Since announcing winners in early 2014, our first 25 KEEN Effect grantees have been busy inspiring responsible outdoor participation in their communities around the world. We had a chance to catch up with Maureen O’Hagan, Associate Director of ETC, to learn about what makes her work so fulfilling.
KEEN: What is your background? How did you start working with ETC?
Maureen: I became involved in outdoor recreation as a volunteer guide with my college outdoor recreation department. I was brand new to the world of kayaking, rafting and climbing, but quickly fell in love with the process of sharing the outdoors with people. I worked my way up the program, and was asked to stay on and help run it upon graduation. Since those early days I have worked at two university outdoor recreation departments, spent 10 years as a commercial raft guide, 2 winters on the slopes and 7 years as a public high school teacher. This is my fourth year at ETC and it is by far the most rewarding job I have had yet.
KEEN: What was it that made you want to get involved with ETC?
Maureen: I had known about ETC and their river program on the South Fork American for many years, but it was not until I volunteered for a day that I really got it. There is some magic that happens when you get to share a river with someone for his or her first time. That magic is compounded when the person uses a wheelchair and the idea of running rapids was never an option for them before. Watching the joy of adventure on that persons face is the greatest experience ever.
KEEN: What’s one of the best memories you have while working with ETC?
Maureen: One of the best parts of working at an organization that makes a difference in people’s lives is the countless moments you share of individual and group triumphs. I have been fortunate to share the joy that is experienced by so many others through my work here at ETC. Going down the river with visually impaired participants has always been special to me. The amount of trust and confidence that is built by whitewater rafting with folks of mixed abilities always inspires me. We ask our sighted participants to try and close their eyes through a rapid to share that experience and it always leaves an impact that they share with us in the closing circle at the end of the trip. Just hearing how everyone is able to challenge themselves and grow through the experiences ETC provides always impacts me on a deeply personal level.
KEEN: How has working with ETC changed your perspective on life?
Maureen: People are far braver and more courageous than we ever give them credit. I think back to all the able bodied people that are too nervous or scared to try rafting. Then I look at all of ETC’s participants: most do not know how to swim, some are blind, some do not have use of their legs, some have never been out of their neighborhood. And here they are, pushing their comfort zones getting to experience the joy and challenge of the outdoors. I am filled with inspiration and a zest for life every time I am on an ETC trip, watching our participants truly LIVE their lives. If our participants can go for it, then there should be nothing holding the rest of us back!
KEEN: What do you like to do for fun in the outdoors?
Maureen: I love to hike, SUP, raft, and frolic in the outdoors.
KEEN: What is your favorite place to adventure?
Maureen: Why limit myself to just one place? Life is too short – we should be adventuring everywhere we go! If you are going to make me pick, I will always choose the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From rafting in the foothills to hiking the peaks, nothing beats the range of light for some great adventures!