Thursday, January 15, 2015

Women Who Inspire: Interview with Hope Hall

For those of you new to my blog, I periodically interview my female Naval Academy classmates and post these interviews under the heading, Women Who Inspire. I favor a strong female protagonist, and I don't have to look far for inspiration.

One such person is this month's interviewee, Hope Hall. Prepare to be amazed. I've even included a bonus video at the end of the article. Your jaw will drop when you watch it, but it will remain firmly cemented to the floor when you remember that Hope is forty-seven years old. 

Hope Hall on the straps.
Hope Hall graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in English and reported to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light-40 (HSL-40) in Mayport, Florida, to serve as the legal officer, and later, the maintenance officer. After attending Intel School in Dam Neck, VA, she reported to Joint Intelligence Center Pacific (JICPAC) in Hawaii to serve as an all-source intelligence officer. Her final tour, rounding out seven years of active duty service, brought her back to Washington, D. C., as the navy’s HIV policy officer. She represented Team USA in the World Military Games in the sports of triathlon and cross country, and has competed five times at the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Today, she works as a Senior Project Manager for Clark Construction. Hope is currently living in Seattle, WA. 

AW: I typically don’t begin these interviews by talking about outside interests or hobbies, but I just have to start with this first photo, because it’s so freakin’ gorgeous. Tell me about aerial arts and performing with the straps. When and where did you begin this pursuit?

HH: I started at a circus arts school in Los Angeles about seven years ago. I saw a man performing on the straps—typically it’s men on this apparatus—and he did these roll-ups, where you start in an iron cross position and roll yourself up the straps, and I said, “I want to do this!”

Hope Hall on straps
and Steve Thompson on trapeze
AW: You were a gymnast at the Naval Academy, so I imagine this background helped!

HH: Yeah, so much of that muscle memory was still there. I’ve always been challenged with flexibility, but my strength is my strength, so this apparatus plays to that. It requires great core strength, but it’s still beautiful and lyrical. This is a great outlet for my creativity and also a viable form of exercise. I can work on my strength and flexibility, stay in shape, and I get to perform, too.

AW: Tell me about this picture here, where you are performing with a trapeze artist.

HH: This was one of my favorite performances. You wouldn’t think the trapeze and the straps could mesh, but we created a story—a love story—did the choreography, picked the costumes, and the music. It’s all a learning process. When you’re creating the story, you’re thinking, How do I want to make people feel? Normally, I do performances with a “stronger” feel, but this one was quite gentle.
AW: These photos are just stunning. But you also do partner balance work.

Hope Hall with Rachel Tatum
demonstrating partner balance

HH: When trying out different things at the circus arts school, you find what works for your body type, and partner balancing works well for me. The partner I work with now is also a former gymnast. Like the straps, partner balancing plays to my strength.

AW: Speaking of strength, you’re an accomplished triathlete. You’ve completed thirteen Ironman triathlons and you’ve qualified for and competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, five times! We could probably spend your entire interview right here—since your interviewer is a triathlon coach—but suffice it to say, this is an amazing accomplishment. How did you get started in triathlon?

HH: When I was stationed in Hawaii, I won a bet with a fellow Academy grad who was a swimmer at Annapolis. For winning, he had to give me swim lessons, so I could survive my first sprint triathlon.

AW: Survive? You mean you couldn’t swim?

HH: No! I was an aqua-rock at the Academy. I barely made it through the swim tests there.

AW: From aqua-rock to Kona. Incredible. And trust me, as a swim coach, I know. So from the time you completed your first sprint tri to going to Kona, how long was that?

HH: I learned to swim and started racing in 1992. I went to Kona for the first time in 1995. So three years.

AW: And what other years did you compete there and did you have a favorite qualifying race?

HH: After the first time in 1995, I was there in 1996 and 1998. Then I took a little break from Ironman, but returned the sport in 2005 at Ironman Lake Placid and qualified there. That was my favorite qualifying race. And then I did Ironman Wisconsin in 2006, which qualifies you for Kona in the following year, so I did my last Kona in 2007.

AW: Are you doing triathlons now?

HH: Yes, but not like before. I think that triathlon . . . it can sort of take over your life. I wanted to take some time off. I wanted it to be fun again. Now, my favorite thing is doing relays with my sister—she’s a super-fast cyclist—so now it’s fun again. But also, triathlon doesn’t mix well with the aerial arts and partner balancing. They run counter to each other. Like if you’re running, your hamstrings get tight, or you’re bent over on a bike in the aero position, but then you have to go to the gym and you’re doing back handsprings. It’s just hard, especially as you get older.
Hope Hall (right) with her sisters,
Kate Borders (left) and Lindsey Mohle (center)

AW: [Easy to forget you’re speaking with a 47-year-old, when the conversation shifts to back handsprings. I take that back. I forgot she was 47 with the very first question and pretty much every question since.] So we need to hit on your naval career at some point in this interview, but even this included athletics, because you competed for Team USA in the World Military Games, both in the sports of triathlon and cross country!

HH: Yes, the first Games were in Rome in 1995 and it was pretty cool because you marched into a stadium, just like the Olympics, and there were probably thirty countries there. The whole idea of the military games is friendship through sport, so you had countries participating that weren’t friendly with the United States—like the Libyan military showed up—but we competed together on the field, so that was neat.

AW: Did they have the same sports in these Games that you’d find in the Olympics?

HH: They did, but they also focused on sports that showcased military skills. Like they had military pentathlon, which involved horses, and also sports with marksmanship. Remember Thomas Hellriegel? He was a German army officer and I got to be friends with him. He won the triathlon event for the Military Games that year, and then a month later, he took second place in Kona. That was my first Kona year, too, and I remember sitting with him the day after the race and he was absolutely stunned that he’d done that well. He was a total unknown at the time.

AW: That’s a very nice piece of triathlon lore there! Ok, so we really need to get to your military stuff. First, how would you characterize your time at the Naval Academy?

HH:  It took a while for me to look back on it fondly. After graduation, I stayed away. There were elements that were challenging. I knew I was gay, and I watched this girl, one of our classmates, go through this horrible thing. She was the smartest woman I’ve ever met and they kicked her out. I always lived in fear that I was next, so it was really hard. I pushed the Academy stuff away until our twentieth reunion. I went and it was a turning point. Everyone was so warm and they all knew about me and nobody cared. It was so refreshing to have this reaction after twenty years. I felt welcome again, but it wasn’t like that when I graduated.

AW: I’m an author and I should have the words for that, but it sickens me. That whole situation. That you lived in fear like that. I’m just glad you’re being treated better now.

HH: Yeah, I’ve reconnected with people. Thank heavens for Facebook! I’m even going to the Army-Navy game this weekend. So it’s much better, yes.
Hope Hall and her mom, Dina Hall in Italy

AW: You service selected General Unrestricted Line, and after you graduated, you went to a helicopter squadron first.

HH: I did. I was the legal officer for HSL-40 [Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light] and then I eventually moved into the maintenance department and became the maintenance officer.

AW: Were you mostly shore-based or did you go to sea during this tour?

HH: I was shore-based. This was a training squadron, so pilots fresh out of flight school would come here to learn how to fly the H-60. We had a lot of senior pilots in the squadron, who were instructors, and I got to go flying, too.

AW: And after this, you went to Hawaii for intelligence work? What did you do there?

HH: I was assigned to JICPAC [Joint Intelligence Center Pacific] as an all-source intelligence officer. This was a cool tour because it was joint, so all the services were represented here. Everyone had a different area of responsibility and we would brief the admirals and generals at Camp Smith every morning on developments or things that might be of interest to them in our area.

AW: And what was your area?

HH: I covered South Asia. Every night, you’d cull through all this information and pull up anything that could be of importance. Like there could have been a revolution in Fiji and you’d have to report on that. Or maybe you’d find something interesting in satellite imagery or pick up a good piece of human intelligence.

AW: Fascinating. I’ve sort of zipped around chronologically during this interview, and I’m going to fast forward once more. Today, you’re a Senior Project Manager for a construction company. Tell me about your most recently completed job.

HH: We just completed the structural retrofit of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, the building was shut down. It sat idle for almost twenty years. I mean, homeless people lived there. So we did a complete retrofit to make it earthquake tolerant. It took three years and 175 million dollars to bring it back to life, and the result is stunning.

AW: And now, you’ve moved to Seattle to take on the management of a new project.

HH: Yes, this is another three-year job. We’re expanding a VA facility to include a mental health center for research and outpatient care.

AW: I’m going to wrap up the interview by returning to the beginning of your naval career, to the application process for obtaining an appointment to the Naval Academy. I think our readers are going to get a chuckle out of who gave you your congressional nomination.

HH: Ha! It was Strom Thurmond. I’ll never forget when I received that phone call—I spoke with him personally—and he told me he was giving me a nomination. Probably rolling in his grave right now!

AW: Rolling over to applaud, hopefully!

Here's a video of Hope practicing on the straps!