You work in public health, helping to address health inequities in communities across the southwest. Can you tell us about how your relationship with the outdoors has inspired your career path?
An increasing number of health professionals recognize “social connectedness” as a key component to both community and individual well-being. Feeling as though you have support and people who care about you – not just on social media! – can improve resilience and emotional and physical health. Additionally, health professionals recognize that “outdoor therapy” is another way to promote holistic health; some providers even prescribe time in nature to their patients. But who has access to the outdoors and to building relationships and finding community in nature? Are there people who are left out from the myriad benefits of adventuring? Addressing disparities is key; it isn’t enough to tell people that nature is great, we also have to proactively work to remove barriers to participation. I want to support people who are creating those opportunities for connectedness in their communities, while respecting their lived experiences and listening to how I can be a partner.
I want to support people who are creating those opportunities for connectedness in their communities, while respecting their lived experiences and listening to how I can be a partner.
In October, you’ll be running your first ultra race, the Canyon de Chelly 55K. Tell us about your inspiration for signing up for your ultra and why you chose this particular race.
Despite growing up only a few hours away, I had never been to Canyon De Chelly until December of 2017, when I went on a solo road trip around the Four Corners to decompress over the holidays. Canyon de Chelly, or Tséyi’, is part of the Navajo Nation and Dine’ families still reside in the canyon. I spent a day with a local guide, learning about what the land meant to him and his family – past, present, and future – and knew that I wanted to return. After reading every article I could find on the Canyon de Chelly Ultramarathon, I applied for the lottery in 2018 but missed the cut. I set my calendar reminder for the application in 2019 and absolutely could not believe it when Shaun Martin, the race director, called my name. I feel honored and humbled to be invited to run in Tséyi’ and felt it was important to use this opportunity to support access to the outdoors for other women and girls.
How and when did your connection to the outdoors blossom, and who were the people in your life who helped to make that happen?
To be honest, I didn’t always consider myself to be “outdoorsy”. I grew up in a suburb of Phoenix and spent a week every summer at camp, then went to University of Colorado, where I spent a lot of time skiing. After college, while living in downtown Chicago, I began to appreciate road running and cycling, but never once went camping or climbing or adventuring. It wasn’t until I moved to western Colorado in 2013 that I started to embrace spending more time in nature, trying new activities, and expanding my comfort zone. I started off by joining group camping trips or hopping on a friend’s mountain bike whenever I got the chance. Eventually, I realized that I could explore the mountains on my terms, without waiting for someone else to plan a trip or suggest an adventure. I vividly remember the first time I packed up my own gear, loaded up my dog, Ridley, and went on a solo camping adventure with only a vague idea of my destination. I was equal parts excited, nervous, and exhilarated; when I successfully built a fire, I let out a whoop that made Ridley jump and thought, “I CAN do this!”
I love the outdoors because nature allows you to cultivate the best version of yourself – you can ignore external expectations, judgments, or pre-conceived notions and craft the person that you want to be.
I love the outdoors because nature allows you to cultivate the best version of yourself – you can ignore external expectations, judgments, or pre-conceived notions and craft the person that you want to be. So what if I used to be someone whose idea of time outdoors was sitting on a patio for brunch? I can learn and grow and become a woman who also goes bikepacking, camping, backcountry skiing, and exploring.
As an Ambassador to The Cairn Project, you’re joining a team of women who are catalyzing their outdoor passion into a force that passes this opportunity on to the next generation. What about this mission resonates with you personally?
Most of my previous athletic endeavors have been focused on completing a race rather than on a greater goal of creating positive change. I have completed countless half-marathons, full marathons, and triathlons and afterwards felt a sense of disappointment or that something was missing. I took some time off from structured racing to figure out what I actually wanted to do with my time and decided to focus more on events or experiences that support local communities.
As I have learned more about being a woman in the outdoors, I have also learned more about women who have been denied the same opportunities for exploration – whether because of systemic discrimination, lack of representation, or accessibility challenges. I donated what I could to organizations that address those barriers, but it never felt like enough. When I learned about The Cairn Project, and how it could be a force multiplier for both awareness and financial support, I instantly thought, “sign me up!” I am so excited to be part of a community of women working together to expand outdoor access for girls across the country.