SIMONE BILES

Interview by Pauline Snyder-Goodwin | Photography by Jhane Hoang | Styling by Ren. Garza | Art Direction by Marc Sifuentes | Hair and Makeup by Tonya Riner

Simone’s success didn’t come easy. Her journey to becoming a decorated Artistic Gymnast contained many challenges and crossroads along the way. But her passion and determination in becoming an elite gymnast prevailed. Following a brief period in a foster home in Columbus, OH, Simone’s grandparents officially adopted her in 2003, in Spring, TX. To Simone’s surprise, she discovered there was a trampoline in the backyard of her grandparent’s house. This was just the beginning of her journey towards becoming one of America’s most decorated gymnast with a total of 19 medals won; 4 gold and 1 bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 14 World Championship medals.

Women’s gymnastics is a dangerous sport which also has a short career span, with women reaching their gymnastic peak during their high school years. In 2012, Simone sacrificed a traditional high school education, along with the social life that comes with it, by switching to homeschool. This decision was not easy for Simone, but it allowed for more training hours to continue mastering her gymnastic skills. Eventually, Simone would achieve mastery and effortless execution of even the most difficult gymnastics skills. She has an arsenal of amazing tricks she can do, but one of the most jaw-dropping is a tumbling skill she executes on the floor exercise simply called “The Biles”. It earned the namesake because Simone was the first female gymnast to accomplish two back flips followed by a half twist in competition.

Simone released her first book; Courage to Soar: A Body In Motion, A Life In Balance, at the end of last year. It’s a tell-all book where she opens her heart and soul as she takes us on her life’s journey from her early childhood to that rainy night in Rio where she would hold an American flag twice her size at the closing ceremonies. She was the first American female gymnast to be awarded this privilege. Who knew that the tiny girl with big muscles would accomplish such a feat and become an inspiration for little girls the world over.

We had the honor to catch up with Simone to learn more about her, her life’s passion of gymnastics, and her new book. The World Champion Centre, your family’s new gymnastics facility opened May 2016 in Spring, TX. What was the inspiration behind creating this gym? The idea of a gym started when my mom was closing out her former business and decided to start a new business venture. Her vision was to build a gym and have all the equipment that I would need for training since the Olympics was my goal. It has been so great having the facility available to me and I love having that support from my family and The World Champion Centre community.

Do you ever teach any classes at The World Champion Centre?

No, I have not taught any classes yet, but maybe in the future!

How does The World Champion Centre differentiate itself from other gymnastic facilities in the Houston area?

I believe The World Champion Centre is different from other facilities in the Houston area because it is multifaceted. We offer gymnastics, Artistic Olympics for boys and girls, Acrobatics-Silk program, Tumbling & Trampoline, the Warriors Program, Recreational and Preschool, Taekwondo and dance.

We also offer schooling for our gymnasts from 3rd grade through high school, and our pro-shop and cafe lend to our goal to satisfy each customer and make them comfortable.

Please tell us about the Academy at WCC.

Our Academy is a wonderful addition to World Champions Centre! We have two teachers that are master’s prepared. They tailor the student’s lesson plan to fit their individual needs and follow NCAA guidelines to ensure easy access to the universities. Students that are currently attending The Academy range from 3rd grade to high school. The Academy is a non-profit school which depends on donations for funding.

How old were you when you took your first gymnastics class? When did you first start competing?

I was six-years-old when I started gymnastics classes and was competing only a year later at the age of 7.

Do you remember doing your first cartwheel? Who taught you?

I remember being three-years-old when my brother taught me how to do my first cartwheel. I was hooked!

What lessons can students learn from gymnastics that they can apply to their everyday life?

Students can learn balance, discipline and organization, determination, mental and physical toughness, respect for their teammates and coaches, dedication to the sport, and most of all forming strong friendships and teamwork. That’s one of the things I love about gymnastics, aside from the flipping, soaring, and jumping, the sport is about teamwork, strength, and organization.

At what moment did you realize you wanted a career in gymnastics?

I fell in love with the sport from day one!

Best advice you can give young girls wanting to become an elite gymnast.

I would tell them to set goals for themselves and to not give up, even on the bad days.

Are you involved in any youth programs in your community?

Yes, I partnered with Mattress Firm Foster Kids, a donation-driven program that has given more than 610,000 items (clothes and school supplies) to foster kids and their families.

Who’s been your life mentor? What’s the best advice they have given you?

My mother has been my life mentor and the best advice she has given me is to “be the best Simone” that I can be. Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance, is your first book.

What motivated you to write it? What do you want readers to take away from this book?

I wanted to write my book because it is important to tell my own story. There are many things written about me but my fans should hear my story from me. I hope that my readers will get a little insight into my life and maybe be inspired to work harder in whatever sport they are involved in.

Mary Lou Retton wrote the foreword to your book. Tell us about this collaboration.

I first met Mary Lou at her invitational meet in Houston and I absolutely adore her. Mary Lou is one of the pioneers of Women Gymnastics and she is an amazing and powerful gymnast.

When did you first meet Mary Lou and what was that like?

I was very young when I met Mary Lou, I was about ten-years-old and we did not speak but I was in awe of her and I remembered her telling us to always stay focused and envision the routine before you “go” for it. From that day forward, and while in Rio for the Olympic Games, I think of that advice and it has really helped me as a gymnast.

In your book you talk about a field trip you took with your daycare class on a rainy day. Please tell us about that event.

I was attending Kids R Kids summer camp and it was field trip day. The plan was to go to an oil ranch. It was raining that day so the teachers needed a backup plan and they chose Bannon’s Gymnastix gym because it was close to us. I was excited because this was my first time in a gym. All the equipment was a dream come true. I was showing off all my tricks and copying what I saw the girls in the back doing. I remember this was an amazing field trip because I was sent home with a letter from the gym inviting me to join. At the age of three you were placed in foster care until your grandparents adopted you.

Any advice you would like to give to foster parents?

I knew that we were taken to stay with another family but did not quite understand why because I was young. I later learned that my mother had a substance abuse problem and had difficulty taking care of us. My short time in the foster care system was good and we were blessed to have been taken in by my grandfather and grandmother while my mother received help. My advice to foster parents is to give the child or children a chance and to love them.

Tell us about the nickname you earned in third grade.

My nickname at school was “swoldier” (classmates coined this term from the words ‘swollen’ and ‘soldier’) because I had defined muscles and was very strong. I had more muscles than any of the boys in my class, and I was very self-conscious of my body because of it.

At the 2011 Visa Nationals, you missed making the Junior National Women’s team by one spot. Please share with us this experience and the emotions running through you during this competition.

My goal and my dream was to make the National Women’s team. Missing that opportunity by one spot was devastating, but it made me even more motivated to get back in the gym and work even harder.

In your experience in women’s gymnastics, do you think there’s a significant advantage to having a woman vs. a man as a coach?

I have had both men and women coaches and I am comfortable with both. I believe it is who you are most comfortable with that will give you an advantage and who will push you and encourage you. You need a coach to teach, guide, and understand you.

Aimee Boorman was your coach since the beginning of your gymnastics career. What was the key to this successful relationship?

As a coach, Aimee knew and understood me as a person. She knew what I was capable of doing and knew that I needed a challenge to stay focused. Aimee managed to keep me motivated to push through the numerous repetitions during training.

You haven’t lost an all-around meet since 2013. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio you took four gold medals and a bronze setting an American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single game. How do you stay humble?

I am blessed to be consistent with my performances in competitions. My mom makes sure that we pray and go to church routinely and thank God for the body and gift he gave me. Life at home is the same. I am still responsible for doing chores in the house and keeping the same routines once I am at home, which helps me stay grounded.

You chose Samba music for your floor exercise routine at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. What motivated you to make this selection?

My choreographer helped me with selecting my floor music, and because I like upbeat music, it felt like the perfect choice for that routine. We debuted the music at the Pacific Rim Championships in Everett, WA and there was such a great response from the crowd that we decided to keep it for my floor exercise in Rio.

What was it like being a part of the “Final Five” team?

Being a part of the final five was amazing and a dream come true.

Do you have any good luck rituals you do prior to competing?

I do not have any rituals prior to competing, but I do take along my turtles and my St. Sebastian pendant with me because they are my good luck charms!

What’s your favorite thing to do when not doing gymnastics?

When I am not doing gymnastics I love spending time with family and friends and watching Netflix.

Do you have any furry friends at home?

We have 4 German Shepherds: Maggie, Lily, Bella and Atlas.

Who’s on your playlist?

Right now I am listening to a lot of Justin Bieber, The Chainsmokers, Drake, and The Weeknd to name a few.

Your favorite place to go to in the world?

I love visiting Belize because it is where my mother’s family comes from. It is a true connection to family and that is just very special to me.

When you’re not training or competing what’s your favorite food you like to eat?

Oh it would have to be pizza! That is definitely my favorite cheat food.

What would Simone Biles be if she wasn’t an Artistic Gymnast?

If I did not do artistic gymnastics I would probably be a dancer or in track and field. It would have to be something creative and physically involved, but still not a far cry from artistic gymnastics! .

Stylist Assistant: Dustin Bice | Special thanks to Brie Costello, Janey Miller and Ashley Laury | World Champions Centre Gym located at 28865 Birnham Woods Dr, Spring, TX 77386

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simon Biles available at Barnes and Noble, published by Zondervan Press

KAREN LEE – TRAINER

Karen Lee is centered. One can feel this immediately when standing within her presence. As with any athlete that has conditioned their mind and body through years of training, Karen’s calm collection is anything but docile. There is a hyper- awareness and intuition that is in operation, gears turning in full motion. Perhaps it is this quality that allows her to tap so readily into those she works with and trains.

A gifted motivator, Karen has the ability to help her clients reach within themselves,
find their grit, and use it as motivation to reach their personal fitness goals. In short, she understands her clients’ pain. “We are programmed to protect ourselves from physical pain, and working out hurts.” She says, however, that “it comes down to mindset.”

Fully knowing the challenge an early morning workout can pose while juggling a full schedule, the bodybuilder herself has been pursuing her love of physique training, while balancing her responsibilities as a single mom with her personal fitness-training career as one of Equinox’s Master Instructors. Here Iris had a chance to catch up with the demi-goddess while on set for her photoshoot at Equinox River Oaks.

When did you decide to become a bodybuilder, and what inspired you?

I started competing in 2013 as a way to challenge myself. I had been working out my entire adult life and I was starting
to feel like I was just going through the motions in the gym. So one of my friends suggested that I should prep for a show, so I did. And suddenly I had purpose and passion in the gym again. It sparked my competitive spirit and I have been addicted ever since.

Was there anything in particular that attracted you to it?

Because of my background as a gymnast, I have a tendency towards perfectionism. The tough thing about physique sports
is that there is no such thing as perfect and there is always something that can be improved. So I have learned to reign my inner perfectionist in a little, so that I can focus more on progress and improvement.

What challenges have you had to overcome in pursuing bodybuilding?

Most of the challenge for me comes in balancing my life with my passion. I have to take care of my priorities first; my daughter, my job, my health. I will never allow any of my priorities to suffer for my desire to improve my physique. That means late nights of preparing my food and early mornings at work to allow time for workouts, but my goal is to keep the rest of my life and my daughter’s life as normal as possible.

What feelings or emotions do you experience while training?

It is a complete spectrum. One day you walk into the gym feeling like, “I am on fire and I’m gonna kill this workout and then go home and be a great mom and take care of business!” The next day you wake up and think, “I’m not gonna make it, why am I doing this?” But ultimately, what separates good from great is your ability to push through those tough days. I have learned you can’t be spectacular every day, but either way you have to show up and give your 100% effort for that day, whatever that may be.

Can you explain a little about the sport science of bodybuilding?

Many people would assume that most bodybuilders and coaches are a bunch of “meatheads”. But in order to stay healthy and get your body to extremely low levels of bodyfat for competition, it takes a very specific, science-based diet and training program. You can’t just starve yourself and do a bunch of cardio, expecting great results. We go through a bulking season where the goal is to build muscle without gaining too much fat. This requires a lot of nutrient dense foods at specific times, and lifting typically heavier weights with not as much cardio.

Then, when preparing for a competition, I take about 16 weeks to diet down. This means everything I put in my mouth is measured and calculated and serves a specific purpose: some days are higher in carbs, other days are higher in fats.
It also means an increase in cardio and higher intensity weight lifting sessions. There are a lot of wrong ways to do it, but there is no one right way to do it; each competitor has to find what is right for their body.

Have you experienced any stigmatization because of how your body changed since you began training? From either men or women?

Definitely, from both men and women. Some of the comments are positive, but also a lot of negative. I just don’t think people are ready to accept that a woman can be strong and feminine at the same time. It used to really bother me at first, but now I try to take the comments in stride, even the negative ones.

Additionally, I find that people see me a s very one dimensional because of the way I look. I spend a lot of time in the gym, but I am not just a “meathead”. I have a college degree, a successful career, a happy healthy daughter, I foster rescue dogs, attend church, travel, read, etc. Lifting is just something I am passionate about. It is a part of me, but it is not who I am.

I don’t think their intention is ever to insult. I think they don’t know what to say when they see something out of the norm like a girl with big muscles. It used to really bother me but I’ve taught myself over time to take it as a compliment because they don’t know how to say, “Wow you look like you work really hard,” or “I can see your dedication.”

Do you think women need to push back on body image standards that have been imposed by fashion and commercial advertising?

As a society we are shown images of women who crash diet, don’t exercise, don’t sleep. And then the alternative
to that is plus size women who “love their curves” but have unhealthy body fat percentages. I don’t know that either one is really healthy. I wish there was as much marketing for health as there is for beauty. I really think that everyone has to look at their own body and embrace who they are. My body is more muscular so I’ve embraced it. I think the push needs to be toward more healthy bodies. Healthy bodies are beautiful. Just as it’s not healthy to be 30 pounds overweight; it’s also not healthy to be 30 pounds underweight.

Do you see bodybuilding as an opportunity to change the way we see beauty?

I realize this lifestyle and this physique is not for everyone. I think a strong woman with muscle should be included on the spectrum of beautiful women.

What advice would you give to other women who would like to start training to become a bodybuilder?

Identify your reason for wanting to compete. We all have different reasons why we are driven to push our bodies to the extreme, but I think you have to have a firm grip on what that reason is. When things get tough, you can always remind yourself why you do it.

What classes do you teach at Equinox?

I am a full time tier 3+ trainer and Master Instructor at Equinox. I focus all my energy into training my clients one on one and then training other trainers.

Do you have any easy workout routines that you utilize on a daily basis and might advise others to try?

With my clients, I like to start with the basics and work up from there. I always start with some easy mobility work, like stretching and foam-rolling. Then after about a 10-minute warm up we start in with the strength work. I typically like to incorporate several different movement patterns, depending on the client and their needs. A hip hinge, a pushing movement, (like a push up) a pulling movement (like a row) a squat of some sort, a loaded carry (like a farmers walk) and a twisting movement (like a wood chop). I think people try to get too advanced too quickly. My best advice is to get really good at the basics, and then progress slowly and systematically.

Do you think visualization practices help attain physical results in training?

Visualization and mindfulness is a must! Don’t get me wrong, I lift very heavy weights one or two days a week, and on those days it’s just about moving the weight. But on the rest of my training days it is mostly with lighter weights moving slowly and really squeezing the muscles. That’s where the mind/muscle connection really comes in. I visualize each muscle fiber contracting one after another like dominoes falling until the entire muscle is squeezed tight.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s wanting to reach specific goals in health and fitness?

I think clearly identifying your goals is the first is super important to make sure you know the “why” behind the “what”. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to get more muscles? . It’s never just because I want to look good in my clothes, there’s a deeper reason and that reason is what’s going to get you up at 5 in the morning to do your workout. Looking good in your clothes is not going to get you up at 5 am. Wanting to keep up with your kids or wanting to become healthier are reasons that will motivate you, because working out is very counter intuitive right? It’s painful, it’s not just you! We like the result, we like the feeling that comes from it, but the actual workout is not always rewarding, initially. That’s why you have to know what that deeper motivation is and have a firm grip on it.

So in order to be successful you need to make a gradual lifestyle change that begins to include working out as a part of the normal routine?

For sure! Even if it’s not working out, whatever behavior it is that you want to change, you don’t ever set up a goal and say, “Okay, I’m going to go to the gym for the next 365 days.” That’s not manageable and unrealistic! I think people try to bite off way more than they can chew and often we see these things in fitness magazines that are “30-day challenges”. First of all that is an overwhelming idea to get fit it in 30 days. Secondly, what happens on day 31?

The new habits start to break down because they’re not the person doesn’t own that goal they just rented it for 30 days. Maybe for those 30 days they were so dedicated and had so much willpower. Maybe they even accomplished the challenge. But how do you maintain that over the long term? What I find that works a lot better among people is to begin training slowly and in stride with their bodies, even if it doesn’t seem like much at the time, they’re more likely to be successful in forming the new behavior. It starts with baby steps; it’s always baby steps. It’s never giant leaps.

Do you have any rituals that you practice that keep you centered and grounded?

I go to church with my daughter. That always keeps my priorities in check and reminds me that being a good person and looking good are two different things. I have to remember that my inside needs as much attention as my outside.

I’ve also been making it a practice to remain present, for example I limit my phone usage while I’m with my daughter so I can focus just on her. Even if I’m doing something not so fun like working, trying to be present by not thinking about what I’d rather be doing, but focusing on the task at hand. It’s more fulfilling because I am engaged in the moment and not thinking about what I have to get done later.

Is working out, in a way, its own form of meditation for you?

Before, I used to let my mind wander during my workouts, and they were not as productive. There is definitely a mind muscle connection, so you can’t just zone out and mindlessly sit on a machine. You can, but your body won’t change at all. So in order to really see change and make the most out of your workout then you definitely have to be present in what you’re doing. There’s a lot of risk involved. There’s potential injury, so if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing and zone out, you can get hurt.

What makes you feel beautiful?

It took me a long time to accept this, but I feel most beautiful with a clean face, clean body right before I go to bed. I know my body is healthy from the inside out and that makes me feel beautiful.

What makes you feel powerful?

There is nothing like the feeling of hitting a personal record! You set a goal, design a program, and then after systematically executing the program, you are lifting weight you never thought possible. It makes you feel like you can literally accomplish anything!

What makes you feel confident?

Preparation. When I take the time to be prepared, I feel like I can take on the world. So I take Sundays to prep meals, do laundry, write my clients workouts etc. Then Monday morning hits and I feel like a time management machine and I can take on anything that comes my way! ‡

For more information contact Equinox River Oaks, River Oaks District, 4444 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77027 281-936-0963 | equinox.com

Photography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes Art Direction by Louis Liu | Hair and Makeup by MakeupByDiego

NICOLE WINHOFFER

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Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Art Direction by Louis Liu | Interview by Dustin Mansyur

With an A-list roster of clients including Madonna, Stella McCartney, and Rachel Weisz, and expanding her classes for the public at NYC hotspots like the Standard Hotel, Nicole Winhoffer has successfully built the foundation for her fitness empire. Inspired by art, dance, music, fashion, and pop culture, the fitness-lifestyle guru gives us training tips and shares healthy practices for the mind, body and spirit.

Nicole’s approach is holistic, incorporating her western knowledge of anatomy and sport science with dance and eastern practices that focus on chakras, acupuncture points, and energy work. The NW Method has played a leading role in shaping some of the best bodies in the entertainment industry, including, Madonna, Mya, Stella McCartney, Steven Klein, and Rachel Weisz. We sat down with the fitness mogul-in- the-making to inquire all things NW.

You have worked with an incredible roster of A-list clients and have steadily built your fitness empire to include classes in the New York City area so that others might also get an opportunity to train with you, how did you come to pursue fitness as a career?

I was always intrigued by the anatomy, physiology, and mind of the human body. Dancing, sports, and choreography introduced me to ways to keep myself fit and mentally clear, while doing what I love. When you feel fit, you feel strong; when you feel strong you feel beautiful. Being able to help others realize the beauty in themselves is what led me to pursue fitness as a career. Movement and music helped me to get mental, emotional, and physical results. I want to share it with the world.

The NW Method is a very interesting blend of cultural & scientific influences, how would you describe your approach to anyone interested in training with you for the first time?

My approach is self-expression through movement, cardio and sweat. It’s new, its creative, it’s a real life way to integrate art, music, fashion, and movies to tell a story with your body. My VIP clients are in the entertainment industry and it’s beautiful to collaborate with other artists that keep the world moving through the arts.

Any advice you give to a first time client before their first session with you?

Commit to change. There is ALWAYS a solution. With the right knowledge and tools you can master anything. Positivity and energy are two must haves at all of your sessions with me. Energy is everything ! Did you know your body is 75% water? Water responds to thoughts ! Everything is vibration.

What are you currently working on in New York?

I am about to open up my studio, videos and live streaming. I have new movements and classes that I am so excited about ! Roc Nation management and I are working on new projects!

Any plans for global expansion, I see your offering NW certification courses?

Yes, I encourage anyone with a passion for fitness to certify themselves and begin professionally inspiring others. There are many plans for global expansion that we are very excited about! We currently have trainers in India, London, Prague, and the Unites States. I gather my inspiration from cultures because each city brings something special and new to the world. It is beautiful and inspiring.

You have a very active schedule, aside from fitness and working out. Do you have a beauty secret or regimen you want to share?

My beauty secret is making time for myself. Making sure I get enough rest, occasional massages and healthy eating lifestyles are what keep my inner beauty glowing. Curiosity is important because it keeps the brain young. When a child is curious, they are inventing and wondering. This ignites new brain neurons and fires the so serious spirit.

Any new favorite wardrobe pieces or workout gear that you can’t live without?

I absolutely love my Adidas by Stella McCartney pieces. My Adidas hoodies and shell toe sneakers are always in my bag. I always keep a change of clothes in my bag that includes a leotard, booty shorts and a hoodie. I love the duality of showing my body and layering. It’s sexy.

Because your work relies on your teaching abilities and active engagement with clients, I imagine it is important to always be creating new or individualized routines . What inspires you to keep your work fresh and creative?

I am constantly inspired by everything around me. Sports, fashion, art, it all inspires me to create something that is reflective of “now”. When you live in the moment, you evolve with it. I get bored easily and if I am bored I know I am not expanding or growing. I look to things that run my imagination and move my brain and body.

Any places, trips, or experiences that provide you with that creative recharge when you need it?

I have a fond place in my heart for Brazil. Their culture is so beautiful and free. The people their have a welcomeness and movement that makes me feel at home.

What is your favorite thing to do to unwind or manage stress?

Music, dance and breathing. Sometimes I forget to breathe. We are in such a fast pace society and we move to that rhythm. When I play music, I get lost in the beat and I am free.

Your brand embraces a very strong, body- positive attitude. What kind of advice would you give your younger self, or younger women in general?

Stay positive and visualize. What you think about yourself is how others see you. The power of the mind is our greatest tool. I think its important for women to know they are great just the way they are. All the time you spend trying to fit in only takes you further from your true self. Smile at your self in the mirror, make yourself blush, and be the woman you want to be! You have the power.

Conversely, what is the best advice that you have ever received?

Be the woman you want to be! Think like her! Act like her and dance like you.

What makes you feel powerful?

Moving to the best music. When I sweat I feel sexy.

For anyone who is striving to reach personal health and fitness goals.What is a great 15 minute routine that can be done before work in the morning?

Dance. Turn on your favorite 5 songs and dance. I wake up to music. My body feels free and clear when I move my morning to beats and set my intention for the day!

What is your go-to 5-minute meal in the morning?

I always start my day with 10 gulps of cold water. Energy is used as your body sleeps, (After you wake up) your body is working and gets dehydrated! I love black coffee and either an egg white omelette or whole grain oats for some glucose energy for my workouts!

It can be a challenge to stay dedicated to fitness for many reasons. How do you stay focused in order to reach goals in fitness or in life?

I make plans and then execute them. We all have dreams, but without a plan they are just wishes. It is a combination of intention, passion, heart, and discipline to share with the world what your imagination and intuition speaks to.

Can you share with us the music that you are currently listening to?

Rihanna – Work
Beyonce – Formation
Justin Bieber – Sorry
Nicky Minaj – Anaconda
Beyonce – Grown Woman
Outcast – The Way You Move
Cello Green – Fool For You

 

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