We were excited when native Idahoan, Abbey Howard, agreed to do an interview with us but as we were preparing questions, we realized we had no idea where to start. If you don’t already know, this lady has a hard time sitting still in one place for any length of time. She has been all over the place within the past several years so we really needed to establish a timeline before we could even know where to begin. One thing to note about this young woman is her contagious smile. It is a rare occasion to see her without a wide smile and we think her perma-grin is indicative of a full life filled with wonder and adventure. She has a heart to travel but with a purpose and intention in mind. She’s not only motivated for personal reasons but she has a desire to use her knowledge and qualifications to make a difference in the world. By what we have witnessed thus far from this young woman, we have no doubt she will make a difference in the lives and environments that she encounters.
Here’s what she had to say…
SBM: As we conduct this interview, you are in Panama teaching underdeveloped communities about the importance of public health and education; tell us a little about that and what you hope to accomplish during your time spent there.
AH: Panama is so rad! I had the opportunity to get involved with this non-profit organization called CDNA (Community Development Network of the Americas). We are a small group of Americans who set out for 10 days to the southern tip of Panama and went to five different communities that are located at least 45 minutes away from the closest western medicine health professional. Our goal was to provide community members (children, youth, and adults) with health education in topics of first aid, emergency first response, sexual and mental health, and drug addiction. We had a total of 472 people who attended our workshops! http://www.cdnamericas.org
SBM: Wow! That is so awesome! How did you get involved with this organization?
AH: I got involved with CDNA this spring when I worked at a hospital in Missoula, Montana. One of my wonderful coworkers found out about my previous travels in Central America and my knowledge of conversational Spanish, and she was looking for another EMT to come fill a position to teach. It just felt right, so we made it happen!
SBM: You spent this last summer as a Wildland firefighter, what was that experience like, especially considering it’s predominately male?
AH: Firefighting has been a crazy experience! The job itself can be insanely fun, but it has its downs for sure. I love getting to spend my time outdoors where I feel at home. It was weird at first moving into a house with six men, and being the only girl on my district took a little getting used to, but I have made some great friends. It’s nice having a group of men who have your back. Firefighting is hard, physical work but that in no way means a girl cannot do it! Most girls I’ve met in fire would agree when I say if you pull your own weight with a positive attitude, and do the best you can, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or not.
SBM: I have heard that from male firefighters as well. Goes to show that hard work and a good attitude goes a long way. Do you have any advice for women who are interested in Wildland firefighting as a career?
AH: Believe in yourself! There will be plenty of people out there to discourage you from getting into fire, but as long as you are willing to work hard and not give up, you could find that fire is one of the most fun jobs out there! Get active during winter to prepare your body for some hard physical labor, and be persistent while going through the application process.
SBM: How has getting your Wilderness EMT license shaped your understanding of safety in the outdoors? How important is it for people to be aware of their outdoor environments?
AH: My training with Aerie Back country Medicine in Missoula, Montana has given me a confidence that I could not have gained any other way. I look at back country situations in a different way than I used to. I think it is very important to be prepared and be safe when going away from the amenities of the city. Situational awareness is one of the most important skills to possess when riding in the back country, or when going into the wilderness. It is something I am continually working on in my adventures into the wild.
SBM: Last winter, you spent time as an intern for MTN Approach, how did that expand your knowledge of backcountry riding?
AH: MTN Approach is an original company with a rad product! When getting away from the resort life, having a setup you love to get you up the hill is just as important as your board when ripping powder on the way down. Working with them confirmed that having good quality equipment is a necessity when wanting to go away from the crowd, both for safety and functionality’s sake.
SBM: Do you think anyone involved in mountain snow sports should have back country training?
AH: I think that those who want to get away from resort riding should definitely have back country training. One of the best classes I ever took was my avalanche certification class with Aerie Back country Medicine. I think having knowledge about how powerful mother nature can be is vital to not getting killed in the back country. Simple mistakes can seriously hurt and/or kill you, and lets be for real, ain’t nobody got time for that.
SBM: Our last month’s local lady is a master in Taekwondo, and you have a black belt in Karate, how has self-defense training served you?
AH: Gaining my black belt in Karate was the best 8 years I ever invested in my life. I truly feel that I am the woman I am today because of my self-defense skills. I learned so much more than just how to defend myself. I learned respect, honor, dedication at a young age and I developed a work ethic that has stuck with me to this day. A few years ago, I was solo backpacking through Nicaragua and a situation came up where if I hadn’t known how to defend myself, I could have been seriously hurt, raped, or killed. My training kept me safe and now I am a huge advocate towards women learning self-defense. I think that any woman, no matter what size or shape should have simple self-defense knowledge.
SBM: What are some goals you hope to accomplish with all of your diverse training?
AH: I would really like to progress in back country snowboarding, which is one of my biggest goals for this upcoming season. I want to get further away from lifts, and deeper into the mountains. I am going to strive this season to become more confident, and stronger in my boarding abilities, both at resorts and in the back country. I want to work on picking lines and my ability to read the snow pack. I would love to be a guide someday and share my love for the mountains with other outdoor enthusiasts.
Career wise, my dream is to become a smoke jumper. Nothing sounds better than jumping out of airplanes into places no one else can go. I can’t even imagine the wilderness areas out there that very few people get to see! This season there were 440 smoke jumpers working for the U.S. Forest Service and only 23 of them are women. Just the challenge of that statistic makes me excited.
SBM: What is a motto you live by?
AH: Never stop exploring.
SBM: Any parting words you’d like the world to read?
AH: Do something that matters.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Girl, we see you doing just that and all the while enriching other people’s lives. Never lose your sense of awe, wonder and compassion. Be driven and motivated by it. We have a feeling that in a few years we will have to do a follow-up article on Abbey because we believe that she is just getting started. We can’t wait to see what else unravels for this bright young woman.