When we think of outdoor sports, we think of muscled men climbing a hill. Enter 2020, there are enough women who are changing this picture. Ishani Sawant is one of them.
An Outdoor Educator by profession, Ishani isn’t from an adventurous background. Her father manages a book cafe in Pune and her mother is with an urban developer. Ishani was on her way to join the police services after completing a degree in law. But life had other plans for her.
“Adventure is an unheard career in India, so it never crossed my mind to enter it professionally,” she says. Adventure usually denotes mountains, rafting, trekking, safaris. Though clearly it’s more than that.
Ishani was one of the first Indian women in many certificate courses she went on to apply for. Especially due to the biases the country holds against women indulging in high-risk activities, this only makes sense.
But the profession Ishani chose for herself was not usual. “I love to teach and I am super passionate about mountains, ocean and wilderness. They hold immense power and spending just one day amidst nature teaches you a lot. About yourself and about everything around you,” she says.
Currently, Ishani teaches adventure-based learning programmes where she takes participants on 8-12 day expeditions in backpacking, sea kayaking or a day on high ropes course.
She says, “Through these activities, we facilitate character curriculum like developing leadership, communication, decision making , risk management, ownership, accountability. It is different than recreational adventure as the insights and learnings acquired makes a participant self-aware and the values get transferred to their personal and work life.”
However to reach this level of specialty required all the necessary certifications. Taking groups for adventure programmes is not all fun and games. There’s life risk at hand. Therefore, Ishani needed to get herself qualified before she could be responsible for other people’s lives.
She worked in different countries to get experience and certification, but this came with it’s own set of challenges. “Money was the greatest hurdle, I come from a middle class background and working in this field, we need a lot of certifications. So it did take a lot of time, effort and resources to get here. I have been in this field for over 8 years. When I was in college, I used to work on the weekends. Now I am out of home for more than 300 days each year,” says Ishani.
Work challenges, on the other hand, were more about handling unknown circumstances. “Most challenging part was going to Red rocks near Las Vegas. I was alone in my tent. Everyday for a week I was climbing with random climbers from any part of the world, who were also looking for a good trad climber. We used to climb over 12 pitches of traditional routes. Trusting people I don’t know, being self sufficient and dealing with uncertainty is what this experience taught me,” she says.
Ishani draws inspiration from Dawa Yangzum Sherpa. According to her, Dawa has also pushed all gender stereotypes and gotten to the top. In addition Dawa is a constant support for Ishani.
Another idol Ishani gets motivation from is Quinn Brett. She says, “Quinn is a super cool climber and in spite of being paralysed, she is still into adventure activities and making the most of what she has.”
A usual day at work begins amidst beautiful landscapes for Ishani. She teaches fellow adventurers to make different kinds of breads or cakes on small stoves for breakfast, winding up tent and campsite. This is then followed by a hike or kayaking for 6-9 hours. Or teaching outdoor skills classes on trail or in the sea or at the beach. The day ends with camp setup at different locations in the evening. “I love this rich quality of life and healthy active lifestyle,” she says.
Every day training includes yoga, meditation, trail running or when Ishani is in the city, she likes going to rock climbing gyms.
Her favourite treks are the Kumaon Himalayas, Red Rock Canyons and Yosemite. She says these are her also some of the best places for rock climbing, hiking and you get to meet other experts in the field.
A life full of adventure is everyone’s dream. To motivate fellow women who wish to be adventure sports, she says, “You have to set goals and pursue no matter what. There are obstacles at every step, and many times you will feel that the decisions you made could’ve been better. But you need to try and give your 200 percent. Having a good support system helps too. My mom was always there when I needed to talk or when I was quitting she encouraged me.”
Clearly, when there’s a will, there’s a way.
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