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Georgina Miranda | 07.01.2019

Whether she’s at the crag, on top of a mountain, or on the beaches of her hometown, Kris Machnick has a daring vision that transcends the gender and age norms of her generation—hence she is climbing now into her 80s with no end in sight. Discovering her affinity for climbing in her 60s, she’s wasted no time since and launched her project 8 for 80 leading up to her 80th birthday to raise awareness and research dollars for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She’s inspiring others to focus on possibilities versus any limits.

At Outdoor Project, we've made it part of our mission to celebrate and amplify the voices of women in the outdoors. In our third year of Women in the Wild, we are proud to share our platform again with courageous and inspiring female figures who are making a difference in the outdoor industry and the world at-large. It’s been an honor to be a guest editor this year for Women in the Wild, and I am grateful and inspired by all of the remarkable women that I got to connect with and interview. They are shaping a new narrative daily, and they show us anything is possible with tenacity, creativity, and purpose.

 

Never underestimate your potential at any age. As we get older, don’t sit around and obediently wait for the end.

—Kris Machnick

 

In this interview, we speak with climber-extraordinaire Kris Machnick about her 8 for 80 project, raising money for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and living courageously and fully regardless of age. This interview has been edited for clarity.


 


Photo courtesy of Kris Machnick.

Georgina Miranda: Tell us about Kris Machnick. How would you describe your connection to the outdoors/adventure either professionally or through other pursuits today?

Kris Machnick: I was born in Norway in 1939 at 63 degrees north in the dead of winter. The small town of Kristiansund N. where I grew up was practically destroyed during the Second World War. I am the oldest of six siblings, and in 1959 I immigrated to the United States by myself, looking for economic opportunities that were not available in Norway at that time. I currently live by the ocean in Santa Cruz, California, with my husband Joe and my standard poodle, Balder. Our daughter Tanya and granddaughter Simone live close by. Our whole family enjoys exploring the beauty of nature and the physical challenge of ocean and mountain activities, including surfing, swimming, skiing, and climbing.

Today, I am a member of the American Alpine Club and the Sierra Club. I have been a technical rock and ice climber since 2004. Over the last year I have ice climbed in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado; Keystone Canyon, Alaska; Alberta, Canada; and Hemsedal, Norway. I’ve rock climbed in Lofoten, Norway. This winter, our whole family skied together in Squaw Valley and Whistler Mountain, British Columbia, Canada. We also run and train outside and inside in preparation for various activities.

GM: Tell us about your 8 for 80 project. Were you always drawn to a life of the outdoors and advocacy? How did your journey get you to where you are today?

KM: The 8 for 80 project officially started at the beginning of 2018 when I was 79 years old. The project was designed to accomplish three things that I am passionate about: raise $100,000 for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease research; celebrate life by climbing eight major ice and rock routes in different mountain ranges around the world by the end of winter 2019, when I had my 80th birthday; and share the 8 for 80 Project to inspire people at any age to take action for their own lives and stand for their own physical and mental well-being.

The eight major ice and rock climbs are complete. It turned out to be six ice climbs and two rock climbs. The adventure continues, and I will keep climbing to raise awareness and funding to find a cure for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease research throughout my 80th year! The climbing trips are self-funded with 100% of funds raised going to the research organizations.

The mountains are in my blood, and a stewardship for raw environments is in the heart of the Norwegian people. The geography of Norway is dominated by vast mountain ranges broken up by valleys and fjords. Less than 10 percent of the country’s area is arable and the rest is mountainous. There are 291 peaks in Norway with elevation above sea level of 2,000 meters (6,562 ft) or more.

I have always spent most of my time outdoors as far back as I can remember. When I grew up in Norway, in a large family living in small spaces, we had to go outside to play, running around with other kids doing all kinds of things that did not require any equipment. We had nothing except ropes, bricks, stones, and maybe some balls. Starting in 1960, in my adult life in the U.S., I started running in footraces, trekking and hiking in the mountains, skiing, biking, and swimming. I have been technical rock and ice climbing since 2003.

GM: What other initiatives/projects/goals are you focused on?

KM: Climbing adventures are on the horizon and in various stages of planning. Some include:

A celebration climb: Three generations of women climbing together, celebrating the completion of the 8 for 80 project. My daughter, granddaughter, and I have scheduled and canceled this climb twice since early March due to unsafe climbing conditions caused by rain and wind. Our next attempt is not yet scheduled.

The 2019 American Alpine Club International Climber's Meet happens October 13 to 19 in Yosemite Valley. I have applied and will know later in June if I am accepted.

The Black Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, is a part of the world that really interests me. It is remote and foreboding! I am in the process of researching the best time regarding weather conditions and resources required to access the ridge.

GM: Your project talks about mental health and physical fitness correlation and your desire to inspire others. Tell us more about your overall mission and how people can support your efforts.

KM: One aspect of the 8 for 80 project correlates physical fitness and mental health, called “Take Action for Life.” Here I share about the project including my training, climbing, and fundraising to inspire people at any age to take action for their own lives by creating their own initiative for mental and physical fitness, and of course have fun doing it!

In the spring of 2017, two of my friends and my granddaughter’s other grandmother died. Two died from Alzheimer’s and the third from Lewy body dementia. In February 2012, my oldest brother died from complications related to Parkinson’s, and my youngest sister is currently living with Parkinson’s disease. I am very motivated to fund research that can identify preventive measures and find a cure. I am inspired by current scientific research at the molecular level, and motivated to do what it takes to generate the funding that I am committed to contribute. Financial resources matter in expediting this critical research, and I believe that we are on the cusp of a major breakthrough to identify preventive measures and cures for these devastating, fatal brain diseases.

Everybody knows or knows of someone afflicted by Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. You can go to my website and find the 8 for 80 project to follow my adventures and make a donation directly to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease research. You can also donate by going to Instagram and follow the link in the bio to donate.

GM: Where do you draw your inspiration/motivation from? Has that changed over your time?

KM: A lot of my motivation comes from my family history as noted in the previous question. With hindsight, I can see that the source of my motivation and/or inspiration has changed over time. When I was a child growing up in Norway, I was mostly focused on survival and taking care of my basic needs. Then, in my early adulthood, when I ventured out in the world, my source of inspiration changed as I had greater exposure to people and the opportunity to learn from them.

A good example for me is what happened when my husband graduated from college and became an aerospace scientist. All of a sudden, I was spending most of my time with young, highly educated people with a different world view. My intellectual and physical inspiration and motivation changed. I realized that I could design my own life rather than be a victim of circumstances. It was up to me to take charge, and I did. I went to college, collected a few degrees, and got to the top of my profession. However, at this point in my life, I am focused on being in the present and to trust myself to do “the right thing,” and I am motivated and inspired by people around me in daily life, including my family and strangers that I meet.

GM: What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome related to your outdoor pursuits or your career? What helped you overcome those challenges?

KM: The biggest challenge for me to overcome in my outdoor pursuits was my own stereotype limitations relating to gender and age. I ran my first marathon in my 50s and started technical climbing in my 60s. I had the notion that I would never be a real climber because I don’t have a climber’s lifestyle; I am not living in a van with the freedom to roam, and having the ability to do 100 one-finger pullups and other stupid things like that. It turns out that many of these so-called challenges are self imposed limitations that are enforced by agreement from others.

To overcome limitations due to personal stereotyping or other limitations imposed by civil society, I say claim your personal freedom for full self-expression and be true to yourself rather than buckling under and missing out due to externally imposed limitations.

GM: What can the greater outdoor community and companies like OP do to better to amplify and celebrate ALL women in our community?

KM: One very important issue that currently is addressed only on a token basis relates to the quality and functionality of clothing and gear provided specifically for women compared to what is available to men. For women, the emphasis on clothing is frequently based on looking good and being sexy and cute rather than the functional qualities for men such as pockets, zippers, best material for maximum warmth, durability, etc.

GM: How do you keep your pursuits going? How did you get it all to a point where this is a feasible lifestyle for you? How do you support your adventures/passions? Has this changed over time?

KM: I like to get up early every morning when it is quiet and peaceful. I have a special cup of coffee, and sometimes in the winter I light a candle. I feel the presence of love. Every day, I am grateful for being alive and in good health. I am also very grateful for having economic resources, allowing me the freedom to live a life filled with joy and adventure! My life was not always like that.

GM: What’s been the most useful advice given to you along your journey? What advice do you wish you were given when you were younger?

KM: I think the best advice ever given to me was from my mother when I was a young person growing up. My mother always expected me to do well, she encouraged me to always do my best, look for a better life, and explore the world. She did not want me to be a domesticated “slave” like herself with no freedom for self-expression. Fortunately, my mother’s life also changed over time to give her the freedom she was yearning for.

GM: Do you have any other tips/advice/encouragement for women looking to embark on a similar career or path or wanting to make a difference in the world?

KM: The number one tip I have for women and men alike is to claim your personal freedom. You have a say in the matter of the life you want to create for yourself. If you want to make a difference in the world, do something that you are passionate about.

GM: How do you “adventure like you give a damn” in your own way?

KM: If you want to make a difference, do something that you are passionate about. Some ways I have done this thus far:

  • The 8 for 80 project to raise funds to find prevention and cure for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease research.
  • Running in foot races or relays with world runners to raise funds to end world hunger measured by a decline in infant mortality rate worldwide.
  • Running to provide funding for clean water projects for the Maasai tribe in Kenya and Tanzania.
  • Fundraising for educational opportunities for women and girls stuck in prostitution to feed their families or stuck in dead-end jobs in tea or coffee plantations.
  • Participated in the 1989 Moscow Peace Marathon with my daughter Tanya to promote world peace.

GM: What’s been your favorite outdoor adventure to date and why? What’s on your adventure bucket list and/or coming up for you?

KM: In 1991, I went on an expedition to Tanzania with six other women and the director of World Runners, Peter Verbiscar Brown, who is a friend of mine. We slept in tents in a Maasai village close to the Rift Valley for a couple of weeks to participate in a hands-on brick-and-mortar building of a medical dispensary for them with funds we had previously raised. The dispensary was sorely needed in this remote village to eliminate a day’s travel by foot to take care of basic medical needs. In addition to hard physical work, we had time to spend with the women and listen to their stories and their wishes and needs for themselves and their children. It was truly a magical experience.

Next on the adventure bucket list: climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle in the Black Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, climbing in Yosemite Valley in October, and last but not least, doing a local climb with my daughter and granddaughter, Three Generations of Women - Celebration Climb for the 8 for 80 project!

GM: What is the message you would like to share with the world, the outdoor community, and other women in general? Or what is a story you hope to tell in your lifetime?

KM: Don’t be obedient to the tyranny of convention! Figure out what you want to do, then find a way to do it. Not the other way around. Don’t worry about how things should be done or are supposed to be like. Don’t set limits. Focus on possibilities. My intentions are to practice what I preach and to live by example and inspire others. Never underestimate your potential at any age. As we get older, don’t sit around and obediently wait for the end. Remember, every day is a good day to give salutations to the dawn.

If you want to hear more from Kris Machnick, check out her official website. Be sure to donate while you’re there—all proceeds go to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research. Find and follow Kris on Instagram and Facebook. For more inspiring interviews and articles, head on over to Women in the Wild 2019.

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Women in the Wild 2019

Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments. Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2019 with the help of guest editor and 2018 #womaninthewild Georgina Miranda, adventurer, entrepreneur, mountaineer, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. We're proud to open our platform once again for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews with outdoor advocates, influencers, and athletes to female-focused content from the community, Women in the Wild 2019 aims to amplify the voice of women in celebration of female fortitude, strength, and camaraderie in the outdoors.

For a complete list of content published in correlation with Women in the Wild 2019, visit Women in the Wild 2019: Amplifying Women in the Outdoors.

More content from Women in the Wild 2019