Four Short Essays from Fresh Voices in the Outdoor Industry
Get to know these outdoor movers and shakers through their own words
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In every issue of our print magazine, we feature a handful of people making waves in the outdoor industry whose voices we think deserve recognition and amplification. From the pages of our Summer 2021 issue, we’re proud to present the latest round of “fresh voices”—individuals doing important work and making the business of outdoor better for all of us.
Stephanie Maez (@steph_sheree)
In 2015, my 18-year-old son was wrongfully accused of murder. He was incarcerated for ten excruciating months before the charges were dropped, and to this day, we live with the PTSD, anxiety, and depression that injustice caused. To keep from self-medicating with alcohol, I took up trail running, climbing, and hiking.
Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my only exposure to those activities was via visits to my grandparents’ cabin in the San Juan Mountains. Our few urban parks were often unsafe, and spending money on outdoor excursions wasn’t an option for my hardworking single mom. As an adult, getting into nature was what saved me—and I want others to experience that, too.
I began leading the Outdoor Foundation in October 2020, motivated by a desire to make nature more accessible for all. I bring a systems change lens to the job, zeroing in on the root cause of issues to eliminate barriers. With a focus on equity, inclusion, and justice, I’m leveraging the foundation’s power to address systemic issues, helping more families to heal.
Amirio Freeman (@beinggreenwhileblack)
Also pictured in header portrait above
During childhood trips to South Carolina, I’d watch my Granddaddy William tend to his garden. He taught me that food offers nutrition and a portal to better understanding ourselves. He also taught me Black folks have always cultivated kinship with soil, water, and the rest of the more-than-human world.
Through my environmental podcast Loam Listen, I host conversations with guests about how we might re-understand the outdoors beyond recreation and reimagine ourselves—fighting climate disaster and other injustices in the process. As the founder of @beinggreenwhileblack, I visually archive the lives of Black farmers, climate advocates, and other trailblazers. And as an advocacy specialist for Feeding America, I’m helping create a food system that works for people and planet.
Buoyed by granddaddy’s wisdom, I work to uplift the place of Blackness within a whitewashed history of land, agriculture, and food. My work is a love letter to all those who are looking back in order to move forward, collaborating in order to recenter the Earth.
Zara Vargues (@zara_mswheelchair2010co)
I’m a wheelchair user with Athetoid cerebral palsy, a movement disorder, but that hasn’t stopped me from being active. At first, because of how I speak and how much help I need, I was hesitant to try new things. But I kept after it, and by the time I was named Ms. Wheelchair Colorado in 2010, I’d found both community and confidence.
In 2019, I told Jeff Lockwood, founder of The Lockwood Foundation, that I wanted to go on a real hike. His nonprofit helps people with disabilities experience nature and last year, the foundation and some 90 volunteers assisted my climb of 14,439-foot Mt. Elbert. Using an adaptive TrailRider device, I became the first wheelchair user to summit a 14er.
I’m now on the foundation’s board, where my responsibilities include fundraising, crafting social media posts, and vetting the foundation’s ideas. Every day, I get to help others with disabilities rethink what’s possible. Eventually, I’d like to see wheelchair users getting outdoors and hiking just as much as non-wheelchair users, confident in doing things their own way.
Sunn Kim (@sunn.kim)
In high school, I bombed my first photography class—it wasn’t until I started shooting sports for the yearbook that I found my passion. On skiing, mountain biking, and camping trips with friends, I’d always have my camera. As a digital content specialist for Backcountry, I now film world-class athletes, explore the natural world, and work on initiatives like Breaking Trail, a new advocate sponsorship program.
Despite my outwardly glamorous job, I still struggle with my identity. Growing up in Hawai’i, and later Utah, my family didn’t have much. My parents, Korean immigrants, juggled multiple jobs while going to school and learning English. Still, they somehow found the time to take me on countless road trips to national parks across the country.
There are few industry people who look like me and sometimes I feel like an imposter. Despite helping to elevate the voices of other underrepresented groups, I’m just now speaking publicly about my own race. Through my work, I hope future generations will be able to see themselves represented in the outdoors.