Chattanooga Women Explore the Great Outdoors
For women, outdoor adventures can be so many things: an athletic challenge and adrenaline rush, a quiet time of reflection, an opportunity for travel, or a way to make a living. The following women have found their callings in the great outdoors, and each is dedicated to an outdoor way of life based here in Chattanooga. Their stories are an inspiration for women of all ages and proof that there are no limits to the rich life that can be found in outdoor adventure.
By Jenni Frankenberg Veal | Above Photo by Matt Ballard Photography
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Whitney Boland, Rock Climber
Whitney Boland has turned her passion for rock climbing into her career. A national ambassador for Sterling Rope, La Sportiva, and Black Diamond, she is also a freelance writer with bylines in magazines such as Rock & Ice, Climbing, Women’s Health and Rocky Mountain Sports.
Boland grew up in western Kentucky and began rock climbing during college at a gym where her brother worked. She frequented the infamous Red River Gorge in Kentucky and decided off the bat that she loved climbing outdoors.
Boland’s skill was recognized early on. “When I lived in Lexington, I climbed routes that just a few other women were climbing at the time,” she recalls.
After college, Boland moved to Colorado for an internship at Rock & Ice magazine, followed by a move to Las Vegas to work for the HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation, which offers support to women with ovarian cancer. Boland says HERA’s founder, Sean Patrick, was an inspiration for her because she used climbing as a metaphor for her fight with cancer.
Since then, Boland’s love of rock climbing has taken her across the globe, including Spain, Italy, France and Mexico. “Rock climbing is a good vehicle to see the world,” she says. “It’s never the same, and it keeps you on your toes.”
In 2009, Boland moved to Chattanooga to be back home with family in the Southeast. Needless to say, she hasn’t had to give up her passion in what has been called the “cradle of climbing.” “There is so much climbing in the Chattanooga area,” she says. “My favorites are Little Rock City, the Tennessee Wall (T Wall), Deep Creek, and Little River Canyon in Alabama.”
June Baugham, Professional diving instructor
June Baugham grew up watching the world-renowned explorer Jacques Cousteau on television and dreaming of learning to scuba dive. She learned to snorkel while living in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, but it wasn’t until 2008 that she actually donned a scuba tank to dive deep below the ocean’s surface. “Back in Texas, where I grew up, scuba diving wasn’t recognized as an activity for women,” explains Baugham.
Upon turning 40, Baugham climbed Mount McKinley in Alaska with some friends, and it was there that she decided she preferred deep water to cold mountains. She came home to Chattanooga and signed up for scuba diving classes.
Today, Baugham is a platinum dive instructor and works as the manager of the Choo Choo Dive Center. She loves to teach others to scuba dive, especially anyone who might be a little nervous about trying out the sport.
Baugham describes scuba diving as a way to discover and connect with the diversity of life that exists on the planet. “When you’re up at the surface of the water, you don’t realize how much is underneath,” she says.
“For me, scuba diving is a lifestyle—it’s not just diving,” says Baugham, who says she enjoys marking significant life milestones with dives. For her 50th birthday, she celebrated by snorkeling with whale sharks and scuba diving the beautiful cenotes in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Some of her other favorite scuba trips include the Caribbean, Bonaire, St. Kitts, and Pensacola, Fla., as well as here at home in the Tennessee River.
Baugham says scuba diving has opened up a new chapter of life for her, and teaching has allowed her to share the mysteries of the ocean with others. “There is amazing stuff down there that you would never see or even know about if you didn’t get into the water and scuba.”
Samantha Christen, Flat water kayaker and paddler
Samantha Christen grew up in the great outdoors, and throughout life she has found solace in being on the water. “I grew up camping and paddling in an old canoe, so being on the water has always been a part of who I am,” Christen says.
As an adult, Christen shares her passion for flat water kayaking and paddling with others as part of Jackson Kayak’s Exploration team, through her blog on Jackson Kayak’s website, and through her work at Rock/Creek Paddlesports. Her trusty companion is a Journey touring kayak, a 13.5-foot boat with ample storage space. “Anything you want to take with you can be packed in,” Christen says.
Christen rowed for UTC’s rowing team during college so competition is not new to her. She laughs about spending New Year’s Eve registering for a 340-mile paddle competition across Missouri. However, some of her favorite paddling excursions are in waterways right here in the Southeast: the Tennessee River Blueway; Carter’s Lake in North Georgia; and the Duck River on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.
As a special education teacher in Walker County, Ga., Christen is able to spend weeks at a time on the water each summer. “What I love about paddling is that everyone can do it,” she says. Christen lived that truth when, six years ago, she experienced some medical issues that prevented her from rock climbing and other activities; however, she was still able to paddle.
For Christen, paddling along a quiet waterway is a way to experience life. “How can you be on the water, so close to everything, and not be completely enamored of the world around you?” she asks. “Every time I am on the water, I am grateful for the opportunity.”
Ginger Sillery, Mountain Biker
A former fast-pitch softball player at the University of Alabama, Ginger Sillery discovered mountain biking after graduating in 2001. A science teacher, she began recreational mountain biking with a group of friends while living in her hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and later in Atlanta.
Sillery remembers being one of only a handful of women racing in the sport at the time. “When I first started riding, I was the only girl in the group and was forced to get stronger and faster to be able to keep up with the guys,” she recalls. “I think all that suffering in the back of the pack made me stronger physically and even more so mentally.”
In 2009, Sillery moved to Chattanooga and decided to delve into the world of mountain bike racing. “I was riding quite a bit and thought I should see what I could do with it,” she says. She was happy to discover a cadre of female competitors and the local women’s cycling club, the Velo Vixens.
Her recent accomplishments include finishing 3rd overall in the Cat 4 Omnium of the 2012 River Gorge Race Series; a 3rd place finish at the Sewanee Cross Cyclocross Cat 4 race; and placing 7th overall for women in the Big Frog 65 mountain bike race in the Cherokee National Forest.
Sillery, now a board member for the Velo Vixens, added road racing to her challenges in 2012, participating in the 3 State 3 Mountain ride as well as placing 3rd in the Women’s Cat 4 Tour de Tuscaloosa road race.
“There is always something to do in Chattanooga if you want to be challenged,” says Sillery, who is also the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Sage. “It’s great for me as a parent because I don’t have to travel far to get my ‘fix’ of racing.”
Lindsay Manning, Skydiver
Lindsay Manning has skydiving in her blood: her parents were skydiving partners who traveled the world to jump. Her mother made 100 jumps while pregnant with her and was part of a women’s world record for freefalling. Following in their footsteps—and jumpsuits—Lindsay began jumping at age 18 and has been on 177 skydives since 2007. In a nod to her mother, she also made one jump while pregnant with her now 8-month-old son, Abel.
Manning’s home “drop zone” is Skydive the Farm in Rockmart, Ga., and she enjoys jumping from March through October. She typically jumps from between 12,000 feet to 15,000 feet altitude, reaching speeds of about 120 miles per hour vertically. Each year, her first jump of the season begins at the St. Patrick’s Day Boogie in Fitzgerald, Ga., and she typically jumps three times in one day.
Ask Manning what she enjoys about skydiving and you’ll find it’s the details: the smell and roar of the airplane’s engine on the ride up to altitude, the blast of cold air and exhilaration that is invoked as the door to the plane opens, and the experience of deep relaxation upon landing.
However, so much about sky diving takes place on the ground, she says. “The thing about jumping is that you only spend about 60 seconds in the air, so most of your time is spent thinking about your jump, talking about it, and hanging out with other skydivers.” Safety is always of primary concern and requires constant thought—especially now that she is a parent.
“Skydiving is a way to experience the world from a different perspective,” says Manning, who introduced her husband, Adam, to the sport. “It is so much a part of my soul that I couldn’t imagine a life without it.”