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F-Train to Alaska: GirlTrek Volunteer Takes a Life-Changing Trip

Today’s guest blogger Vanessa Garrison is the co-founder of GirlTrek, a groundbreaking 2-year-old nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that aspires to mobilize 1 million black women and girls to lead a walking revolution across America. Here she profiles one of their “healthy role models.”

Erica Wynn is a college student from Queens, New York.  Like some college students, Erica works as a waitress to pay her tuition.  Unlike most, Erica is volunteering 12 months of her life to serve as a “healthy role model “with an organization called GirlTrek.


Last year, GirlTrek has inspired 12,000 women and girls to jumpstart healthier lives by walking in themed competitions and supporting each other on trek teams. Walking is a universally available and achievable first step towards a healthier lifestyle.

Black women are disproportionately affected by and dying of preventable obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease. GirlTrek’s approach is to target a key transition point—moving from contemplating healthy choices to taking initial action—and then inspiring as many women as possible to cross this threshold.

Through grassroots organizing and a vibrant social media network of over 125,000 followers, GirlTrek knits these individual efforts into a national movement dedicated to improving personal fitness. By creating positive imagery and stories, developing local leaders and showcasing vigorous role models, GirlTrek aims to transform cultural attitudes toward health.

Volunteerism fuels GirlTrek. That's where Erica comes in.

One of GirlTrek’s programs is a fellowship that seeks to create healthy role models. As part of a 1-year service fellowship, 10 “trailblazers” are sponsored to go on life-changing health adventures. These African American women are committed to becoming the face of healthy living for their communities.


GirlTrek partners with organizations like the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to provide need-based scholarships to these trailblazers.

Erica Wynn was selected in June 2012. She was sponsored to join a 30-day backpacking trip through Alaska. As soon as she was selected, she got to work. Erica took a subway train from Queens to Manhattan to gear up. She’d never stepped foot in an REI store before. Check out the video of Erica’s first REI visit:

Erica trained hard for her trip.  In Alaska, she performed exceptionally well.  So well in fact, that Erica was invited to join NOLS Expedition Denali – an African American team of mountaineers who will attempt to summit Denali in June 2013.

To pay it forward, Erica is documenting and sharing her experiences.  When she returned from her first trip to Alaska, Erica posted this message to our readers on Facebook:

Erica Wynn trekking in Alaska

“Imagine leaving behind your life for a month. Dropping your responsibilities, your material possessions, and your loved ones. Going to a place where holidays are just another day that the sun rises and sets. Spending 30 days in a place where you are stripped of all of the things that define us in our daily lives. What happens?

Well, I can tell you. In Alaska, I gained peace of mind. The vastness and beauty of a land untouched by man reminded me that I am apart of a system that is greater than myself. I gained humility. I was in a place where no matter how hard it rained or how much it hurt, I simply needed to put one foot in front of the other and wear a smile on my face. I gained strength.

Now, I’ve been thrown back into a world removed from this simplicity. So how do I hold on to this peace? It’s been a little hard, but I go on runs to continually remind myself that our bodies our meant to move, to take us to beautiful places. All we have to do is put one foot in front of the other, even when it hurts. I sit in silence in my local park to remind myself that we may not be directly in nature but we are certainly a part of it. Now that I have achieved my health adventure all I want to do is share this clarity—this joy. All I want to do is give it back.”

Many walkers in GirlTrek are hesitant to participate in the world of outdoor fitness. Some believe that they are not fit enough, not welcomed. Many would pause to go inside a store like REI. The best parts of healthy living—from backpacking trips to yoga classes—can be culturally isolating for black women.  

In response to this barrier, Erica posted, “Confronting fear is the only way to destroy the limits we place on ourselves. Here’s to choosing the bigger life, which is essentially choosing the happier life. And here's to the people who love and support us and help us overcome those fears.”

Even still, the crucial first step—getting off the couch—requires a powerful push and pull. The push is personal; each woman has to push past her own fears and doubts. The pull is what GirlTrek is good at; providing inspiration and clear examples of what healthy, active, fulfilled lives can look like. 

Stories like Erica’s are essential. She wrote, “My expedition group saw grizzlies, caribou and herds of dall sheep. We crossed rivers and trekked through snow, tundra, boulders, mud, and scree. We navigated with compass and maps—even in fog white outs. We smelled bad, looked dirty and had fun. And it was by far the best time of my life.”

To learn more about GirlTrek, visit or email

Posted on at 11:15 AM

Tagged: African Americans, Denali, GirlTrek, alaska, backpacking, fitness and walking

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Astro Man

It's great to see this these types of organizations doing such good work. Great job!

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