BRO Athletes: Maria Bocanegra Gives Back

In the 20th anniversary edition of the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Jordan Campbell (writer, filmmaker, and Marmot ambassador athlete) provided some stellar thoughts on what the next 20 years will hold for the outdoors at large.  One comment spoke volumes about how stewards of the outdoors will be further encouraged to think and approach their existence:

“The marriage of adventure with altruism will continue to play a more significant role in the 21st century.  Giving back to underserved populations across the globe is part of a new moral imperative in the outdoor adventure space.  It is no longer a sidebar activity for a dedicated few; rather it has become an end unto itself and part of the adventure space.”

Let that sink in a bit.  Being an outdoor enthusiast often invokes a strong sense of community.  Issues that people in this community fight for and feel passionate about go far beyond the reach of any one individual. We collectively need each other to compete, protect wilderness, and navigate space in a multitude of forms.  Outdoor adventure enthusiasts are some of the most committed people I’ve ever met.  That can take shape in raising money and awareness for causes, training for races or events, creating fulfilling careers and businesses around their interests, or just getting outside and playing as much as possible.  It’s a beautiful thing, and I live in an amazing area of Virginia that makes it easy.

As much as I love my native land, I love to travel even more.  When I plan trips, I always balance city time with outdoor/nature time.  By doing this, my family and I get to experience contrasting cultures within any one country.  As part of my upcoming trip planning, I have decided to try to make it a priority next year to visit a dear friend that currently lives in Tanzania, and of course I am coupling this with a race.  I used to travel a lot more, and my family and I still try to go beyond U.S. borders at least once a year.

With less time dedicated to travel, I have increasingly become calculated and introspective about what I want to get out of a trip.  To Mr. Campbell’s point, this often leads to how I can give back/up/outward.  Beyond visiting a good friend, and running an amazing race, Tanzania is quite unexpected for me as a travel destination.  I thought we might take the kids on safari there when they are much older, but never imagined going to that region of the world so soon.  My college roommate happens to be posted there through USAID, and I’m at a good place in life where this type of trip can really be meaningful.  So I started to dig into that question: how meaningful and in what form?

To a certain degree, I believe in fortuitous circumstances.  My friend and I used to run a lot in college together, and over the years have supported each other in running via long distance encouragement: emails and phone calls asking about race results, discussing the challenges of post-partum running, relishing in the joy of getting out of the house for even 30 minutes when you have kids under the age of 5.

When she moved to Tanzania, we jokingly kicked around the idea of running a race there together.  Then I got to the point where I said, why not?  I was doing well with my running and training, had joined the BRO athlete team and wanted to start a charitable initiative at my work, so it seemed feasible that this trip could happen.  We talked about causes and organizations that I could try to support leading up to my trip, and running the Kilimanjaro marathon as the culmination of this effort.  One of the causes we discussed is the maternal mortality rate in Tanzania.

A few days later at work, our team was watching the latest Apple release, and Christy Turlington-Burns was on promoting her non-profit, Every Mother Counts (EMC).  She had been the first person to use and wear an Apple Watch for training and racing…in the Kilimanjaro half marathon.  It all clicked.  I had a great trip to take to see an old friend, and now had learned about an established charity to support in my effort to give something back.  This trip planning is still in its infancy (and TBD, though I do hope to be able to make it happen!), but I have since become a Running Ambassador for Every Mother Counts.  I will be running at least four local races to raise funds and awareness for EMC, and welcome any others that want to run/walk in these races with me.  You can reach me here!

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 3.58.53 PM

To come full circle, we do live in an area that makes our love of the outdoors and associated adventures easy to access and enjoy.  Some others live in areas where this abundance of outdoor space and remoteness is a breaking point that can be the difference between life and death.  For these mothers and mothers –to – be, “access” to the outdoors can kill.  Many women live miles away from healthcare providers and facilities, with extremely limited access to transportation.  Every Mother Counts uses running as a symbolic gesture to indicate that distance is a huge barrier for these women: “In some parts of the world, it’s not uncommon for women to travel as far as 26 miles to reach emergency care, even when in labor.”   Without transportation, this is a huge hurdle.  Every Mother Counts epitomizes the outdoor adventure community’s nuptials with altruism.   It’s our turn and our privilege to give back.  Won’t you come with me?

Places to Go, Things to See: