Why Wonderful Wild Women?
By Sarah Gerrish
I figured it was probably about time I did my own blog post.
I’m Sarah and I am, for want of a better word, the founder of the Wonderful Wild Women Community.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a LONG time & yet I am still not sure where it’s going to go! Part of me has so much to say, but there’s this niggle in the back of my mind saying “who actually cares?”; so, I guess I am just going to write and see what happens…
One question which I get asked a lot is “Why Wonderful Wild Women? Where did the idea come from?” … this seems like a good place to start, but to fully explain I feel I need to give you a bit of a personal overview…
As I said, I’m Sarah and at the time of writing this I am 33 years wise. I have a daughter and a husband and we live on the edge of The Lake District. Monday to Friday, from 9am until 5pm, I work as an Architectural Assistant (fingers crossed soon to be a fully qualified Architect) in the lovely little village of Cartmel. The WWW Community is something which I currently oversee and organize in my ‘spare’ time. Evenings, weekends, lunch breaks… during those quiet moments where you lock yourself in the loo for a bit of peace!!!
Outside of work I enjoy walking, running, biking, swimming & climbing predominantly, however I will give anything a try once and a big joy of the community for me, so far, has been meeting so many new people & opening doors for new connections and endeavours.
Over my lifetime I have ticked off a lot of clichés which have knocked, battered & flattened my confidence / self-esteem & contested my personal perception of identity & who I was…
– Life-threatening illness
– Becoming a mum
– Building a career
And amongst other various life challenges which are a whole other blog post in themselves!!!
It may surprise some of you but I haven’t always been an “outdoorsy” person. Don’t get me wrong, I have always (or almost always) been an active person, but growing up in a Scottish Town in Fife, Scotland, I spent my spare time in dance classes, doing gymnastics & playing netball.
THE LIFE-THREATENING ILLNESS
Fast forward to my early teens when we moved to Kendal, Cumbria. I’ll be honest, I was less than happy about the whole thing but it was to be a move that would shape my whole future. My life continued much the same as it had before. I made new friends, settled into school, hung around the local haunts with friends but never really acknowledged or appreciated the larger context of where I was living. Then at fifteen I was hit with those words no one ever wants to hear, “It’s Cancer”.
As would be expected it wasn’t the best period of my life. Losing your hair at 15 doesn’t do much for your self-esteem – The loss of identity; or gaining of an identity you really don’t want, at an age when life can seem hard enough as it is, feels like the end of the world! Or at least it did to me! Not to mention missing out on seeing Five in concert at Wembley with all your best friends (… I’m pretty sure this was the trigger point for my FOMO issues!)
… I could dwell, but trust me I’ve been there, done that; and as a good friend once said “there’s always someone worse off”. At the time I wasn’t quite ready to hear this, but those words have stuck with me ever since and formed a bit of a personal mantra!
The frustrating thing is pain is relative. You can only compare pain with pain you have previously felt. Its only quantifiable by individual perspective. And for some, and I think particularly during teen years, you are so fixated on your own pain, in your own bubble, that it is hard – impossible even – to see the larger story.
Through this period of my life my mum was there trying to make it all better. I wanted for nothing. Expensive clothes became a regular ‘treat’ … anything that might help me feel better! But this was the starting point whereby I began (very slowly) to reject material things; the seed had been planted that buying ‘stuff’ didn’t make everything ok and the act of buying ‘stuff’ only produced a short-term buzz & was followed by pangs of guilt! Don’t get me wrong, when I went to university I still blew a large portion of my student loan on shoes as I continued trying to cling on to my familiar identity, ‘fit in’, be the Sarah I knew, the person I was before. But the reality was I’d changed and I was continuing to change. Whether I understood it at that point, I’m not convinced I did & for a long time I was a little lost… but weren’t we all in our teens?!
Here I am 8 months into remission with hair again & feeling fabulous!
BECOMING A MUM
Shortly before falling pregnant my partner and I had decided to move from Edinburgh to Leeds. Ben had a long connection with Leeds. His friend groups were already established through a life of BMX and I had a new job lined up. The plan – live cheaply and save to go travelling. We hadn’t been together long but 10 months in we realised our lives had taken a slightly different turn than planned. The move to Leeds was accelerated and I waited anxiously to start the new job, which a week before my start date I found out had fallen through. I found myself unemployed, pregnant and living in a new city with no friends. I went back to my old employment, working freelance, and spending half the week back in Edinburgh. Uprooted and unsettled. But with a growing baby I could only do this for so long.
It was a tough first few years after having Molly. Looking back I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions. Daily. I felt alone. I had yet again lost who I was. Upon moving to Leeds my identity had first become ‘Bens pregnant girlfriend’ & then ‘Molly’s Mum’. It was a big, life changing adjustment & something I hadn’t really factored into my life. Previous Cancer diagnosis and consequent operations left me questioning whether I would ever have kids and if I could I expected it to be a lot
harder process than it was! Anyway, through this I found running to be a coping mechanism. Time for myself, endorphins from exercise and it wasn’t long before I was competing in triathlons. I was feeling the full effects of exercise as a tool to improve mental health. I was hooked.
As Molly got older I wanted her to grow up knowing and believing she could do anything she set her mind to. I wanted her to grow up not having a second thought that something “wasn’t for girls”. I wanted to show her what amazing opportunities were out there and the amazing things other women were doing. It’s that simple. I wanted Molly to have role models that weren’t based on what they looked like or how much money they had. Role models who were role models for their
strength, for their intelligence and for their kindness.
BUILDING A CAREER
A year after having Molly I decided to do a second degree and work towards a career as an Architect. At the time we were still living in Leeds. After graduating we then took the decision to move back to The Lake District in time for Molly starting school. After some months juggling working in Leeds and living in Cumbria I eventually found a job in the practice where I work now, John Coward Architects Ltd. After a few years of work experience I was reaching the deadline for completing my Post-Graduate degree and so in 2015 I returned to University to start my RIBA Part 2 study.
Going back to university inevitably meant a drop in my physical activity. More time spent in front of the computer. Juggling part time work, full time postgraduate degree in architecture and family life. Travelling back and forward to Leeds two or three times a week and spending a third of my week away from home. It was tough and 3 months in I found myself in a really dark hole. I was close to quitting & didn’t feel like I was adjusting or coping. Crying every day. Wonderful Wild Women was
born soon after. The thought of continuing on as I was, was unbearable and the thought of letting everyone down by quitting was just as unbearable. I was stuck, but I only had 4 months to go before it was the summer holidays. Only 4 months. And so, the Instagram account was started as a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for me. An account to give myself inspiration for what I could be doing in just 4 months’ time. I didn’t tell anyone about it at first. I was embarrassed. Embarrassed that I was feeling the way I was, and embarrassed because I expected people to respond negatively to the whole thing. “Why would YOU ever consider yourself a Wild Woman?!”
I’m not afraid to admit that the success was a complete accident. A right place right time scenario. Clearly a need was there. As the Instagram following grew I realised there was a fine line between depicting the ‘good life’, the best part of someone’s day or week & I wanted the community to offer more that visual inspiration. I wanted it to provide opportunity for physical & social interaction… The chance to network with other like-minded people and get out there to practice what we preach. From that the Facebook Page started which was used as a tool to organise local meets of walking & exploring the local landscape. The following has steadily grown and the page now includes articles, films, meets of varying activities from walking, wild swimming, yoga and biking with lots more planned for the future – all in celebration of women & women in the outdoors.
The first Wonderful Wild Women walk – Blencathra, The Lake District, September 2016
We aren’t a group of elite athletes or full-time adventurers who are lucky to spend their day planning and preparing that next big trip or event. We are women with jobs & responsibilities which stretch far beyond just us – we are the women trying to do it all – raise a family perhaps, push for that career, care for a family member; we are the women who put others first often neglecting our own needs. We are the women who have lost our way. Lost who we are. Or maybe we are the lucky ones who
have come out the other side and have the balance right, those who are comfortable in our own skin and want to helps others achieve the same harmony.
We all have different strengths – something which I am passionate about helping people realise and something which is integral to a community. We all need a ‘tribe’. A group who share a common goal but each bring something new to the table using our different experiences and perspectives.
I am extremely fortunate that I have an amazing support network around me from family & old friends to the new wild women & men I am meeting along the way. But I understand and appreciate that not everyone is afforded that same luxury and part of the community is about helping others to build that support network.
So why focus on women? Well for a start I am a woman and I have a daughter. I am also extremely lucky to have grown up with a mum who is my rock and someone I know I can rely on – she’s there for me no questions asked. BUT I have seen her struggle over the years with confidence & sacrificing her needs for her family. A cycle which I have seen again and again and again in other women.
My mums first summit – Whitbarrow, 2016
I have also grown up intimidated by other girls / women. I have stood there daunted – afraid to make a connection. Feeling unworthy in their comparison. But I have come to realise that we are often all a bit intimidated by each other, a bit self-conscious, and I really wanted to change my approach and challenge that thinking.
I have been the one too scared to join an activity because I was worried I wouldn’t be very good at it. But we are ALL beginners at some stage!
I have been the one too ill, whether physically or mentally, to get out of bed and do those things we so desperately want to.
I have been the one too financially hard up whereby many aspects of the outdoors were just inaccessible – whether for reasons of kit, equipment or travel costs etc.
I have been the one who feels so socially awkward that I leave most conversations thinking ‘why on earth did I say that?’ or ‘why didn’t I say this?’ or in most cases ‘why couldn’t I speak at all?!’
And I have been the one who has been short of time, where other things have had to take priority and my own needs have had to take the side-line.
But I also feel like I am coming out the other side of all that. Generally, the balance is there. I feel I am finding out who I really am. It can still be a lonely place and of course there are dips along the way but ultimately, I am unapologetically me and that’s a great place to be.
… it’s a place I’d love to see everyone be. I don’t claim to be a professional in the outdoors, mental health, being a parent etc. I can only speak from my own perspective. But my growing passion for the outdoors, being active and finding adventure are all I have to offer, it’s the only way I know how to help and I want to share it with as many of you as I can. Inspire. Have you realise what you
can achieve and to those who are struggling to see their ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ … you are not alone!
This is in no way meant to be a woe me, ‘oh I’ve had such a hard life’ post – and I really hope it doesn’t read that way. Truth is I have had a great journey so far, it’s just had some bumps and mountains in the road along the way – just like everyone else. Sh*t happens and we all have our stories to tell, challenges to face, pain to heal, and as cliched as it sounds all the challenges just make us stronger. Make us who we are and allow us to grow. Be better.