by April Renee, Financial Advisor and inaugural WER member
'Hi. My name is April Renee and I was introduced to the founder of the Women’s Empowerment Ride, Angela Wolz, by a colleague of mine as I was going through a grieving process.
At first I was a bit hesitant. I didn’t want to call a stranger. I wasn’t sure why I was calling.
However, I trusted my friend. I knew that she cared about me and knew something that I didn’t know about Angela Wolz.
I found upon that first conversation a woman who had been through her own set of circumstances in her life and really wanted to give back the healing that she had in her experience.
And I just latched on very quickly. I did that in spite of many fears.
I hadn’t ridden a bike, gosh, since I was 15, probably about 30 years before. I didn’t own a bike. I didn’t own bike gear. I certainly wasn’t interested in taking a bunch of time off of work for training, and trips etc.
However, as I considered those concerns I also looked at those and thought about: what of those could be reasons that I would go on this adventure? And that’s exactly what I found, was an adventure.
I was able to really incorporate the training and the trips into my life. As I was doing normal life, I realized sometimes I would wake up in the morning ready to conquer the day and go to work.'
by Lisa Ramos, United States Army Veteran
Easter 2019, I attended a WER full moon retreat in the Sand Dunes National Park area of Colorado. By participating in a WER adventure I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone. I spent the weekend with a group of eight women I had never met prior. I consider myself a friendly and outgoing person but three full days with eight strangers is not what I usually would choose to do. I had the opportunity to explore nature and learn about myself and others. It was a relaxing environment and I felt very comfortable. I found it easy to express myself. and am looking forward to being a part of more events with WER.
I believe by stepping outside of my comfort zone, I gained an awareness that there is more to explore..
In nature and within myself.
If you know of a SOF veteran who’s suffering, please share the following information with them. Article written by Patricia Alexander for 'Time for a Hero' organization can be found by clicking here.
by Patricia Alexander, Ph.D Clinical Psychologist
It had been a rough two years prior to going on my first WER trip . My closest female friend had died suddenly of cancer. Two weeks later my husband died after a slow, progressive illness. Another two weeks after that, the very successful mental health program I had been instrumental in developing was taken from me and dismantled.
I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Grieving on multiple levels. In addition to my emotional agony, there had been 18 months of constant, nagging pain in my leg and hip that I wrongly self-diagnosed as an IT Band strain. I also had had reconstructive surgery on my eye, which prevented me from working out - this is how I began my first WER adventure.
A friend had crossed the Alps on her mountain bike with a WER team a year prior. I was impressed by the changes in her when she returned. She talked about the training, the team work and how it felt to push herself physically beyond what she thought was her limit. I had always wondered what it would be like to see what I was really made of. I knew despite all, I was emotionally strong and resilient. But I had never tested myself physically in the way I wanted to. On a deep level, that I couldn't explain, I wanted it to be me against nature - me against the unpredictable. I had set physical goals in the past like losing weight, getting fit, running difficult cross-country races. Those were all valuable but not what I needed. I was sure of that.
Ignoring the pain and the weeks of inactivity, I signed up. The WER focus is on cycling, but this was a 3 day backpacking trip on the border of Arizona and Utah. It seemed like a good place to start.
Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States and incredibly beautiful. Actually the word awesome, in the truest sense, is more accurate. It can also be dangerous due to flash flooding. Hiking is by permit only with a limited number of hikers allowed in at a time. The trip must be completed within a set number of days and the "trail" is sand, river rock, or large boulders. At times one has to wade through deep, dark, muddy water. There are no "amenities". Everything must be packed in and out, including all the water needed. .
The first day was hot and difficult for me. We camped at the beginning of the gulch.
On the second day we had to hike at least 11 miles through the gulch to reach our campsite. You have to walk the entire length of the slot canyon as it can turn deadly, in case the weather changed and flash flooding occurs. We really needed to move. That day we hiked for 12 hours, arriving at the authorized campsite and setting up in the dark.
I was exhausted and hurting. Too tired to eat, thinking I could somehow out-think my body's need for fuel I woke up on the third day physically empty. I had a history of ignoring my body's needs. I felt a sense of panic. At least 8 more miles to go to get out and back to our car.
I didn't want to go on, needing to spend a day resting but that wasn't an option. I felt trapped and helpless and didn't know what to do, other than to pack up my gear and start moving.
It sounds like a cliche but my movement was literally one step at a time. 100 steps and rest, 100 steps and rest all the while saying to myself: "I can, I will", "I can, I will". "Keep going. No one is coming in to make it better, no cell phone service to call for a quick airlift out". I wanted to cry. I wanted to complain. I wanted to make excuses for my slowness. I wanted someone to feel sorry for me. But all those things seemed like a waste of energy and weren't going to change the situation. In retrospect, this is exactly what I had been wanting: to see what would happen when there was only me to get me out of a difficult situation. To see what I, Patricia, could do. So I took 100 steps and rested over and over again.
Most of Buckskin Gulch is very narrow. But near the end of the final leg, you are hiking out in a river bed which is vast and empty. I wasn’t sure how many more miles to the trail's end. The other team members were somewhere ahead of me. They had been very supportive, but at the same time, I had never felt so alone.
Writing this today brings up a lot of emotion which, one year later, I have yet to be able to adequately articulate. During one rest between the 100 steps, something in my brain shifted. I looked at that vast empty canyon and felt small and alone.
In my exhaustion I tapped into some raw emotional place that I had avoided since childhood. The way I had been living my life hit me in the face. I became aware of how I had worked to keep both my personal and professional life filled with non-stop activity. Helping others or putting their needs always ahead of my own. I had NO understanding of what I wanted or needed. I did not ask for or accept help from others because in truth, I had learned that I could only count on myself. I felt like a child and experienced a deep sense of emptiness and sadness. The physical pain was intense. I couldn't run. I could barely walk.
As I looked up to start the next 100 steps, I saw one of my team members coming back to help me and immediately felt an overwhelming sense of... something. Relief? Being cared for? Being part of a team? Being seen? Without many words my team mate carried my pack as we hiked the last few miles and I kept counting. But something was different. I was different.
The changes in the past year have been subtle but profound. I find it easier to not put others ahead of myself. I have a greater sense of what is important to me. I am learning to slow down and listen to my body. It is getting much easier to ask for help and trust, that someone will be there.
The self-diagnosed IT band problem was actually a severely damaged hip that recently required replacement and three months of rehabilitation. I've been faced with limited activity and a lot of need for help from others which I have accepted gladly! Although it is still difficult to put into words what happened in that canyon, my life is not the same.
I should also mention that I'm a Clinical Psychologist and have watched thousands of people spend hundreds of hours and dollars talking about their struggles but never taking action to face them. Having done this myself, I understand how easy it is to continue on the same path, hoping for something to magically change. It won't.
By taking action and testing myself in nature where I could not escape my fears or utilize my usual ‘tricks’, my life shifted. In three days, WER changed my life. If you let it, WER can do that same for you.
If you know of a SOF veteran who’s suffering, please share the following information with them. Article written by Patricia Alexander for 'Time for a Hero' organization can be found here.
by Kym Pinkerton Hipp
To others it may have seemed that I had nothing to be unhappy about. I have a loving husband, a nice home and three children who are well adjusted and fun to be with. But on the inside I felt like I had lost touch with who I was and was struggling to rebuild friendships after moving back to Colorado three years ago.
When my oldest daughter was born I was fortunate enough to have the option to quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom. I gave up my nursing career and stayed home for 16 years with my two youngest children. During that time I seemed to always be doing for the kids or my husband. No longer working, I felt my only contribution was to make sure they were taken care of.
I had forgotten that I also needed to take care of myself. It seemed I never had the time or resources to do the things that made me happy. Over time I forgot what those things even were. I would look in the mirror and see the face of a tired, uninspired, unfulfilled woman. Who was this person? I used to be so active and adventurous and now my days were spent in an endless circuit of driving kids to school and activities and going to the grocery store. As time went on I would see other women my age doing the things that I used to like to do. I felt weak and out of shape. I felt old. I lost my self-confidence. I hated to go to parties for fear someone would ask me the dreaded question, “So what do you do”? I felt I had nothing interesting to add to the conversation. I became invisible.
To make matters worse, we moved back to Colorado from the east coast 3 years before. At first I was so excited to be moving back home. I thought I would see my friends and family more often even though they were about 4 hours away from where we were living. I thought I would start living life again the way I used to. It turned out that I didn’t see them often, and while I did start doing more things, it was always with my husband and kids, not necessarily doing something I wanted to do.
In Virginia I had a network of friends that I had made over the years. I found that when I got to Denver it was very difficult to make new friends at my age. I no longer met other moms through my children now that they were older. I wasn’t working so didn’t make friends from work. Over time I did start working full time again, but I was working from home so still isolated from others. It seemed the women I did meet already had plenty of friends that they had known for a long time and they weren’t interested in making the effort to start a new friendship with me. I no longer had the confidence to just strike up conversations or go to events where I didn’t know anyone. I began to feel lonely and isolated. I tried to meet other women through MeetUps, and while it provided one-time temporary company, it never panned out for developing anything more than superficial relationships.
I felt like I was watching the world go by outside my window and I wasn’t living in it. I felt that my life was slipping away and I was just a spectator. I knew that I needed something bigger than myself to challenge me to find the person that I was before and to push myself to get strong again and regain my confidence.
Those were my hopes for the Women’s Empowerment Ride - that I could change my thoughts about myself enough to become confident, strong and brave. I hoped I would find new friends who I could bond with over this shared experience and be able to call up anytime I needed support or company. I hoped to transform my body into one that I felt I could rely on to propel me through anything I wanted to do.
I was tired of being lonely and afraid and numb.
When I started training with the WER team I wasn’t sure what, if any, results I might see. I had disappointed myself in the past by giving up when things got too difficult. I felt as though I wasn’t strong enough, or capable of reaching a physical goal, especially with something that I found to be so intimidating as mountain biking. I wondered if I really could ride 100 miles through the desert on this intimidating White Rim Trail. What if all the other ladies could and I were stuck out there riding in the truck? It never occurred to me that what I needed was a support group and mentors.
From the first day I set out on my bike with WER I found myself surrounded by a community of women who were there to support and encourage me. I was surprised to learn there was a strong network of cycling women in Colorado who seemed more than willing to offer their time and knowledge to help me meet my goals. They were all so patient and friendly that I never once felt self-conscious about learning a new skill on my bike or asking a question. It felt different learning from this great group of ladies instead of from some guy who didn’t understand what I might be feeling as I peered at the obstacles on the course, or down the steep hill.
As I started to get physically stronger it made me more confident to try more on my bike. Each obstacle that I learned how to ride over and each hill that I climbed more easily fueled my confidence. I stopped asking my husband for help getting my bike ready for a ride. I learned what maintenance I needed to do and how to do it. I stopped worrying that I was somehow going to damage my bike by trying to adjust my own derailleur or seat and started teaching myself how from videos and bike clinics. I came to understand that my past failures were about what I didn’t know, not what I couldn’t do. I could climb a hill if someone showed me the proper way to do it. I could get over the rocks once someone explained how to get into a lower gear first. Over and over I proved to myself that with the help of these cycling mentors I could do anything I wanted to do.
In addition to the wonderful women who already knew how to ride and taught me how, there was another layer of support – the other women on my team. They understood my fears and had fears of their own. I didn’t feel alone when I was worried about trying something since many of them were too. We were in it together. I felt compelled to show up for training because my teammates needed to know that they could depend on me. I enjoyed their company and looked forward to our training sessions even when I knew it was going to be a tough ride. On my best days I felt like I helped inspire them and on my worst they inspired me and kept me going. I never felt judged. Over time we all bonded over this shared experience and I developed friendships that I can see lasting a lifetime.And what did I find on the White Rim Trail? I rode the entire thing, even some of the hills that I never would have thought I could. The days I spent camping and riding with my team left me with memories that will last a lifetime.
I was so proud of us. US. We had all come so far together and we did it. We all rode the trail and lived to tell the tale! More than lived to tell - lived to live. That’s what I do now. I’m living to live, not in fear, not with doubt, but with a sense of adventure and a sense of self that I thought was lost a long time ago. What I found by cycling 100 miles into the desert was my new tribe and myself. My true self.
by Darla Lindquist Fortner, WER member
We’re so fortunate to live in Western Colorado, where we have world-renowned mountain biking just out the back door. Recently presented with the opportunity to ride the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, I just had to go.
So I did what anyone my age would do. I bought my first mountain bike and began training for the 100-mile ride. While I initially believed I was merely buying a bike and learning a new sport, I quickly discovered I was in for so much more........
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