What’s it like being a woman athlete in a male-dominated sport? For Women’s Month, we chat with Rachel — an outdoor athlete, strength + wellness coach, mom, and all-around nature lover. From skiing and snowboarding, to surfing and climbing, she turns to sports as a way to empower, and reconnect with nature.
Get to know our Human Of The Day as we talk about building community, finding joy in movement, and how to uplift more women in sports!
Hey, Rachel. What have you been up to lately?
Well, lately I've really stepped into a new role: being a mom! I have a 15-month-old girl named Stella, who is full of joy and spunk. I'm currently trying to navigate all her new phases of toddlerhood. I've also dived back into my wellness coaching and personal fitness business after welcoming Stella and trying to balance these two roles.
Tell us about yourself and what you do!
I was born and raised in Manhattan and grew up as a city kid through and through, navigating the streets and the subway at an early age. I was always a lover of sports, physical activity, and movement, and played on my high school field hockey, softball, and track teams. I learned how to ski at 2, snowboarding at 15, and was a lover of surfing and the power of the ocean. I adored the energy of the city and how it fed the creativity of the people buzzing around. New York City taught me many things, but one thing that sticks out is to live an inspired life. Even though the city filled my cup up in some ways, I yearned for more — more time outdoors, to be exact.
That’s why, after graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in Kinesiology, I didn’t hesitate to make a crazy fork-in-the-road decision to move to Vail, Colorado with dreams of being a ski bum. Call it an unorthodox path, but that move gave me six glorious years of exploration, challenges, and inspired living in the Rockies. Those years set the foundation for one of my core values: AWE / WONDER.
During my journey in Vail, I met my now-husband. After dating for 3 weeks, I said YES to a grand adventure of traveling around South East Asia with a man I barely knew, who I would be meeting in Phuket, Thailand after he sailed across the Indian Ocean. This trip set the foundation for a lot more “hell yes”-es and inspired me to continue to learn more about who I wanted to be. After coming back to Vail from our adventure and after much deliberation and yearning for growth, we relocated to San Francisco, where I built a career combining my love for the outdoors with personal connection.
I worked with many brands and agencies in the outdoor industry, fostering relationships through marketing, PR solutions, social media campaigns, and in-person events. And, through that work, I found that I loved bringing people together outside of the office. I wanted to help people elevate their health and wellness through connection to nature and physical movement. I wanted to walk with people on their journeys, comfort them if they fell off track, and guide them back toward their goals. Thus, my second value was born: COMMUNITY.
Finally, I reflected on what motivated me. Since childhood, I always sought out new experiences and people. My parents still tell stories of my many escapes from the crib. I never wanted to stop playing sports, going to camp, rock climbing, surfing, snowboarding… you name it. As an adult, I love being strong and fit. I love testing my body’s ability, but I also love just sitting in nature. Going for a simple walk outside nourishes my soul. Hence, I aligned all three of my values with this final step: MOVEMENT.
And with that, my personal fitness training and wellness coaching business Stoke Coach was born. I began creating wellness programs to help others improve their overall health. I started outdoor personal training to reduce the stress and anxiety of a gym. And people began to rediscover their childlike awe, wonder, and playfulness. It’s about helping people find their inner badass from wherever they are starting — something I like to call approachable badassery.
That feeling of being stoked on life, stoked on what your body can do, lifts you up and pushes you out of your comfort zone helping you to reconnect with the joy of movement.
How did you get started with sports?
Sports have always been ever-present in my life. I think it all started with free play. I went to a school in the Bronx that had extensive outdoor spaces and during recess. You had access to many acres of fields, tennis courts, playground, and open space. Getting to run around freely and creatively was something I quite enjoyed, and then it turned into joining the boys for football or other sports. At a young age, I remember being engaged in gymnastics, skiing, and tennis, cultivating my love of physical activity.
More than just athletic performance, you seem to see sports as a way to reconnect with nature. Could you tell us more about this and your relationship with the outdoors?
As an adult, having outdoor pursuits is a way to be inspired, get in the flow, and feel like a kid again. It’s a way to play, and really have unadulterated fun! It's not how good you are at these outdoor pursuits, it's about cultivating a beginner's mindset, enjoying the challenge, and trying something new.
I find that being in nature really helps me to get in the present moment. When I am pursuing an activity outdoors, like snowboarding or mountain biking, I am trying to challenge myself but also go at my own pace — getting in a flow state, and being in the present moment, which we don't get to do a lot of the time. You get to feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, reflecting on how nature has created the ultimate playground for you and acknowledging how important it is to be mindful of your surroundings.
Being outdoors helps me reconnect with myself, be creative, and take a pause when I am feeling stressed. And, I find that through my own personal fitness pursuits, I am able to feel stronger and more confident in my outdoor pursuits and stay injury free as I get older.
What's it like being a woman athlete, especially in such male-dominated sports?
I feel sometimes like I have to prove myself - like there is a pressure to show that I can hang or that I can be just as fast, or have to beat the men to the bottom of the hill (snowboarding), when all I really want to do is go my speed even if I can keep up. I think for me it's not about going harder, faster, stronger but to actually really ENJOY the experience.
We always hear about the disadvantages of being a woman in sports, but we're not here to highlight the bad. What's the best or most empowering thing about being a woman athlete?
It's the community of women who like to pursue sports and outdoor experiences. I love when I meet other women who like to get sweaty and dirty, and who want to push themselves a little beyond their comfort zones. I think, as women, we really use this aspect of sport — connection — to build each other up, help each other, and inspire each other to go the distance.
I also think what's empowering about being a woman athlete is the understanding that we are just as capable as men. We've been told for a very long time that we are not as strong as men mentally or physically and, at a point, you believe it. But women can do all the things men can do. We can compete at the highest level and succeed!
As a community, how can we support and uplift more women in sports?
Continuing to create opportunities for young girls, teenagers, and women to participate in sports, through camps and other endeavors where they can come together in an environment free from objectification and devaluation. Many girls and women simply need the right environment and motivation to improve their skills, a safe haven for learning. Giving women time to learn techniques, encouragement, and the respect they deserve is important. All-female camps can provide patience, understanding and a ‘no question is a dumb question’ mentality. It’s all about women supporting women.
If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
Identify your values, identify the way you want to feel in your life, and create a mission statement of how to live extraordinarily, whimsically, and 1% better every day. Reassess when you feel like your values or your core desired feelings have changed.
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