Sincere appreciation for this series’ sponsor, Gregory, for helping us highlight these hard-working volunteers and giving away gear to help women in our community get outside. 

Outdoor Women's Alliance Volunteers Maria and DeNae Paspuel

All photos: @drunkinmonkiz

Who are the women behind Outdoor Women’s Alliance? Our team consists of about about thirty volunteers — from intermittent to full time — that lend their talents and bring programs to life. Gregory Mountain Products recently teamed up to help us share just a few of our volunteers’ stories via our Instagram channel. They also gave away two backpacks to help our community get out and create stories of their own.

While these stories caught just a glimpse of our team, they caught the notice of our Instagram community in a big way. Over 900 comments were left by our #outdoorwomen community, who expressed everything from encouragement to describing a mirror of themselves found within our volunteers’ stories. Read on to see what you’ll discover.

Grace Olscamp – OWA Editor

Grace volunteers as an editor in our Editorial Mentorship Program, helping women refine their work in outdoor adventure journalism and photography. This is her story of becoming an outdoor woman:

“After a weekend of rowing in the rain at a regatta in Connecticut, I sat on the muddy, musty charter bus as it drove 13 hours back to Ohio,” says @outdoorwomen editorial program mentor, @gracexplorations. “A junior in high school on an elite rowing team, all that had been hammered into my head—thus, all I cared about—was rowing and getting recruited to row in college. Somewhere along that long drive, a teammate told me about his first National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) trip. It may have been the exhaustion after three days of racing in miserable weather, but by the end of that bus ride I had decided that I, a girl who only went outside for practice or to float in a pool — and who was sent home from Girl Scout camp due to anxiety — would go on a NOLS trip.”

“I was terrified,” says Grace. “It was only a few months after I had made a uncharacteristic decision to head into the wilderness on a tip with NOLS, and here I was, a high school junior from Ohio, about to embark on a 28-day backpacking trip through Wyoming with a handful of strangers. In the backcountry for a month, my perspective on the world, and ideas including (and most especially) about myself, were questioned, reconfigured and replanted to begin again. I returned to Ohio sunburnt and somewhat dreadlocked, but newly confident, with a deeper connection with myself. But sometimes regression is easier than growth. I quickly fell back into who I was before my trip, abiding by what I thought others wanted of me.”

“While it was simple to not challenge myself, falling back into who I had been pre-backpacking trip led to misery,” says Grace. “I attended college on a rowing scholarship, but during that first year, I felt alienated and inauthentic. In taking the path set out for me without question, I lost the strong, confident, growing person who I discovered during my time in the backcountry. I quit rowing after my freshman year. Fast forward six years: I’ve lived and traveled extensively, quit solid jobs upon realizing. I was only there because I was clinging to ‘convention’ and began to climb, hike, bike, scuba dive, ice climb, and ski.”

“One early mid-week morning this July, I was a little lost searching for a crag not too far from my apartment in Salt Lake City [Utah],” says Grace. “As I turned the corner, a waterfall, wildflowers and the tall, intricately carved remains of last season’s snowpack came into view. My joy at this find was doubled by finding the bolts for my climb right next to the ice. In a few hours, I had to be online for my remote job which I love and while I still deal with obstacles, I was doing what I wanted without regard to what others think. By spending more time outside, I was giving myself room to explore greater facets of who I am instead of stifling that journey by taking someone else’s path. As I laid down on a freezing, sloping side of the ice to cool off from the summer sun, I couldn’t help but see the surrounding beauty in myself, in who I’ve blossomed into and who I’m still becoming.”

 

Maria Paspuel – OWA Program Manager

Maria not only volunteers with us at Outdoor Women’s Alliance, but also with a humanitarian org to guide adventure and build schools in her native Ecuador. This is her story of becoming an outdoor woman:

“Each of us has a special place where our love for the outdoors began,” says @outdoorwomen program manager, @mbpsports. “Mine is in my home country of Ecuador. As a young girl in Quito, the capital city, the surrounding mountains essentially became my backyard. My parents encouraged this by taking my siblings and I to them weekly for hiking and climbing trips. But while my love for being outdoors was still growing, my parents packed our bags: we were off to start a new life in a new country.”

“Utah, United States: Moving here would be entirely foreign to me; I didn’t know the language or the people and my beloved Ecuadorian mountains would be gone,” says Maria. “But instead, I found relief: Like my home city of Quito, our new home in Utah’s capital was also surrounded by mountains. It was like a bit of Ecuador came with me. Over time, I grew into this new land: I learned the language and met friends to explore the mountains with. But I never forgot my roots—Ecuador tugged at my heart…”

“I wanted to go back to the place where it all began,” says Maria, “yet it wasn’t as simple as hopping on a plane; to return to my outdoor roots meant years of waiting and many hoops to jump through. I never lost hope and was rewarded in early 2015. After being away from Ecuador since 1991 — 23 years in total — I was given the chance to put my eyes back on the land I loved and my feet on the mountains where I learned to embrace adventure. I felt like the little girl I once was, running in her beloved backyard again.”

 

DeNae Paspuel – OWA Grassroots Program Member

DeNae has been participating in Outdoor Women’s Alliance outings since she was still in grade school. This is her story of becoming an outdoor woman:

“I was lucky to have parents who love the outdoors,” says @outdoorwomen member, @dapaspuel. “When I was young, we would ride our bikes up Utah’s Provo Canyon every Sunday and hike to the waterfalls; these are some of the best memories shared with my family. My mom herself is a killer hiker and has led the way for my sister and I outdoors on many occasions. For example: The three of us tried to locate a new crag via a guidebook and were having difficulty locating the approach trail. My sister and I divided up the climbing gear, intending to pack it up as we scouted out the trail. It was our attempt to save our mom from having to hike around while we scouted for the climbing wall. To our surprise, mom beat us there; we had actually followed her lead.”

“When I was eight, my older sister, @mpbsports, met @ginabegin—founder of @outdoorwomen—who got my sister into rock climbing and let me tag along,” says DeNae. “After finding how natural it came, I fell in love with the sport and begged my parents for a pass to the local gym. My mom, who laid the foundation for my love of being active, supported me. She’d work early morning shifts then return home after work just so she could belay me at the climbing gym. It became another way of making some of the best childhood memories I have. These climbing gym experiences with my mom transferred to taking my climbing outdoors with her and my sister.”

“Hiking up to a climb with gear strapped to my back is easily one of my least favorite things,” says DeNae, “but then you achieve the destination and climb your heart out—easily one of the best feelings! There’s the recognition that ‘I did it; I made it up that mountain with my pack and then I killed that climb’. It’s exhilarating. And it all stems from being shown the way as a young girl. Now, as a woman who is passing this on to three of my ‘adopted’ little sisters, I realize how important it was for my mom to share that love and experience with us as we grew up. If you teach a girl to climb, you are teaching her to have confidence. If you teach her to lead, you teach her self-reliance. It all plays into her everyday life from then on.”