Sisu: (noun) determined, brave & resilient.
Most people who know me know that I’ve dedicated much of my life, time, energy, money and passion to empowering people, especially females and youth through opportunities in sports, nature and outdoor recreation. My involvement with GirlVentures, Girls on the Run, SheJumps, My New Red Shoes, and several family shelters in the Bay Area in addition to my sports blog and my own love of the sports, outdoors and adventure seem to have all organically led me to this opportunity to support SisuGirls through a community ambassadorship. I couldn’t be more thrilled to help this organization in their mission to encourage and inspire “girls to step into themselves through sport and adventure”.
When I was working with GirlVentures, a Bay Area non-profit with a similar mission, a couple years ago, I discussed with some of the members whether programs like this existed where I lived when I was in grade school. I couldn’t really think of anything specific except for Girl Scouts (I was actually kicked out of the Brownies system as a child, but that’s for another post). Somehow, even though I didn’t come from an outdoorsy family, I wasn’t particularly athletic growing up, and I wasn’t exposed to those opportunities to get out in the wilderness early in my childhood, I grew into a sports-loving, adventure-seeking, able bodied athlete and steward of nature and community leader among my active friends. I spent a little time thinking about how this happened, exactly, and whether I am who I am in spite of the lack of organizational support or because of it.
I think I barely weighed 85 pounds in high school. Despite having some genetic luck with good hand-eye coordination and some fast twitch muscles, I wasn’t what you would call super athletic. I didn’t do any team sports as a child and I didn’t even learn how to swim until I was 8, the summer that I moved to Maryland where we had better access to community swimming pools. We tried to stick to sports that didn’t take a lot of natural talent or a lot of money. I had my share of success for sure, but in the end, it was nothing to write home about. I wasn’t a natural. As a matter of fact, I was intellectual, and I was creative and artistic, and thoughtful and cerebral as a child more than I was a physical force. The only exposure to the outdoors I had was through my grandfather, who would let me climb the trees in the front yard (I was a really good tree climber), and let me explore the woods behind our house in New Jersey. He even made me a bow and arrow when I went through a Robin Hood phase and taught me how to fix things around the house. He also taught me how to play video games. I think he taught me how to be a boy, or that’s how I viewed it when I was a kid. He was the only reason I ever had dirt under my nails and I probably have him to thank for my lack of fear of things like spiders and snakes as we would regularly “hunt” them in the yard and he would let me touch the ones that wouldn’t bite. In the way that my grandmother made me humble and my mother made me ambitious, my grandfather made me tough. And I think that toughness carries over from climbing trees and sometimes falling out of them to climbing mountains and conquering the fear of failing.
In high school, I attended a magnet program dedicated to environmental sciences. We definitely had our share of exposure to the outdoors and I had to do studies in waders in the swamps of Maryland, muck through the mud, and hike up to the tops of mountains on a regular basis. But I always considered this an intellectual venture and not a physical one.
After high school, college was more a practice in studying really hard and going through the motions of getting a respectable degree while still having my share of sometimes too much fun. I barely lifted a weight. I didn’t run. Nothing like that was incorporated in my life in any way. I did discover my absolute love of sports though. University of Maryland was a huge sports school and between the excitement over college sports combined with my insatiable fervor to always become an expert in everything, it wasn’t long before I was the go-to person for stats and sports talk. I still didn’t consider myself an outdoorsy person. It wasn’t until my senior year when my then-boyfriend was moving to Colorado and I decided, on a whim, I would quit school and go with him (with the intention of coming back after a year to finish). In that year in Colorado, I skied (and learned to ski actual mountains properly), rafted, backpacked, learned how to start a fire, open a beer without an opener, hang food away from wildlife, mountain biked, rock climbed. I did a little bit of everything and somehow it became burned into my DNA. It set me on a trajectory for adventure for the rest of my life.
Now, if there is something I want to accomplish, I work at it. I study it so intently and become a student of the subject. Then I figure out how to obtain the proper gear and make the right personal connections to get me in a good place to actually perform. Then I train. I train so hard to become physically able to do half the things I do. I train non-specifically but probably more specifically than people realize. And then I work even harder, and then I try my hardest to succeed. I am a firm believer that it’s never too late to be the person you aren’t. If you can’t swim, can’t ride a bike, barely muster a jog, I’m sure if you learn and train, you can be an ironman. Maybe not this month, maybe not this year, but you’ll get there. I believe that if you want to mountain bike but have weak quads and nothing but a fixie to your name, you can make it happen. You can find community groups who loan out and demo products. You can hit the gym and work on strength. You can gather beta from other people where to start on the trails and you can fail over and over and over again until you don’t.
So what does this have to do with SisuGirls? Well, I love and support this concept and think that organizations like this are of the utmost importance and provide such a valuable service to families, who might be like mine and don’t have the financial or physical resources to expose their children to adventure and the outdoors in the same way and to the same degree as an organization can. SisuGirls inspires through their ambassadors, pictures, stories and the community young girls to follow their dreams, grow strong and fearless and pursue a path of passion. I didn’t have GirlVentures or SheJumps or SisuGirls growing up and I turned out just fine. I turned out more than fine. I crave adventure. it runs through my veins as to cause me to always be thinking about my next challenge, my next trip, the next epic thing I’m going to try or learn how to do. I can’t wait to fail because failing means getting closer to success. But I was a late bloomer. At age 33, I’m just now hitting my stride so to speak when it comes to ultra running and other endurance type sports and endeavors. I worked extra hard to get where I am, but I think I am a bit of an exception in that way. I think organizations and programs that promote early exposure to this sort of thing plant that seed a little early, empower those kids a little more, so by the time they hit college, they aren’t thinking about what drink they’re ordering from a bar but they’re thinking about how to stay healthy for that soccer game, for that marathon, for that summer they’ll spend hiking the Appalachian Trail. I love my life now and I love my upbringing and everything that has ever occurred to me has shaped who I have become. In that way, I would not change a thing. But in another way, I would love to rewind time and see what kind of life I would have lived if I felt like this sort of life, this path was where I belonged all along.
I can’t wait to join the SisuGirls family and I hope that my stories can also provide inspiration to young girls who may not always feel like they belong in the dirt, kicking a ball, running fast, climbing a tree, paddling on a surfboard, but want to work hard to get there eventually. It’s never too late to be who you aren’t, but it’s never too early to start discovering who you are.
Check out SisuGirls at http://www.sisugirls.org/home