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106.1 The River

Women We Know… Strong, Courageous, and Resilient

By Cindi Alpert


I’ll never forget the night I sang the National Anthem for a professional sports team. It was my big moment, singing in front of tens of thousands of people at the Miami Heat game. I was prepared, beautifully dressed, sporting a new shade of lipstick, and I was nine months pregnant. Against my doctor’s advice, since I was already two days past due, I couldn’t pass up this incredible honor and opportunity. I waddled out to center court and sang my little heart out. The crowd went nuts, and all went well.

This moment is embedded in my memory as a life-changing experience, because now, whenever I’m nervous, whether it’s performing a concert or giving a presentation, I think back to that moment frozen in time at the Miami Heat game and remind myself that no matter how much I stumble my words or mess up a song, at least I won’t go into labor. It gets me through every time.

I asked some notable women I’ve met in Knoxville to share some of their stories, and I was overwhelmed with the response. I couldn’t fit all the amazing stories on one page, so this is going to be one of a two-part piece on women we know. These women are strong, courageous, and resilient. The hard part was asking them to sum up a life changing experience in 200 words or less. Here’s what they had to say.

Madeline Rogero, Knoxville Mayor

When I’m asked about an experience that was intimidating for me or pushed me to move out of my comfort zone, my mind immediately recalls my first foray in politics. I was 37 years old and received a call from an elected official who encouraged me to run on the Democratic ticket for county commission against a Republican who had held the seat for 24 years. My first reaction was “I’m not qualified.” But he encouraged me to look into it, and I began to talk to friends, read books about running for office, and learn about county commission. I had several strikes against me: I wasn’t from Knoxville, I had an ethnic-sounding name that was difficult to pronounce and spell, I was, by then, divorced with two children, ages 11 and 14, and I had worked with farm workers and non-profit organizations – not your typical jobs for Knoxville politicians. My friends kept encouraging me, so I filed my papers for the election on the last day. My opponent was a gentleman who didn’t campaign much, because he just didn’t figure I was a threat. The few times I did see him in public, he would greet me warmly and introduce me to his friends, saying, “This is my opponent. Isn’t she pretty?” Well, I just smiled and tried to be as “pretty” as possible, so he wouldn’t think of me as a threat. The common political wisdom was that we couldn’t win, but we did. By a landslide. My opponent’s wife was quoted as saying, “We don’t know what happened.” However, nobody was more surprised than me! I’m glad I took that first step, because it eventually led to the best job I’ve ever had: being mayor of Knoxville.

Darla Oringderff, Speech Language Pathologist

I’m a 47 year old, Speech-Language Pathologist, homeschooling mother of two. I’ve never participated in sports. However, two years ago, while enrolling my eight year old son in a Judo class, I mentioned to his coach that the sport looked fun. He cautiously noted my enthusiasm, mentioned that Judo is a rough sport, and recommended me to an adult Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) class. BJJ is defined as a martial art, combat sport, self defense system that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. “Yeah, that sounds less rough,” I thought nervously. My husband and I attended the first class together. He warned me that I might get hurt and that I couldn’t cry. It’s now been more than two years since that first class. I admit I was nervous before every class for the first six months, but I persevered. I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone, and with the encouragement of my family and teammates at TN BJJ, I even competed and won a Bronze Medal in the 2011 Tennessee State BJJ Championship, fighting girls literally half my age. I am now a one-stripe blue belt. However, the best part was not losing 20 lbs and gaining strength and flexibility. The best part was when my 11 year old daughter decided to step out of her comfort zone and said, “Mom, I want to try Judo, too. I’ve been watching you, and if you can do it, I can, too.” She said the same thing after my competition, and she went on to win a Silver Medal in the UT Judo Tournament. I may be getting older, but I’m not getting old. I still want to learn new things and challenge myself. I want to be a good example to my children to do the same.

Amber Roggeman, Business Owner/bath junkie

At the age of 21, I lost both of my parents within a six month span. This was obviously a traumatic, life-changing event which molded me into who I am today.  From that early age I made a conscious decision to press on and persevere no matter what life throws at me.  As an only child, I had to quickly gain the strength and independence to carry on, because I know that is what my parents would have wanted.  That early experience plays a significant role in my professional life today as a small business owner.

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