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Long-distance hiker stresses the power of nature to help overcome adversity

Sydney Williams in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Sydney Williams

Sydney Williams is on a mission to share the healing power of the outdoors.

The former chief marketing officer at an early-stage startup and competitive skydiver used two of the Trans Catalina Trail, a nearly 40-mile trail that traverses Santa Catalina Island, off Southern California, to get to the bottom of some serious life trauma.

Over the past several years, Williams has used long-distance hiking to help her deal with (and this is a grossly simplified synopsis) the death of multiple close friends, a former mentor’s rape conviction and a diabetes diagnosis.

“The takeaways from my long and complicated story?” she asked during a phone interview. “Get help if you need it to deal with your personal trauma. … Get out in nature on a regular basis. … Choose love over fear.”

She will share her story in a talk at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at REI, 1550 Mercantile NE. On Nov. 16, she will take #HikingMyFeelings to South Piedra Lisa Trail for a group hike and brunch. Both events are free but require registration.

Williams said her first trek on the Trans-Catalina Trail was all about the physical challenge. “It taught me to love my body and proved to me that I can do hard things.”

It was all about stamping out what she had always been told about what makes a person beautiful and the empowerment that came from being OK with, not loving, the skin she was in.

That was where the hashtag #HikingMyFeelings came from.

Then she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and decided she was going to be “the best damn diabetes patient my doctors had ever seen.”

She did “all the right things,” lost 60 pounds and embarked on her second trip across Santa Catalina Island.

What she didn’t anticipate was the emotional excavation that took place on that portion of her journey. She began to deal with a lifetime of messages about her body that she had internalized.

She likened this process to unloading unnecessary gear from a backpack.

“And deep down at the bottom was a sexual assault I had buried for a long time,” she said.

One day, she said, she kept repeating the things she once thought about herself and finally came to the conclusion that it “just wasn’t true.”

She hiked down to the ocean, took off her clothes and went into the water.

“It was reclaiming by body,” Williams said, “from people who told me that I needed to fix it.” And from the person who sexually assaulted her.

Now she and her husband, Barry, are traveling the country sharing the story of how those two hikes helped get her on the path to healing. And they’re encouraging others to “deal with their stuff” so they, too, can heal.

Along with the speaking tour, Williams has written a book that not only recounts her story but provides a “workbook” of sorts for dealing with trauma. It is available for pre-order at hikingmyfeelings.com/book

Williams admits that hiking isn’t a cure-all. But she says it can help people see their lives differently.

“It opens that door. … I’s a different view, a different perspective,” she said.

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