I was on the heels of a bad breakup with a man I thought I was going to spend my life with, and my sense of self had crumbled. I moved out of Skagway, AK (pop 800) to Valdez, AK (pop 4000) to get some space, begin the healing process, and rebuild my identity. The move to Valdez was spurred by the offer of an exciting job running the town's one gym, and I jumped right in.
Winter in Valdez, Alaska
At the same time, I was working on my master’s degree in Social Work -- thank goodness for distance learning! The final requirement of that degree was a 500-hour practicum, which I began at Providence Valdez Counseling Center.
I’d be working with Personal Training clients on their fitness, and with just a bit of exploration I’d find tears, shame, self-doubt, and trauma… and I thought, “you might benefit from some mental health therapy!” (I tend to think that everyone can benefit from mental health therapy).
And then I’d head over to my practicum and sit with clients in therapy sessions. I was learning that exercise was as effective for depression as medication for most people, and I'd found that to be true for myself. I often found myself thinking “you should come & move with me at the gym!”
The connections between physical and mental health felt like they couldn't have been more obvious.
The previous winters I’d been in the process of learning how to backcountry ski.... and it had been a long, slow process.
Learning to backcountry ski in Valdez
But that winter, things started to click. I started to be able to skin up with more ease, and tie my turns together without needing to drop all my speed. I was better able to keep up with my friends, and I started having lots more fun.
And I saw something similar happening with the other people in my Tabata Bootcamp group. We were all having an amazing winter season! We were strong, breaking trail, handling crappy conditions, with good energy, and less winter darkness slump.
Ben & me on our first Winter Classic
The Wilderness Classic was something I grew up hearing about, but always assumed was for those hard-core adventure athletes. When my brother Ben and I decided to team up and try it, I had to use all the mental health strategies I’d been learning to overcome my self-doubt, fear, and imposter syndrome.
When we completed the course (a 200-mile self-supported ski from McCarthy to Tok Cut-off) that year, my mind was blown.
And when the following year we returned and finished first, I had to come to terms with having shattered my own self-limiting beliefs. Those limits were no longer based in reality. I was capable of much more.
With that, things started clicking into place. I knew that the gym workouts were incredibly impactful for outdoor recreation and that lots of people around Alaska -- and outside of Alaska-- could benefit from them.
And I recognized that the mental health strategies that I was learning and putting into place in the workouts and in my outdoor time were transferable to tons of different situations, from the ski slope to the board meeting and beyond.
I began the process of learning how to build a business, put together a holistic fitness program together, and translate all I had been learning to an online platform.
With a mission to help people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, genders, & abilities break through the real and self-imposed barriers in outdoor recreation, we’ve been able to bring mental health informed fitness and anti-bro culture to the outdoor rec world.
In the years since over 1,000 people have been through Ski Babes and Summer Strong, and participants have ranged from rural Alaskan villages with no road access, to Antarctica, and many places in-between.
It's been an absolute joy to work with people in this way, and to see the transformation that is possible when we incorporate mental health strategies into our movement practices, and when we build strength that's built on functionality & joy.
And if you’re finding this during the shoulder season, or want to start with something less season-focused, you can start Balance Training anytime.
Stay in touch and join the movement!
Sign up for news & updates from Sarah
Add your email below to open up your access to the 20-Min Busy Day Workout.
You'll also be included on my email list, where I send out updates & resources on fitness, mental health, and adventure. It's low-pressure, lighthearted, & easy to unsubscribe at anytime should you wish to.