As a kid she was an outsider, spending her time doing cartwheels and flips on the grass in her front yard. When an injury dashed her Olympic dreams, she spent the next 20 years in mourning - searching for the exhilaration and happiness she had enjoyed as a kid. On the precipice of turning 40 she stumbled upon a marvel which transformed her life. Meet the woman behind Wild Women on Top and Coastrek poised to attempt a handstand on the knife edge summit of the world’s most beautiful mountain.
Tell us a little about your background.
When I was little, I was an outsider. While other kids were hanging out at the mall and sneaking a quick ciggie behind the toilets, I was turning cartwheels and flips on the grass in my front yard. I fell in love with gymnastics at eight and was obsessed with it till I became the national gymnastics champion at sixteen. Then I suffered a complete severing of my hamstring. While recovering I told myself I was too old to be an Olympian and then spent the next twenty years in mourning. I was searching for the exhilaration and happiness I had enjoyed as a kid.
Coming from a gym/fitness background in your early twenties, what inspired you to seek more outdoor experiences?
When I was about to turn forty I stumbled upon a marvel which transformed my life. A friend’s personal trainer invited me to join his team to climb Mt Aconcagua, 7,982m, the highest mountain in the Southern hemisphere. It sounded like scary fun, and I hoped it might motivate me to get fit again.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was really f**ing hard. Juggling work, family and training was tricky. I had to bribe grumpy kids on bikes while I jogged, or let them play hide and seek in the mountaineering shop while I hastily grabbed the required expedition gear. I squeezed in weight training while they slept and did push ups in the TV ad breaks. But I was excited, happy and energised. The call to adventure gave me a new purpose.
Six months later I flew to Argentina with my best buddy. We were as excited and nervous as five year olds on the first day of school. I was surprised to discover it wasn’t at all like they’d said in the brochure. We had to learn how to wee into a zip-lock bag in a tent, how to survive a blizzard, how to melt snow for a cup of tea and how to endure nausea and migraines from mountain sickness. We got lost, got sick, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t eat and failed to summit.
But when it was over, we were exhilarated. And this exhilaration proved to be addictive. This adventure transformed our lives. The hard scary stuff had made us ridiculously happy, euphoric. And it made us fit and strong. We were hooked.
Tell us about Wild Women On Top (WWOT), where did it all begin?
After I returned from Aconcagua, I started bush walking at night with a bunch of friends who wanted to get fit for treks. Over a glass of bubbles at Christmas drinks we decided we should climb Mt Kilimanjaro. A few more drinks and we were doing the Seven Summits.
I trained the girls for a few years, but more and more women wanted to join and I realised I’d found my new passion – a way to help women get fit with friends in nature. Heading off into the wilderness, leaping out of your comfort zone into the unknown is really awesome.
That was ten years ago. I resigned from my job as a journalist, and started Wild Women On Top, Life Changing Adventures.
What changes have you seen in women’s participation in adventurous pursuits over your career?
More women are taking on extreme adventures, and more women are getting fit outside the gym. The number of women participating in World Adventure tours has increased significantly in the past twenty years – growing from around 38% in 1996 to 53% in 2016.
We’ve seen it in our Coastrek, 30-60km Team Trekking Challenges. Women make up nearly 90% of participants and over 13,000 walkers who have taken that challenge. There’s also heaps more outdoor events for women, like fun runs and adventure races, which gives them mini goals to get them fit. This builds confidence and leads up to big goals when the time is right.
And with the rise of social media, and fantastic magazines like TPL, women are able to connect with other women, hear their stories and learn that adventure is fun and makes them fit and strong.
WWOT and Coastrek are huge supporters of the Fred Hollows Foundation. Can you tell us why you chose that charity and what is it about what they do that inspires you?
Nearly 60% of the world’s blind are women and The Fred Hollows Foundation restores their sight. We are passionate about trekking to restore sight because the gift of sight transforms not just the blind person, but all those around them. It’s often the little girls who have to guide them, so if mum gets her sight back, her daughter can go to school. It’s truly life-changing for the whole family.
What lessons have you learnt from your outdoor experiences that would apply to running a successful business?
The power of the mind. I call it the trek mindset. The trek mindset teaches us how to turn obstacles into opportunities, work together, and lift as we climb. It makes us strong, resilient, compassionate, energised, happy and healthy so we can kick arse at work, home and in life.
It’s exactly the same as running a successful business – highs and lows, unexpected obstacles, plans that change, emotions to be managed, and it’s a long hard haul with extreme exhilaration when you achieve the goal.
Do you have a bucket list?
Abso-bloody-lutely! I have buckets of bucket lists. This year’s big hairy audacious goal is a handstand on the knife edge summit of the world’s most beautiful mountain, Mt Alpamayo, 5,950m in Peru in July with a team of gorgeous girls. Then I’ll climb Mt Olympus and walk across Crete with my daughter, followed by Mt Vinson in Antarctica in February 2017. After that, a rock climbing adventure on the Greek Island of Kalymnos and as well as a few cycling and sea kayaking adventures. In between all that, our business goal is to get 50,000 women trekking by 2020 and raise $50 million for charity.
What is your advice to our readers who are teetering on the cusp of their first big active adventure?
JFDI … Just friggin do it. It’s like this … all you need to do is find a buddy, find an adventure, sign up, start training, and do something little towards your goal every day. It’s not selfish. It’s ‘helpfish’. When you’ve got an adventure to look forward to everybody benefits, because when you take the challenge, you get fitter, stronger, healthier and happier; which makes you a better wife, partner, mum, grandma and friend.