Limitless Woman: Climber, Firefighter, Teacher, Hiker

“Limitless” is a new weekly series that features people who aren’t defined by just one job or role. They have pushed themselves in different areas of their lives to go beyond what’s expected. Regardless of your age, it helps to be reminded that we don’t have to stick to being just one thing when we grow up. We can continue to grow in different ways, pushing past one label’s limits.
 
This week’s edition of Limitless features Staci Harris, an inspiring woman who I grew up with in a tiny rural town in California (population just over 700). 
Staci’s Roles/Jobs:
1. What are you currently doing or working towards that you would like to tell us about? 
I am currently working on the Salmon River Hotshots as a wild land firefighter for the summer, which is keeping me quite busy.  Today is actually my first day off in 2 weeks!  However the goal that I am working towards and focusing much of my spare energy and time on is my ‘hike to climb Africa’ trip.  My plan is to head out in late November and hike from the Indian Ocean near Mombasa, Kenya to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro and climb Kilimanjaro.  It’s about 400 miles. I expect this trip to take a month and a half to 2 months and am still working on the exact details.  In the future I would like to do a trip like this on every continent but for now the focus is on Africa.
I have always loved being outside, hiking, climbing, and challenging myself.  I think that the inspiration to do “hike to climb” style adventures is that it combines these loves with world travel and life long learning.  I am amazed at how much I have learned on the four adventures that I have blogged about.  Simply being in different parts of the world, and traveling through them at a slow pace (hiking, climbing, rafting), inspires me to read about them and learn about their history.  It also provides me with the opportunity to talk to people from all different walks of life.  The people that I have met along the way continue to inspire me to keep going.  I feel that having a global view is important and that is why I am focused on doing some international adventures, even though learning about the different cultures in my own country has been fascinating.
 
3. What drives you to go beyond the norm and put so much time and effort into doing so many different things? 
It makes me happy.  When I do these adventures I feel as though I am growing as a person and therefore better to be around for those that I love.  I have seen a lot of people pursuing goals and dreams that are not their own or that do not really make them happy.  I feel lucky to have found multiple things that are incredibly enjoyable for me. Teaching, firefighting, hiking, and climbing are all so much fun for me, and that was rule number one growing up in my family!

4. What challenges have you faced in pursuing these different interests and goals, and how do you balance it all?
I am very close with my family and wouldn’t have it any other way!  The challenges that I have faced in the last couple years have been incredibly hard because they have involved my family.  A year and a half ago, we suffered the loss of my Aunt Rita in a tragic car accident.  She was an incredibly strong woman and I carry her memory with me in everything that I do.  Another thing that has been incredibly difficult for me is my little sisters struggle with alcoholism.  She has been struggling with it for about 7 years now, and a year and a half ago asked to go to rehab.  She went down to Palm Springs for 3 months and put a lot of work into learning about her addiction.  These 2 events coincided and made for an incredibly hard beginning of 2013.  However, part of rehab was ‘family week’ where the other 5 of us got to go down and learn about what we needed to do in order to live with Ashley’s addiction.  During this time the therapists told us that we needed to keep ourselves happy and healthy and that would in essence help Ashley.  I am sure that you see this sentiment mirrored in my answer to the previous question.  There are other personal challenges that have occurred lately but compared to the problems faced the last few years everything else seems very easy to face.
5. What specific steps did you have to take to get to where you are today? 
After high school I went to community college because my main goal at that time was to play college basketball and I found a school that guaranteed me a spot.  During memorial day weekend my sophomore year of college I broke my leg one week before a tryout at Cal State San Bernardino.  Lucky for me, the coach decided to take a chance and let me red-shirt for a year while I recovered.  It was very important for me to be a part of a team and I will forever be grateful to Coach Becker for this opportunity.

In March of my Junior year of college I got a call from the Salmon River Hotshots offering me a job.  I had worked one summer on a fire crew before, and knew that being on a hotshots crew was an incredible honor, but during the summer of 2006 I really learned what it meant to be a hotshot.  My entire outlook on life changed that summer. Klamath National Forest, the forest where I was working and where I grew up was burning.  In the world of firefighting, the Klamath is well known as being some of the toughest country in which to fight fire.  I worked solid for the 3 months that I had off of school that summer.  During that time I probably took a total of 15 showers, hiked hundreds of miles, dug a lot of line, and had one of the best summers of my life with my crew!

I went back and finished school that next year, played basketball and even managed to earn a starting position!  However, armed with a degree in mathematics, all I wanted to do was go back for another summer of firefighting.  I worked on Hotshots crews for 6 summers straight, from 2006 to 2011, and during the winters managed to fit in a lot of travel.   After the summer of 2011, I decided I wanted to go back to school for a teaching degree.

The years of 2012 and 2013 were incredibly busy, I managed to earn my teaching credential and thru-hike both the Pacific Crest Trail and The Appalachian Trail, and also plan and execute a successful Aconcagua climb.

Successfully completing these hikes and climbs along with other minor climbs built my confidence and really convinced me that I am capable of doing the things that I really want to do!
I am currently back on the Salmon River Hotshots where my confidence started to build 8 years ago and am really enjoying being back while building up my savings for future adventures.

6. Did you ever imagine doing things like this as a teenager? How have you changed since those adolescent years?
To be honest, I dreamt of doing these things as a teenager, but if you would have asked me back then I would have said that they were crazy dreams that I would probably never really be able to achieve.  Since those years, I have gained a lot of confidence in myself and learned to ignore people that tell me I am incapable of doing anything.  I still struggle with standing up to people that try to bring me down but I can quietly ignore most of the negativity that comes my way now.
One way that I have changed since those adolescent years is that I do not worry about what others think of me as much… It is just a waste of time.  There are going to be people out there that like me and people that don’t, as long as I like me, I am okay!
7. Is there anything  you would tell your teen self if you could go back in time? 
I recently saw this quote somewhere: “Hate does more damage to the vessel”.  I thought about this  for awhile but never really found a way to express it.  When I was a teenager I reacted to everyone that disliked me by disliking them more.  Looking back, it may have just been other people being shy or misinterpreting what I was thinking.  Now, when I find myself reacting defensively, I try to recognize that those thoughts are ruining my day, not the persons that I am angry with for being mean to me, or not liking me.
I would tell my teenage self to surround herself with those that love her for who she is and not waste any more time on those that make her anxious or worried.  Also, I would let her know that she cannot read other people’s minds and that if she wants to know what they are thinking, she must ask for the truth.
Once I started getting close to people from all different walks of life, I discovered that everyone struggles with confidence in some way, whether it is intellectually, physically, socially, or any other number of ways.  Being kind to others is the best way to help!
 
8. Are there any other jobs, roles, or goals that you want to pursue in the future?
I would love to become a successful hiker and climber that can give presentations to groups about the adventures that I have been on.  Although public speaking has never been easy for me, I love talking to people about hiking and climbing and encouraging others to get out and chase their dreams!  I have already talked to several school groups and really enjoy the stories that kids tell and the questions that they ask.
Want to invite Staci to come talk to your school or group?
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