Skip to main content

Game Changers

Five visionaries are...

Ice Man


With 3.5 million instagram followers, Chris Burkard urges and inspires people to journey to unexpected, wild places. Those seemingly inhospitable and fragile locales can suspend attention and make travelers realize how important it is to protect them. Burkard’s photography showcases both the joy of remote places and an acute call to action for why we need to protect them. 

As a self-described cold-water fanatic, he says, “Touristy beaches are always great, but when you tell people you’re going surfing in Norway, Russia, or Iceland, they look at you like you’re crazy,” says the California-based photographer. “That’s the reaction I want to get from people. Finding perfect waves in places they would never even imagine going to surf is something that excites me and pushes me to create incredible imagery. I feel like we’ve all been sold the endless summer dream, and for me, most of the warm places I’ve been to are littered with tourists, WiFi, and massive hotels. The mystery is lost.” 

Burkard’s icy experiences are so singular that his TED Talk, The Joy of Surfing in Cold Water, has been viewed more than two million times. But his passion for hypothermic waters goes beyond his wave-riding obsession. The self-taught photographer, whose Instagram (@chrisburkard) following evolves daily, hopes his stunning photography of icebergs and frozen waves will inspire more people to explore wild, rugged places. “Ultimately, the more time people spend outdoors, the more they will care about our environment and the wild places around the planet,” says Burkard. 

He’s also moved into the wellness field, having recently announced a collaboration with a plant-based nutrition company. The result? A product called the Holy Grail—a customized, plant-based powder packed with essential minerals, vitamins, and proteins and delivered in one, travel-friendly pouch. 

Burkard’s travels have certainly opened his eyes to how fragile our planet is. Over the years, he’s made 41 trips to Iceland, much of them to document the country’s glacial rivers for his book At Glacier’s End. “We followed the path of water from the glaciers to the sea and were able to witness year after year the recession of these glaciers and their need for protection from extractive industries,” he says. “The first step to protecting these places is getting people to experience them [first-hand].” — 

Female Space Explorer


In 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to venture into space, spending nearly three days alone orbiting the Earth. 

 At the time, the thought of a woman in space was unfathomable. But Tereshkova’s historic journey paved the way for more than 60 women to travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. After wrapping up a historic 328-day mission aboard the International Space Station on February 6, 2020, American Christina Koch has emerged as the new female trailblazer in space exploration. Koch, 41, now owns bragging rights for having completed the longest spaceflight ever for a woman.  

Koch’s mission spanned 5,248 orbits of the Earth—a journey of 139 million miles—roughly the equivalent of 291 roundtrips to the moon. She came up just 12 days shy of the American single-spaceflight record, which Scott Kelly set in 2016. During her 11 months in orbit, Koch conducted six spacewalks, including the first three all-women spacewalks, spending 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the station. NASA has collected a great deal of data on living in space over the years, but very few missions have been significantly longer than six months. “Astronauts demonstrate amazing resilience and adaptability in response to long duration spaceflight exposure,” says Jennifer Fogarty, Chief Scientist of the Human Research Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Christina’s extended mission will provide additional data for NASA’s Human Research Program and continue to support future missions to the moon and Mars.” 

As a little girl growing up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Koch dreamed of becoming an astronaut and even convinced her parents to send her to space camp. After graduating from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Physics and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, Koch was one of eight members selected for the 21st NASA astronaut class in 2013. Her astronaut candidate training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks, robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training. She was assigned to her first space flight, a long-duration mission on the International Space Station, in 2018. 

Now she’s dreaming further, with hopes to be the first woman on the moon as part of NASA’s 2024 Artemis lunar exploration program. The mission will send astronauts to new locations on the moon, including the Lunar South Pole. Tasks will include testing new technologies and finding and using water and other critical resources needed for long-term exploration. The goal is to use what we learn on and around the moon to take the next giant leap to Mars.  

Spending nearly a year in space gives you a completely new appreciation for Earth, said Koch in a press conference held in February 2020. “After 328 days in space, the first six days back on Earth were full of just as much wonder and excitement.” Koch then said. The things she missed most: her husband, Robert Koch; her dog, LBD; and chips and salsa.  

Koch points out that mental training was just as crucial as physical training to last that long away from home. “I regarded it as this amazing place, my new home for the next year,” Koch said. “Something I had trained for so long had come to life.” But now that she’s home, she’s relishing things most of us take for granted. Just before her return to Earth, Koch told reporters: “Oh, how I miss the wind on my face, the feeling of raindrops, sand on my feet. We take daily sensory inputs for granted until they are absent.” —

Food Waste Fighter


Matt Jozwiak spent most of his twenties working in some of the world's best restaurants. But stints at Alinea in Chicago, Noma in Copenhagen, and Eleven Madison Park in New York City left him unfulfilled. Searching to create something more meaningful, he started teaching kids from low-income communities how to cook. Both experiences opened his eyes to two seemingly intractable problems: food waste and hunger. Digging more deeply into the problem, he learned that 1.4 million people face hunger in New York City and 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. ends up going to waste. “I knew how much food got tossed after a restaurant shift,” Jozwiak says. “I realized one quarter of one night’s food waste from one restaurant equals about 65 meals.” 

Determined to build a better food system, he started tackling the most glaring inefficiencies in the system.  

“Understanding the ability to donate food is huge,” he says. “Most people worry they’re liable if they donate contaminated food or think donating is illegal, but that is a myth.” Rather than drop perishable scraps at soup kitchens, Jozwiak envisioned having a team of cooks, plus a nutritionist, who could turn those leftovers into healthy and delicious meals. In 2018, his dream became a reality when he launched ReThink Food NYC, a start-up nonprofit committed to repurposing excess food into free and low-cost meals to people in need.  

Partners now include restaurants like the Nomad, grocers like Wegmans, farms including Kimbal Musk’s Square Roots, and companies such as Goldman Sachs. Leftovers get transformed into meals, including roasted chicken thighs with ancho chile barbecue sauce and grain salad, and then served at 10 shelters throughout New York City, feeding an average of 2,000 New Yorkers per day. Since 2016, it’s estimated ReThink Food has collected more than 150,000 pounds of food and served more than 300,000 meals. 

What’s more, ReThink Café, the company’s first brick-and-mortar concept, recently debuted in Brooklyn, serving tasty, nutrient meals at fast-food prices. “I never imagined feeding people was [aligned with] sustainability,” says Jozwiak. “But sustainability leads to more equitable food practices and that leads to more people eating food for less money.” — 

Health Evangelist


When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Dr. Jordan Shlain reported from the front lines. Ahead of the curve of mass closures and government mandated social distancing, he urged citizens to slow down and take “collective, coordinated, shared action” in a calm, yet highly effective manner. 

His prescient vision has always been a game changer. In 1998, Dr. Shlain quit his first post-residency job and retreated to the Mandarin Oriental hotel in San Francisco to contemplate needed adjustments in the medical system. His father was a doctor during the heyday of healthcare. As Dr. Shlain grew in his own profession, it felt like doctors were cogs in a big machine. As he waxed nostalgic for the old days of medicine, he observed a cluster of well-heeled guests gathered around the concierge of his hotel. He thought, what if doctors approached their practice the same way a luxury hotel concierge approached customer service? Dr. Shlain, now 53, went on to become the on-call doctor for the Mandarin Oriental, embracing a concierge-like approach to healthcare. He started to share his email and phone number with patients, something unheard of in today’s automated healthcare era. His philosophy: out-care all other health providers and remove the anxiety from a doctor’s visit. 

Today, his practice, Private Medical—an internal medicine, pediatric, and naturopathic practice focused on prevention—is reimagining a new model for the delivery of primary care. “We are rooted in compassion, not rules,” explains Dr. Shlain. His focus on personalized, five-star service benefits not only the patients but also his team of practitioners. “When you take the shackles off doctors and let them do what they are supposed to do, they become the best versions of themselves, the doctor within them,” he says. One of Private Medical’s superpowers, says Dr. Shlain, is preventive care; essentially keeping people out of the medical system in the first place. “People get sick in healthcare,” he says. “We take a forward-looking approach to prevent all of the bad things that can sneak up on you. We are trying to get people to understand healthcare isn’t a cost, it’s an investment in your future.” 

Private Medical does not advertise and has a clear, no-conflict-of-interest policy, meaning the firm does not have any financial ties to pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Shlain is even pushing to have the Hippocratic Oath rewritten to bring more transparency to mass healthcare. “The people who currently take the oath are those helping people face to face,” he says. “Hospital and pharmaceutical CEOs take an oath to their shareholders that more is better, growth and higher margins are good. But if a business is profiting from the healthcare system, they should have to take the Hippocratic Oath, too. They need to agree to be transparent and accountable.” 

His practice is currently located in Silicon Valley, the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, New York City, and Beverly Hills, and may expand to Miami and London. By referral only, Private Medical takes five to 10 new clients a month and has about 800 families and individuals in the practice. “We grow at the speed by which we can maintain quality,” he says. “We want to ensure we’re thinking of your health, even when you’re not.” —

Master of Play


In our American World of iPads, Instagram, standardized tests, and hyper-sensitive parents, happy go-lucky games like dodgeball and hide-and-seek have become all but obsolete. The art of play, an integral part of childhood, is disappearing. Luckily, Cas Holman, a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and one of six designers profiled in the second season of “Abstract: The Art of Design,” on Netflix, believes in the power of play. The 45-year-old designer humbly refers to herself as a toymaker, but her work isn’t just about fun: Her projects help shape childhood development. She named her toymaking company Heroes Will Rise as a manifesto of sorts. “Our childhood impacts who we are as adults,” she says. “By investing in childhood, we invest in the future.”   

Holman grew up in Northern California playing with Star Wars figures and Legos. “I was always playing outside, engaging in the landscape,” she says. “Today’s kids are a lot less free-roaming. They have a lot more people telling them what to do.” Games like hopscotch, she says, teach children impulse control and social negotiations that you can’t get from playing video games. “Play is as important as eating and sleeping,” she says. “As kids get older, we gear them toward organized sports, which is great but often guided by competition or success. Open-ended play is more creative. It’s about making decisions in the moment.”  

Holman’s projects are geared toward children between the ages of five and eight and encourage collaboration and unstructured play to help stimulate imagination and teamwork. She works with schools, early childhood development specialists, and children’s museums to get feedback on how children react to her designs to help her tweak and improve the products. Are certain nuts and bolts too hard for kids to twist? If they can’t fit pieces together on their first try, will they disengage or start over? The Rigamajig, a large-scale building kit Holman first dreamed up for the High Line Park in New York City, has become her signature. The kit’s 265 pieces, including wooden planks, wheels, pulleys, hardware, and ropes, allow for open-ended exploration and collaboration. “Teachers have found Rigamajig to be very successful in inclusive classrooms,” she says.  

“Kids on the spectrum for autism or for whom verbal communication is not their magic are able to communicate with other kids in class in a totally different way when playing with this toy. It helps children relate to each other and that’s really important right now.” Her work with kids has been such a success that she now has coaches hiring her to be their play mentor. Many of her workshops focus on how to tap into a more creative side of your brain when problem solving or how to make the workplace more playful. “Play isn’t just for kids,” she says. “We should approach play as part of life. When you’re more playful you’re open to failure and discovery.” —