Kristen Fuller | 08.07.2018

I have always been drawn to strong, kind, successful female role models. Whether that innate connection stems from being raised by a strong, successful single mom or whether it stems from spending most of my career and personal passions spent in a male-dominated world, breaking down barriers. As a female physician and an outdoor enthusiast, I am living in a man’s world. Men, up until recently, have dominated both medicine and the outdoor community. I cannot count the number of times I have been blown off in a hospital and on a trail because of my gender. As females, we are slowly breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field in both of these realms mainly due to strong empowering females, many of whom I call mentors.  As a child, I never felt disempowered by men. I grew up playing co-ed sports, tagged along with my brother’s friends, went on backpacking trips with my dad and uncle (and llama), and played at the park with the neighborhood boys. I never was raised to believe that I needed to have a husband and start a family to be deemed successful, and I never grew up thinking that there was a gender gap; my mom made sure to instill in me that happiness is a choice I have the power to make, regardless of my gender.

I never fully experienced the gender gap until I entered my career in medicine and years later when I became involved in a women’s hiking group. During my third and fourth year of medical school, I had male surgeons yell at me in the operating room, throw instruments at me during surgery, and treat me like a rag doll on rounds. These occurrences did not happen frequently, but they did happen. These experiences not only made me question myself as a woman in medicine but I also questioned the integrity of our medical society for allowing this to happen. Fast-forward to a few years later where I now help facilitate an amazing female hiking organization, GirlsWhoHike. I lead group hikes, camping trips, and backpacking trips on a monthly basis and have met some of the most empowering women on these adventures. Throughout these amazing adventures, we have run into our fair share of criticism from men on the trails. I have noticed when I am hiking or backpacking solo, I am often well-respected by every male I come across on the trail; however, when I am leading group hikes, I have witnessed many snarky and condescending comments that I have learned to deal with in stride. Every once in a while I will receive a negative online comment or negative email from a male and read heartbreaking stories about women who have been beaten and/or sexually assaulted on the trails. These unfortunate events do not occur often, but they do happen and they do affect every single female in the outdoors. Female safety is one thing every woman thinks about when she is hiking alone, no matter what. With that said, I have met many amazing and kind-hearted males in the outdoors who I would be honored to hike with, but the subject of women empowerment and the importance of female role models needs to be brought up in daily conversations in order for the outdoor world to become a safe and equal playing field for women.

Throughout my life I have had many female mentors who have helped me grow into the woman I am today.

  • My amazing and beautiful mom is literally the strongest person I know and although she may say some outlandish and wild remarks, she has a heart of gold, the work ethic of a horse, and the courage of a lion.
  • The only time in my life I struggled academically was in the fourth grade. I could not understand long division for the life of me and would come home crying because I was scared I was going to fail school and never attend college (dramatic, I know). I spent many hours after school with my amazing fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Nelson, who somehow taught me how to learn long division, get my self-esteem back, and “pass” the fourth grade. I wish I could give her a hug today. She made such a positive impact on me.
  • Mrs. Lindstrom was my seventh and eighth grade English teacher, and boy, was that lady a firecracker. And that is why I loved her. The rest of my class was terrified of her, but I had so much respect for how she always spoke her mind, her passion for teaching, and her love for English. My mom and I always say that Mrs. Lindstrom made me the writer I am today. She and I are friends on Facebook, and she is now retired and travels around the United States in her motor home with her husband (she and I are a lot alike). She is a total badass.
  • Jane Goodall
  • Mirna Valerio
  • Malala Yousafzai
  • Who are your female role models and why?

I initially became involved with GirlsWhoHike because although I had a lot of strong girlfriends. Most of my girlfriends who lived in SoCal did not hike or camp, and I wanted to meet like-minded women. I started putting together hikes and trips long before I officially became an ambassador because I selfishly wanted to make girlfriends in the outdoors; I never considered myself a leader. After becoming an ambassador, I was having dinner with the guy I was dating and he mentioned that I am making a positive change in the lives of women by taking them on their very first hike, very first camping trip and very first backpacking trip. I reflected on this statement for a very long time because I never considered that I was making an impact; after all, I just wanted to meet female friends in the outdoors. This statement was a game changer for me. It humbled me and made me nervous. It made me nervous because I am always making so many mistakes, dropping way too many F-bombs, and I am a total work in progress. It humbled me because it was true. I have taken countless women on their very first backpacking trip, very first hike, and very first camping trip. I have also watched women set up a tent for their first time, filter water from a stream for their first time, strap on crampons for their first time, snow ski for the first time, put on a backpack for their first time, learn how to read a map and light their first campfire. I have had women pour their hearts out to me on the trail about some of the most vulnerable moments in their life, and I have seen women pick themselves up after a tragedy…all while in the outdoors. So although I never chose to become a leader in the outdoors and I was not consciously aware of what I was doing until it slapped me in the face, I am humbled on every single trail by every single woman who shows up for one of my hiking events. I am forever grateful for women allowing me to be in a place where I can make a difference in the female outdoor community, and I cannot wait to grow this community one hike at a time.

I often get asked, “Why do you lead a women’s hiking group?”  The answer is simple. We as women need a safe space in the outdoors, a place where we can come together, connect, and empower each other without having to worry about fighting off unwanted sexual advances or having to feel we have to compete with men or feel like we are second best. We deserve a positive and inclusive place in the outdoors. Although I initially became involved because I wanted to meet outdoor girlfriends, I consciously lead a women’s hiking group today because I want to make a difference in this community.

Cheers to every single strong badass woman who has laughed, cried, yelled, and drank wine with me in the outdoors. My hope is that we all work together to level the outdoor playing field, one trail and one friendship at a time. Let us continue to be a #ForceofNature in the outdoors. 

I hope to see you on the trails.


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