By Ellen Snortland
Pasadena Weekly Columnist

“I am a space geek,” reads my T-shirt. True enough. As an Altadenan, I am proud of and love visiting JPL whenever I can. I’ll never forget the day we parked near the Arroyo and gasped in wonder as the space shuttle Endeavour made a surprise, low altitude fly-by over JPL during its final flight. So, of course, I watched with great interest as Richard “The Pink Billionaire” Branson beat Jeff “Lex Luthor” Bezos into space. Now that’s a high-stakes rivalry.

As much as some people — understandably so — criticize spending vast sums of money on space exploration, I am all for it. For example, thanks to NASA’s space programs, we got Velcro, the tech that led to today’s smartphones and firefighting suits, just to name a few; there are so many innovations NASA has a department just to catalog them! However, this recent and highly competitive personal space race made me ponder how else we might “game-ify” other adventures while at the same time furthering human progress.

Ta-da! Introducing the Altruism Olympics! (Cue the John Williams fanfare.) The current Olympics have events based on ancient Grecian sports that were derived from warfare. Having the best archers, best runners, best swimmers and so on made each faction’s armies stronger. I propose a competition to actually make the world better.

In the Altruism Olympics, expect to see:

De-centralization — A shift from selecting one city to host the Summer and Winter Olympics to a system where 24 towns/cities/villages are chosen based on their need for an economic lift. Currently, huge cities consistently go into debt by hosting the Olympics. By selecting sites off the beaten track, tourists expand their travels to new adventures as they observe the games. Heck, getting to the host city might become an event in and of itself.

Marathons with a purpose — Two dozen marathons are held in remote areas where badly needed medicines can only be delivered on foot. Are antibiotics needed in Nepalese villages? The runners will get them there. Instead of one giant marathon in a big city, the field of runners is divided into dozens of separate long-distance races. The race destinations are selected based on need. An additional variation is that each runner carries precious medicine sponsored by corporations so that anti-malarials, HIV/AIDS treatments, safe birth and maternal kits, vaccines and so on reach the people who need them. How inspiring to tune in and see how the money that would have been spent on overpriced stadiums is instead being used to help runners compete for people’s access to life-saving remedies.

Martial Artistry — The 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will feature six martial arts that have divisions for women: boxing, fencing, taekwondo, wrestling, judo and karate. Karate is making its debut as an Olympic sport this year. The Altruism Olympics will build on this by emphasizing female martial arts so that the self-defense lightbulbs can go off in the hearts and minds of the female and femme-identified people who see them. Violence against women is at pandemic levels worldwide, and it’s almost impossible to “unsee” a woman who can hold her own. If a viewer has grown up believing that only men and boys are capable of certain things, attending these events can be life-changing and life-saving.

A bigger (shot put) bang — Some countries are tragically impacted by unexploded landmines; children, farmers, livestock and wildlife step on them and either lose limbs or, more often, are killed outright. It’s a huge environmental hazard. Some of these mines are even from the early 20th century. The countries most impacted by mines are Somalia, Mozambique, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kuwait, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Angola, Iran and Egypt. The shot putters will compete by looking at a map made by a drone with an infrared camera that locates the mines. The shot putter who detonates the most mines wins. This event is exciting because there is strength involved and lots of big blasts — fun for all with the big boom-booms! If bowling ever becomes accepted as an Olympic sport (it has failed yet again), bowlers could join the fun with strikes that blow up.

Anyway, you get the gist. Using Bezos and Branson’s space beef as a launching point, what else could we accomplish by pitting other moneyed moguls against each other? Melinda Gates could challenge other billionaire women to philanthropic heights, taking on MacKenzie (Bezos) Scott, who has already donated almost $10 billion for causes that benefit women and girls.

Stephen Colbert could compete with other feminist men to reach out and teach knuckle-dragging men to transform their ways into ways of menschiness and unabashed geekiness.

Meanwhile, I will wear my space geek tank top with pride and advocate for these new “sports” to show up in the public discourse. Let the games begin!

Ellen Snortland has written “Consider This…” for a heckuva long time, and she also coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at