Marek Warszawski

What I learned from spending the day among 3,500 women at Fresno conference

The premise was pretty simple, simple enough for even a male of below-average intelligence like me to wrap my head around.

Attend the 30th annual Central California Women’s Conference on Tuesday in downtown Fresno and provide a guy’s perspective.

To be precise, What I Learned From Spending the Day Among 3,500 Women.

“Not a bad day for a man,” said Julie Marsoobian, a volunteer for all 30 years.

No complaints here.

Tote bags are mandatory

The first thing I noticed – besides the jammed freeway exits off Highway 99 – was that everyone seemed to be carrying a white tote bag. Why? To load up on free stuff.

At first I refused to grab a tote bag for myself, thinking that I should probably keep my journalistic distance.

Good thing I soon ran into one of my favorite women in Fresno, yoga teacher/massage therapist Bethany Clague, who immediately cured me of that notion.

“Step into what we step into,” Clague counseled, “and you really get the inside experience.”

She was right. I immediately went back and grabbed a tote bag.

Schwag is a rough sport

Lots of free stuff gets handed out at the Central California Women’s Conference. Lots and lots. But it’s no place for the timid or crowd-averse.

Set up inside Valdez Hall are dozens of vendor booths, most of which have schwag to give away. You might pick up a pen, a makeup sample, a notebook, a cell phone charger (courtesy of The Bee, one of the main sponsors) or, even better, a delicious offering from Nothing Bundt Cakes.

The demand for free stuff can get pretty extreme. While I didn’t see anyone pushing or shoving – everyone here is far too polite for that – working your way among the different booths took some determined doing.

“It’s kind of scary, isn’t it?” asked Zara Arboleda, PR manager for Valley Children’s Hospital, while laying out a fresh supply of first-aid kits and small bottles of hand sanitizer.

“They just descend and grab. I can’t pull out stuff fast enough.”

There’s a real sense of sisterhood

No, I’m not going to make any dumb estrogen jokes.

But when a group of 3,500 people get together and 99 percent of them are female, a feeling emerges that can’t be found in other settings.

Being a guy, I can’t really explain. Too much testosterone coursing through my veins. Better leave that up to Fresno author Armen Bacon.

“It’s a day for us to celebrate and savor life’s precious moments and to reconnect with people,” Bacon said. “You will see little sidebar conversations of friendships being renewed. The chemistry between the women sparks a magic that is going to refocus and reenergize all of us. It’s just a great day to be inspired.”

During lunch at the New Exhibit Hall, 3,500 pairs of eyes were glued to keynote speaker Amy Purdy as the paralympic snowboarder and former “Dancing with the Stars” contestant chronicled her remarkable journey.

At 19, without any warning, Purdy lost both her legs below the knees to the bacterial infection called Meningococcal meningitis. Shortly thereafter, she needed a kidney transplant.

But instead of letting her condition rob her of a future, Purdy kept snowboarding and pushing the limits of her prosthetic legs. She became the only double amputee to compete at a word-class level before founding an adaptive sports center for action sports and becoming an author and motivational speaker.

“My legs haven’t disabled me,” Purdy said during her 48-minute speech. “If anything they’ve enabled me.”

Female barbershop quartets are a thing

The four-part harmony was instantly familiar. Not-so-familiar: female voices doing the singing.

Until I met Adrienne Cluff, Susan Sanders, Kaitlyn Phillips and Sue Walker and listened to them sing “Sentimental Journey,” I had never heard of a female barbershop quartet.

“You don’t get to wear bow ties and straw hats, that’s why,” said Walker said.

Turns out the foursome, who call themselves “Reprise,” are also members of Voices United Chorus, which this year celebrates its 60th year.

Fresno has a 60-year-old women’s singing group? News to me, too.

There weren’t too many male attendees the Central California Women’s Conference. I counted about a dozen, including two teen-aged sons who were accompanying their mothers.

One of them was Julio Lopez of Clovis, who purchased tickets for his sister and her business partner for his sister’s birthday.

“It’s beautiful, you know,” Lopez said of being one of the only guys. “It’s just great to be around so many inspired women.”

No argument there.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee