We interview three amazing women, each following a unique life trajectory, all extraordinary local figures and role models.
- Written byAmber Klinck
Surfer. Speaker. Healer.
When Carly Rogers talks about the restorative power of the ocean and its awe-inspiring ability to heal, it’s hard not to be moved by her obvious dedication and contagious enthusiasm. The director of programs for The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation and the creator of Ocean Therapy, Carly has a calm confidence and healing energy that’s conducive to her profession.
Teaming surfers with kids with special needs, veterans or Marines coping with PTSD may seem like an unusual pairing, but for those who have experienced the remedial combination, it makes perfect sense. The idea was born from Carly’s experiences as a Los Angeles County lifeguard.
“Lifeguarding has inspired my life in countless ways,” she says. While working with the W.A.T.E.R Youth Program—teaching ocean safety to inner-city kids—Carly had an aha moment.
On May 7, 2014, during a Ted Talk at UCLA, Carly shared her experience: “A young boy was wheeled onto the sand in his
wheelchair, and he started crawling and moving and trying to get out. I could barely get his seatbelt off. He dove out into the
sand and started crawling towards the water. Instantly, as it does now, my skin lit up, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to take these kids surfing.’”
Carly later described the moment the child dove out of his wheelchair as “self-efficacy in its purest form.” Which is exactly what Ocean Therapy aims to increase in individuals with special needs: self-efficacy, self-esteem and self-confidence.
Deeply moved by this boy’s gravitation to the ocean, Carly would later have an experience with another young child that would only strengthen her desire to heal through teaching. While visiting Vietnam during a semester at sea, she met a small boy in an orphanage. He was alone in his crib, with nothing around him.
“I began teaching him to clap,” Carly says. “We had this incredible connection—you could feel it in the room.” This moment of unspoken communication would stay with her—a small but impactful experience forever imprinted in her memory.
A Hermosa Beach local, Carly certainly looks the part of the carefree surfer girl, with her long, beachy sundress—slightly snug over her growing baby bump—and her effortless, laid-back style. Growing up in the South Bay, Carly comes from a family with strong SoCal roots. Her grandparents met at the Isthmus on Catalina Island, her parents on the beach near the Manhattan Beach Pier. “Mom and dad were a pretty hot couple,” she says with a smile.
Well-known in the community, Carly’s parents supported their daughter’s immediate love of the water. “I was a fish from birth,” she explains. “My mom taught swimming. I would swim laps around her at 2 years old, while she was teaching lessons.”
At 10, Carly went to stay with extended family in Hawaii, where she began swimming competitively. “My mom always wanted me to have every opportunity,” she says.
When the time came for college, Carly enrolled at Northern Arizona University, trading her beloved ocean for the majestic mountains of Flagstaff. Sadly, in December of her freshman year, Carly’s mother passed away. “The mountains were a good place for me to grieve my mom,” she explains, but Carly knew the ocean was her home and where she needed to be.
After two years in Flagstaff, she returned to the coast, transferring to University of California at Santa Barbara, where she earned her BA in psychology. She would then attend USC, earning her master’s degree in occupational therapy in 2004 and her clinical doctoral degree in 2011.
Today, through The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, Ocean Therapy sessions are not only available in Manhattan Beach for children with special needs but also for veterans and the Marines of the Wounded Warrior Battalions at Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms. Dedicated to the life and legacy of local South Bay surfer Jimmy Miller, the JMMF merges occupational therapy with surfing, utilizing the healing power of the ocean to aid individuals coping with mental or physical conditions.
During her UCLA Ted Talk, Carly shared the comments of one Marine, describing his experience with Ocean Therapy: “In combat, you wait and you wait, and then you engage in an intense firefight, fighting for your life. But in surfing, you wait and you wait, and then you engage in a pure and natural adrenaline rush. I never knew how beautiful Mother Nature could be.”
For Carly, the decision to work with the foundation was an obvious one. “I felt connected to the family from the beginning,” she says about the Millers. She played water polo against Jeff in high school; eventually the two would teach junior lifeguards together at Marine Street. Jimmy was not only her mentor as a surfer and a lifeguard; he was a true friend and an incredibly important influence in her life.
“I like to call surfing my lesson in humility,” Carly says with a smile. Ironically, even with her innate love of water, Carly didn’t begin surfing until she was nearly 20 years old. “Surfing helps you let go of your inhibitions.”
When she’s not sharing the healing benefits of the ocean with others, Carly enjoys the perks of South Bay living—roller-skating on The Strand, visiting with friends or practicing yoga. And yes, of course, surfing near Rosecrans or 26th Street, where a group of local surfers gather.
“As a local, you always know everyone in the water,” says Carly. “Our ocean community is this big, expansive family.”
When asked about her own growing family, Carly smiles. Like her parents, she fell in love near water. She describes what she was thinking the first time she saw her husband, Danny: “He looks like a sweet and soulful guy.”
The two met in San Clemente at a paddle-out memorial for a mutual friend who was also a lifeguard. Danny later told Carly that he “fell in love instantly.”
The couple married in October 2013 and is expecting their first baby just shy of their one-year anniversary. “I can’t imagine my baby not having a connection to the water,” says Carly.
With a family full of fish, including a body surfer for a grandfather—“He still bodysurfs the pier regularly!”—Carly and Danny’s little one will surely have plenty of ocean experiences.
Mayor. Candidate. Leader.
Sitting at the table inside her sunny family room, Amy Howorth smiles as she flips through the images of her recent ice-bucket challenge. The Manhattan Beach mayor was drenched by not one, not two, but three giant buckets of icy water on a Wednesday in July in order to raise money for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Soaked from head to toe, the charitable dare proved to be yet another challenge Amy was ready to take head-on.
Whether looking to make an impact in the community as a mom, on the school board or as a city council member, Amy displays a strong sense of determination and practicality. “I love the work … the mess of it. I love how hard it is,” she says. “I come from a place of wanting to make it better. I like to get things done.”
Amy needed that same determination and work ethic during her campaign for State Senate in the 26th District. When she made the decision to run, she felt confident in her candidacy. She had 11 years of experience on the school board, “which is important, as over half the state budget goes to education,” she explains.
But there were also moments of uncertainty. “It was terrifying at times,” Amy says. “I would meet with the same group of women who had supported me from the beginning. I would look around and think, ‘Why me?’ I would begin to self-doubt.”
But it was through the positive reinforcement from that same group of women that Amy pulled strength. “You’re the bravest woman I know,” one of Amy’s supporters told her. “When times get tough, you need your village,” she explains.
For Amy, that village was made up of friends, community members and her incredibly supportive family. Her oldest son rallied kids from high school and from the neighborhood to volunteer for phone banking.
“It was a valuable experience for them,” Amy says, “to not give up and stay determined. To not be afraid that someone was going to be mad at them for asking … to get outside their comfort zone.”
Still, even with the support of friends and loved ones, the campaign had its challenges. There were times Amy, too, had to step outside her comfort zone.
“A large part of politics is funding. I would have to get on the phone and ask for funding, and more than I was comfortable asking for,” she explains.
In the end, however, the experience was very enlightening for Amy. “I learned more by trying and failing than I would have if I had won,” she explains.
By challenging herself, Amy learned a lot about who she was and walked away stronger. “After the campaign I felt very empowered,” she says. “The experience made me a better mayor and council member.”
Growing up on 30 acres of land in Ohio (her family still owns the original property), Amy graduated from Ohio University in 1986 and moved to Boston, where she met her husband, Mark. When the couple began their search for the perfect home in Manhattan Beach, they were living in Berkley with two small boys. Prior to that, they were in San Francisco, where Amy was the founding photo editor of Wired magazine.
Squeezing in as many property viewings as she could, Amy fell in love with a small home located on a walk street in Manhattan Beach. It was a quirky little property with numerous odd additions from previous owners.
Mark initially had his doubts about the home, but Amy knew this was where she wanted to raise her family. In 1997 the family moved into their new home, eventually transforming it into the house it is today.
While the boys were growing up, they were surrounded by kids of all ages. “The walk streets are filled with kids, and parents, and dogs … everyone knows each other,” she notes. “The kids run in and out of each other’s homes.”
Settled and happy in her new community, Amy began to actively participate in her son’s education. During elementary school, Amy was a “room mom,” planning student parties and events. “I was terrible at it,” she says. “I was fortunate to be paired with an incredibly organized woman.”
When her oldest son was in third grade, Amy became involved with the school board, familiarizing herself with the education system, meeting other moms and developing her own community. “Women often become friends through their children and being involved in their education,” Amy explains.
Later she would become a “leg rep” for the PTA, a position that keeps the community informed on what’s going on in Sacramento and how it affects the local schools. During school board meetings, she wasn’t afraid to stand and speak her mind.
It didn’t take long for Amy to realize she had a strong voice and that it could make a difference. Amy thought, “This could be something I can do for my community.”
She then became involved with the Vital Funds Coalition, speaking to the school board and asking tough questions like, “What are we going to do about budget cuts?” As Amy describes it, “We were participating in ground-up decision-making. I wasn’t afraid to say what was necessary.”
Eventually, Amy decided to run for the school board. “I was the underdog,” she says, but in 2003 she became a member.
It was on the school board that Amy saw some of the highest levels of intensity. “People are passionate on the school board. They’re making decisions that will affect their kids,” she explains.
In March 2011, Amy was elected to city council. The only woman on a council of five members, Amy smiles when she says, “I had to learn a whole new language. Of course there are more than 20% of women in town.”
For Amy, the life experiences she has had as a woman—and a mother—have contributed greatly to her role as a representative of the community. “To truly have a representative government, our government would have to be 50% women,” Amy explains. “It’s the variety in representation that’s important.”
A mom, wife, friend, community member and local representative, Amy smiles and says, “As a mom, I’m a multitasker. I know the importance of prioritizing.” But she also emphasizes the enduring support she received from other women.
“Women tend to build community wherever they go, because women know the importance of participation to thrive. That’s part of what I love about Manhattan Beach. It’s a small town with a big sense of community.”
Trailblazer. Olympian. Coach.
While the beach was still calm, before the crowds of eager spectators arrived, a young Holly McPeak scouted the cool, early morning sand for the perfect spot to watch the action.
“As a kid, I used to put out the chairs for the Manhattan Beach Open,” Holly says, “We would get up early, like 5 or 6 a.m., to put our beach towels and chairs close to center court so we’d have good seats to watch the pros.”
Growing up in Manhattan Beach a mere two blocks from the sand, Holly, along with her twin brother, Gary, and younger sister, Katie, became immersed in the beach volleyball lifestyle. Seeing professional players like Jim Menges and Matt Gage battle on the sand, Holly was immediately drawn to the competitive energy of the sport.
Sun-kissed, with an athletic build, Holly carries herself with a confidence that makes her appear taller than she is. Standing at 5 foot 7, a height considered less than exceptional for a professional volleyball player, the Olympian quickly eliminated any doubts about her stature with a series of career wins, a drive that wouldn’t quit and an unbelievably powerful display of athletic ability.
One of only five women in the world to participate in beach volleyball’s Olympic debut, Holly competed in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic games, winning a bronze medal in 2004 with partner Elaine Youngs. Over the course of her career, Holly would win 28 AVP and 19 FIVB tournaments, as well as two Manhattan Beach Open titles—one in 1993 and another in 2004.
But for Holly, it was about more than just the win. It was the thrill of the competition and putting together a strategy for success.
“I loved competing and figuring out a way to win,” she explains. Bringing intense focus and a fierce drive to every game, Holly’s tenacity and overall will to succeed gave her an edge—an edge that would eventually lead to a series of achievements, recognized and rewarded in 2009 when Holly was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame.
For Holly, athletic competition had always been a part of her life. Her family was very active. Her father played volleyball, and Holly and her siblings participa-ted in sports.
At 11, she began beach volleyball lessons from Charlie Saikley, nicknamed “the godfather of beach volleyball.” In high school she excelled at indoor volleyball, and in college she won an NCAA championship with UCLA.
But when the drive to compete began to fade, Holly knew it was time for another path. In 2009, just before her 40th birthday, Holly retired from the sport.
“The decision to retire was hard,” she explains, “but competing was no longer my top priority. My heart wasn’t in it.” Still, while she may have left volleyball as a competitor, Holly had much more to contribute to the sport.
One of three Olympian coaches, Holly is a cofounder of the Elite Beach Volleyball program, working with high school students from around the country who travel to Manhattan Beach to train. An alternative to indoor volleyball clubs, Elite Beach Volleyball teaches young athletes to boost their potential through the experience of their coaches.
“I love doing something to help these young players,” Holly explains. “Beach volleyball keeps kids active, which is better than having them sit around all day playing video games.”
More than just physical training, Holly works to prepare students for the mental focus necessary to succeed. “The most physically gifted athletes don’t always put in the work necessary to be the best,” Holly says.
But it takes more than athletic ability. “Drive is huge—you’ve got to realize where you fit and maximize what you have,” she explains.
With beach volleyball on track to be an official NCAA sport in 2016, Elite Beach Volleyball helps sharpen the skills of young athletes hoping to earn a college scholarship. In addition to coaching, Holly is also a television analyst for the PAC 12 Network, ESPN and Fox Sports.
Like many working moms, Holly strives to balance her family and career as well as time for herself. While still professionally competing, Holly met her husband and founder of the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball, Leonard Armato. In 2001 the couple married, and in 2011 they welcomed a baby boy into their lives.
Of course with Holly’s new priorities came new challenges. When asked how she finds time to relax, Holly smiles and says, “I don’t relax. I’m a hands-on mom: cooking, reading, at the park, at the beach. The days fly by, but I sleep well.”
Home life for the family consists of beach days, swimming, surfing and, of course, volleyball—although at the moment Holly’s 3-year-old son, a lover of books, may prefer a good story over a ball.
While she may no longer be training as a professional player, one look at Holly and you can’t help but wonder what she does to stay in such great shape. Like many SoCal locals, she takes advantage of her environment, running along the beach in the soft sand. Spinning, weightlifting and healthy eating are also part of her routine.
“Nutrition has become more important as I’ve gotten older. When I was younger and training all day, I could eat whatever I wanted. Not bad foods, just a higher quantity.” But while she may no longer be competing, Holly still trains once a week with the pros and even coaches a few.
When asked why her hometown continues to be the beach volleyball capital of the world, Holly replies, “We have the best beaches, plenty of courts and the best competition and coaching here in the South Bay.” Living only one street over from the house where she grew up, Holly continues to be a part of what she describes as the “beach volleyball lifestyle,” a lifestyle that blends beautifully with the South Bay way of life.
Founded in 1999 by Father Peter Banks, Friends of St. Lawrence-Watts Youth Center strives to break the cruel cycle of poverty and improve quality of life in the inner city. Father Banks recognized that education is not only the key to ending poverty, but also to quelling the lure of gangs to our vulnerable youth.