Last year, REI launched the Force of Nature initiative designed to elevate the conversation around women in the outdoors. One of the main components of this effort is to locally and nationally highlight women who are doing inspiring things outdoors and provide a platform for them to share their stories.
Here in New York City, we are fortunate to work with many passionate women who quietly work behind the scenes to develop community, increase awareness and promote the value of spending time outdoors. We believe this is important work, and that’s why we created the Women’s Speaker Series to give leaders in the outdoor world the opportunity to tell their stories in a meaningful way. Now in its second year, this series has carried forward the Force of Nature message through thoughtful presentations designed to develop and inspire community around numerous topics. Here is a summary of what we covered in 2018.
WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP IN MOUNTAIN BIKE ADVOCACY AND TRAIL BUILDING
Women’s voices can have an especially strong impact when it comes to generating political goodwill and rallying volunteers to give their time to the trails. For the first event, we looked to our local mountain bike volunteer organizations for inspiration—many of them former or current REI grant partners. Our panel of speakers comprised three influential tri-state mountain bike groups: Andree Sanders from Concerned Long Island Mountain Bikers, Laura Kelley from Westchester County Mountain Bike Association and Kyaiera Tucker from New England Mountain Bike Association. They talked about current projects and provided insights and opportunities for how to get involved in mountain bike stewardship efforts locally.
“One of the things that being involved with trail work has taught me is that there is so much preplanning that goes into trails, and it's evident in the quality of the trail once it's built. The speaker series highlighted to me that many women want to be involved but don't know where to start. And I certainly can relate to that! It can be intimidating to take the first step, but I find it easier when I see another woman present. Being able to speak with Andree and Kyaiera and listen to their challenges and successes reinforced how important it is to support our fellow women in making and managing the trails.”—Laura Kelly
“I recently attended a Women's Speaker Series on MTB advocacy in the tri-state [area] and involvement in trail maintenance and various other organizations which promote female mountain bikers. I found this event incredibly inspiring and productive. As a female who loves all things outdoors and adventure, it is often difficult to find other women who share the same passion for the same sports in the tri-state area. Listening to women who live across the tri-state area who are such integral parts of their own mountain bike communities instilled a sense of pride within me. There really are so many rad women out there who are making a splash in the outdoor adventure industry and paving the way for other women to follow. So in conjunction with this program, I find that all the women-specific outdoor programs offered by REI are extremely valuable to promote our involvement in the industry and for us to continue to grow and act on our passions for outdoor adventure in a community of seriously awesome women.”—Molly Danzig
WOMEN’S COMMUNITY IN THE WORLD OF ROCK CLIMBING
For the second event, REI partnered with local climbing gym Brooklyn Boulders to showcase four women who are deeply entrenched in the world of rock climbing. They took on the topic of addressing barriers to entry in their sport and shared how being part of a community of outdoorsy women has helped shape their love for living in NYC. Our panel was composed of community and media groups: Brittany Leavitt from Brown Girls Climb, Samantha Lopez from Women's Climbing Collective, Lam Thuyvo from Buzz Feed and Cat Fletcher from Brooklyn Boulders.
“There’s something very beautiful to [learn to] climb for yourself, to climb for therapy when you need it, and to climb with others for the joy of community. Hearing the stories of other women climbers reminded me how much we have in common and why I love sharing a passion for climbing with such amazing humans.”—Lam Thuy Vo
“It's empowering to sit amongst so many women who aspire to be a part of your community. REI's Women's Speaker Series provided the platform for women to be real and to inspire each other to be proud of where we came from, how we look, and that there is no wrong or right way to be a climber. This panel empowered me and reminded me why I started Women's Climbing Collective. It's to share raw and real moments that lead to long-lasting connections, both on and off the wall, and to educate ourselves and our friends about the importance of self-love and acceptance and, as women, challenging the status quo.”—Samantha Lopez
“I had the chance to tell my story on how I got into climbing and the work that I do with Brown Girls Climb. It was truly an awesome experience to share the trials and errors that came along, as I began climbing from feeling outcast in the beginning to now being able to create space for women who want to join the climbing community. It’s awesome to be able to share tips to first-time gym goers to guide people who want to take the next steps in climbing. It was awesome to be a part of a panel of other strong and awesome ladies who also had inspiring and unique stories to share.”—Brittany Leavitt
WOMEN’S STORIES AROUND SOLO ADVENTURING
The next event brought forward stories of three women who made bold decisions to undertake solo adventures around the world. With tales of personal evolution, courage and tenacity, our speakers recounted their tales. This was a deeply honest discussion on how personal hardships led to decisions designed to put their lives back on track. Taylor Manson from REI SoHo discussed thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Dulcie Canton from Transportation Alternatives shared her process of recovering from a traumatic cycling crash and bravely getting back in the saddle to travel by bike throughout Europe, and Jackie Chan from REI SoHo recounted her recent summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa after suddenly losing her father. All had different motivations and driving forces pushing them forward, but they also had some things in common: the recognition of an adventure awaiting and desire to live life to the fullest.
“It was an amazing experience speaking in the Women’s Speaker Series. Solo adventuring can be an intimidating topic, and I feel honored to be able to speak about my experience. Seeing the audience’s eyes light up with hope and confidence that they are also capable of doing such a thing has made my traveling experience to Kili even more worthwhile. Because of this event, I was able to influence and make an impact on other women that I didn’t think was possible.”—Jackie Chan
WOMEN ARTISTS WHO FIND INSPIRATION IN LIFE OUTSIDE
For our final event, we explored the creative side of life outdoors by featuring artists who use their chosen medium to express love for nature and time spent outside. Painter Taliah Lempert’s work combines the two things that she is most passionate about—painting and cycling—and her work excites the cycling and the art worlds alike. Illustrator Hallye Webb creates colorful illustrations with watercolors and ink, and she is inspired by the natural world and the various places she has lived. Both artists have different motivations pushing them to express themselves in this way, and they provided insights into how others can cultivate the creative spark in their lives through time spent outside—even without leaving the city.
“Hearing the questions and comments that people had about the relationship between the outdoors and making artwork was so interesting. I love that people are thinking about ways to get creative outside, and it was a great opportunity for all of us in the room to learn about the ways we see and act on that relationship in our own lives.”—Hallye Webb
If Force of Nature has taught us anything, it’s that there is no right or wrong way to get involved in the outdoors. As long as the time you spend outside is making you a happier and healthier person, you’re doing it right. It doesn’t have to be numbers-based or competitive to be meaningful. If you’re a woman leader with an inspiring story and you live in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, please get in touch! We are currently in the initial planning phases for 2019. You can reach the NYC Tri-State team at firstname.lastname@example.org.