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When I was 15, my dream was to attend art school in Vermont.
I had this awesome vision of immersing myself in the mountains every day, getting lost in the stars each night, and making incredible art that told of the awe and wonder I felt from it all. I'd do whatever I needed to do to get in with Burton Snowboards, and eventually I'd work my way up to designing the most incredibly awesome line of women's snowboard decks that anyone had ever seen.
At that time in late 90's, I was one of a handful of female snowboard athletes on the slopes. Snowboarding in general was just starting to pick up momentum in the Northeast. I had a natural inclination towards the exhilarating flow-state of carving through snow, and a deep desire to explore my pique potential as an athlete. I wanted to find a way to ride every single day, and for my art and athleticism to inspire more women and girls to get out on boards and join me.
In my dream, I saw myself making incredible friends who shared my love of nature and adventure; snowboarding every day for free on boards that I designed, competing in races (and maybe even beating the guys!) -and letting the momentum of joy, adventure, and creativity lead me into my next chapter.
My parents strongly encouraged me to only apply to state schools so that I would be better equipped to manage my student debt after graduating. For this reason, I never moved forward with applying to any out-of-state schools. In fact, I didn't even venture to tour any out-of-state schools. I was afraid that if I did, I'd fall even deeper in love with a vision that I believed I could never actually have.
I struggled all throughout my college years with feeling like I didn't fit in. During my first year at Umass Amherst, I wrestled with feeling like I wasn't being seen, heard, or challenged. I was desperate for a mentor, but felt too afraid and unworthy to speak up and ask for what I needed, and I didn't know who I could even turn to.
My confusion led to depression. I began to believe that perhaps I just wasn't meant for a big university setting. I left my full scholarship on the table and transferred to Mass Art, a school a fraction of the size, the following year. At this point, I became reckless in my search to alleviate my pain and find a sense of belonging.
When I arrived in in Boston, I soon realized I wasn't able to engage there, either. I longed to be able to see the stars again, to taste fresh, clean air in my lungs, and more than anything, I longed to find a group of people who I felt like I could relate to. I felt incredibly isolated and lonely at art school, and my mental health further declined. I tried antidepressants for the first time. Nothing seemed to help. I transferred back to Umass my junior year with a pile of debt, hoping that a fresh perspective was what I would need to finally feel like I was succeeding on the academic path.
It was during this time that I discovered yoga. It quickly became my anchor. I realized that it was a powerful tool for coping with change and uncertainty. Relieved to feel like I found something I could immerse myself in, I dove in head first, scrubbing toilets in exchange for tuition, sometimes practicing as many as 20 hours a week in the hot room outside of classes and commuting home on weekends to wait tables.
I'm deeply grateful for how the practice of yoga helped alleviate a lot of my depression symptoms, and for how it helped connect me back with my heart, and eventually, with my spirit. It has felt so rewarding to be able to share these healing tools with so many different types of people over my last few years of teaching, particularly the consulting work I've been doing with TeenThrive for the last few years through Brown University and Butler Hospital.
When I learned a few days ago of Jake Burton's passing, it connected me back with that dream I had since I was a young teen. I was profoundly touched and moved to learn that in the final few months before his tragic departure, he had written out a timeline of formative events in his life.
It gave me such comfort and solace to see how he, too, had struggled with doubt and uncertainty, and made many pivots in his life before finally finding that sweet spot where his passion and purpose aligned in a way that led to a major breakthrough in his career, creating new opportunities for athletes and adventure-seekers to engage with mountains and outdoor adventure like never before.
My heart is full of gratitude for the joy and stoke he introduced to the world, and simultaneously, it aches for his family and loved ones who are mourning his departure.
Had Jake not followed his heart, the world may never have know snowboarding as we know it today. I may have never discovered the deep passion I feel for gliding effortlessly through snow-covered trees and breathing in that sweet, cold, alpine air, or formulated the seed idea of empowering women and girls through art and outdoor adventure.
I was inspired to learn how even when Jake's passion wasn't earning him money, he still found ways to engage with what he loved the most, and he never lost sight of the entrepreneurial possibilities that were inherent to his passion and curiosity.
I'm deeply grateful for the inspiration Jake brought into the world; for the legacy he left in creating an entirely new way for people to experience and connect with mountains, athleticism, adventure, and community.