Mountain Mayhem: Big Ideas

May Selby
Janelle Patrick and Rachel Wandzilak getting inspired on the Aspen Institute campus.
May Selby

Founded in 2005, the Aspen Ideas Festival’s (AIF) week-long event at the Aspen Institute returned in person this year with robust discussions, seminars, panels and tutorials featuring media personalities, musicians, designers, entrepreneurs, politicians, diplomats, presidents of organizations and more.

The buzzy campus was alive with AIF programs, and so was the newly opened Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies, which several friends and I toured during the week. I highly recommend taking a guided visit.

Health kicked off the festival from June 22-25 with a dedicated focus on health and medicine, followed by a broader array of topics divided into two segments. Festival 1 ran June 25-28, and Festival 2 went from June 28 to July 1. While participants primarily attended with a pass, purchasing individual public tickets offered a great way to get a glimpse, which is what I did. I registered for a few sessions and found each one worthwhile and moving.

A theme I kept picking up on at each talk involved a search for solutions and connectivity, as well as a genuine sense of compassion for others, despite shared or differences of opinion.  

I had the pleasure of meeting an attendee who came to town for Health: Joel Lieginger, who is the CEO and founder of a company called Paceline.

“(It’s like) a cross between Strava and AmEx,” he described, which intrigued me from the get-go. Lieginger explained the concept behind his wellness platform that “science shows incentivizing good health behaviors improves health outcomes, which is good for individuals and good for the world.” 

The rewards app and credit card are connected to tracking physical activity through wearables like FitBit, Garmin or Apple Watch, and, in turn, offer rewards for being active. It’s similar to receiving cash back from other cards’ loyalty programs that honor spending.

While here, he hosted a bike ride to move, network and connect outside the conference campus with a ride along the Rio Grande Trail to Capitol Creek Brewery. I couldn’t make that outing, so, instead, we took a rainy road ride to the Bells the next day.

Riding rain or shine with Joel Lieginger, CEO and founder of Paceline wellness platform.
May Selby

On June 28, I took a seat in the Benedict Music Tent for the annual Afternoon of Conversation with five riveting segments, including a welcome from Dan Porterfield, Aspen Institute president and CEO, and Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, which was the media partner for AIF. Among the conversations was one with female journalists Katie Couric, Mary Louise Kelly, Erin McLaughlin and Erin Trieb, who spoke about reporting from Ukraine. I especially related to their comments about making ongoing efforts to connect with the Ukrainian people and find human interest stories, which have a major impact in keeping readers and viewers engaged.

Host Sheinelle Jones with the “Today” show interviewed actress Selma Blair at an evening talk on June 30. Blair spoke about overcoming an alcohol addiction and the shame associated with her behavior, as well as being diagnosed with and living with multiple sclerosis. Joined by her service dog, Scout, and warmly welcomed by Jones and a caring audience, Blair opened up about her struggles and finding strength and purpose in a very authentic manner. Afterward, she signed copies of her new autobiography, “Mean Baby,” spending time with each person in line as they approached the desk for her to personalize their copy.  

With more than 300 leaders and innovators who took part in the fest, this is just a peek into the extensive and intriguing programming. Visit for links to livestream recordings and more.

The Benedict Music Tent during an Afternoon of Conversation for Aspen Ideas Fest.
May Selby
Actress and author Selma Blair signs copies of her new autobiography, “Mean Baby” while her service dog, Scout, looks on.
May Selby
Friends attend a tour of the new Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies at the Aspen Institute during Aspen Ideas Fest.
Richard Stettner
Katie Couric interviews Mary Louise Kelly, Erin McLaughlin and Erin Trieb about reporting from Ukraine at Aspen Ideas Fest.
May Selby
An engaging Selma Blair (right) poses for a photo with guests following her Aspen Ideas talk.
May Selby
Lori Benson, CEO of Hip Hop Public Health; Matthew Mutti and his wife, CNBC health correspondent Bertha Coombs; and Joel Lieginger, CEO and founder of Paceline head out on a bike ride during Aspen Ideas Fest.
Courtesy photo
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