Around Town

Going for the Gold

Alameda Teen Exceeds Olympic-Sized Goals

Jeff Sobul
Photo by Robbin Kilgore

Former U.C. Berkeley star and Olympic Gold Medalist Natalie Coughlin set the world record in the women’s 100-meter backstroke with a time of 59.58. Mikhaila Rutherford, a 16-year-old junior at Alameda High School, has a personal best in the same event of 1:12.25. All things being equal, Coughlin’s time is much more impressive. But they aren’t equal. They’re not even close.
    Mikhaila Rutherford came into the world in 1988, in a town only 30 kilometers from Chernobyl, the site two years earlier of the worst nuclear energy disaster in human history. She was born prematurely, with numerous health issues that her parents couldn’t cope with. She ended up in an orphanage.
    When Connie Rutherford, an attorney for Alameda County, began looking to adopt a child in 1992, she found that orphanages in the former Soviet Union provided the most promise. One in Minsk told her of a bright little girl who was missing part of her right leg. The fact that she also was missing fingers and toes and had cataracts from radiation exposure in the womb came as a
surprise to her. But what Mikhaila Rutherford has done as a swimmer since then is an even bigger surprise.
    “She needed to exercise, so that’s when she got in the pool,” her mother says.
    To say Mikhaila Rutherford took to swimming is an understatement. Soon, she was beating able-bodied kids her age. Twelve years after coming to the United States, she found the drive and determination to make it to Athens in September for the 2004 Paralympics. She did Coughlin one better, winning three gold medals, along with one silver. The paralympian also set five American records, two Pan American records and broke her own world record in the 100-meter backstroke with that 1:12.25.
    “Everything was enjoyable (in Athens), but in the end, everything revolves around your  races,” the young swimmer says. “But I also enjoyed watching how people cope with their disabilities and succeed with their physical limitations.”
    Since she’s been back, the young superstar has been focusing on school again. “Her whole life had been swimming and school before the Paralympics,” Connie Rutherford says.
    “I was a little homesick for my team for a while,” her daughter says. “But I enjoy coming home after school and relaxing, reading books and going to school and being able to learn. School is what will make my future, not swimming.”
    “School for her is actually more important than swimming,” Connie Rutherford adds. Her daughter’s grades bear this out. The teen maintained her 4.0 GPA, despite missing the first month of fall classes because of the Paralympics. She’s now preparing for the SATs, and hopes to attend either Harvey Mudd College in Los Angeles or U.C. Davis to study animal science.
    “It’s been gratifying for me that she’s achieved what she has,” her mother says. “She overcame a lot just coming out of the orphanage. I’m not going to push her to keep swimming, but if she wants to, I’ll support her any way I can.”


Hawaii breezes into Alameda in the shape of Aloha Bedding, a family-run, Internet-based bedding company that outfits bedrooms to look as though they’ve been strewn with hibiscus.
    Husband-and-wife team Alan and Annegret Bell own the company that they started nearly five years ago. Bells says she and her husband, who was born in Hawaii, started Aloha Bedding because she couldn’t find the Hawaiian items that she was looking for, and she suspected there were others in the same boat.
    Bell does almost all the work by herself,
custom-crafting everything from bedding to valances for customers, while raising her two young children. How many handmade items are we talking? On average, Aloha receives about 10 orders every month, with just after summer the most hectic season. People who visited Hawaii during the summer are often eager to bring a piece of their vacations back into their homes, Bell muses, and this increases demand. Aloha receives orders from all over the world for its distinctive tropical-themed items.
    Duvets, which cost $180 to $265 and include a pair of pillowcases, are the most popular pieces, but Aloha also specializes in sheet sets, throw pillows and baby bedding, among other items. A duvet can take up to five hours of non-stop labor to complete, Bell says, but it is the customization and attention to quality that sets Aloha apart from other Hawaiian-print bedding companies.
    Bell often customizes pieces to fit irregular-sized beds and says that details, such as lining up the fabric so it flows when pieced together into a large item, make the difference. The fabric is designed in Honolulu and usually brought home to California by the Bells when they visit Hawaii, about three times a year.
    Alan Bell, a local teacher, has lived in Alameda on and off since he was a child; the seamstress moved to the city about six years ago.
    “I like Alameda because it seems very European,” says German-born Annegret Bell, noting the city’s small-town feel. “It has a very European flair.”
    For those yearning for a more Hawaiian influence in their homes, the Bells assure there is plenty of paradise from which to chose. Check out Aloha Bedding online at
—Kimberly Lapham

Fact or Fiction?

    Was the snow cone, as purported, invented in Alameda like world-famous Skippy Peanut Butter? Or is it less Alamedan and only loosely associated, more like the Popsicle, whose inventor was merely selling them at an Island lemonade stand when he applied for a patent?
    Alas, the history of the snow cone is nebulous, at best. There’s a case to be made that the Roman emperor Nero came up with the concept nearly 2,000 years ago and sent slaves into the Apennine Mountains to collect snow, which was then flavored with fruit juice, honey and nectar. In the 13th Century, Marco Polo allegedly brought recipes for flavored ices back to Italy from China and the Persian Empire.
    Well, what we do know is that a commercial snow cone went for a nickel apiece in the heyday of Neptune Beach, 1917-39, and the icy treat was available in eight flavors. Perhaps Alameda is indeed where the commercial snow cone got its start.
—Brian Higgins


                                                                                Beth Bourland’s sketch and watercolor of this Grand         Street residence plays to her interest in architecture. See more of her artwork in a feature about her, “Entering Her Zone,” that begins on page 76.






Do You Tattoo?

BIKERS, SEAMEN AND TOUGH GUYS AREN’T THE ONLY ONES GETTING TATTOOS THESE DAYS. The art of tattoo, which has been around for centuries, now appeals to a wide variety of people. So says Ricky Young of Ricky’s Tattoo Parlor, and he should know. He estimates that he has tattooed more than 45,000 people over the years he’s been on Webster Street.
    Young also says the average age of his customers is the mid-20s, but he also embellished a 75-year-old female client.
    “Some people say it feels like being stung by bees, but usually people don’t change their minds once I’ve started,” he says.
    Young learned the trade from his father, who still practices the art at a tattoo parlor in San Jose. Things have changed since he began.
    “The ink is much better now than it was 25 years ago,” Young says.
—Kathleen Malloy