They say, as parents we try to give our kids the things we didn't have. That's true, but my hopes for my girls extend to all girls and all the people that didn't have the outdoors as their playground–as their teacher and therapist. I identified my true love for our wild outdoor spaces as a young adult, crafting my time and eventually my career around that love because it transformed my soul. The outdoors made me the person I was meant to be. I wanted to create spaces for others to feel that too.
As SheJumps Executive Director, Claire Smallwood puts it, "The pressures that young women feel to conform, look a certain way, act a certain way, or obtain some level of social hierarchy before we are even old enough to drive is soul-crushing. There is so much spirit that is swept out from underneath us before we even have a moment to contemplate the habits that we are building for ourselves."
I think about how things could have been different for the women in my life if they had the outdoors as a place for healing, acceptance and growth. Would they be able to gain powerful confidence by reaching the top of a climbing route? What about the resilience forged while backpacking for a week in the backcountry—will it transfer it into their personal lives and careers? I'll never know how it could have been for them but I do know that to change the game, we need to arm this next generation with these skills.
It's also said that parents live through their kids for selfish reasons–that's true too. I used to volunteer for RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) yet stepped away after having my daughters. I found that bringing my 6-year-old into that community of healing was too hard. Trying to convey the message of why survivors were crying during speeches in the terms a 6 year-old would understand—it was too much. I chose to focus my volunteer efforts with SheJumps because it was all comfort and fun–we did not need to have hard conversations at every single event. My girls are now 10 and 13. We have conversations about everything including the traumatic, lasting impact of sexual abuse. I guess it's taken me till this point to fully realize that I sought out SheJumps because it was my safe space to grow–it was a vibrant, fun, and supportive community that I wanted to be in–and wanted my girls to have someday.
Yet, tough conversations happen in the fun and comfortable spaces SheJumps creates as well. I've had many heart-to-hearts with our participants throughout the years that boil down to 'I feel safe here and that's why I can grow.' Recently one of the team members on our Mount Rainier Fundraising Climb approached me with concerns of mixed gender sleeping arrangements. She shared that she is a survivor of sexual assault and sleeping near men in past mountaineering situations has been extremely triggering causing her to leave trips. I shared my own story of abuse and how that's shaped my life and in turn, my outdoor play. In addition, I walked her through the trip, as I've been on it myself, showing pictures, helping her visualize and reassuring her that the rest of her team (all 9 women + 3 guides) will be by her side the whole time—providing a security that only a female wolfpack can provide.
When you find a supportive and safe space to be vulnerable, you learn, and grow. You have the opportunity to become your best self. This is why organizations like SheJumps are important. It's why I've dedicated my time and talent to building on our mission. I recognize that COVID has been a huge challenge, but I firmly believe we need SheJumps now more than ever. The healing that happens outside is vital. As SheJumps board member, Dr. Sara Boilen says, "I can think of no better friend these days than nature herself. In a time when our normal routine has been upended, courage is requisite. We must now solve problems we have never before faced. Every one of us is perched atop a proverbial line, prompted to drop in, scared to fall...I can't think of another time while on Earth when nature, as teacher, as healer, as therapist, as community builder, has been more essential."
I'm hoping you'll join me in committing to a monthly recurring donation to help SheJumps reach more women and girls. Despite not hosting in-person events at the moment, we've turned our attention to ensuring our programs are online and FREE. I can't wait to show you what we're cooking up for winter!
I truly wish that something like SheJumps had existed for me when I was a young girl. Thanks to supporters like you, we're making sure it continues for women and girls in the future. Thank you.