Katherine Donnelly | 08.20.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Lisa Heaton.

Photo by T. James.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Lisa Heaton is.

Lisa Heaton: I am a manager at a transportation company by day and a self-proclaimed nature advocate/admirer for all other remaining hours outside of the office life. I am a humble new founder of a company that I recently started, QC Pollution Solution (QCPS), where I have infinite goals of cleaning up our planet and finding new purposes for the plastic and trash that I find spoiling the Earth. I love the outdoors and all of the creatures that roam on it, so I tend to spend most of my days in the wilderness or the vast majority of my time wishing I was outside when I’m unable to be there! Currently I am embarking on a quest to pick up trash in every state in the United States; I will have 17 states covered for the year of 2018. The goal is to gather at least two bags of trash per trip (one bag per hand) or more to spread the word to inspire others to be "Down with pollution – thumbs up to being part of the solution." This journey allows me to not only be outdoors exploring our stunning Earth, but it also allows me to do my part to make a difference during this pollution crisis we are dealing with worldwide.  

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Lisa Heaton: Long before I can even remember! Although I was too young to recall the beginning of my love affair with the outdoors, I have limitless pictures and stories told by family members revealing my early feelings toward nature, animals, and getting my hands dirty. When it got to the point where elevations relentlessly tempted me, I found myself wanting to climb anything and everything possible. I would always chase (and still do) the feeling of being raised higher than ground level to catch a view like I am “on top of the world.” It was at that point early on in life when I knew that the outdoor life was meant for me. 

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry? 

Lisa Heaton: Being a woman in the outdoor industry means that there are no rules or limitations. It shows that we can reach for the stars and once we get there, we can continue powering our way through to the next galaxy. Even though we as woman may enjoy getting dressed up on occasion to have a nice night out on the town, we are also diverse. We can go out into the wilderness to get a little dirt under our nails and see the world from a different view. I think the outdoors is and should be meant for everyone, as anyone can find what truly calls to them when accompanied by the calming silence of nature.  

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Lisa Heaton: The outdoors has given me the true feeling of peace, relaxation and adventure! Every tree, every organism, and every living thing has a history or a story to tell. I truly find it mesmerizing to look around and see the beauty with every step I take! With my true loves being animals and nature, I find it disheartening to see the damage we are causing to both sides with our litter crisis and abuse of plastic articles. I enjoy viewing the outdoors the way it should be – 100% natural! It pains me to see that our furry creatures are forced to live in our filth, so I’ve made it a personal goal to travel all around the U.S. to pick up trash in state parks, streams, streets, or anywhere that I possibly can. Also, on leisure hikes I always bring my basket and picker to gather any trash that I can find on or off the trials. With one of my many goals revolving around my cleanup efforts while exploring, I can only hope that I can someday come close to repaying the outdoors. I have a deep passion to protect our animals and the breathtaking beauties this Earth holds, so I will continue moving forward with my journey to spread awareness and hopefully encourage others to do their part as well.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Lisa Heaton: Conservation and preservation of nature and all of its living things is a huge topic and should really be taken seriously by every individual. Using plastic as an example: It requires natural resources like oil to produce a brand new product and with that new product; researchers estimate that it can take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to decompose (some plastics will never disintegrate). When we have hundreds of thousands of plastic articles being swept off land and into our waterways at an uncontrollable rate, we are destroying so many precious ecosystems. In turn, it is also causing major harm to our marine life under the sea. I think it is very critical to engage our younger generations to stay creative and interested in the wonderful outdoors in hopes that they do not follow in our footsteps during this “plastic era.” If we can get everyone to be more cautious about their plastic consumption, invest in reusable products, recycle anything and everything that they possibly can, and most importantly, put a halt to littering – I think we will find that with these few minor adjustments we will have a huge impact on conserving and protecting our lands, waterways, and all the creatures that call them home.  

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Lisa Heaton: I am truly inspired by many, as I find that anyone’s passion toward whatever it is that keeps them driven has always been absolutely remarkable to me. My family and friends are individuals who all have stories and are all extraordinary in their own way. If I had to pick one person who has inspired me the most on my current journey, it would be my dear friend Joel Vanderbush. Joel is the curator of conservation and education at our local Niabi Zoo. After I became a volunteer at the zoo, he took me through a series of training sessions and really opened my eyes to just how serious the pollution crisis has become. With our shared enthusiasm toward animals and nature, he really opened the door to me wanting to do more on my part. I am so thankful for the experience I was able to gain from him, which sparked the flame and desire for me to embark on this journey of traveling the world and picking up the planet!

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Lisa Heaton: Adventure means finding something that lights a flame inside of you! Being somewhere or doing something that leaves you absolutely captivated. I am an adrenaline junkie, personally, but I also enjoy the peacefulness of the outdoors as well. My typical adventure could be as extreme as rock climbing/rappeling, whitewater rafting, or zip lining, or it could be as mellow as camping, fishing, taking a hike through the forest, or climbing a tree simply to sit on a branch and hear nothing but the calls of nature. I am a firm believer that the wilderness has something to offer everyone. It just takes the initiative to go outdoors and explore!

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Lisa Heaton: To me it means someone who isn’t afraid to take a chance to follow what they believe in. Regardless of what other opinions may be, they stay true to their path and don’t let anyone stand in their way. Someone who looks in the eyes of those who say “you can’t” and shows them how “they can, and will.” No matter how bad life beats them down, they never stop searching for different routes to climb and pick themselves back up again. Those individuals who have the will to always find a way to succeed in their life, reaching their goals or dreams – that’s a badass in my opinion! 

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same? 

Lisa Heaton: My goal of traveling to every state in the U.S. to pick up trash has allowed me to explore the world and try to make a difference at the same time. I love sightseeing and going on adventures in the wilderness! It only made sense for me to clean up areas that I am out exploring (it’s the OCD in me)! I feel like everything has a place and our trash does not belong in nature; therefore, I wanted a way to be outdoors while addressing a problem I saw in front of me. For those who are on a similar path, my best advice would be to remain optimistic but also keep in mind that not everyone shares the same passion or mindset that we do. It can be very frustrating and discouraging to see the aftermath of those who litter when I spend all my time trying to clean things up, but we can’t change everyone, and we just have to remember that the battle against litter will not be won over night. I stick to my saying, “One person at a time, one state at a time – we can turn things around and save this beautiful place we all call home.” I may not be able to reach everyone, but I’m hoping to at least raise more awareness to reach those who want to join in and make a difference.  

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Lisa Heaton: To me, being a woman simply means being comfortable in your own skin and being true to whom you are. Growing up, I was the true definition of a tomboy, so I typically had more guy friends than girl friends and would rather have my face covered in dirt than with makeup. I was always thought of as being “one of the guys” simply because my interests were more aligned with the stereotypical male activities, which made me feel as though I had to dress and act like one of the guys to fit in. However, as I got older, I found that I have infinite interests, which made me realize that realistically I was capable of doing anything the boys could do regardless of my appearance. I’ve always had the mentality that “if you can do it, so can I.” It became evident that no matter what I look like, what I’m wearing, or what setting I am in - I can confidently insert myself into any group of men or women simply by being myself. In short, I don’t see a difference to the meaning of a man versus a woman being in the outdoors.  To me it doesn’t matter if I’m around either gender, as every stereotype or individual can fit in and be accepted in the outdoor community

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by? 

Lisa Heaton: One of my favorite quotes that I have tattooed to serve as a constant reminder is, “Don’t start your day with the broken pieces of yesterday. Every day is the first day of the rest of your life.” Our past helps tell the story of who we are, where we’ve been, and who we’ve become, but we should never dwell over yesterday’s heartache. A quote that I personally say is, “If you don’t like the cards you’re dealt, then pick from a new deck.” We decide our own fate, and we have the power to change our lives with a little determination and a tactful flip of a card. 

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Lisa Heaton: In a perfect world, ideally there would be no trash that littered the outdoors. Everyone would know how to fully utilize trashcans and recycling bins. Animals would get to frolic in the woods without stumbling over litter or being tempted to eat items that cause them harm. In order to obtain this utopia, it takes the collaboration of everyone to spread awareness of the pollution crisis. I think companies such as Outdoor Project could keep striving toward a cleaner planet by continuing to have their hand in the social media market. Using their platform to reach more people and allow the message to impact a larger audience would be key. Potentially even teaming up with environmentally geared companies to help market events and attract a larger volunteer base or possibly even sponsor giveaways to entice others to want to join in.

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without? 

Lisa Heaton: If we’re talking about leaving the house to go anywhere in general, I have got to have my Chapstick! The struggle is real if I’m out and about, dealing with a case of chapped or dry lips!

OP: Let’s talk gear - what are your thoughts on women-specific gear? Love it, hate it? Are there any companies out there doing it right? And how so? When does it matter to you most to have gear specific to women versus unisex products?

Lisa Heaton: Shopping is probably at the very top of my list of things that I truly dislike and I probably don’t spend enough time trying to actually search for products or gear. Leading off with that, I tend to have a hard time finding good winter gear in terms of insulated winter pants. Many of the ones I’ve worn don’t really allow for much mobility and tend to restrict movement. Also, I find that a lot of the outdoor working coveralls are made for women of a much taller stature, and height really wasn’t in the genetics for me, so I sometimes find myself having to shop in the “boys youth” section. Overall, I’m not very picky and tend to just go with whatever I can find that will work for the various seasons we experience in the good ol’ Midwest.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received, and what’s the story behind it?

Lisa Heaton: “Don’t ever find yourself in a situation where you depend on someone else, and never rely on anyone other than yourself.” This is something I heard from my father throughout my entire life. My father is a military man from down South and one of the true heroes that I have in my life. This saying has allowed me to be very independent and self-reliant to branch out to do things and explore on my own. I’ve learned that there is nothing this life can throw at me that I can’t tackle. Some things may take time to figure out or require more thought to power through, but as long as I trust my instincts and depend on the skill sets I have obtained in my life, there is no mountain too high to conquer.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with QC Pollution Solution, what would it be?

Lisa Heaton: The best advice I could give to myself would be, “Don’t be your typical analytical self by trying to calculate every step or predict any potential setback. Things will fall into place when they’re supposed to, and you’ll be ready when they do.” I am a firm believer that every action has a reaction, and even though I am usually quick to adapt, I still find myself trying to think too far ahead on things to come. Sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down and live in the now, as tomorrow will come soon enough!

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Lisa Heaton: A fun fact is that I don’t personally have any social media accounts. There are media sites out there in my name, but I’ve never once actually logged into them. I had a Facebook account that I deleted back when I was 17, and I haven't had a form of social media since then. However, with my recent adventures doing my part to clean up our planet, a friend convinced me that we needed to get the word out to others. Naturally, I resisted, so she handles all of my media accounts by default. I enjoy the simple life of not being bogged down with technology, so having someone eager to post my photos on the media pages for me was a win-win situation! I do think that social media is the best way to spread information out to others, and I only hope that my journeys can inspire more people to want to be outdoors and see the world as I do.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Lisa Heaton: Oh boy, where to start! I will be traveling over Labor Day weekend to visit and pick up in the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas. Following that trip, I will be traveling to California, Oregon, and Washington in early October, which will bring me to 17 states covered so far this year! For some upcoming actions at the QCPS warehouse, I have some big plans brewing. We continue to trash the homes of our wildlife friends, so I am working on ways to continue removing litter from wooded areas so that our friends in the wild can sleep in homes filled with objects other than the trash being thrown there.  

Currently I am venturing into the repurposing side, where I can remove plastic from nature and then place it back into the environment with a new purpose geared toward benefiting wildlife. My long-term goal is to start a facility that can get our younger generations some hands-on experience to learn about the damage we are causing and how they can help do their part to save our precious planet. I have dreams of being able to speak and interact with children to potentially spark an interest in them at an early age. I envision being able to fast-forward years later to find that some of them went on to invent something extraordinary or that they followed through with an idea that changes the world. The younger generations are our future, and if they can be inspired when their creativity is so pure, I truly think they will be the ones to come up with ways to put an end to the excessive manufacturing of plastic and the pollution crisis.

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Lisa Heaton: A cheetah! They are absolutely beautiful creatures, and they’re the fastest mammal on land. They’re excellent climbers, built for the kill, and can have small family groups, but they tend to travel solo or outside of a coalition. They’re also the only cat that does not have retractable claws, which makes them unique. After volunteering at the zoo, I was taught that we tend to select our favorite animals based upon the qualities we see in ourselves. As a fun experiment, think of what your favorite animal is and why. Then, whatever it is that you find most interesting about that animal, see if you can pinpoint any similarities between that animal and your own personal traits.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Lisa Heaton: Very few know that while growing up, I wanted to be two types of vets: an animal veterinarian and a military veteran. I love animals, and I always wanted to be the one who could save them or bring them back to good health. However, reality struck and I came to understand that there would be cases where I would not be able to save every animal or that I may have to put some down. With that, I had to put that dream to rest after deciding that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without constantly thinking, “Could I have done more?” As for the military, I’ve always wanted to be a part of something more and feel as though I was surrounded by fearless individuals with similar mentalities as myself. The love that I have for this country and for those who serve to protect us runs very deep in my veins. When I reached out to a recruiter, I discovered that I was ineligible to join due to celiac disease (a genetic autoimmune disorder that is most commonly known as a gluten allergy). Although the news completely crushed me, I carried on until I could find my next calling to fill the desire of wanting to be a part of something bigger. I still love this country and I love all of those who have served even more. Although I can’t join them, I try to support them in any way that I can. I’d like to send a "thank you" to all of our veterans out there!

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be? 

Lisa Heaton: Life in the outdoors is truly therapeutic and can open the door to so many creative ways of thinking. I always felt like I was meant for something more, and I’ve always had a magnetic pull guiding me in a specific direction, but I never fully knew exactly what I was meant to be doing. Being in the outdoors helped me realize what I sincerely cherished, and that’s what brought me to follow my QCPS dream. I had no idea where it would take me, and I still have no clue about what the future has in store for me, but I don’t plan to let that stop me. There’s a possibility that my dreams may never become what I had envisioned, and although I don’t take failure lightly, I want to be able to look back and know that I gave it my all and I was a person who followed their dreams. No one knows what the future holds, but that should never be an excuse to quit striving toward reaching your full potential. I see an ongoing problem in front of me, and I know this planet is worth fighting for, so I plan to do everything in my power to make sure I’m doing my part. Dream big and never stop climbing!

Learn more about Lisa and her work with QC Pollution online, on Facebook, and on Instagram!


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