Strong Role Models

 Sitting on top of Mount Saint Helens (8,366'), WA

Sitting on top of Mount Saint Helens (8,366'), WA

My mom died from Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma at the age of 56 when I was 19 years old. She was an incredible role model who always led by example and supported all of my wild dreams while growing up. Unfortunately, her wisdom and support were given during an early stage in my life in which I was not entirely receptive.

 The author standing on top of Mount Saint Helens (8,366'), WA. 

The author standing on top of Mount Saint Helens (8,366'), WA. 

However, most of her advice and support were not given in vain. In fact, during difficult times, I often hear her words of encouragement as if it were yesterday. Having such a strong role model in my life taught me to take risks, push boundaries, and pave my own path; regardless of how eccentric it makes me look. Don't get me wrong, I can't say she would be thrilled to see me climbing rocks and mountains. In fact, it would have most definitely have kept her up at night worrying about my well-being.

Even though I lost my mother at a young age, I can look back at how brave she made me feel. I always wanted to fly a plane, so she strongly urged me, more like physically nudged me, to walk into my local airport and explain to the owner that my dream was to be a pilot. I walked out with free flying lessons and all of the reading materials at age 15. Then there was the time I had the impulse to travel half-way around the world to Morocco where I spent three months living with a non-English speaking Berber family in a small town of Ouarzazate. I was 17.

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Jumping forward to 2017, when I was getting my foot in the door of adventure sports. I read books, including Breaking Trail by Arlene Blum. She was a trailblazer during the 1970s; leading the first all-women expeditions on successful ascents of Mount McKinley and Annapurna. She was also the first American woman to attempt Mount Everest. I also devoured Wild by Cheryl Strayed who boldly thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. Her account of her experience inspired so many others to do the same.  Last, but not least, an absolute favorite of mine is Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox. A lot can be said about this amazing woman, but in short, she was the first to swim the Bering Sea from Alaska to the former Soviet Union. All of these awe-inspiring books of remarkable women doing extraordinary things have guided me. These women and many others became my new role models in life.  They not only overcame unbelievable obstacles they were vulnerable enough to share their experiences with the world. People like me have been encouraged by their positive energy, daring and resilience.  They gave me that metaphorical nudge to get into mountaineering; something that I could never have imagined myself doing.

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I can't help but wonder where my relentless drive and fiery passion originated. It’s not something that society would attribute to my race, gender, small stature or even my fear of heights. Now, when I look back, it's easy to realize that these traits were all gifts from my mother and from other women like her who believed in me—even when I went through phases of not believing in myself. I feel grateful to women like Arlene Blum, Cheryl Strayed, and Lynne Cox (to name just a few) who have inspired me. 

Even though not all of us have role models in our lives, words of encouragement go such a long way; even if we never know who's benefitting from it or if they were even listening. Whether we find ourselves being a mentor or a mentee, both roles mold and shape strong individuals; especially important in African American communities and other communities of color. Taking on both roles is so important to me because it's a way to create friendships, build healthy communities, and empower individuals. My then 19-year-old self-had a lot of growing up to do and well, I still do. But I can say I've had a lot of help along the way with strong role models.