First-Year Reading 2014

Mireya Mayor
Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey from NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer

About the Author

A scientist, explorer, wildlife correspondent, anthropologist and inspirational speaker, Dr. Mireya Mayor, a Ph.D. in anthropology, has reported on wildlife and habitat issues to worldwide audiences for more than a decade.

A former NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins, Mireya grew up in a big city and as the only daughter of Cuban immigrants, she couldn’t join the Girl Scouts as a little girl because her family thought it was too dangerous. In spite of this, she went on to become the first female wildlife correspondent for the “Ultimate Explorer” series on National Geographic Television, and has spent more than ten years exploring some of the wildest and most remote places on earth, often armed with little more than a backpack, notebooks and hiking boots. Since then, Mireya has slept in remote jungles teeming with poisonous snakes, gone diving with great white sharks, been charged by gorillas and chased by elephants, and that’s just in the last few months.

Mireya’s curiosity and love for animals started very early on as a child. Since she could crawl, Mireya had birds, fish, dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits, turtles, and a little chicken named Maggie. But it was in 1996, while attending the University of Miami that she realized that her passion for animals could become a career. In order to fulfill a science credit, Mireya wanted to register for a woman’s biology course, but the class was full. After scrolling down the course list she chose an anthropology course, not entirely knowing what that meant. That choice would forever change her life.

Anthropology fascinated her, particularly her professor’s stories of chasing monkeys in the wild. After learning of wild animals on the brink of extinction whose most basic behavior and habits were unknown, Mireya, then only 22, applied for her first grant. Though a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader and model, she received the grant and went on to spend that summer in the remote jungles of Guyana, one of the most unexplored regions of the world at that time. The following year she journeyed to the wilds of Madagascar into areas so remote, that she often found herself surrounded by local villagers who had never seen a foreigner before her arrival. Against all odds, and following in the footsteps of renowned scientists who had tried and failed, Mireya completed the first ever long-term and genetic studies of two of the most critically endangered primates in the world, Perrier’s sifaka and the Silky sifaka. Feeling as if she had found her calling, Mireya has spent anywhere from 3 to 10 months at a time in Madagascar since then.

In 1999, National Geographic was doing a story in Madagascar and asked Mireya to say a few words about the lemurs. Impressed by her passion for the subject, down to earth delivery of scientific knowledge and distinct background of NFL cheerleader-turned- scientist, National Geographic offered Mireya the opportunity of a lifetime and her dream job: a staff wildlife correspondent position, complete with her own office. She has since gone underwater with six-foot Humboldt squids, scoped out gorillas in Central Africa, swam with great white and six-gilled sharks, and worked with leopards in Namibia (just to name a few projects).

In 2005, Mireya received two Emmy Award nominations for her work on the television series “Ultimate Explorer”. Mireya was later named an ”Emerging Explorer” in 2007 by the National Geographic Society which selects rising talents, “the next generation of visionaries” who push the boundaries of adventure and global problem solving, inspiring people to care about the planet.

Mireya also starred in Mark Burnett’s eagerly anticipated 8-part series Expedition Africa: Stanley & Livingstone (History Channel) as one of four explorers to retrace the nearly 1,000-mile trip of Henry Stanley & David Livingstone. Armed with only a compass and old maps, the explorers faced challenging terrain, conflicting team dynamics, and diverse wildlife.

Mireya is now one of the hosts on National Geographic’s new channel Wild! You can currently catch her series “Wild Nights with Mireya Mayor” and her documentary special “Mystery Gorillas”.

For more than a decade, Mireya has dedicated her life to unlocking the mysteries of the natural world. She ventures into previously unexplored parts of the planet to study rare creatures, working closely with indigenous people in the process. In 2000, Mireya co-discovered a new species of mouse lemur in Madagascar and eventually convinced the African island nation’s leaders to declare the new species’ habitat a national park.  Mireya says: “Television has the power to help people know and connect with these animals and habitats that are disappearing. We may be facing the largest mass extinction of our time, so awareness is crucial. If we don’t act now it will be too late.”

Mireya is a Fulbright scholar, National Science Foundation Fellow and published author with a Ph.D. in anthropology from Stony Brook University.  She wrote the foreword and was a major contributor for National Geographic’s Complete Survival Manual, has written articles for National Geographic’s kids magazines “Explorer’ and ‘Extreme Explorer’, and is working closely with National Geographic’s School Publishing on videos and textbooks for classrooms nationwide.

Mireya has made numerous appearances on the “Today” show, MSNBC, CNN, and Despierta America and has been profiled in People, Marie Claire, Latina, National Geographic Adventure, Vanidades and Elle magazines. Mireya divides her time between research in the rainforests of Madagascar, lecturing at schools and universities and traveling the world as a wildlife correspondent. Mireya’s talks are inspiring for all ages but, is an especially powerful presenter for student audiences.

When not deep in the jungle or on assignment, Mireya lives in Miami with her supportive and loving husband Roland, and their two young daughters, Emma and Ava. They share their home with an ever-growing menagerie of wonderful creatures.

About the Book

A quick examination of her roots, and one may never have guessed that Mireya Mayor would become the woman she is today. Yet, against all odds, this self-professed former "girly girl" daughter of overprotective Cuban immigrants blossomed from NFL cheerleader to Fulbright Scholar to field scientist and ultimately, quintessential adventurer. Now, with more than a decade's worth of thrilling exploits under her belt, Mayor recounts her life in a riveting, awe-inspiring new book.

 In a series of short chapters, she relives each exhilarating event with uncanny charm and self-deprecating humor. Readers have the rare opportunity to follow the renowned primatologist around the globe as she unlocks the mysteries of the natural world and endeavors to save some of the planet's rarest creatures. Says Mayor: "I love the adventure, the exploration, the scientific discovery and the documentation. But really what drives me is the thought that future generations—my own children and their children—can one day learn to appreciate them like I do."

 Throughout this unforgettable volume, she describes in stunning detail how she survived a plane crash...slept in jungles teeming with poisonous snakes...dove with hungry great white sharks...rappelled down a 14,000-foot sinkhole in search of frogs...draws blood from critically endangered lemurs...was charged by an angry silver-backed gorilla...was chased by elephants...and the list goes. Suffice it to say, Mireya Mayor has seen more in her 30-odd years than most of us will see in a lifetime. Her plucky spirit, brilliance in the face of calamity, and sheer will to succeed make this a classic mission book, and a thoroughly breathtaking read.

Commons Day

Dr. Mireya Mayor will be visiting Stony Brook campus on Wednesday, October 22, 2014