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Outdoor Play that Transforms

When I was 12, my best friend Emilia and I started mountain biking. My mom bought me a used bike two sizes too big from a company no one had ever heard of. I felt so lucky, and was continually delighted by its bright yellow shocks.

No other girls in our town mountain biked, but that didn’t matter to us. Emilia and I built our own micro-community around the enjoyment of mountain biking. This mutual love created our first identities, and we were proud to be mountain bikers. We constantly challenged each other to get better, and not a day went by where our elbows escaped unscathed. We wore our scabs as badges of honor.

When we were 13, Emilia convinced me to sign up for my first (and only) mountain bike race. It was the “La Tierra Torture”, a terribly accurate name for a mountain bike race (meaning “The Torture Ride”). When the race began, I pedaled as hard as I could, but soon found myself in last place struggling to even stay on the bike. The trail was longer and harder than anything I’d ever done before.

As I neared the end, race volunteers were tearing down the banners and the safety team was trailing me as I “hike-a-bike’d” my way through the technical, steep berms at the end. My mom, brother, and Emilia were waiting and cheered as I came across the finish line. I was in tears. The race had taken something special and made it into a place of judgment and failure. I no longer felt like I belonged with other mountain bikers. I questioned if I ever wanted to ride again.

Emilia, on the other hand, was beaming. “I got 3rd place!” My jaw dropped. Third place? We were 13 years old—the other women there were in their 20s and 30s! After taking a moment to overcome my own feelings on inadequacy—and silently reminding myself to ask Emilia to show me how she made it through those steep berms—I smiled and found myself beaming with her. Emilia’s success had become my success, and it was time for our little community to celebrate. If she can do it, so can I. I saw potential in myself where before I only saw failure. I have Emilia to thank for that.

Did I go on to become a champion mountain biker? Not even a little. But this experience showed me that it’s ok to fail, and it’s even better to do it with friends cheering you on. I didn’t know it at the time, but these were early SheJumps moments in the making.

Connection to community

Now more than ever community is important. In a community with others, we heal and grow. Outdoors experiences hold a similar unique quality: they challenge us, offer solace to our souls, and lead us to discoveries about ourselves that we could never otherwise reach.

Photo by Ryan French.

And that is the SheJumps promise: to unearth the potential of all women and girls through outdoor play and connection to nature and one another. Will you help us make these opportunities possible?

This month, we’re exploring the values that weave the fabric of our organization’s ethos and the urgency for what we are working towards: a world where all women and girls feel confident to tackle life’s challenges.

Whether you have supported us since the beginning or you are just getting to know our small-but-mighty organization, SheJumps wants to change the conversation around what is possible through outdoor play in nature, especially working to make the outdoors a more accessible and inclusive place.

We’re asking for your help to keep our work alive. Due to the pandemic, we’ve had to cancel dozens of events and programs that our organization relies on to sustain our mission. Please consider setting up a monthly donation of any size today. Will you help us reach our goal of 100 monthly donors? Monthly gifts help us sustain our community into the future.

Happy riding!

Claire Smallwood, SheJumps Executive Director

P.S. During the month of September, set up a monthly recurring donation of $10 or more, and you’ll receive a gift from EcoLips, an entry to win a raffle prize donated by our partners, and the confidence that you’re sustaining our programs that benefit thousands of women and girls.

Join us. Spread the word. Make a donation. It ALL makes a difference when we jump together.


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