By Steph Imig
As a high school English teacher, I believe in the fundamental importance of stories. Within those stories, representation matters. Who tells the stories? Whom are the stories about? Are the people at the heart of the story also the ones telling the story? As I build curriculum, I am guided by the idea that every student deserves “windows” and “mirrors”--stories that feature people like them, and stories that feature people whom they perceive to be different--one offering a mirror, the other a window. I don’t decide when a student is looking in a mirror or when they are gazing through a window; students decide this for themselves, but that is how I frame the approach to any story.
This series for Territory builds on the idea of windows and mirrors--that in our trail running community, we all need to see ourselves. In stories, in running, in life representation matters. Seeing people who you consider “like you” doing something has the effect of inviting you into that world. Whatever “it” is, it becomes a part of your possibility. My goal in this series is to highlight the stories of trail runners--trail runners who also identify as BIPOC. The stories are first and foremost about each person’s journey into trail running, exploring a question that is universal to all of us: How exactly did you come to be a trail runner and identify with this wacky sport?
Each feature will be left in interview-form, so that each person’s voice remains central. My hope is that through this series, every single one of us will find both windows and mirrors, and along the way, will enjoy learning about some phenomenal humans.
My first interview is with Theresa Silveyra.
Theresa Silveyra is a music teacher and outdoor enthusiast based in Portland, Oregon. Her primary passions are mountaineering and trail running. Adventures where these two activities are combined tend to be her favorite. Theresa is also an ambassador for the PNW Outdoor Women group and enjoys organizing and providing opportunities for womxn to connect and adventure outdoors together.
Tell me about where you grew up. Did you have an active childhood? I grew up in Chehalis, Washington. It's one of the small-ish towns you drive by on I-5 if you're driving between Portland and Seattle. Not a diverse town AT ALL (that's a whole other story in itself), but the Pacific Northwest in general still felt like home to me growing up. I wasn't particularly active until about middle school when I started playing basketball, softball, and volleyball. I continued playing volleyball through high school (in California). Ironically, I hated running.
Do you have childhood memories connected to the outdoors? My family wasn't very outdoorsy growing up (despite living in the PNW), but we did have family friends that would take us out hiking, car camping, or horseback riding occasionally when I was a kid. I definitely have positive memories from those experiences.
When did you fall in love with the outdoors? Chehalis offers an incredible view of Loowit on a clear day and I grew up enthralled with that mountain. I had no idea that mountaineering was a thing back then, but I enjoyed visiting the Johnston Ridge Observatory whenever we had out-of-state family in town and wanted to show them around.
How did you come to identify with trail running or other outdoor pursuits? Trail running and outdoor pursuits honestly didn't enter my life until after I finished grad school in 2014. I was really burnt out and depressed about my career path, and I started getting outside to find joy again and rediscover my love for the Pacific Northwest (after spending 8 years in Southern California).
What have you learned about yourself through your outdoor adventures/challenges? My biggest takeaway from the past few years of outdoor adventuring? I am incredibly privileged to be able to do what I do. Yes, I suffer immensely from imposter syndrome and lack a sense of belonging and safety, which stems a lot from not seeing many POC (especially WOC) in the communities that I am a part of, but it doesn't change the fact that I am afforded numerous privileges that make it possible for me to get outdoors often. I live in close proximity to many of my favorite trails; I own a reliable car that can get me to the places I want to adventure; I can, for the most part, afford to buy the gear that I need for certain objectives. The list goes on. There are so many barriers in place for many people, especially those coming from underrepresented, marginalized communities.
What have you learned about others? If I'm being totally honest, I've become more distrustful of people in the outdoor community over the past few years (and I'm primarily referring to the whiteness that permeates these various communities), especially in the wake of the current social uprising. Reactions ranging from apathy, to denial, to shallow, performative gestures and tokenization have been rampant. Frankly, I'm tired. I'm tired of being the only brown girl in a majority of my outdoor experiences. I'm tired of tone policing myself around people or refraining from speaking up at all out of fear of losing friends. I'm tired of explaining and defending why, at the bare minimum, representation matters in these spaces. I'm tired of seeing people with so much power and privilege take up so much space (and still expect something in return!) rather than pass the mic and support (and PAY) others who deserve to be heard. My main solace and healing over the past couple of months has been reaching out to and climbing/adventuring with more WOC, women with whom I can talk freely with, who can relate to my lived experiences, and who want to help facilitate change in the outdoor spaces we occupy. This is what I want to see more of.
Are there ways you have changed as a person as a result of trail running/outdoor adventure? I've definitely become a more flexible person because of it all! I've always been someone who stresses out immensely when things don't go according to plan. Being in the mountains in particular means the anticipated outcome isn't always guaranteed. I've gotten more used to adjusting my plans accordingly and having contingency plans in place, thinking more quickly and creatively on my feet, and staying positive, calm, and level-headed if things aren't going well. I can't say that this flexibility always translates into my everyday life, but I think it has helped how I react to stressful situations.
Do you have any big adventure dreams that you hope to achieve in the next couple of years? So many! I think the biggest one on my bucket list is a complete traverse of the Picket range in the North Cascades, climbing as many of the peaks as I can along the way. It requires more technical skills (and overall confidence in myself) than I currently possess, but I'm gradually working towards it.
I am so grateful to Theresa for taking the time to share openly and honestly--another testament to her grit and courage. Her outdoor exploits remind us all what can happen when we set our sights on big goals, and put in the work to make those dreams a reality. Her story and experiences also remind all of us to lift people around us up, and to value the differences in our experiences as much as we value the similarities of our shared experience.