Katherine Donnelly | 07.31.2018

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 Tanelle Bolt.

If you ever had any doubts about what a woman in a wheelchair can accomplish, allow me to introduce you to this Women In The Wild, and you'll soon be biting your tongue. Get the full scoop below.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Tanelle Bolt is.

Tanelle Bolt: I am a 31-year-old, paralyzed, wheelchair-bound female who has been pursuing national athletics while consulting and raising awareness of independence despite mobility issues. I am a very active, driven person who believes that accessibility should be accessible. I love to play outdoors, travel and network, and build outdoor community.

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

Tanelle Bolt: It was never a choice to spend my life outdoors. It has always been where I am able to level out, manage anxiety, and feed the soul. Since my injury, all the drive behind the RAD Society has been my desire to continue to be active outdoors. 

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

Tanelle Bolt: Growing up I was always on the outskirts of the female community because I would rather play with the boys outside. As I have coasted into my 30s, and with the mission of RAD Recreation Adapted Society to promote active living with mobility issues, it means a great deal to be a woman helping to lead the charge. We have a different way of looking at things and approaching action sport activities. I like to play with the boys…but at a comfortable girl level.

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

Tanelle Bolt: The outdoors has always offered a place to find peace, stay healthy and get away from the grind. With the pressures of the world (really only myself, but often times it feels like the world), the outdoor energy allows thoughts to flow freely with judgments set aside. 

I would say I am trying to pay it forward rather than pay it back (my accident happened in the middle of the woods in a river, so ya…). My hope is to help others fall in love with Mother Nature using available adaptive equipment and encouragement in order to avoid a situation where the outdoors become another loss to those suffering from aging, injury or illness.

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?

Tanelle Bolt: I have only gone as far as picking up trash and disposing of it properly. I believe the outdoors is to be enjoyed, not always kept the way some organizations feel they should be, but respected and used for enjoyment. It is a fine line when people are involved. Leave it as you found it, don’t damage it beyond repair, plant a tree if you are given the chance.

OP: Who has inspired you along the way?

Tanelle Bolt: There honestly has not been anyone who has inspired me and my love for the wild. It is bred into some people…my dad (and mom…but mostly I remember dad) has always instilled the value of Mother Nature. Be kind and she will be kind in return.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Tanelle Bolt: Adventure means exploring places you have not been before. Adventure means purposely getting lost. Adventure means getting off the grid away from people and traffic. Adventure means being accountable to myself.

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

Tanelle Bolt: Badass is being brave enough to stand out in whatever you chose to do. A badass does it better, bigger, and badder than the next guy. Badass is excelling to the top, being unique, going against the norm, creating…

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?

Tanelle Bolt: My background before injury was in business and management with my extracurricular activities usually being outdoors. After my spinal cord injury I discovered a large gap in the adaptive sporting world. And by large gap I mean there was no means for me to continue playing outside with my friends and family...I would only be able to go to specific places with specific groups, all strangers. 

To anyone looking to do the same I would suggest doing your research, trying to find people doing similar things. Perhaps you do not have to do it all on your own.

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

Tanelle Bolt: Before all the gender sensitivities it did not matter to me, or anyone else, that I was a "girl" in the outdoor community. It was never brought up or discussed much more than, "grow a pair." Or in moments when men were threatened by a girl and they became mean. Maybe now boys are less mean, but I would say at the same time girls have taken over that role times ten.

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

Tanelle Bolt: "I am graceful and full of potential."

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?

Tanelle Bolt: In the perfect world the outdoors looks like small town in BC. Clean, quiet, respectful (to a point, but still able to have fun), where people do not take advantage of what or who is around them. I have not really thought about what brands/media companies can do. I suppose I do take notice of brands like 10 Tree, and try to support them more often.

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

Tanelle Bolt: Honestly, now that I am paralyzed…I never leave home without catheters. Just in case I have to pee. You’re welcome.

OP: How has your injury affected the way that you approach and enjoy the outdoors?

Tanelle Bolt: Omg! I hardly know where to begin?!?! Able-bodied, I charged the outdoors. Nothing could stop me. I was always able to get where I wanted to go. Now I have to think about what I pack (water, catheters, rubber gloves, lube, food, butt pads for scooting), how far I am away from running water, I usually need some form of ridiculously expensive adaptive equipment to make any activity happen, especially across rough, uneven terrain, the list goes on. I do enjoy the outdoors still, very much. Vitamin D, water, and fresh air are all worth the extra time, effort and money it takes to enjoy it.

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

Tanelle Bolt: Best piece of advice…no one ever owes you anything. If you give something to someone, be prepared to never see it in return.

I trust people more than I should, and although I didn’t always have the time, energy or money to give to try to help, I would drain myself trying to make everyone happy. When I brought this up to someone I look up to in business I was told that anything you loan out you best have no intention of getting back. If it comes back, that is great, but it should not be expected. If it is expected, there is a good chance you’ll be let down. This has helped to keep me happy.

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

Tanelle Bolt: I am just starting RAD…and the advice would be to have a solid team of people behind you before you start to pull the trigger on a successful business. Creating a business on my own is tiring, and I feel there are things that fall through the gaps that should be a focus of a new organization. Team work makes the dream work! You can’t do it alone.

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?

Tanelle Bolt: There is so much more I could be doing in the social media world, and I know it. But the thing with a wheelchair is, it requires both hands to move it in any direction other than a circle. And it is this simple fact that limits the time I spend on marketing and media.

That said, I used social media as a marketing tool to spread the word through my ever growing network of people about RAD, adaptive recreation, and awareness of disability. Disability is still something people are not used to seeing in the mainstream…it has become much more common with social media tool presence, but it still catches peoples’ eye to see a pretty female in a wheelchair.

Showing people it can happen to anybody and being an inspirational figure online has helped me gain and retain sponsors, and it has helped spread awareness to anyone who happens across a page searching online.

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

Tanelle Bolt: Surfing, skiing, trying other adaptive sports, maintaining my fitness, RAD growth (American LLC), fundraisers, traveling, California, sales, consulting….changing the world.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be...

Tanelle Bolt: I’ve Got This

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

Tanelle Bolt: A unicorn.

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

Tanelle Bolt: I don’t believe there is one thing that nobody else knows about me, especially since my injury. All the laundry was/is aired. Secrets about others are another story, a vault.

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

Tanelle Bolt: The next time you see someone in a wheelchair going through life, open the door, smile, say hello…but don’t feel bad or sorry for us. Ask questions and learn. And if someone is not the kindest in return, please don’t stop being kind and offering an able hand. But ALWAYS ask. 

Learn more about Tanelle by following along on her adventures through Facebook and Instagram, and make sure to check out her work with RAD Society online, on Facebook, and on the 'gram.


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