Katherine Donnelly | 08.30.2018

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 Sarah Connette.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Sarah Connette is.

Sarah Connette: I’m from Charlottesville, Virginia, studied Political Science at Davidson College, and have a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. I’ve worked for nonprofits, universities, and social enterprises in both creative and project management capacities. I’ve been the operations director at Misadventures Magazine for the past few years after being pulled into the team early on by the three co-founders, all friends from Davidson. I’m the behind-the-scenes person pulling a lot of moving pieces together. I live in Durham, North Carolina, with my lovely wife.

Some of my hobbies include baking, cycling, birding, gardening, playing folk music, and traveling. Some fun past adventures: biking across the country while creating a documentary on homelessness, developing an organic produce social enterprise in India on an AIF Clinton Fellowship, running a father-daughter summer produce business, working in a bread bakery in the middle of the night…I’ve worked in a lot of fields and continue to be drawn to work that brings together stories, the outdoors, a justice orientation, food, and community in some way.

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

Sarah Connette: Growing up, simple outdoor experiences shaped me. My parents would take me and my brother out hiking, canoeing, or fishing around Shenandoah National Park from an early age. From wandering in the woods behind my house to swimming in Blue Hole at one of my favorite places (Sugar Hollow) to helping out in the garden to crayfishing in the Smokies, I learned to be curious and delight in both the granular complexity and sweeping awe of nature. As a pastor’s daughter, I grew up next to two sanctuaries: the church, and the surrounding woods.

When I was 10 years old, my family put together a “Westward Ho!” road trip that had aunts and uncles (brave souls) driving us cousins across the country on various legs and exploring national parks and other sites for a summer. I have great memories of running with my brother and cousins through the Grand Canyon, being in awe of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verda National Park, mountain biking in Bend, Oregon, rafting in the Tetons, and a boatload of more adventures. Looking back, that trip instilled a desire to travel, learn, and have respect for wild places. While my family still may give me a hard time about reading Harry Potter in the car one time while they were out on a majestic hike (regrets!), the road trip experience made me hunger for a life of exploration, sensitivity, and reverence.

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

Sarah Connette: To be a woman in the outdoor industry is to be strong, creative, bold, and persistent. We’re here because we share a love of the outdoors, no matter what our entry points are, and it’s been awesome to be able to hold up a microphone to so many women and share their stories through Misadventures. I’ve been inspired by the groundswell of community-building and advocacy efforts calling for more women and more diverse women represented in leadership positions throughout the industry. When Misadventures began in late 2013, we saw a need for women’s spaces and stories in the outdoor and adventure realm. Almost five years later, I’m thrilled to see, know, and cheer on so many more folks out there, chipping away at barriers together. Change can be incremental, and we need all voices to be heard to keep moving forward.

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

Sarah Connette: The outdoors reassures me that we’re part of a much bigger story than our own. It puts things in perspective and allows me to feel less constrained by the limits and gaps in my own small story. Some of my best memories have been from adventures outside with others--paddling through the Everglades with Davidson Outdoors (and inventing a riotous game involving a seaweed wig), designing a city for snails out of leaves and sticks, trekking to the top of a plateau in the Dhauladhar Range that I could see everyday from my porch in India, gliding underwater alongside nonchalant sea turtles off of Kauai, biking down Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, tears streaming from the panoramic beauty, birding for hours on end with my dad, captivated by treefulls of warblers...these are just a few of many moments outdoors in which I have felt most alive, present, and in tune with my surroundings. How could one possibly pay this back? It’s impossible, but practicing everyday gratitude, drawing others into the magic of outdoors, and speaking up for its protection sure help.

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?

Sarah Connette: We all fight for what we love--or at least we do when we’re at our best. As outdoor enthusiasts, we need to keep on fighting for the places we love. We can’t take it for granted that public lands are protected, especially in a context in which the current administration appears to have no understanding of or care for the value and fragility of our environment. We have a lot to learn from movements and coalitions that successfully achieved major protections after years of painstaking relationship-building and organizing. Let’s build on that. Even at the local level, we need folks speaking up for parks, green spaces, and public places that all can access. “Wilderness” isn’t an abstract, romanticized, Thoreauvian ideal. Land is fundamentally intersectional; it brings up questions of access, privilege, sanctuary, livelihood, history, and more. We need to hear voices from those intersections.

Our summer 2018 issue’s theme is all about the intersections of land. An incredible collection of writers and photographers covered stories such as advocacy and running at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, an island-to-island kayaking guide in the Pacific Northwest, the monarch migration in Mexico, the first sight of land from sea, female guides on the Inca Trail, hunting as an African American woman, life on a houseboat named Bertha...and more. It’s a real honor to be able to help pull together and share work like this and to know that readers continue to find meaning in what we create and send out in the world.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Sarah Connette: Too many to count! I’m inspired by my Misadventures teammates--Zoë Balaconis, Marybeth Campeau, and Jessica Malordy--for being dreamers and scrappy go-getters. Magdalena Maiz-Peña, a former Spanish professor, for teaching her students to interrogate whatever binds us. Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon, a theology and ethics professor, for showing me how to make a window in a room without doors. My family and friends, for being daily reminders of kindness and unassailable love.

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?

Sarah Connette: It’s a work in progress, but for me it started with deciding to spend a lot of “free time” working on a project I cared about with people that made it a lot of fun. My advice would be to go after that which speaks to you and won’t hush, to be passionate and patient, and to know that more good comes from good. Who knows what opportunities, relationships, or connections will arise through your side projects? It’s hard to leap effortlessly into your ideal place, but sometimes you can wriggle your way toward it.

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?

Sarah Connette: What it means to be a woman is, thankfully, becoming a much more multifaceted picture. At Misadventures we strive to amplify voices that haven’t been heard and highlight women whose wide-ranging interests intersect with the outdoors and any of the following: art, design, food, wellness, community, travel, vocation, sports, politics…the list goes on. All aspects of our complex identities inform the way we experience the outdoors. As a gay woman, I may experience backcountry camping alone in a different way than a straight white man might. But my being can’t be defined by one part of who I am. My brushes with systemic discrimination, as one may call them, have made me much more sensitive to how others are excluded, silenced, or told they don’t belong because of one aspect of their identity.

Groups like Outdoor Afro, Brown People Camping, PGM ONE, Brown Girls Climb, Latino Outdoors, Black Girls Surf, Color Outside, Native Outdoors, OUT There Adventures, and the #DiversifyOutdoors movement are all calling attention to the need for diversity and equity in outdoor recreation and conservation. They’re also embodying the variety of ways that women experience the outdoors and make the narrative more complex.

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

Sarah Connette: A basketball reporter once watched my high school team play and wrote, “Sarah Connette plays like it’s her last day to live.” While this led to understandable teasing from my friends, it’s a phrase that has stuck with me and become somewhat of a recurring mantra. Play like it’s your last day to live. It’s an immediate reset on perspective and values. It has led me to take risks, say yes to things that made me afraid, and get out there and show up when I wanted to stay in a comfort zone. A healthy awareness of one’s mortality can be energizing, it turns out.

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?

Sarah Connette: In a perfect world, the outdoors looks like a place where we all celebrate the fact that diversity and difference make us stronger, and where we cherish the complexity and gift of our natural environment. Nature teaches us that monocultures are more vulnerable to breakdown; likewise, it affirms that diverse and symbiotic relationships are more resilient. Outdoor brands and media companies can help us get there by embodying that diversity across leadership positions, workforce, advertisements, exposure, design, and content. The more we show that the outdoors belong to us all, the more we know how to protect it together, with all our different strengths and skills combined.

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

Sarah Connette: Hmm…any good adventure needs a decent bag with the right kind of pockets. All about the pockets. My orange Fjallraven rucksack is a near constant.

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?

Sarah Connette: Love it, when done right! More companies are taking product design for women more seriously. I’m drawn to Patagonia, United By Blue, Cotopaxi, Osprey, Sea to Summit, and REI for their commitment to thoughtful design with women in mind. It’s great to see fewer traditionally “feminine”-looking products and a wider range of colorways beyond pink, purple, and teal. Packs, sleeping bags, and shoes designed for women’s bodies really make a difference.

Our readers have really responded to some posts about women’s gear, and a comment that sums up a lot of sentiments was: “Great women’s gear pushes us to continue doing what we love, what we were built to do, what we work hard for, while being comfortable, supported and competent.” My other favorite was: “Give me colors! Give me shape! I don’t want to look like a frumpy mini man on the trails!”

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

Sarah Connette: I’m looking forward to exploring new projects in the coming years. Ideas are always simmering away with lots of good people to spice them up. A social entrepreneur at heart, I’m always thinking--how do we tinker our way toward something better?

Learn more about Sarah and her work with Misadventures Magazine online and on the 'gram. Summer 2018 Issue out now, so check it out and grab one for yourself!


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