Embracing Adventure, Achieving Success

Natalie Panek, robotic operator and aerospace engineer at MDA Space Missions, hiking in the Grand Tetons.Robotic operator and aerospace engineer Natalie Panek celebrates the inspirational female adventurers who have turned their enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits into a career, considering how embracing a sense of adventure could assist women to succeed in all areas of business, enabling self-discovery, leadership skills and confidence in risk-taking. 

I recently watched the premiere of Into the Mind by Sherpas Cinema. The movie is a mind-blowing, big mountain ski film with epic footage of adventure at its best, leaving you in sensory overload and loving every second of it. As I processed the unparalleled imagery, I noticed that women represented only about ten percent of the athletes in the film. I was also surprised to find a lone female staff member working for Sherpas Cinemas: Izzy Lynch, a big mountain skier herself, sponsored by The North Face, Rossignol and Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

The skiers in this movie, and all other big mountain ski movies, undoubtedly have a love for adventure, adrenaline and risk taking, believing that in life, the risk is worth the reward. There is no doubt that these men and women often thrust themselves directly into precarious situations. No doubt these athletes have the proper training, experience, and safety knowledge to make judgment calls when required. But there is certainly something powerful and self-revealing about thrusting yourself into daring journeys, and certainly much to be learned that can easily translate into all aspects of life.

I definitely wish there were more females featured in this film, as role models for women to be bold, audacious and willing to take risks.

There is much to be gained from pursuing adventure and willingly embracing uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations.

These situations allow you to push beyond conceived limitations, expand capabilities, and can augment strength and resilience, all while discovering the beauty of the wilderness.

Catapulting yourself into the outdoors can be a life-changing experience, providing a greater sense of purpose and understanding, via the ‘road less travelled’. Fortunately the skills and lessons learned while embracing adventure translate into our daily lives. Leadership skills matured in the outdoors only prove that effort and commitment often lead to success. Pursuing adventure facilitates resilience and self-discovery while teaching fundamental life skills that are a foundation for success.

There are a lot of parallels between adventurous experiences and evolving a career; whether it is developing technology or following entrepreneurial pursuits. In all cases, you have to take time to develop the necessary skills. As mountaineer Ed Viesturs describes, ‘You don’t just pick up an ice axe and climb an 8000m peak. You need to develop skills no matter what you do.’

Whether in the outdoors or during day-to-day activities, the reward comes from making challenges worth looking forward to.

This eases the time, dedication and passion that are most certainly required for success, which is, in essence, the foundation of pursuing any career.

What is most interesting to me is the range of trailblazing female adventurers who have turned their love of the outdoors into a career, starting their own companies or transforming their knowledge of the outdoors for a greater good.

Consider April Vokey, a Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) certified casting instructor and dedicated conservationist. As her company website FlyGal.ca describes:

“Fly Gal Ventures is a guiding operation that was created in 2007 by British Columbian Steelhead angler/guide, April Vokey…Originally based around local fisheries and workshops geared primarily for women, the vision was to bring specialized courses and instruction to other female anglers and newcomers to the sport. To stay true to our roots, and maintain the feminine ‘twist’ that was integral to the creation of Fly Gal, we proudly collaborate with some of the finest female guides, instructors and hosts in the industry.”

Another inspirational female adventurer and entrepreneur is Emily Grady, a Mountain Guide and the co-founder of Cold Smoke Guiding. She holds an impressive array of qualifications, including: Association of Canadian Mountain Guides Assistant Ski Guide, Canadian Avalanche Association Operations Level 2, Canadian Ski Instructor Level 3, Canadian Association of Nordic Instructors Level 3, Canadian Ski Coaches Federation Level 1, Advanced Wilderness First Aid and Canadian Avalanche Association Advanced Weather Skills.

She is an instructor in the Cold Smoke Women's Series, offering women-focused ski touring programs in order to address the shortage of females in the male-dominated world of ski mountaineering. She is hoping to spark a sense of adventure within women who are either intimidated, lack confidence in their abilities, or rely on others to make decisions.

And then there is Jessi Combs, a female role model with a need for speed. She is a metal fabricator who studied in the areas of street-rod fabrication, chassis fabrication and high-performance engines. In early October, Combs broke a women’s land speed record in the North American Eagle (NaE) Supersonic Speed Challenger, driving at 632 km/h. The previous record stood since 1965! Think of the NaE as a jet on wheels – an F-104 Lockheed Starfighter jet with clipped wings and the addition of wheels. Combs and the team hope to launch past the reigning overall women’s record next year, which was set by Kitty O’Neil in 1976.

These are only a few examples of the tough, competent and disciplined women who embrace adventure and challenge in all aspects of their lives.

Beyond anything, adventure and exploration teaches you to break down a challenge into accessible steps so that the entire effort becomes conceivable.

Hopefully more women will be drawn to the rewards of exploration and develop a love for adventure, where the incentive is the realisation of our wildest dreams. These dreams are what will transform the world.

Natalie Panek is a robotic operator and aerospace engineer at MDA Space Missions, previously interning at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Centre and NASA Ames Research Centre. She’s driven a solar-powered car across North America, has a pilot’s license, and skydived with Korea’s first Astronaut. With degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Natalie has co-authored papers on Microgravity Combustion and On-orbit Satellite Servicing. She is an advocate for women in STEM, encouraging women to dive head-on into challenging careers. She has spoken at TEDx and on multiple panels for women in tech on the topics of advancement, leadership, and space exploration. 

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