There are times when you meet someone and the way that they present themselves and speak makes you feel like you’re in the presence of awareness. Meeting Angela was that experience for me. At a party, we talked about social issues, the Afghan family she supports, and her amazing organization that is empowering women to find themselves again and I was in awe. I wanted to share her journey with you so I hope you enjoy!
1. Our mutual friend Karen Rylander introduced us at a party and I remember being fascinated with the work you do. Tell me about Women’s Empowerment Ride.
The Women’s Empowerment Ride (WER) is an organization which teaches women who are facing life struggles, are experiencing a diminished sense of well being and have lost sight of their own importance by making too much of it in others, to thrive again. Through the healing forces of nature and the bicycle as the vehicle, women (re)discover their self worth, strength and resiliency.
2. How did you get involved with such an amazing program?
Some time ago I went through a traumatic experience which was truly life-shaking. Inherently I knew what to do. I went on a 2 month, self supported, solo ride along the Great Divide (GDMBR) from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, NM right on the border of Mexico. The time spent in nature and on my bike sent me on a path of healing and discovery of finding the gift in darkness. I learnt not to waste time in illusions and wishes. I learnt to keep my sense of worth and power and above all: keep my vision intact. A traumatic experience might take away your ‘voice’ and then give it back with added power. The question though remained; how do I go from a ‘dark night’ to having a positive impact on my environment and thus give my own life purpose? Such emerged the idea of taking women into nature, on bikes. A few years and many books later, WER was founded here in Denver, CO.
3. That is truly remarkable. What kind of activities do women do in this program?
In short: challenge themselves physically and mentally to emerge as a strong and healthy individual. As I have mentioned before, nature rewires your brain and there is no better vehicle than a bicycle. When you are on your bike, you cannot ponder about the past (depression) or fearfully look into the future (anxiety). You need to focus on the present moment or you are risking to crash. Hence, you are LIVING in the moment. The women go through a training program which prepares them to successfully complete whichever journey they have signed up for. This may be a more local ride, but we have been as far as Europe where a team crossed the Alps on mountain bikes. Whatever you focus on will become your reality and with having to repeatedly focus on the present (while on your bike), you are literally retraining your brain to shift from defeating habits. The women also experience the bonding and support of a team. Trust is restored, in others and themselves.
4. What do you enjoy most about being involved with getting women in different walks of life to go outside their comfort zone and try something new?
It is most satisfying to see the women succeed in what many never thought possible for themselves when they first joined WER. The vision I have for WER is reflected in their triumph over abuse, addiction, self doubt and helplessness. WER members who have been on several rides, are thriving and are successful in new jobs, relationships and lifestyles. With their courage, willingness to show up for themselves and the support of WER, they have changed to live their lives with intention and joy. Daily.
5. You also assist an Afghan family with different needs they have. Can you tell me more about this?
‘My’ Afghan family are refugees from Kabul. The family came to Denver about 2 weeks after I moved here. The dad was a ‘terp’ (interpreter) for the American Forces in Afghanistan. The reality is, if they eventually do not leave the country, the Taliban will kill him/them. When they arrived, only the dad spoke English. Now, 3 years later, all the kids (6 of them) are fluent in English and have surpassed their father; even the 5 year old. The mom also has an ESL teacher, is driving now, and is finding her own way. One of my earliest memories of them is asking her (mom) if she brought anything from her home country of Afghanistan. She went to get a duffle bag which had an Afghan tea set in it…..in pieces. These days, I’m helping them by asking for particular donations from people when the mom lets me know what they are in need of, since the dad rarely does. I love them all and it’s so good to see that the kids and parents are thriving.
6. I love that. How can others get involved with helping families in need?
I would suggest to search for local organizations which support refugees, veterans or other people in need. I would also recommend to donate either directly to someone, which you often can find out about by asking around the neighborhood. Give your donations somewhere, where people do not have to pay for them. Donate your time by teaching English to someone in order for them to find a better job. The key to ‘helping’ is to empower people to take care of themselves.
7. Who are some people that inspire you?
People who are and have spoken up when it isn’t/wasn’t popular to voice their concerns or convictions, even in the face of danger. They do so, for the good of everyone. Sometimes one has to lead a bit in the direction of one is going as a ‘one Woman army’, in order to bring about change. In history there have been many people like this: from different countries, backgrounds, religions, centuries and gender, but all of them always had the prosperity of the collective as their goal. Nelson Mandela / Malala Yousafzai / Rosa Parks / Sophie Scholl / Brene Brown to name a few.
8. What is one piece of advice that a parent or role model gave you that still resonates to this day?
So there is a story with this: one day, my mom and I were waiting on a train at the central station in Munich. A man came up to us and said to my mom: ‘Mam, could you please give me 5 marks, I don’t have enough money to buy a ticket to get home.’ My mother pulled out her purse and gave him 10 Marks. I was 17 and could not understand how my mom could be so naive to give the guy money, when obviously he was just going to buy alcohol or similar with it. When I asked my mom why she would do such a foolish thing, she said: ‘If he does (buy alcohol), then that’s on him. BUT if he really needed my help, I did the right thing. Remember, when you give to someone, you do so because you want to, not because you have any expectations of them. Not now or ever. It will come around eventually. May be from the person you gave to, may be from another source.’ I have never forgotten what my mom said that day and have seen this working in my life many times. Great advice!
9. That is great advice! Finally, if you had to recommend one book on anything, what would it be?
‘The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams. As we have moved further and further away from nature and are being (better: letting us be) consumed by social media, we have forgotten how to access our internal resources. In her research, Florence Williams provides the scientific background to what happens to our brains when we immerse ourselves in nature. Powerful!
To learn more about the Women Empowerment Ride, visit the website.
You can also follow along with their adventures on their Facebook page.
You can order The Nature Fix from Tattered Cover here.
Thank you to Angela for interviewing with me today 🙂