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Jamie Mittelman: Lighting the Torch for 2021’s Female Olympic and Paralympic Athletes

Jamie Mittelman: Lighting the Torch for 2021’s Female Olympic and Paralympic Athletes

Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Jamie Mittelman, the founder, and host of the podcast, Flame Bearers.

Spiffy: Howdy Jamie! Flame Bearers sounds pretty fierce! Can you talk to me about what it’s about and what challenges you’re addressing?

Jamie: It is fierce, Spiffy! According to the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2020 Chasing Equity report, just 3.2% of sports media coverage in the U.S. is devoted to women’s sports. That number is even lower globally. Even at the highest levels of sports, women athletes don’t receive the media attention they deserve. This lack of representation makes it nearly impossible for younger girls to see their future selves in someone who doesn’t ‘exist’ today. And if you’re a woman athlete whose looks, experiences, or attitudes strays from the socially accepted model, you’ll struggle even more to secure media attention and sponsorships.

Spiffy: I had no idea! What motivated you to tackle this?

Jamie: I wanted to create something that addresses what we all need most right now: hope and the belief that we are not alone. Our world is locked in a period of unprecedented change and isolation; we’re all coping with ambiguity and fear. Our world’s top athletes, particularly women athletes, have overcome physical, mental, emotional, and societal obstacles. There are a lot of ideas that drive more revenue or leverage more innovative technology, but our idea gets to the root of what human beings need right now—and have needed for most of 2020— hope. 

Spiffy: We all need hope, that’s for sure. How are you working to create a more equitable world through Flame Bearers?

Jamie: We create a better world by elevating these women’s stories and providing clear socially-oriented calls to action. Every featured athlete has the opportunity to include a concrete call to action for how listeners can support a cause about which they are passionate. We champion minority voices — voices of women from all backgrounds and experiences — and in doing so, humanize and change perceptions of women everywhere. We support athletes from all continents except Antarctica, and individuals of all sexual identities, races, religions, ableisms, income-levels, and languages.

An infographic highlighting some of the Flame Bearers’ efforts. (Image courtesy of Jamie Mittelman)

Spiffy: That’s amazing! What kind of milestones have you achieved?

Jamie: We reached listeners in 17 different countries. This matters because it shows that we are reaching people from all backgrounds and experiences. I've also received incredible support from a range of athletes, including the athletes that have been featured on the podcast. To quote world para-badminton player, Manasi Joshi, “I heard your podcast of other athletes and I was so impressed. The topics that top athletes spoke about made me understand that I am not alone. This podcast helped me understand the power of sports, how it impacts lives, and the importance of sharing our stories with a wider audience. There are so many people going through similar experiences, and when they are able to relate they feel they are not alone.”

Spiffy: I wonder if it’s been an easy path for you. Have you had any experience with failure? How did you overcome it? 

Jamie: Well, Spiffy, my biggest failure is related to my personal struggle of working alone. Specifically, it can be lonely working alone and getting your venture off the ground. I always knew that I loved working on teams, but this was the first time in my life where I felt that being an individual contributor and creator was simply not enough in and of itself. While I was very proactive in establishing and working with a group of mentors who provided me with invaluable insight and guidance during the earliest stages of my venture, I was very much doing the work alone. Within the past month, I have on boarded two teammates, and they have made the process more fun and enjoyable. But in the beginning, I greatly missed working with others.

Spiffy: You know, Jamie, it sounds like you experienced loneliness similar to some of the female athletes that you described earlier. I’d love to hear about some of the inspiring lessons you’ve learned from these amazing athletes!

Jamie: I learn countless lessons from each athlete that I work with. Becky Sauerbrunn taught me that you don't have to be the loudest player on the field to be the most effective — sometimes being smarter and quieter is better. Ezinne Kalu taught me that people are quick to put you in a box and label you, but at the end of the day, you choose your own identity. Kym Crosby taught me that teamwork looks different to everyone based on what you need help with. And Zahra Nemati taught me that sports can unify and bring people together despite political divides.

Spiffy: We all need these inspiring messages right now! Jamie, thank you for bringing these stories to light. I can’t wait to see how far this flame travels!


Jamie Mittelman is the founder and host of Flame Bearers, a podcast highlighting Tokyo’s unsung women Olympians and Paralympians and the issues they are passionate about. Jessica is a candidate for the Masters of Public Administration degree at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and received her MBA from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. Jamie is passionate about community organizing and elevating women and girls. (Nominated by Harvard Innovation Labs)