How Two High-Performance Athletes are Challenging Cannabis Stereotypes

Article by Sam Riches,

How two high-performance athletes are challenging cannabis stereotypes Rachael Rapinoe and Anna Symonds are working to bust up myths and lay a new foundation. SAM RICHES World Cup-winning soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe and her twin sister, Rachael, the CEO of Mendi. / PHOTO: RACHAEL RAPINOE INSTAGRAMMendi athletes and advisors Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. / Photo: Mendi Instagram Cannabis educator Anna Symonds at work. / Photo: Anna Symonds Instagram Symonds greets one of the hemp plants at East Fork Cultivars. / Photo: Anna Symonds Instagram

Rachael Rapinoe, sister of U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe and the CEO of Mendi, an Oregon-based, women-owned CBD company, is clear about her vision.

“We want to be the world’s most trusted sports CBD brand,” Rapinoe tells The GrowthOp from Oregon. “That’s where we want to go.”

That journey is a long way from her past as a professional soccer player. For much of Rapinoe’s life, her view of cannabis was largely negative and not at all associated with athletics. “I grew up in the ‘just say no to drugs era’, and believed all of the propaganda that I was hearing about cannabis,” she says.

That started to change about five years ago when she noticed other pro athletes using cannabis and CBD as part of their training and recovery processes. “It was the first time in my life that I had seen that outside of stoner culture and they were truly using it as a recovery tool,” says Rapinoe, who played soccer alongside her sister at the University of Portland before embarking on her own professional career.

But Rapinoe also noticed that many of the athletes weren’t clear on details, like how the products worked, or where they were sourced from. “They knew that it felt better than taking opiates or Ambien for sleep, but they didn’t know if it was hemp-derived, they didn’t know it was marijuana-derived. They had no idea what they were taking.”

Rapinoe, alongside her business partner Kendra Freeman, saw an opportunity to build an athlete-focused CBD company and to challenge the lazy stoner stereotype by focusing on the benefits of cannabis and CBD for high-performance athletes and everyday, active people.

In addition to Megan Rapinoe, the company’s first athlete ambassador, the team also counts Sue Bird as an advisory board member. Bird, the legendary WNBA star and one of the most accomplished basketball players of all time, is particularly interested in product research and development, says Rapinoe.

“She’s really good at taking our concepts and taking our products and applying them through an elite athlete lens,” Rapinoe says of Bird. “She’s very strategic and methodical.”

As a woman-owned company, Rapnioe says there’s a chance for Mendi to take part in a larger story, and to help shape an industry that is still being built. “This industry is new, and we have an opportunity to create a landscape that’s very inclusive,” she suggests.

One of the people also working towards that goal is Anna Symonds, a professional rugby player, who won championships in the U.S. and Australia, turned cannabis educator.

By day, Symonds is director of education for East Fork Cultivars, an Oregon craft cannabis farm, where she teaches cannabis science and CBD certification courses to thousands of people, from dispensary staff to corporate clients and new consumers. She is also an ambassador with the Last Prisoner Project, which is working, state by state, to release incarnated cannabis prisoners.

As someone who makes a living in cannabis, Symonds says she has a responsibility to be involved.

“We know that the ‘war on drugs’ has disproportionately targeted communities of colour, particularly the African American community, in arrest, prosecution and in sentencing at every level of the criminal justice system. And not only that, but people are still being arrested and prosecuted for cannabis possession,” she says. “It’s a gross injustice.”

Beyond working towards release, the Last Prisoner Project is also focused on reentry and rehabilitation programs and expungement and record clearing programs.

“It’s not reparative justice,” Symonds says. “You can’t repair something that was never right. But what we can do is transform how we move forward.”

Changing the narrative

In her day-to-day, speaking to cannabis consumers new and old, Symonds is also working to change the way people think about the plant. “It’s really a wide range of questions that people have, and myths are at every level, even people who may consider themselves knowledgeable who may have used cannabis for years,” she says.

Those conversations present an opportunity to change the dialogue.

“We want to see a mindset change again, instead of saying, ‘Well, this is a drug of abuse, but it’s not that strong of one, so we’ll just minimize it.’ That’s moving in the right direction, but we want the mindset to be that this is a beneficial herb, a medicinal herb, and there’s no need to treat it like a drug.”

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