but they had a scholarship program.
So the Dean said, “Exchange programs, those are usually for people in like Liberal Arts. They’re studying history or language and you’ll be the first person in the business school to have done exchange program.”
AnnMaria: I’ll never forget. But then he said, “But that’s no reason you can’t do it.” He signed
the paperwork and I flew in.
Alejandro: Wow. And that usually lasts… What was it, a couple of months? A semester?
AnnMaria: No, my junior year of college.
Alejandro: And what was your first reaction there with the culture, the people, even the
training sessions under your… What’s the name of your master? The sensei?
AnnMaria: Oh, Sawa. He was actually quite famous. And here’s the thing, I went to this
tournament. He watched me first in Saint Louis and I never went and trained at any of these famous well-known clubs in the U.S., which meant I didn’t know anything about protocol or any of that stuff.
So I go into Waseda University and I go up to the judo coach at the university and say, “Can I work out with you, guys? I’m a student here.”
And I’m talking to the guy who is the assistant coach and then he says, “No!” because if you think about it, it’s sort of like a young woman walking up to like a football team in UCLA and saying, “I played football in Sweden, can I play with you, guys?” No!
But here’s the thing, Japan is very hierarchical and I think that was just a shock that I would even say such a thing because I don’t know. I did judo. They were doing judo. They were at the university teaching. I was at the university, right?
And so the fellow who was the head instructor was quite put out because, who is this young guy to tell me no? He’s not the head coach. So he says to me, “Yes, you can.” And I didn’t realize probably until the other year that that was crazy unusual.
Alejandro: Right. That was a huge deal.
AnnMaria: But I was just like, you know, at home I did judo with all guys. Here’s a bunch of
guys. They’re doing judo. Hey, what’s up?
Alejandro: I got some spare time. Why not?
Alejandro: In terms of the culture there, were there any particular things that are there that
just left an impression or no?
AnnMaria: A number of things, both good, bad and kind of neutral. In Japan, it was good
preparation for Chile because people are like this here too. I think women are a lot more affectionate with one another.
So I was staying with a family because that was part of the requirement of my scholarship. So I was staying with this family. They had a daughter who was about my age and there are some like how they have a school carnival that kind of thing going and so let’s go!.
So we got out and we were walking along and she puts her arm through mine. I almost punched her. So people are just like that.
Alejandro: You were not waiting. You were not expecting for that to happen.
AnnMaria: Right but I felt very chill because, you know, I’ve been with this family. I’ve been
here like not even 24 hours. So women are like that with each other, not men but women tended to be a lot more holding hands and walking long with their arm linked than women here do if they were not gay. So that kind of threw me away.
Alejandro: It threw you off? Go ahead. I’m sorry.
AnnMaria: Oh, but then in Chile it’s like that too. Like I know a lot of times and everybody is
like that. Like the men will kiss each other. They’ll kiss the women they meet, vice-versa. And sometimes you get guys in the U.S. here that would go, “Wow, she really likes me.” No, she doesn’t like you. That’s just how people are.
Alejandro: She’s greeting you. That’s it.
Alejandro: You know, I was going to ask you this before, what is your heritage then?
AnnMaria: Well my grandfather was Black. He was actually from the West Indies. And my
grandmother and his mother were from Venezuela. So we’re all kind of mixed up.
AnnMaria: In fact, my Aunt Jesse, I found out just recently… You’re in New York, right?
Alejandro: I grew up in New York for some time and now I’m living in California.
AnnMaria: Oh, because the carnival celebration that they have in New York City was
actually started by my Aunt Jesse. One of my cousins told me that recently.
AnnMaria: Yes, isn’t that cool?
Alejandro: That is really cool. And you just found that out recently?
Alejandro: And you found that out recently?
AnnMaria: Yes. Well she’s my great aunt, I mean, my grandfather had nine brothers and
sisters and so there’s a lot of us. So yes, all of my families grew down there from the Caribbean and they moved up to Canada, most of them. Either in Canada or still in the West Indies.
Alejandro: Was it extra special when you fought Natasha Hernandez in Venezuela for the
9th Pan American Games in 1983?
AnnMaria: Yes. It was super cool because first of all, it was the first time women went in and
second ly, I still had relatives there so they came to visit us. So that was super cool.
Alejandro: Two birds with one stone.
AnnMaria: Yes. That was sort of like they’re in Venezuela but they’re cheering for me.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. And so obviously you have this heritage, you go there and just
meet your championship. I got to see a video of this and I couldn’t… The stadium was so loud I couldn’t even hear what the TV announcer was saying. The energy in that place was insane. Had you been at this stage used to that? Or were you kind of blown away by this as well? How was that experience?
AnnMaria: It didn’t bother me at all. I’ve always been the same way. You know, when I was
out there competing, the world could have ended and I would have kept… None of that bothered me.
And it’s funny because a lot of my friends, you know, they love to travel, be a part of it but then I had a baby. I mean, Maria about took her first steps while I was at the Pan American Games. So for me, I would be happy if they held every tournament right in my backyard in L.A.
Alejandro: All the same. For you, parenting, there’s nothing more intense and hard to… Like
there’s nothing harder than parenting. Is that something that you feel?
AnnMaria: That’s something that’s definitely more important. And yes, because I told my
kids where I went. There is no book for this.
Alejandro: Right. Yes, it’s true.
AnnMaria: I wrote a book actually called, Parenting, like I know what I’m doing with Maria
but there isn’t really a manual for this.
Alejandro: That’s the conclusion of the book. There is no manual. So that focus that you had
there, that was just you understanding that you’ll just do your best and whatever happens happens. Where did you get that focus? I mean, was that from your brothers, your parents, like the training? How did you stay so calm because you could actually see that? Now that you mention that, on the video, everyone even your opponent is moving around and she can’t seem to stop moving and she’s just… And you, you’re just, you’re there. You’re standing. You’re pretty calm. You’re with your team. How? How did you stay calm?
AnnMaria: You know, there’s an interesting study and I don’t know if this is the answer. It’s a
really interesting study in Sports Psychology because years ago I teach Sports Psychology. And they looked at boxers and they found that the wrestlers who were not the top wrestlers. I don’t know how they did like the top five and the bottom five, five out of the ones that made it to the state championships or whatever it was. But the ones who were the top athletes, they were the most nervous. Say a few months out and the closer it got to the event, the less nervous they were. And they were the least nervous during the competition. And the ones who were the lower ranked were the opposite. And I think for me, anyway I know that the times that I was the most nervous would be at the beginning of the year when I decided, “Okay, I’m going to…”
Alejandro: That’s okay. Don’t worry.
AnnMaria: The time I was the least nervous would be or the most nervous would be at the
beginning of the year when I decided, “Okay, I’m going to make another run for it.” And after, you know, the first month or so when I got over the completely sored beat that the closer it got, the less nervous I got. And I think it’s because when you walk out on that net and you know you have done everything possible there is to do, then there’s nothing to be nervous about. It’s just showtime.
Alejandro: Well just prepare until you know that there is no more preparing and you’ve done
everything you could and now it’s just execute.
Alejandro: Is there a championship that is your most memorable one or one that has meant
more to you?
AnnMaria: Is there what that was most memorable?
Alejandro: Is there a championship, because obviously you’ve done some incredible things.
Is there a championship that’s the most memorable one and has meant more to you and if so, which one?
AnnMaria: Oh, for sure it was the World Championships. First of all because no American
had ever won it ever. And when I said I was going to win it, there were a lot of people who said, “Well, who do you think you are? You’re so conceited.”
And I said, “Look, somebody’s got to be the first one.” Not me. So I think that was one reason. And the other is, I had already decided that I was going to retire after that. I was going to win. I did not have a Plan B. I was going to win and I was going to retire. That was it.
And the other thing was, I had, you know, it was a really… Obviously it’s the best people in the world so it was a really tough competition at the very least. They won the final in the decision. So it was, yes, the very top people in the world.
I’m not one… And I know this is not popular but I’m not one to say, “Oh, I did my best. You did your best.” I’m wanted to say it was the best. And I think sometimes that saying, “Oh, I’m just going to go and do the best I can and have the best techniques.” It’s giving yourself an out.
And when they asked us all, we had a team meeting at summer camp before and they asked everybody, “What’s your goal?”
And everybody else said things like, “I want to show good technique. I don’t know if I want to win exactly…” It’s not that, I don’t want to win, I just wanted to do my best. And I’m thinking, I cannot believe this shit. This is the US team and I stood up. And everybody else stood. I stood up and I said, “My goal is to be best on the planet on November 11th.” And I sat back down.
AnnMaria: I sounded a bitch.
Alejandro: And do you think…? I mean, that’s fear to truly say what you feel? Because there
has to be, I mean, they are obviously very competitive. They must have all wanted the same thing it’s just no one was scared to I guess kind of jinx themselves.
AnnMaria: I wonder how many of them really believed in their heart they could do it, number
one. And I don’t want to call people up but sometimes… And I don’t know. I want to say you’re following around but sometimes you haven’t trained as hard as you could and you know it.
AnnMaria: So I can’t say of any specific person but I know that sometimes you haven’t done
everything that you could have and that’s got to be in the back of your mind.
Alejandro: Once you won and reached what you wanted to do and you dreamt about… You
said you had no Plan B but you stopped. What did you do? What was the next step?
AnnMaria: I got married to Ron Rousey and I came home and I had two more
Babies and I got a PhD.
Alejandro: Oh, in between that.
AnnMaria: No, at the same time.
Alejandro: At the same time.
AnnMaria: I came back from the World Championships and married Ron. We had Jennifer
the first year and I started my doctorate. And then we had Ronda the second year and then after five years. So I had three kids and four degrees.
Alejandro: Wow! That’s incredible. Were you the first in the family with a doctorate? Or you
had seen others?
AnnMaria: Oh, yes. Oh, no. My mom graduated from college the year before me so she
worked as a secretary for a long time and then went to college to get a degree. And I was the first person in my family to graduate over my brother and sister. Both went back to college later. One of my brothers and my sister both have doctorates by they went back and got them like 20 years later. So no, I was the first one in the family. The first one of the kids to get a degree and I was the first one to get a doctorate.
Alejandro: What drove you to know that that was your path and that’s what you wanted to
do? Was it pure curiosity? Was it people are surrounding you, friends advice? Or how did that take place?
AnnMaria: None of that stuff. No, I was working as an industrial engineer at that time and I
was spending eight to ten hours a day in front of a CRT tube because we had a gray tube which is what we had before we had micro computers. And there weren’t very many women engineers at all.
That was one of the other things in Japan. I asked one of my professors if he had heard of any, if he knew any women engineers in Japan. Now remember, this was the early 70s. And he said, “No, and I don’t know any women fathers either.”
So there weren’t many women engineers. There were even fewer pregnant women engineers. And I asked my obstetrician, “Would this be damaging to the baby?”
And he said, “Well we really don’t have any data.”
And so I go, “No, that’s bad.”
So I mean, obviously now we know it doesn’t. You’re welcome all you younger women for people like me. But actually I said, “Okay. Well then, I’ll do something else.” And Ron had just taken a job for an aircraft and it was right near the Misty California riverside.
So I said, “I think I’ll get a PhD.”
Alejandro: You have raised your focus obviously. The minute you make up your mind, you
just go for it and there’s no stopping. Is it as clear as it sounds? Or were there bumps along the way that made you think twice?
AnnMaria: About getting a PhD, no. I had it pretty good. My husband had a good job. We
had a full time housekeeper. I got a job working at the university doing research so for that, I mean, it’s a lot of work but I really, really liked it.
When I was competing in judo it was difficult because when I first started, I was young, single and broke. And then I got married and I was married and broke. There are a lot of things I couldn’t go to that my competition could because their parents could write a check and my parents couldn’t. So there were times when I would get injured like, “What the hell am I doing?” I’m doing something that didn’t pay any money, that takes away my money. And even if I win, what’s it ever going to do for me? But I did it anyway because I wanted to.
Alejandro: That’s great! Has there been… And this just leads to my next session which is
[inaudible – 00:34:34]. Had there been a difficult experience that you’ve had to deal with throughout that journey? And if so, what did you do to recommend or are you still figuring out how to deal with it?
AnnMaria: Well my husband had an accident when the kids were little and then he got
progressively worse and then he died. So that was pretty awful. He was… The girls were eight, nine and twelve. And so they were I think three, four and eight when he had his accident. So for years, I was having to take them, go work in the morning, pick them up from school, go down and visit him in Intensive Care, two hours waiting or, you know, go to work, take on other consulting to help pay the bills. And then we’d all have to go to some clinic in Minnesota and see what they could do. And after he passed away, it was me and them and again there were like hospital bills and funeral bills. You know, I’m paying it for instead of two incomes we got one. So I’m having to bring in two incomes. Yes, it was really hard.
The big thing that I did was just work all the time. And I don’t know, people say I’m a workaholic. I don’t know if that’s the most functional way to be but yes, I would get up in the morning and take the kids to school, and work until I picked them up. And then give them dinner and work until it was two in the morning and do it again the next day. And I did that for a couple of years.
Alejandro: So a compartmentalized and just get your day complete and tomorrow’s another
day but for now, today is today.
AnnMaria: These boxes. I published this many articles and scientific journals. I brought in
these many grands. I taught these courses. Yes, it’s probably not the best functional way of dealing with things but there’s probably worse ways as well.
Alejandro: No, I completely agree. So when did you come across this Spirit Lake
Reservation? And what is it? Can you enlighten us with this?
AnnMaria: Well the Spirit Lake Reservation is an American game reservation in the north
central part of North Dakota. And after that my doctorate, my first job out of grad school was as the Director of Research and the Director of Native Americans with this village project at my state university. And I had just moved there from California and nobody knew west about North Dakota Native Americans.
So I called around to people and asked people to put me in touch with somebody because I’m not going to show up at the reservation and say, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help.” That’s probably not going to be well received.
So I talked to a few people and they said, “Well what can you do?”
They weren’t me but they were like, you know, like they’re not from East West Los Angeles and you’re here asking us what you could do for the North Dakota Native Americans.
I said, “Well, I come from the University of California and we’re really good with writing grants.”
And they said, “Okay, well we could use a grant for early childhood programs.”
And I said, “Well I can do that. Let me know when.” And I wrote it up and I wrote a grant for like $130,000 and that was with all of the tribes. There were four. There’s five reservations in North Dakota but [inaudible – 00:38:09] is at the tip so basically four reservations that a lot of them in North Dakota. It was all four of them.
So after I did that, I was still in the university and somebody called up from Spirit Lake. And they wanted a course taught there and they said, “Couldn’t you send one professor instead of us sending 15 of our people to the university? Could you send one professor here?”
Well right about that same time, this is I think right before my husband had his accident. It was roughly about the same time. Anyway, he ended up getting asked if he would be interested in working for the tribal industry there.
So they had a defense contractor had a satellite office so he went there and he was there Monday through Friday. So they were looking for a professor who would be willing to go out to Spirit Lake. I said, “Hey, how about me?” So I ended up teaching a class there and met a lot of people, and started working with them and it has just kind of gone on well.
Alejandro: Can you explain a little about the grant making process and how that works? You
know, the major obstacles that they had to go through?
AnnMaria: Well my best description of it is, you basically sit down on word processor and
open your veins for a couple of months.
So the typical grant is going to be about a hundred pages. And it’s not a hundred pages of, “Oh, and I would like to do this thing!” You got to have a need section where you review the scientific literature. You have to give some specifics on how many people you’re going to serve and why you… And then you have to have some project design. Why is your project necessary?
Well I can give you a good example because this is what we do. We started our company making Math games. Now we look at software that’s available to teach match and a lot of it streams online. And if you’re in a rural area with not very good internet, then you can’t use it. So it would be useful to have something for all of those kids who live in remote areas who mostly have Math scores two or three years below the national average, to have something that they could use in their schools, that they could use in their phones, maybe at home without using data plan because…
It’s funny. I was talking to a couple of kids that you could use your phone plan to stay online. Oh, my god. They were so shocked. “My data is for Instagram and texting my friends.”
Alejandro: It’s sacred. I mean, it costs.
AnnMaria: Right. So a lot of software isn’t thinking about that. You know, it’s things built in
Silicon Valley for people in Silicon Valley. So we developed proposals and we
would build software that would work pretty much anywhere on the lowest and cheapest device without internet and would still be really cool. So we have like these collector games. Every Math problem you answer, you get points and you can spend your points to outfit your wigwam. And if you get enough points, you can buy another wigwam and have a whole village. And at the same time you’re doing that, you are learning about Native American culture.
So yes, that was the first one we did and we did an evaluation of it and the kids who played the games improved their Math scores 30% on the standards taught in the game and the kids who didn’t, they improved 10%. So yes, that’s the kind of thing you write a grant for.
Alejandro: And the company that you are speaking about, 7 Generation Games, that’s the
company that you co-founded with your daughter, with Maria as well?
Alejandro: Why go into this field? What was so important to you?
AnnMaria: When I look at where I am now and where I started out, there are basically two
things that made a difference. And one is, I was good at sports so a lot of the time when my friends were getting thrown in jail and alcohol and going to jail, I was in the gym. And I wasn’t a better kid, I just happened to be in a judo mat when they were getting in trouble. But the other thing is, I was good at Math. And I told my kids all the time, I have a gold medal from the World Championships and a PhD. And one of those two things lets us live by the beach in Santa Monica and it is not the gold medal.
So for me, because I was good at Math, it was my ticket out. I got to go to Washington University in St. Louis, which is a great school. I got a college scholarship. I got a fellowship to go to the University of Minnesota to earn a B.A. I got a fellowship to go to the University of California for a PhD because I was good at Math. I got a job as an engineer because I was good at Math. And that made all the difference in the world for me. And you see a lot of kids in the cities that say or on the reservations too. They’re going to be a professional athlete. You know, there’s a much, much larger proportion of people who are good at Math and make a really good living than people who are good at sports and could make a living.
Alejandro: And so that’s what led you to create 7 Generation Games. How many games and
how does that work? When you initially started this with your daughter, with Maria, what were your first steps into getting closer to the vision that you had? What did you have to do?
AnnMaria: Actually I founded it with Maria and with my husband, Dennis.
Alejandro: Oh, okay.
AnnMaria: He wanted to retire. He had been working in aerospace for years. He’s a terrific
software developer. And I said, “You know…” And he had a lot of opportunities because he was amazingly good. And I said, “I’ve been wanting to make these Math games for a long time.” I was actually wanting to propose when he didn’t apply for my doctorate many years ago. But back then, you think about 1985, what we could do with hardware and softwares is completely different.
So I’ve been wanting to do this. Like making games is not a simple thing. I mean, you make something that’s as complicated as like a 3D virtual world and has Math problems in it and has structural resources. It’s not really the sort of thing you do by yourself. And Dennis is an amazing developer so he was looking for other consulting and I said, “I have this idea for doing these Math games and I could write a grant to do it. And you could pick whatever area you want to do. You could work at home and you wouldn’t have to commute and I will also have sex with you.”
And then my daughter Jenny said, “I’m not hearing this.”
Alejandro: I love it. So he said…
AnnMaria: I’ll try to top that [inaudible – 00:45:14].
Alejandro: I was going to say, he didn’t hear the first part. He heard the second one and
AnnMaria: I’m in.
Alejandro: I’m in. That’s great. So you got him on board and then you began focusing. You
grabbed from your previous experience on being able to write grants. And where did you reach out to?
AnnMaria: Oh, well people I knew in the reservations and said, “Would you be interested
in…?” First of all, I asked them, “Would you be interested in using this if we had it? And then if we get this funding, can we use your schools as our pilot schools?” And they were willing to do it. So those first few schools, we will give them everything we make forever because basically I had to go in and say, “Hey, I have this idea. Would you replace Math class three days a week with a game? Trust me on this one.” And you know, I had worked with these folks for 20 years at that point because it takes a lot of trust to get somebody to say yes to that proposition, right?
Alejandro: Yes. That’s incredible. And so you literally to tell them, “Trust me,” and they are
AnnMaria: Well say, that’s it. Everybody wants, whether it’s medicine or educational
interventions, everybody wants research data but nobody wants to be the research data.
Alejandro: Right, correct. And so they said, yes. How many schools initially or how…?
AnnMaria: We started with three and then we really had positive results for the first three.
Then it was much easier to get additional schools. And I remember, I was analyzing a data so we did a pre-test and then they played the games for 10 weeks. Then we did a post test and then as I was in the office writing the code to analyze the data and went over our research system and they said, “This will work, right?”
And I said, “I hope so.” She looks at me like really nervous and I said, “There’s a reason it’s called research.”
Alejandro: That’s right.
AnnMaria: Yes, I was like tap dancing in the office when we got the first set of results. I was
Alejandro: That is so exciting. In terms of creating the game, was it as hard as you would
expect it? I mean, I’m sure this is a completely different world. How did you go about understanding the narrative and what you wanted to lay out for the game?
AnnMaria: Well we had consultants so for the historical storyline, in one of the reservation
we did on, whatever group we did it on, we had somebody from that community that helped us. Even with the Maya, we went to Belize and talked with people who are Mayan. Went horseback riding into the jungle with them and saw what they did and how they lived and same thing with Spirit Lake.
A friend of mine, Dr. Erich Longie is the first person from the Spirit Lake Dakota to earn a doctorate. And he was our cultural consultant. There were a couple of them. [Inaudible – 00:48:13] there who was the language teacher there did the Dakota language.
So to get the storyline, the actual factual part we work with them. And then Maria, you know, she’s a sports writer. She’s been a writer her whole life. She wrote a bestseller with Ronda. Once we had the facts of it and the kind of history, then she wrote up the storyline. And we hired some really talented artists. And as far as the Math part of it, since I taught Math for everything from middle school kids to doctoral students, I kind of had a good idea of… I mean, it’s all laid out there. You know, what they’re teaching in different grades and what had to be taught in what order. So that was probably the easiest part of it. And then getting it all to converge and make sense took some time.
And you know, the big problem too is always raising money because making games is phenomenally expensive. And the other times, Dennis and Maria and I, all of us went without a salary for months on end. That’s kind of the deal.
Alejandro: Where are you now and what would you like to be? What’s the vision for this?
AnnMaria: Well we are right now waiting. We were awarded a grant, another grant in
September and we’re still waiting on the funds because the US government has really been shrinking, right? People want small government but they don’t think that small government means you got three hour wait of the DMB because look how many people are… to have your, you know…
Alejandro: Then it becomes a reality.
AnnMaria: Yes, so to have your proposal released, you know, somebody has to check back
that you have paid all your taxes and done all this, which we have. But you know, we’re on that stack of 800 other approved applications so it’s kind of frustrating.
Alejandro: Got it. And where would you envision for 7 Games to be? Where would you like
to be? Do you want to be in every school or in a particular schools? Who are the people who are out there that could be listening to this?
AnnMaria: I would love to be in every school but realistically, I didn’t go into this and give up
a job that was already paying me really well so that the kids in [inaudible – 00:50:28] elementary in Malibu could not be even more advantaged. If your kid goes to point, I actually look into sending my little Julia there. You’re welcome to download the games and buy them. That would be great. You’d be more welcome to donate for every child that really can’t afford them.
We started out targeting low resource schools, low income schools on the reservations and really remote communities, in urban areas because so many of those kids don’t have a person. They don’t have a mom that can sit down next to them and explain to them step by step how you do it. Maybe she’s working or she got two other kids that are little. They don’t have parents that can afford to pay for tutoring.
So for those kids, this is their opportunity to have the opportunity I had to get good enough at Math that you get a ticket out. So that’s where my heart really lies.
Anybody listening to this, if you teach at low income schools… One thing that kind of makes me sad is sometimes I’ll go be visiting a school and they’ll say, “We use your games but only the free ones.” And I said, “For the love of God, if you can’t afford them, I live here in Malibu, I have no problem asking rich people for money.” So if you can’t afford them, you know…
Alejandro: If you want them, ask for money.
AnnMaria: Right. I don’t know how he did it because I’m the world’s worst fundraiser. I call
people I know and say, “Look, I know you took your wife to an around the world cruise on her 50th birthday. I know you got money…”
Alejandro: That’s the best way to do it.
AnnMaria: Right. These school needs these games. It’s only $750. You probably spent that
at dinner last night.
Alejandro: I was going to ask that. How much is it? So if I’m a school and I wanted to
integrate your games with our program, how does that work?
AnnMaria: It’s $750 a year for all of the games for every kid in your school. So it usually
comes out to like less than $2 a kid for a whole year for everything. And for where it’s some tiny little schools that have like 45 kids, the smallest school has two kids. So if it’s a really small school then we obviously make…
Alejandro: So the pricing can be customized based on the size of the school and the
resources and all of that.
AnnMaria: Right. Like typically the $750 a year for every kid. Like I said, if you are a school
and you just can’t afford it, hit me up. I will go shake some money obviously. And if you are that somebody, hit me up too.
Alejandro: And we’ll make sure at the end of the episode to provide all the links and all the
places where people can reach out to you.
So I wanted to make a transition to parenting. You were talking about kids and you were talking about how many don’t have their mothers that have the chance to be right next to them, and to sit down, and to teach them all these different things. You ended up with raising some incredible daughters, doing things that they seem to love to do. You mentioned that you wrote a book about this. What worked for you as a parent? How did you do it?
AnnMaria: A friend of mine really gave me good advice. He said… I talked to him when
Ronda really started taking off. When Ronda was taking off, she was really little and just started judo but I could tell. I had been in judo since I was 12 and I could tell this kid was going to be something else. And I asked my friend for advice and he said, “Always ask yourself if you’re doing this for you or for your kid. And if you honestly say you’re doing it for your kid, you won’t go wrong.”
So I think that’s one thing, if it’s sports or anything. You look at some of these people and they got every minute of their kid’s schedule from the time they’re in kindergarten because they’re going to go to MIT. Well you know, that’s your dream. That’s not your kid’s dream.
Alejandro: Where did you feel that that was put to the test? Was there a certain scenario?
With Ronda, did you say, did you mention to her that she should try judo? Was there any guidance or push leading to that direction?
AnnMaria: No, it was the exact opposite. She was in swimming and she was quite good at it.
She made it to Junior Olympics, which if you live in Southern California, is huge.
AnnMaria: Then she saw me at judo a few times I went to train in my friend’s club and she
said, “I want to try judo. I’ve been doing swimming since I was six. I’m tired of it. It’s getting to be like a job. I want to do judo. It looks fun.”
And I said, “No. You’re doing swimming. That’s your thing. You’re good at it. There’s college scholarships for it. And besides, your mother was a world champion, everybody is going to expect you to win the Junior Nationals the first time you go.”
And my friend [inaudible – 00:55:39] said, “Ann, nobody remembers you. Let the kid do judo.”
Alejandro: You got a little truth thrown at you. Was it that way or did she always have a
certain shadow? Has she ever shared that with you?
AnnMaria: Everybody expected her to do well and she did do well. And it’s funny, I had a
friend when I was much younger, Fred whose son I think also made the world team. And he said to me, “I knew my son had made it when people quit referring to him as Fred’s son and started referring to me as [inaudible – 00:56:08] dad.”
AnnMaria: It’s true because we do these things for years and Ronda would be introduced as
my daughter, right? And then a few years ago, she was doing some seminar to raise money for charity and somebody asked a questions about arm bars. She goes, “Mom, this is your arm bar. You come and show it.”
I heard a couple of people say to each other, “Ronda’s mom does judo?”
Alejandro: Nice. So it flipped.
AnnMaria: I think with all of them like Maria, my oldest daughter ran track and she did pole
vaulting and she ran cross country and she was in the pole vaulting. She was applying to schools and she decided to go to NYU over some place like UCLA which was obviously a sports powerhouse. And she said to me, “Mom, I know what it takes to make the Olympics and that’s not what I want for a life.”
Alejandro: And that was that. And you supported it 100%.
AnnMaria: Yes. Well I said, I will meet you in whatever direction you want to go but I
understand if this is not what you want, then I’m not shelling all the money for these expensive track camps and stuff like that if this is just kind of a side gig for you but it’s fine. But I will dig really deep to be able to afford NYU which is a lot of package change.
Alejandro: It’s so hard to know when to push and when you step back. Even when Ronda,
when you were saying that she decided she wanted to do judo, you told her, “Don’t go for it.” And she went for it. And now that she began that journey, did your mentorship, did that shift? Were you more aggressive on her to make sure that she was being pushed to the most? How did you know how to balance that?
AnnMaria: Well I told her a lot of times as she was growing up, “I know what it takes to be
best in the world. So you can tell me you don’t want to do that at any time and that’s fine with me. Like your sisters, they want to do other things. That’s cool. You don’t have to do it. But if you honestly tell me this is what you want, then this is what you need to do.”
And my husband said sometimes she thought she was rebelling against us when she was really rebelling against reality. You can’t be best in the world if you’re trying three times a week. It is not happening.
Alejandro: Right. And it must have been extremely helpful to have you by her side because
to your point, you had been there and there is a rule book. There are things that you need to do beginning with the fundamentals. If you’re just going three times a week, you’re not going to get up there with the best.
Alejandro: Wow. Are there any recommendations to people that are hearing this? Anything
regarding books or any favorite things that you’ve enjoyed in the last couple of years that just have made you feel happy and you love to share with others? It could be movies. It could be books. It could be anything. Any recommendations.
AnnMaria: One of the books I really liked is a fiction book, All The Light We Cannot See. It’s
one of the few books in the New York Times Bestseller Lists that I’ve really liked.
Alejandro: Really? And it’s called, what? All The Light…
AnnMaria: All The Light We Cannot See.
Alejandro: Wow. That’s a great title.
Alejandro: Okay. So we’ll make sure we put that in there. I always like hearing and learning
a little bit about what are the types of magazines, or books that our guests listen to or watch.
So having said that, is there anything else that you would like to share that I haven’t covered or you’d love to just plug in there?
AnnMaria: The thing that concerns me a lot that I don’t understand is, how parents can be
so involved with their kids in sports and not nearly as involved in their education.
My little Julia plays soccer at Leston University. And out of all the kids she played soccer with, girl or not, I think she’s the only one that’s playing soccer in college. Like the vast majority of kids that she played soccer with went to college. So I don’t understand why those parents aren’t more concerned about their kids academics. And I’m not saying everybody. Some of them are. I’m just really surprised how many parents don’t realize that their kids are below or behind.
Alejandro: That’s true. I agree with that 100%. There’s this culture on sports and not enough
is placed on and specifically in STEM. In Science and Technology, Math. You’re absolutely right.
AnnMaria: People say, “Oh well, I wasn’t any good in Math.”
And I want to say, “And how did that work out for you?” That’s why you’re cleaning my garage.
Alejandro: This is a much harder topic but you know, the US in terms of education for Math
and for english, we are at like 27th ranked in the world. Like 27th and something else. I forgot the figures but it’s not great. And it’s not the money because we have a lot of money and we’ve been throwing money in a lot of different…
AnnMaria: Oh, let me stop you right there.
Alejandro: What is it?
AnnMaria: For someone who’s been in 42 schools in the last two years, we give our schools
AnnMaria: Oh, yes. Like I said, Point Duman now who’s doing pretty well. I’m sure they are.
But you go into a lot of these public schools, like they say they have one to one computers. And guess what? The computers were stolen over the summer and they haven’t had computers for six months.
Or they say they have computers and you say, “Where are they?”
“Oh, only teachers can get computers if they request them.” So the teachers request them and they never show up. Or the computers they have are the absolute lowest in computers you could have bought five years ago. Yes, so we give them the absolute cheapest hardware, if we give them that.
Alejandro: Is that extremely political? How does that work between the public school system
and when they are receiving funding from the state or from federal? Is that an extremely complicated process that requires all these different levers to be pulled? Or have you seen something that does work in a way that can improve for schools to receive more funding?
AnnMaria: Well there isn’t an easy answer. It’s just like those people who want to win the
Olympics but still want to go the movies on Friday night. If you want the schools to have money, you need to give them money and pay taxes. I go to some of these schools, they don’t have one janitor. Or they have one janitor for 500 kids. They don’t have any…
I’ve gone into schools where me and my husband updated all the computers because they hadn’t been updated in two years because there’s nobody to do it because those teachers are teaching kids all day, and then they’re meeting with parents, and they’re writing lesson plans, and they got to go home to their own kids. We like to believe that, “Oh, there’s so much waste. We can just cut back and we can have more money for the schools or whatever…”
Alejandro: Oh… I think it might have frozen. Hold on a second.
AnnMaria: …six administrators. And then we’ll have all these money for computers. Yes,
there’s administrators but often they’re there because of idiot people who put rules in place trying to make sure you didn’t waste the money.
Going to a lot of schools, they… you know, when throwing money and the problem solves it. But the problem is, you don’t have enough damn money. I just really am appalled at how we give our schools so little and we claim they have so much. And I think people need to step out and walk into a public school. And maybe not a few live in a super nice neighborhood. Maybe not in your neighborhood.
I used to work for information technology services at USC. And you could look at a building at the 4th, 5th floor and see William Jefferson Clinton Middle School right down there. And we’re in the heart of the city, right? And I brought up a couple of times. There’s a bunch of us here that have PhDs, that have Master degrees in Math, Science, Computer Programming. Why don’t we volunteer and go over to that school. I mean, there’s a few hundred people in this building. Can you imagine what a hundred people, you know, even if some of them, just a hundred people like us could make a difference.
And you know what they told me? Oh, the university gives the money to them. Well, I don’t know how much money the university gave them but…
Alejandro: It’s not working out.
AnnMaria: We need to put effort into the things that we think matter. And we need to put
money into them. We can’t give our schools, yes, the technology they have. The wifi, the computers at most schools are nothing you and I would use.
Alejandro: That is a fallacy. I had always been under the impression that there is a lot of
money in that direction but to your point, I mean, most people aside from going to school, having personally gone through the school whatever neighborhood they went through, you don’t really go back once you went through that experience so you don’t actually get to see. The only way you could go back is once you have kids. That’s like the next. When you have kids and then going back to the elementary school and the middle school. And then at this stage, you’re seeing it through a completely different lens and understanding how crazy it is and how things actually work.
So that really is very intriguing. I saw that we are a little bit past the time but I want to thank you so much for this, Ann. If there’s anything…