Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Badass women series - Sarah Ingram

I am always inspired to see girls doing adventurous things and pushing their limits. Once upon a time, there used to be a particular type of an adventurer. Most often than not, it was a very much a  guy thing which involved a beard, scaling mountains, living for the outdoors and pushing physical limits. Well, I am so pleased to say that things are changing rapidly. There is a new type of adventurer- the adventurous gal.  Although there is no beard involved, she too is scaling mountains, living for the outdoors and pushing physical limits.

I read this article by Alistair Humphreys who said that he gets emails all the time from women asking if he knows any girls who are doing awesome stuff. He, of course, knew lots of women who have made headlines with some pretty inspirational trips. When I read it, I thought, I know so many women who crush hard, have adventures in the outdoors and push their limits without people necessarily knowing about them! Some of them are more known then others and some do not have an Instagram account. They often have demanding careers and families, and the outdoors provide them with a playground and space to recharge. They are the adventurers for the adventure’s sake and they inspire me all the time. So I have decided to create a series – Badass women- where I will share with you some of those women, and ask them what adventure means to them. Prepare to be seriously inspired!  To kick off this series, I will introduce to you my friend Sarah Ingram.

Why is she badass?

Sarah is the kind of girl who for her birthday organised a 30 km run for all her friends whilst getting her family to support the event. And when some of them missed it, she did it again the week after.  I often talk about how being a Jack of all Trades is a good thing. She is definitely one of those girls but only that she is actually pretty good things too! You will find her surfing, running, cycling, hiking, wakeboarding, climbing and anything else that involves learning new skills. 7 am Yoga class? No problem for Sarah who will cycle there, ready to kick off the sun salutations in style.

 She has also just signed up for her first ultramarathon which she is preparing in between all of her other hobbies as well as her final year medical school exams. 

I have literally never met anyone who is more psyched.  Doing a workout with her is like playing a game of fetch with your dog- she is bloody impossible to tire out and her excitement is contagious! Somehow in between all of this she finds time for her friends. Whatever adventure pursuit you do with her, she always makes you feel supported and empowered- whether it is doing practise lead falls or learning how to surf in October- and you know that no matter what you will do together, it will most definitely be an adventure!  That is pretty badass in my books. 

How did you get into adventures?

I undoubtedly have my family to thank for that! We always joke about the defining features of our childhood being ‘rain, pain and sweets’ in reference to the relentless long, grim hill walks, gleefully inflicted on us, coaxed along by a trail of fruit pastilles. But as much as we complained endlessly, I am certain that being raised on walking trips to the Lakes and Derbyshire shaped my life enormously. Sailing and surfing lessons as kids have also seemed to give me a bizarre propensity for dousing myself in icy water.  More recently, living in Sheffield for the past 5 years has made adventure an indispensable part of the day to day life. The friendly and dynamic outdoors communities here create the perfect environment to get out there.

What is your ‘thing’ (things)?

I have spent my whole life grappling constantly with whether my heart lies with the sea or the mountains, meaning I can never decide whether I care more about mountain pursuits, namely climbing, skiing, running, or watersports: surfing, wakeboarding, kitesurfing, etcetera etcetera, ad infinitum. It creates an endless state of indecision, but all things considered, it’s a pretty nice predicament to have. Consequently, I find myself going through phases of focusing more on one or another, with climbing and running being the usual suspects. At the moment, running is taking centre stage, as I have an event coming up, and as I’m currently staying in Scotland, I have been embracing the stunning local landscapes and loving getting the miles under my belt. It has certainly been suggested to me (on many occasions, repeatedly by my remarkably-single-minded-and-resultantly-pretty-successful boyfriend) that if I were “only to focus on just one thing then I might get quite good at it”. But where’s the fun in that……..?   

What has been the best adventure experience that you ever had?

This was undoubtedly the most difficult question for me and it had me agonising for ages! It could be any number of surf trips over the past few years, or my first Scottish winter experience last January, or hairy backcountry ski adventures with my bros, walking and wild-camping in the Pyrenees… the list goes on. So I have decided to cop out and say that the most wonderful adventure happens every time someone ties in to lead their first trad route, or pulls on their running shoes to explore a new area, or tentatively paddles ‘out’ for the first time, and has that feeling of anticipation that something extraordinary is about to happen.

How do you make time for adventure?

I’m pretty lucky at the moment that I have plenty of time alongside work stuff to get out in the outdoors, but it can be a bit of a juggle sometimes with a part-time job as well as placement and studying. I weirdly find that sometimes having more on makes me better at being proactive and fitting things in. For me, it’s all about the micro-adventure… Obviously it’s amazing when you can plan huge adventures and get away for long stretches but in reality, sometimes life gets in the way. I, therefore, find the way to ensure I get my fix is to fit in as many weekend and evening escapes as possible. Nothing is more soul-nourishing than jumping in the car on a Friday night, strapping the boards to the roof, chucking the duffles in the boot and scooting off to a place where (hopefully) the rock is dry and the waves are pumping. Sheffield is a wonderful base for this as, being fairly central, it’s only a few hours from North Wales or the Lakes or the east coast. This means I can (and regularly do) put a weekend - of unknown location - aside with a mate months in advance to pin ourselves down, then spend the week beforehand feverishly checking or a mountain weather forecast and decide where to go at the last minute!

Sheffield, of course, is the perfect base for the other more obvious reason that it has the Peak on its doorstep. I have lived here for 5 and a half years now and it has been fundamental to my lifestyle. The fact that you can head out for an evening run and be in serene countryside in a few miles or jump in the car and arrive at iconic gritstone crags in 20 minutes is a great enabler to fitting in the adventures. And of course, living in a place where you are surrounded by a community of equally psyched people helps a lot. Naturally, it gets harder at this time of year when the days are short and the temperatures plummet but that just means it is time for headtorch runs and lamp sessions!

Things will inevitably change a bit next year, as I don’t think the life of a junior doctor is quite as conducive to constant escapism. That said, I have had some glorious examples set by friends who manage to combine hectic medical (and other!) careers with an adventurous lifestyle so I have every hope that next year I can do just that. It may just be a case of redressing the balance.

What does the outdoors mean to you?

Escapism and freedom.

Getting psyched for a big day out, suppressing the pre-nerves, getting out and cracking on, overcoming a decent portion of suffering/type 2 fun, getting adequately shat on by the weather, pushing myself physically and mentally, taking in the rugged beauty, bonding with whoever you’re out there with, getting in after a day of being battered by the elements, having windburnt, glowing cheeks and getting the kettle on as a matter of urgency, talking over the day’s endeavours over something hearty, watching some stars.

Who inspires you?

I feel immensely lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful array of inspiring people: strong, driven women who repeatedly defy expectations which society imposes on them, a family who dive into the outdoors at any available opportunity and one particular individual who recently left us for his next adventure. Dr Geof Ingram (Pop-pop to all his grandchildren) was an extraordinary individual with a great love of nature and the outdoors. He would embark on immense 60 mile walks with little more than a bag of peanuts and a can of water and was water-skiing well into his 70s. If I can live a life half as full and adventurous as he did I will be chuffed.

What other things are important to you outside of your adventures? 

I suppose it is fairly obvious but medicine has been something I have spent the last 6 years pursuing and have decided to dedicate my working life to. Within that, I am interested in global health and am hoping to work for an NGO such as Médecins Sans Frontières at some point in the future. Literature and music have also been a big influence for me, a means of enriching the internal landscape and seeing the world in different lights.

Do you have any advice for girls who are interested in getting out into the outdoors?

Get out there and go for it. Something I have only come to appreciate relatively recently is that there isn’t a time limit for these things. What I mean by that is I often used to think that you had to have been introduced to something as a kid to be any good at it: to be half decent at climbing you had to come from a family of mountaineers who had you cruising up gritstone slabs before you could walk. This is quite simply not the case. Take any sport and you’re sure to find a wad who only discovered it later in life. And head to any gritstone crag in the peak and check out the grey-haired, wiry folk casually cruising up routes that climbers any age would boast about and tell me it’s too late to give it a try. My mum and me took up running when she was in her 50s and she’s now run 4 marathons. Apart from being impressively and decidedly well ‘ard, she has found an absolute passion that she undoubtedly could not be without.

There is a wealth of experiences out there to find, you just have to get started. Join a running club, do a climbing induction at a local gym (or better, a crag) or simply buy an Ordinance Survey map and roam.

 And at any available opportunity: go skinny-dipping.

Why do you do what you do?  

Because it makes life a rich, bold and entirely fulfilling adventure. Seriously though, we should never take for granted the immense privilege we enjoy in having the freedom and the means to get out and explore. Whether it is a stolen moment of fresh air after work or a meticulously planned fortnight-long venture, I’ve come to realise that these escapes are fundamental to my happiness. They form life-long friendships and equip you with the tools sometimes needed to cope with what life throws at you. Running, for example, has become central to my mental wellbeing, giving me a way of finding internal space and processing thoughts that is almost meditative. And what better way to deal with a crappy day than call on the climbing pals and take it all out on pulling hard on shit holds. (Or sitting around pretending to climb and drinking copious quantities of tea)

Do you have any plans for the future? 

Ohhhhhh so many. I have just spent the weekend exploring the North West Highlands and Ben and I are feeling very inspired by the Scottish wilderness. We want to find and shelter in all of the Scottish bothys (bothies?) over the course of his recently started PhD up there. There are a fair few, so we’d best get cracking!

The diary is also filling up with wonderful weekends away with inspiring folk, so I’ll be getting psyched for some Welsh trad, Northumberland surfing, Lake District running and plenty more. I also have my High Peak Marathon coming up with a top team of awesome ladies, so I’m looking forward to a healthy dose of type two fun (namely darkness, cold, suffering and relentless bogs) at the start of March.

 I am also (if all goes to plan) going to be moving to Devon in July for a couple of years, which is incredibly exciting! Along with the change in backdrop to life (swapping Peak District edges for rugged beaches and coastline,  the focuses will inevitably change too... perhaps spending more time surfing and exploring the sea-cliff climbing of the south west. 

I hope you guys and gals got some inspiration from that! 

Through this series, I want to show you that there are many women who are just like me and you who go and get out there. Some have always been active, but for some, an adventure was something that they have discovered later on in their life. One thing that they all of these badass women have in common is that they are breaking the misconceptions about what an adventurer should be and what they should look like. Because you don’t need to be a certain ‘type’ of person to have an adventure. You just have to be you and find the thing that drives you on.

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