Posted on June 15 2016
This week’s Wednesday Woman is the awesome Anna McNuff, a born adventurer, motivational speaker , writer and named by the Guardian as one of the Top inspiring female adventurers of our time ! Read her story here
Natalie Bardega:Can you tell us a bit about your background, what were you like growing up?
Anna McNuff: A handful! I grew up as a middle sibling between two brothers, so I pretty much just did what the boys did. Me and my brothers would most likely be found exploring in the 'jungle' of fields out the back gate of my Grandpa's house, or careering through the local BMX track. My parents are both Olympians so I was fully immersed in sport from a young age - they let us try everything, and dutifully drove me around to gymnastics, trampolining, judo, athletics, football.... I was really lucky in that respect. They never pushed us into anything, and just supported us - I remember when I was 5, I was in a 'fast track' development squad at the local gymnastics club, but I told my Dad through sobs that I didn't want to do it anymore - because the practice was past my bedtime!! And he just nodded and let me do what I wanted to do.
My folks also used to drag us on Sunday walks in the Surrey countryside - which we moaned no end about. Ironically when I have kids I'll damn well be dragging them on those same walks!
Bardega: You were an athlete but then followed a more mainstream career path - what made you give up the first time on pursuing a career in sports and what finally made you decide to go back and pursue your passion?
McNuff: Retiring from rowing was without a doubt the hardest decision of my life, but one I have never regretted. I gave it my absolute all - I had this massive dream, to be an Olympian just like my folks, but the sacrifices I was having to make to make that dream a reality - they just stopped making me happy. I wasn't enjoying the day to day, the 'journey' so to speak, and that's hugely important. I realised I'd fallen out of love with the sport, and also sport in general - which was such a tragedy for someone who'd grown up with it in their veins. So I decided to step away. That was tough because I wasn't just giving up a sport, I was giving up a whole identity. When people asked me what I did, I couldn't tell them that I was a rower any more. I didn't know who I was, and so I had to go in search of that - but I soon made the decision to stop being petrified by the sheer amount of choices in front of me, and instead become excited by their possibilities. Now, I could literally do anything.
I threw myself into life as a corporate marketer, and it was really exciting at first. I'd never had a 'proper' job, and I enjoyed the fast pace and challenge of life in a corporate environment. And it was nice to have a bit more freedom; I think I needed those years to allow myself space and time to find my true passion. Eventually, it started to bubble to the surface. I realised that I was spending every hour, day or holiday around work doing some bonkers adventure challenge, and that those were the bits of my life that made me happy, so I just decided that it was time to let it take center stage in my life.
Deciding to dedicate myself to a life of adventure was really just an acknowledgment of something I already knew. I was honouring that little voice in the pit of my stomach that was telling me I had 'more' than this. I could do more, be more and ultimately give more to the world.
Bardega: You have completed some amazing challenges but what challenge are you most proud of and why?
McNuff: In one way I'm very proud of the ride through the 50 US states, because that was my first big leap into the unknown. But I would have to say it would be the run along the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand. It was a journey that pushed me right to the edge of my mental and physical capabilities. I went to some pretty dark places on that run, but I kept on truckin. Giving up wasn't an option. And when giving up isn't an option then it actually becomes far easier to carry on - you don't even have to consider the possibility that you might quit.
That run really affirmed that we are far stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Standing at the end of the lighthouse at the top of NZ, having run for 5 months and finished a journey that, at one point, I was almost too afraid to start - I was just completely overwhelmed.
Bardega: You have done a lot of your adventures alone, how did you keep your spirits up and is it worrying travelling alone as a woman?
McNuff: I sing! And I dance! All the time. I know that days on the road / trail when I'm not singing or dancing, those are the tough days. In New Zealand, I remember that I was up once mountain pass and 'Hey ya' by Outkast came on my iPod shuffle. So what did I do? I stopped and shook my ass like a freakin' polaroid picture!! I danced like nobody was watching, because they weren't.
Your mind does funny things when you've been on your own for a long period of time, especially if you've gone a number of days without seeing another living soul, so I learnt to make space to listen to my thoughts. If I felt myself getting too self-critical or down - I'd do something to flip my mindset. For example one day it was pouring with rain, and it had pretty much been raining solidly for 3 weeks when I took this video. I screamed over the wind: "Here's the thing, I'm soaked to the skin, and freezing, it's tipping with rain, but I've decided that I can either get miserable, or I can get happy - and I'm going to get happy!" That day suddenly became bearable after that.
Bardega: You inspire us but what/who inspires you and why?
McNuff: I’m inspired by people who go against the grain and refuse to take no for an answer. People who dive so deep into their personal well of self-belief that they achieve things which most would deem impossible. Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old legend of a woman who swam from Cuba to Florida is a great example - her "Never Give Up" speech has me fired up and ready to take on the world every time I watch it. More than anything I am inspired by the impact these people have on the lives of others - it's all very well and good doing adventures for the sake of adventures, but to translate that into a message you want to deliver to the world - that's where the true value lies.
Also, the book that started me adventuring was Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes by Rosie Swale Pope. Had she never taken the time to share her story in that book, I may have taken longer to find my own path.
Bardega: What’s the next big adventure for you?
McNuff: It’s still very much in the planning stages, but a friend and I are planning to head to South America in October. We'll spend 5-6 months travelling the length of the Andes by bike, taking on as many mountain passes as possible, inflicting our terrible Spanish on locals and hopefully stopping to climb Aconcagua (a 6,000m + peak) halfway through. I've never been up anything that size before so it'll be a freakin' awesome challenge and a new experience.
Bardega: Finally what advice would you give a younger Anna?
McNuff: Have confidence, and be patient. Enjoy the journey, appreciate the little things and know that if you follow what makes you happy in the day to day, it will lead to a life filled with passion. Surround yourself with people who support you and add sparkle to your life. Embrace challenge and hug your fears tightly, be brave in the moments when you want to turn away. And above all be kind, show compassion to yourself and others. Do that, little Anna - and you'll absolutely rock it.