Inspirational Women Speak at West Virginia Wild
Each year, Explorer Chicks from all over the country gather for one epic weekend: West Virginia Wild. Between the white water rafting, hiking, bonding, and general SHE-nanigans, attendees are treated to an evening with a special keynote speaker. Inspirational women, who are passionate about outdoor adventuring, share their unforgettable stories.
2020: Maureen Beck
“CLIMBING IS KIND OF A GREAT EQUALIZER. THE ROCK DOESN’T CARE WHO YOU ARE.”
When faced with a route to climb, we all have our own issues and challenges to overcome. Maybe you’re short or tall or big booty-ed or older or younger or working around a nagging old injury. Maureen Beck just happens to be missing her left hand.
Maureen “Mo” Beck, now a two-time gold medalist rock climber, took the mic to share the story of her expedition to Lotus Flower Tower in the Northwest Territories of Canada with adaptive climbing partner Jim Ewing. This expedition would later become a documentary, Adaptive, that follows the duo as they make the first adaptive ascent attempt of the classic climb.
Yet before all the accolades and big mountain adventures, Mo was a 12-year-old living in Maine near Acadia National Park. Born without her left hand and forearm, her parents once offered to send her to camp for disable kids. She balked at the idea preferring the attitude of, “Watch me.” She was quick to adapt her favorite outdoor activities finding workarounds that might include duct tape. All the while being insistent on not being treated any differently than other kids.
It took just one rock climbing excursion with her Girl Scout troop to get Mo hooked on climbing. She devoured every magazine and book while saving up money to hire a guide to teach her the “ropes.”
Years later she would move to Colorado where she would discover the unexpected – a community of bad ass athletes who climbed just as hard as she did. They too were missing limbs or in a wheel chair or blind, and they were crushers. Maureen had found her people.
Encouraged by her new Paradox sports community, Maureen began competing at the national and world levels. Her desire and dedication to win, has won her four national titles, a gold medal at the 2014 Paraclimbing World Championships in Spain and defended that title with a gold medal at the 2016 World Championships in Paris.
Maureen starred in the 2017 Film “Stumped” which has won numerous awards and toured hundreds of cities all over the world, and in the 2019 film Adaptive. Mo is an athlete for The North Face, Petzl, Sterling Rope and Scarpa.
Most recently, she was named a 2019 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
2019: Heather “Anish” Anderson
The Earth’s circumference is 24,901 miles around. Heather “Anish” Anderson has hiked 30,000 miles since 2003. Yeah, she figuratively has hiked around the world and then some.
I know what you’re thinking. Man, she must have been a superstar athlete growing up. Probably crushed the competition in Cross Country Races. Ran track at the collegiate level. Heck, I bet she grew up in the mountains of Colorado.
All of those assumptions are false. She grew up in Michigan living your traditional rural Midwestern life. Her outdoor experience was limited to helping around the family farm. By the time she reached college, she was 50 pounds overweight.
After her first year of college, she had a calling to spend the summer working at the Grand Canyon. Within in her first couple days, she took off down the Bright Angel Trail with friends – in Walmart flip flops and cut-off shorts. Yeah, she had a front seat on the struggle bus. Yet, she had fallen in love with the wild and was quick to search out her next outdoor adventure.
After graduating from Anderson University, she made her way to Springer Mountain for her first Appalachian Trail thru hike. As soon as she finished, she was ready for more.
It was a couple of years before she was back to thru hiking. In the interim, she had married a fellow thru hiker, settled down in Seattle, and found work designing eBooks. Together, she and her husband thru hiked the Pacific Coast Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.
Sounds heavenly, right? Heather had it all: A job, a home, a husband. What more could a girl ask for?
Yet, in 2012 her marriage was falling apart, and it was the trail that held all the answers. Every hiker can relate. Problems are solved. Souls are searched. The inner workings of our beings are unveiled. She quit her job, sold her belongings, and set her sights back on the dirt path.
Having completed her first Triple Crown, she had her mind on a new challenge: an FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the Pacific Crest Trail. Which, she crushed. She finished beating out the previous record by 4 days. And, this wasn’t the woman’s record. This was the overall record and she was the first woman to hold the record!
And, then she kept going. In 2015 while Scott Jurek was setting a fully supported FKT on the Appalachian Trail with total fan fare, Heather was toiling along quietly completely self-supported setting her own Women’s record on the same trail. The following year, she broke the record on the Arizona Trail.
In 2018, she really out did herself. In under a year she thru hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail – Total distance: 7,938 miles. The achievement earned her recognition as the first Woman Triple Triple Crowner and the first woman to Triple Crown in a year. National Geographic just named her one of their Adventurers of the Year because of her trailblazing successes.
Oh, and she’s authored her first book! Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home which chronicles her Pacific Crest Trail record.
There’s much more to her story than her long list of achievements. She’s an inspiring human that bucked traditions in favor of what sets her soul on fire. She doused gender barriers in gasoline and set them ablaze. She redefines how a top tier athlete looks or is brought up. She is a reminder that we are all humans with the ability to do human things – very well. No matter how far removed we might seem, it starts with one foot step in the right direction even if it’s in Walmart sandals.
2018: Sophia Danenberg
In 2018, Explorer Chick founder Nicki attended the ATTA Adventure Elevate conference in Banff. During one of the workshops, James Edward Mills, journalist and founder of the Joy Trip Project, shared the story of Sophia Danenberg. James went on to share how she became the first African American to summit Mt. Everest. Holy smokes. She’s kinda a big deal. Right then and there, she set her sights on inviting her to share her story with our Explorer Chicks.
Later that night, she hunted down James and asked for an introduction to Sophia. A few days later, the conversations started.
Wait. I thought Explorer Chick was all about Real Women, Real Adventures. Climbing Mt. Everest is way out of my wheelhouse. Well, guess what? Sophia didn’t grow up in an alpine region climbing mountains since she could walk. She grew up with a family who could be described at “indoorsy.” Who else can relate? (🙋♀️ Yep, us too!).
Her outdoor love affair started in high school and slowly escalated over the years. It was tiny steps in the right direction and learning the right skills that got her to the top of the world. In 2002, she was introduced to glaciers when she climbed both Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker. Sophia’s love of the mountains took her all over the world, from the Matterhorn and Chamonix in the Alps to Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in Africa to Ama Dablam and Mount Everest in the Himalayas. With her summit of Mount Everest in 2006, Sophia became the ﬁrst African American to summit the highest mountain in the world.
2017: Stacey Kozel
“THE WORST DAY ON THE TRAIL IS STILL FAR BETTER THAN THE BEST DAY IN THE HOSPITAL.”
For many the idea of thru hiking the 2,181 mile long Appalachian Trail seems impossible. It means spending months traveling by foot along a trail that spans 14 states while sleeping in the wilderness relying primarily on your own strengths, instinct, and determination. It’s spending days, weeks, months without another soul in sight. It’s combating the mental low points and forcing yourself to carry on, one foot in front of the other, despite every desire to just call it quits. It’s being at the mercy of the elements: rain, cold, humidity, and bugs. It’s facing fears including those pesky black bears.
As if hiking the Appalachian Trail wasn’t hard enough, Stacey Kozel thru hiked the AT in 2016 without the use of her legs.
Stacey grew up in Medina, Ohio playing any sport with a ball. She had plans to continue her athletic career in college. Yet, it all came to a halt when she was diagnosed with Lupus at 19. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body because your immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. It’s a chronic disease so it’s a constant struggle between flare ups and remission. Lupus wreaked havoc on Stacey’s spinal cord.
Stacey’s flare ups would leave her in the hospital recovering for months at a time. With each flare up, she lost a little more mobility. In March 2014, she suffered her most severe flare up caused by a car accident. For a period she couldn’t even lift her head.
Yet, it was during this stint in the hospital that Stacey really gained perspective and motivation. With not much else to do laying in bed, she spent time reflecting. She had worked as nurse charged with caring for patients with dementia. These patients would share their regrets of dream vacations, broken relationships, and missed chances. Stacey made a promise to herself that if she recovered from this most recent flare up, her life would be lived with no regrets.
It was nine months before she could stand again, a year before she walked, and hours of focused rehabilitation with her doctors and therapists to regain her strength. She left the hospital in a motorized wheelchair, but she wanted to get back on her feet. Through research, she discovered the high tech brace, called the C-brace, made by Ottobock. Of course, getting the brace was no simple task. She and her medical staff fought tooth and nail to reverse the insurance company’s judgement that it was “unnecessary”. After a year, many appeals, phone calls, and prayers, it was finally approved.
The new braces allowed her to walk by moving her hips in such a way that produced steps with the use of a computer. The challenge for the trail, however, was the need for them to be charged every two days and keeping them out of the rain. Of course, this is Stacey we’re talking about, so this little hiccup wasn’t stopping her! It meant she trekked slower with extra time spent in her tent on rainy days. Trail magic came in the form of places to charge her braces.
She finished her thru hike October 9 after several attempts to summit Mount Katahdin. Her final attempt was made to the chagrin of rangers who feared for her safety climbing the rough terrain. It rained. It was cold. She struggled. She held tight to her goal. “The worst day on the trail is still far better than the best day in the hospital. I believe the possibilities are endless and we may never know what we can accomplish if we give up too soon.”