Everyday Icon: The Adventurer

Photojournalist and founder of the Outdoor Women's Alliance, Gina Bégin shares with us the incredible journey that brought her to embrace the outdoors.
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Photojournalist and founder of the Outdoor Women's Alliance, Gina Bégin shares with us the incredible journey that brought her to embrace the outdoors.

One thing is for certain: Gina Bégin is no stranger to the great outdoors. In fact, she has purposely coordinated her life and career around time spent adventuring. As a freelance writer, photojournalist, and founder of Outdoor Women’s Alliance (OWA), Gina is showing women what it means to enjoy everything nature has to offer while encouraging others at the same time. Today, she’s talking about how OWA came to be, what even the most timid amongst us can do to start exploring a bit more, and what she learned about herself as she recovered from a serious injury last year.

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You’ve built a career in journalism, content creation, and advocacy around your love of nature and adventure sports. When did you know that sharing those passions would become your calling?

It wasn’t until I moved to Utah from Florida. My parents did their best to expose me to the outdoors as a kid with ski and camping trips, but I really gained an appreciation for it once I moved west. I took recreation classes my first semester in college, landed a job as a liftie at a ski resort, and was hooked.

The mission of Outdoor Women’s Alliance as a non-profit organization “that strives to promote women and grow like-minded organizations in their efforts to get women involved in the world of outdoor sports” is something we fully support. What made you want to build up and serve this particular community of women?

There was a period of time where I fell away from who I was in the outdoors. During this time, I opened a cottage bakery. It was all consuming, but I started to realize I actually preferred cooking and baking for those I loved instead of stressed out brides and parties I didn’t get to attend. I missed all the time I used to have for the outdoors.

I had a bit of a journey getting back to where I was in my outdoor skills before opening the bakery. Nearly all of my friends in the outdoors were guys and aggressive, but at that time I really just needed a group that I could make mistakes in front of without feeling bad about it. I found that a lot of the women I knew wanted the same, so we joined together locally in Salt Lake City and wrote about our outings. As women caught wind of what we were doing, it grew. I soon had women asking if we had chapters across the country, and then internationally.

What I noticed coming from Florida to Utah was the amount of confidence I gained. The skills I learned were mine to keep, unlike how many young girls back home gained confidence—through boyfriends, clothing, money, etc.--through temporary and external factors that could be taken away. Many of the girls I was friends with in middle and high school in Florida had boyfriends who were drug dealers, in gangs, or otherwise on a dead end track. Those friends became lost in that world, trying to impress their social circles and often winding up pregnant, dropping out of school, and otherwise not realizing their full potential.

When I graduated from high school and moved west, I realized very quickly how confidence could be gained through the outdoors and how different my friends' lives would have been if they had access to the leadership-strengthening activities I had in the outdoors.

Just as I was starting to expand Outdoor Women’s Alliance beyond Salt Lake City, I saw its potential as a vehicle to help young women and adults alike realize the confidence that can come from internal achievements rather than external forces. That’s when Outdoor Women’s Alliance started to really form into a mission-driven organization; helping provide access to those activities, banding together like-minded organizations to promote their work, and showing off what women around the world were doing without resorting to sexuality or money to achieve their goals.

The story goes far beyond that, with our mission really being in three parts, but this is where we started and the foundation for our every decision.

You’re still recovering from a pretty debilitating injury that not only halted your ability to participate in your favorite outdoor sports, but that also significantly threatened your livelihood. Will you share with us some of the revelations you’ve had during the recovery process?

Friends have told me my 2014 was a year made for the movies—and not in a good way. It’s hard to feel a loss of control in your mobility and your life, especially when you are so used to being on the go and independent from others’ decisions. 2014 was a year of waiting—waiting for doctors, surgery, and physical therapists, along with mechanics and police (the latter due to a con artist who entered my life early in the year). Nothing moved along at the normal pace that it would have in any other situation. But 2014 seemed to be the year that I needed to learn to be happy internally and understand that it’s all part of my story.

I’m still trying to learn how to be patient with myself. It’s the hardest part of all of this. Though some consider it to be playing, I worked hard to get to where I was physically and skill-wise. After all, it was my livelihood! It is hard for me to just be getting back on the slopes after a year of being out of commission and feeling a lack of control and strength, as well as pain. It’s hard to climb and not have the same endurance and flexibility. It’s never easy to feel like a beginner again, and in ways, it’s humiliating—I know where I was and see where I am now. But being a defeatist doesn’t push you forward and being hard on yourself doesn’t bring you back to where you were. What does push you forward is working internally on your mindset and externally by going a bit further each day.

And how are you doing now?

Still sore, but I’m not sitting on a couch!

Though we at Clementine Daily love a good adventure, some of us might not be 100% enthusiastic about time spent outdoors—yet. Can you share a few tips that might help get us started?

What!? Just kidding. I know a lot of people aren’t fanatics about the outdoors. I don’t see a need to push it if it’s not your thing; we each are individuals and there are things to appreciate in both nature and city-life. However, if you’re feeling even an inkling of desire to gain the creativity and strength that comes from spending time outdoors (scientifically-proven to increase creativity and reduce stress, I might add!), start with friends. Testing new waters is always better when you’re surrounded by people you can laugh with. And believe me, there will be plenty of chances to laugh (usually at yourself) when you are first getting into outdoor adventure.

Do a little research when starting out, as well. Don’t just head out on a backpack trip in your gym sneakers and cans of food in your backpack. Find out about proper gear, clothing and food so that you’ll be comfortable.

Also, if you’re getting into skiing or snowboarding—ALWAYS take a lesson from a certified instructor. Always. It makes that much of a difference in whether you’ll love or hate the sport. I can’t stress this enough.

After a few rough snowboarding attempts, we can attest to that one! Lessons are crucial. As you know, Clementine Daily’s mission is to live an intentional and authentic lifestyle while celebrating the simpler pleasures in life. How do you relate to this mission in your everyday life?

Well, for three years I lived in my car while I traveled, mostly solo, across the North American continent. During this time, I certainly learned about the simple pleasures — clean hair and clothes, for instance, and a meal that was not cooked in one pot over a camp stove. I also learned to deeply appreciate sitting down with people and listening to their stories, the general giving nature of people, and the very simple pleasure of alone time. I can’t imagine living life without that experience, or at least a portion of it, and think everyone should take a sabbatical from “normal” society to deepen their understanding of self and their place in this world. It changed my understanding of limitations and capabilities.

Whether you’re out exploring everything nature has to offer or sitting at your desk putting the final touches on a story, what are a few items you wouldn’t want to be without?

My family. They are the only things in this world that I can’t replace. As long as they are in my life, I know I have a home—not in the sense of four walls, but a home that provides me with knowing I belong somewhere. They ground me.

And my curiosity. Man, it makes life interesting.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish this year—personally or professionally?

Professionally, I’m hoping to move Outdoor Women’s Alliance from an entirely volunteer run organization (including myself!) into supporting, with pay, our core “staff” that work so hard to make OWA what it is. OWA exists to help women achieve their goals in the outdoors, and that includes helping them get into and work in the outdoor industry. Right now we do that by providing experience for their resumes, but I want to also provide careers for women who are intensely influenced by the outdoors and helping others. Our crew stretches themselves between full-time work and the massive amount of time they put in to the organization, and they do it because they love what it stands for. But as the founder, I want to make sure I am supporting them, including professionally.

Personally, I’ll be happy if I get in some ice climbing again this year, make consistent and well-executed turns on at least a blue run, get a few super mellow backcountry laps in, avoid any further injuries outdoors and run-ins with wildlife on the road, and build a fort with my nephews back home.

Update: Gina is working with her team to expand the programs and opportunities provided by OWA and they've recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to get everything off the ground. If you love the great outdoors as much as we do, you can donate to the cause here!

p.s. If you’re interested in hearing more about Gina’s journey, check out her recent interview on the Creating Your Own Path podcast.