When Thai Nguyen takes her children outside—to hike or play in a state park, for example—she says she wants more than just fun for them. She wants to give them the connection to nature that she's found—but that her own parents don't quite understand.
"They don't get it, but support me," she explains. "Understandably, since they grew up in a different era where their outdoor activities consisted around food, i.e. hiking up to the family's farm for jackfruits and young coconuts, or fish to have food on the dinner table."
But for Thai, the outdoors has come to mean something different. "It's very empowering and centers me," she says. "Making me feel more conscious of my space in this world."
Growing up in Houston, Thai's first outdoor experiences were on the beach. "The outdoors for us consisted of my parents taking me to Galveston Beach to fish and dig for clams. I remember one day something touched me in the water and I flipped out. It turned out to be just a piece of seaweed. I was about 6 years old at the time."
But moving to California in her 20s, Thai found surfing and longboarding, eventually getting into open-water swimming. When she moved to Denver, she transitioned to hiking, biking and climbing. As a parent, her time outdoors took on a new significance.
"I struggle with finding balance for myself between being a parent/partner/work/school/volunteer," she says. "[The outdoors] is a sanctuary for my hectic schedule and helps bring my friends and family together. Currently, I try to make being outdoors a dual function- where I weave taking my children to the state park to play along the beach, while I study under a tree."
Thai signed up for the Women's Wilderness Trailblazers program when her friend Aleka Mayr suggested it. "I thought it would be great for the both of us to take this course together, without our children," she says. "I'm still working on figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, and I believe the Trailblazers course is another step in the right direction."
The program was designed to support black, indigenous and other women of color as they gain confidence in the outdoors. The program focused on building skills for backcountry travel and bacpacking, but also honed in on leadership skills, so the women can go back to their communities and help others feel at home in the outdoors.
"Yes, it’s piqued my curiosity to be more active in my communities to help people of color have greater access to the outdoors," Thai says.
And, for Thai, some of the most important people are her own children.
"It’s very important to me," Thai says. "I want them to have the same love of the great outdoors that my husband and I have. I hope our children will become more connected and stewards of their environment. Where they are playing a more active role with helping move our planet towards greater sustainability. Whether they are starting with small scale projects or lobbying local and state officials about their environmental concerns. Taking the Trailblazers course is equivalent to leveling up your outdoor skills game. It’s helping me take the next steps with my children outdoors and not having to rely on my husband for everything."