The RunRunLive 4.0 Podcast Episode 4-476 – MK Lever – Dystopian College Athletics

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Link epi4476.mp3

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Hello my friends and welcome to episode 4 476 of the RunRunLive podcast.

Today we have a super interesting talk with MK Lever about her dystopian college athletics novel Surviving the second tier.  It’s a hard book to categorize.  On the one hand it’s a near-future dystopian novel about college sports.  On the other it’s a scholarly critique of the current college sports power dynamic and some of its most destructive aspects.  And then there’s a love story and a rocky-esque championship tension and drama. 

Like I said, it’s tough to categorize.  And that makes it hard for a novel because we humans love to label and categorize.  Our brains go all weird and fuzzy if we can’t.  You can see this in every review where they say ‘it’s like X’ or even in startup pitches where they will always say something like ‘it’s the Uber of grocery’. 

And that inevitably makes it hard on books and businesses to gain traction.  They have to forge their own paths.  They have to create their own market.  Sometimes it works, because that cross-pollination finds a new unserved and undeveloped market niche.  Sometimes it doesn’t work because it takes a lot of energy to create something totally new.  You have to explain to people what it is before you can sell them something. 

There’s an old joke about pioneers typically having short lives.

Anyhow… That’s who we talk to today.  In section one I’ll talk about this year’s Boston Marathon because it is next week and for the first time in a couple decades I’m not going to be participating. 

I feel like I should say more about that, but I’m, let me just say this, and maybe I’m just having a good day, but I feel like I’ve moved into the 6th stage of grief, which is celebration. 

No seriously I was out at Starbucks today and realize I’m wearing a Boston Hat and a NYC jacket and wondering what I’ll say if someone asks me about it, like “Are you running the marathon this year?” and how my usual response for the last year has been to apologize, “No, I hurt me knee.” But, thinking about the stories behind this hat and this jacket, all I can really say right now is “No, not this year, but I did, and how cool is that?”

In section two I’m going to talk about garbage.  Because, yeah, garbage.

I’ve totally stopped running because my knee was too painful.  It’s been a year or so now so my fitness is at an all time low. 

It’s interesting.  I think about that motivational speech where the motivator says “Running is hard.  Being fat and out of shape is hard.  Choose your hard.” And it’s true.  Being unfit is hard.

I’ve got some plans to change that and we’ll talk a more in the outro.

Going back to the Dystopian novel topic.  What MK is doing here is one of the things I really like about the creative vehicle of fiction generally and science fiction in particular.  Setting stories in the future or on a different planet allows the creator a safe place to play with ideas.  To sketch out alternatives to today. 

MK does that.  Think of other novels you may have heard of that do this?  How about HG Wells The Time Machine? It’s really a commentary on the class system.  Or Brave new world by Huxley?  Or 1984 or Animal Farm by Orwell.  Or the Hand Maiden’s Tale. 

Dystopian novels aren’t about the future.  They’re about us.  They’re the equivalent of Marley’s Ghost showing us the what ifs of our choices, as people, and as a society.

That’s your homework.  Read or listen to a dystopian classic and learn something about yourself. 

On with the show.


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Section one – Boston 2022 -


Voices of reason – the conversation

MK Lewis – Surviving the Second Tier

Former NCAA Division I Athlete's New Dystopian Novel Exposes the Dark Side of College Athletics


 Imagine a world where coercion, control, surveillance, and manipulation reign. Where imbalance of power makes exploitation easy and where those at the bottom of the heap sacrifice everything to make a profit for those at the top. M.K. Lever's knockout debut work of fiction, Surviving the Second Tier, weaves these issues and themes throughout a new fictional dystopia to display the real world truths that face athletes in the college athletic system.

"I wrote this book to educate readers about the reality of the college sports industry, as someone who has been there before," shares Lever. "Sometimes, facts and statistics don't stick with people and since we are intrinsically wired to follow narratives, I wanted to tell people a story in hopes that the message would resonate in a unique and powerful way. I wanted to give college sports the 1984 treatment and create a narrative that would be impactful and a little unsettling."


"Finally, a novel that both entertains and informs about the college and university paradigm of recruiting, rewarding, retaining and career placement of athletes...A very impressive debut novel by MK Lever, an informed – and experienced – former Division 1 runner - providing an exceptional story and encouragement for students to navigate a changing athletic system."

Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame Top 50 Reviewer, 5-stars


M.K. Lever, a former Division 1 athlete and PhD candidate at UT Austin, combines her personal experiences as a student athlete and the weight of her academic research in areas concerning NCAA rhetoric, discourse, and policy to create her stunning and emotionally driven literary debut. Surviving the Second Tier depicts a new day in college athletics in which the old multi-sport model has collapsed and the bare bones, but extremely profitable Amateur Fighting Association has risen in its place. Where students once competed in a multitude of sports on a variety of playing fields, now college athletes have only the AFA ring in which to prove themselves in full-contact, no holds barred fights to the finish.


Undefeated and on her way to a perfect record, Sicily "Sis" Jones pushes her way through injury and intense stress to maintain both her fighting record and her perfect GPA. Financial pressure, family pressure, and a cut-throat coach add to her already driven nature, keeping her right at the edge of breaking and hungry to win. Most of Sis's teammates are in no better place – the AFA taps into the pool of poor, disadvantaged kids and the fame attained in the ring to further the profits wrung from the lives of the athletes. Each member of Sis's team is "fighting scared", battling the personal demons that drive them and having those expertly exploited by their coach to gain maximum control of his fighters. When the AFA pits Sis against one of her own teammates in competition, a violent outcome fractures the fragile bond between teammates, coaches, and the AFA, changing the game in new and unexpected ways. Can Sis and her teammates learn to use their voices, rather than their fists, to fight for change and to survive the second tier?


"A stark view of college athletics in a bleak future where fighting is the main sport, all other sports are gone and an abusive, exploitive, charnel house of multi-division Fight Clubs is all that exists.By stripping out all familiar names or descriptions in a novel focused on the three fighters, M.K. Lever adroitly brings attention to the plight of college athletes and athletics today."

Brad Butler, Author, 5-stars


As a graduate student researching NCAA policy and rhetoric, Lever began to describe college athletics as a "dystopia" and soon found that listeners engaged more with the ideas she was sharing. "Surviving the Second Tier is different from other dystopias," explains Lever. "It targets the college sports industry, inviting the reader to spend some time living and experiencing the life of a college athlete rather than just watching them compete or reading about them in the media. I wanted to present the real-world issues that affect college athletes in an engaging and palatable way and give a bigger picture of the issues beyond just economic exploitation, which is where most of the public discourse focuses."


"This is a one of a kind book, an emotionally striking, multifaceted narrative of manipulation and control that is both chilling and revealing. Surviving the Second Tier is a valuable contribution to current conversations around the abuse, control, and exploitation of college athletes. M.K. Lever has given us a knockout work of fiction – college athletics meets the Hunger Games..."

Jessica Tofino, Educator and Writer, 5-stars


"I want readers will be drawn into the emotional world of Sis and the other characters and begin to see that the college sports industry isn't as glamorous as it looks from the outside," says Lever. "I want to humanize college athletes, help readers to see them as whole people, rather than just game day statistics or salary totals and educate them about the problems these athletes face."


With its gritty dystopian flavor and emotionally resonant characters, Surviving the Second Tier makes readers take a hard look at the sordid side of college athletics—the personal sacrifices, the politics involved in keeping athletes hungry and ready to compete at the top of their game, and the exploitation of talent and over-the-top drive. M.K. Lever skillfully wraps information, education, and advocacy in a sparse, moving, emotionally enthralling story that will keep readers in its grasps until the last page.


 Section two –The garbage Project -



Ok my friends that’s episode 4-476 of the RunRunLive Podcast.  

Like I said I’ve been not running at all because my knee is really sore.  But all hope is not lost.  I changed to the ½ marathon at the Flying Pig.  Don’t’ need to hurt myself anymore.

I got my mountain bike in for a checkup.  More on that later.  Invested in a good pair of knee pads and a new pair of glasses.  Getting ready for when the weather finally turns. 

I’m going to start by just building some base miles and getting used to the bike.  Stay out of the technical stuff.  No sense in beating on myself.  Start working in some yoga and core strength.  

I’m also back on the diet.  I had sky-rocketed to over 190 pounds.  Time to give up the beer.  My pants were starting to not fit. 

So – back on the workout track and we’ll see if the knee responds well to biking.  If it does, I’ll work up to a longer event at the end of the summer.

Update here: Went for a nice long MTB ride this morning.  My plan was just to spin up the rail trail and get 2 hours of saddle time.  But when I got to the end of the rail trail I was only 39 minutes in so I went out into some trails that are there at the terminus. 

One way it led to a neighborhood.  But the other way were carefully crafted mountain bike trails with nice hand made signs that gave the trail names, like “Barbwire” and such, because part of the MTB culture around here is to give the trails cute code names. 

I took it easy and explored the trails.  They weren’t that technical and I avoided anything that might result in a crash or stress my knee. It was just the right level difficulty for me.  Then I rode back on the rail trail for just about 2 hours of total seat time. 

Interestingly I felt a pretty significant energy loss on the way back.  It took me some time to remember – ‘hey – this is what hitting the wall feels like!’ 

Good ride.  Baby steps.

My new role at work is giving me stress and taking up a lot of my headspace.  But I’m working to remind myself that I choose to do it and I don’t have to of I don’t want to. 

Here are a couple of nuggets for you to consider from my affirmation collection.

I.e. you can repeat these to yourself or print them out and hang them where you can see them during the day.  It’s one of my habits to collect these things.  You never know when you’ll need them.

First one is: “No matter what happens, I will handle it.”  That will remind you that you’ve worked through a lot of challenging times in your life and you’ve always made it through.  This time won’t be any different.  No matter what happens, you will handle it.

Second one is a counter point to the first.  Sure you can handle it, but should you?  Consider this: Remove yourself from a bad situation instead of waiting for the situation to change. You can always walk away.  You have the power.  You have the aegis. 

There’s a nice little Greek loan word you can use to impress your friends.  Aegis.  Didn’t originally mean ‘power’ but that’s the modern usage.  The original meaning is ‘protection’ because it is derived from the name of the shield used by Greek gods. 

Anyhow, don’t forget it’s always ok to protect yourself.  You can always remove yourself from a bad situation.

But, what do you focus on when things are crazy stressful and expectations are out of whack?  You focus on doing the best job you can do in the time you have on the things that are the most important.  Even if you feel like you’re getting railroaded and set up.  Just focus on doing each thing well. 

I forgot who said it.  I think it was one of the Apollo 11 astronauts.  They asked him what his secret to success was.  And he replied that he just focused on doing the best e could do with every thing that came in front of him and didn’t worry about anything else.

That’s it. 

You can handle it.  If you feel like it’s unhealthy or you’re being treated badly, you can walk away.  If you want to play along just focus on being excellent at the important stuff.  It will all work out.

And I’ll see you out there.

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Direct download: epi4476.mp3
Category:Running -- posted at: 8:28pm EDT





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