Leading the charge: Managing 70 volunteers in 5 time zones

In the beginning years of SheJumps, my narrative as the leader was foggy. The idea of SheJumps was still amoebic, taking shape over a series of emails from excited women and a collaboration of inspiration from my two co-founders, Lynsey (Dyer) and Vanessa (Pierce) who created a blog and the name SheJumps prior to me getting involved. We said yes to a lot of things, not knowing really how it could grow from there, but knowing that one foot in front of the other was at the backbone of our ethos. I thought that running this organization could be a side-project, but that I’d never have a “desk job” organizing people for outdoor pursuits.

"Back in the Day" 2009 the trio of co-founders at Alta Ski Area.

“Back in the Day” 2009 the trio of co-founders at Alta Ski Area.

Spiraling out from a not-so-groundbreaking-concept that women are a force of nature to be reckoned with, SheJumps had very grassroots beginnings. A lot of our success (and failures) stemmed from that theme. Not wanting to confine the women who wanted to be involved, yet personally scared I might lose any self-imagined edge I had as a burgeoning “pro skier”; the events, activities, and management of the organization was a daily practice without structure. A constant whirr of refreshing the inbox and struggling to keep on top of interest emails, I had no idea how to say “no” and no roadmap to determine if we were on the right path. What was our goal? While our mission seemed concrete enough, I thought that trying to grow the organization on my terms, void of any office or a set schedule, or even a boss could be sustainable.

Deciding to take the path less traveled meant some non-traditional office concepts.

Deciding to take the path less traveled meant some non-traditional office concepts.

In a lot of ways, this is what has brought SheJumps to the stage you see the organization in today. My story (and that of SheJumps) is one of living the tagline (What great thing would you dare to accomplish?) day in and day out. Too stubborn to let go, ask for help (even when it was staring me in the face), or create a structure that might—yikes—create too much structure, it took a physical act of nature to swipe me upside the head and see that it really was time to take a jump.

On May 6, 2012, I was skiing in the backcountry near Lake Louise ski area with my now-fiancé and his best friend. We had attempted to ski the Aemmer couloir two days before on my birthday. Thanks to a boot-fitting issue (read: excruciating pain), it was basically a 18 km round trip cross-country ski to the bottom of the couloir to figure out it wasn’t a good idea for me to continue. A quick overnight dump of snow on the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo pow, anyone?) had me excited to ski on the 6th, but I was tired and secretly yearning for a rest day. Well, when it snows in May you must ski, right? Especially when you are trying to impress someone. Maybe I should have listened to my intuition; then again if I had, I might not be writing this blog today.

Three turns into Dogleg (the name of the line we were skiing) and I hit something which stopped my ski and my entire body made a slow twisting fall, causing me to hear and feel a loud pop. I immediately knew something was very wrong.

Fast-forward 8 weeks later. I am on the couch at the Wildcat Chalet, where I work in the winters. Post knee injury, I did a life-inventory and realized: I had no home, no money, no health insurance, no structure. My plan for the summer had been to work catering gigs in Hood River until I had the funds to travel south and work as a ski guide for the winter in Chile. I had planned to camp, and didn’t even have all my belongings in one centralized location—everything was scattered like confetti in friends’ homes in Salt Lake. I had a bone-impaction fractures on my tibial plateau and femur, a fully torn ACL and LCL.

artwork courtesy of Dr. Charley Marshall

artwork courtesy of Dr. Charley Marshall

As I was sitting on that couch, I picked up my computer and I started. I didn’t know what I was starting, but I knew that this was it: it was now or never. I replied to all the emails of “help” from people who are much smarter than I was, and started formulating a plan for growth.

I want to take a moment here and acknowledge how many people I have probably pissed off, forgotten to reply to, or did not properly acknowledge their contributions during and leading up to this time in my life. Thanks to my identity being sharply tied to that of a “nomadic adventurer” (hello! This was way before #vanlife!) there have been scores of people who have gotten involved in SheJumps, and then faded away, only to come back full circle (and sometimes they don’t come back, and that’s fine too). The point is, there wasn’t any sort of glue that held it all together. One person who would hold anyone (including myself) accountable. I feel responsible for not having seen what was coming down the pipeline in terms of scale and impact back then. I’m sorry to all those first supporters, but please: read on.

A woman named Tamra Geryk was the start of a new age for SheJumps. She had been writing to Vanessa and I for a few months—grandiose ideas for bringing SheJumps to the east coast, a concept that seemed daunting and slightly impossible, mostly due to my own self-imposed boundaries of my narrative as an aspiring pro skier and wannabe chef. Others had done the same before, only to never respond past the initial reply of “Sounds great, do you want to help manage that massive undertaking?”

Tamra (bottom center) was a major influence and impetus to the SheJumps you see today.

Tamra (bottom center) was a major influence and impetus to the SheJumps you see today.

Tamra’s concept was different, and she really didn’t take no for an answer. Tamra (and others) challenged me to really step it up during this time. All of a sudden, we had a new website, new titles for team members, a brand promise (what’s that?!), a graphic designer, and initiatives. Ideas that our founding members and I had shared around campfires were finally coming to life!

Suddenly, I was typing phrases like “team” and “program services” and even the ever-fancy (now out-of-style) term “move the needle.” The interest from people came in droves. Our first team unveiled 24 ambassadors in 19 states! Of course, not all of those people ended up staying with the team, but 8 of those first 24 ambassadors are still involved with the organization. Given the 6 year span of time, I’d say that’s some incredible volunteer retention. In addition to those founding team members, we average a 3 year retention of all team members.

A first generation Ambassador/Regional Coordinator and now part-time staff member, Tracy Remelius (Partnerships Director)

A first generation Ambassador/Regional Coordinator and now part-time staff member, Tracy Remelius (Partnerships Director)

The team, through its many iterations, has come to define what SheJumps is, and it is everything that you see and love about our organization today. At times, I feel as if I’m simply a conduit between our 71-person roster and their collective passion and dedication for wanting to make a difference in many women’s lives. It is their accountability which makes my job the most difficult. It’s one of the most rewarding things I could have ever imagined in my life.

This process of growing the team has not come without its intense challenges. The pleasure and satisfaction of working with a team that is so passionately driven incites a new level of accountability that has forced me to step back and examine my own personality. The old Claire, before the knee injury, wanted to keep things small, manageable. It was fun, but not too intense. There wasn’t a lot of accountability. Now, I am out of bed everyday knowing that these women are relying on me to keep the proverbial lights on.

Claire still finding time to play.

Claire still finding time to play.

The team forces me to be aware of the most detailed facets of our organization, yet there is an inspiring amount of trust as I watch them manage and sculpt SheJumps to be something personally meaningful in each of their experiences. Talking with our team about what makes them want to be a part of the organization—and learning to be vulnerable with them as well—has made for a very life-changing experience.

Our team has grown, and so have our programs—to the next generation.

Our team has grown, and so have our programs—to the next generation.

I take mental roll call with the team members as decisions are made. Having their buy-in, support, confidence, and input is vital to the organization. Scheduling calls between 5 different timezones is a pain in the you-know-what but what never ceases to amaze me is that they always get on the call.

Regional Team manager, Girafficorn for life: Cristy Watson

Regional Team manager, Girafficorn for life: Cristy Watson

Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with this. When I was in high school, I read and was obsessed with “the Teachings of Don Juan,” a metaphysical non-fiction book by anthropologist Carlos Castaneda. In the book, Castaneda describes the things he learned from the subject, Don Juan, a shaman from northern Mexico. When I first read this passage, I thought it was meant to be applied generally, and to my life as an individual. As we look back on the first decade of SheJumps, I realize, whether I like it or not—this is my life, and the unbending intent—that is the SheJumps team.

Impeccability begins with a single act that has to be deliberate, precise and sustained. If that act is repeated long enough, one acquires a sense of unbending intent which can be applied to anything else. If that is accomplished the road is clear. One thing will lead to another until the warrior realizes his full potential.” – Don Juan, “the Teachings of Don Juan”, by Carlos Castaneda

Melissa Matz and Lynsey Dyer circa 2013 at Get the Girls Out in Vail.

Melissa Matz and Lynsey Dyer circa 2013 at Get the Girls Out in Vail.