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Tear down, build back up, repeat: Bringing diversity to the outdoors with Jose Gonzalez

Posted on June 20 2019

Tear down. Build back up. Repeat.

Some of us like to work out, whether it’s hitting the gym, pursuing a sport with discipline, or some other physical activity for process or outcome, be it indoors or outdoors. This is not dependent on body size even if we may desire a certain fitness level—to look a certain way, feel a certain way, perform a certain way.

For me, I like to run, especially hitting the trail for a trail run. I do it for spiritual, mental and physical health.


One thing about working out is that it is you agreeing to put yourself in a physical state of discomfort. We likely don’t say, “OK, time for me to go put myself in a state of physical discomfort,” and yet that is the reality of what is happening as we put our bodies through the stress of building muscle by breaking it down and then regenerating it to be stronger, faster, nimbler, etc. We place stress and demands on our physiological systems to adapt.

We can go on a trail run, a long hike, climb, or engage in another activity that we may enjoy and have fun doing, while we can still be putting our body in a state of discomfort, especially if we are training.

I see a comparison to work we do on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors and overall in the environmental and conservation field, where discomfort is also part of the process and some of us actively do not engage in the work to avoid that discomfort. We may think first about the discomfort rather than the goal and work that goes in for any desired outcome. We fear the training. We fear the experience.

Furthermore, when working out we do not simply go and lift the heaviest weights in the gym, climb the hardest mountain, run the most technical trail, ski down the steepest slope and so on—especially if we are doing it for the first time.

That is one of many ways we can get hurt.

We need some type of plan, goal, support system and a look at what feeds us, literally and figuratively speaking. Maybe we need a coach. Maybe a way to check progress. Maybe we need a new diet.


We also need to look at self-care and restoration, how and when you rest and take care of yourself in order to keep going and not give up. Checking in with yourself to address harm, to heal and get back on track or reassess your goal.

I share all that because “diversity work” in the outdoors is critical, for a host of reasons that include closing equity gaps, honoring all of our unique and diverse connections to the land and addressing the reality that the communities of today are the audiences and stewards of the outdoors where we play and a public lands system that provides a wealth of benefits.

That is an important reality to acknowledge: the present and future of nation is one of difference, diversity and plurality — and we need to honor, respect and value that for the health of the outdoor industry and our public lands.

Yet many may fear doing this work for the discomfort that is part of the work. We cannot let fear dictate how this work needs to be done.

Supporting diversity in the outdoor space is also not about being trendy or reactive. It is an outcome of intentional work that will include mistakes and hence planning on how to address that. We will trip and fall and skin our knees on the trail. It will hurt. We get back up and run again. But we also do not want to be careless about how we trip or hurt others, hurt ourselves or take others down with us. Hence the importance of situational awareness and support.


We value diversity in our natural landscape. No one really says, “That’s a beautiful monotonous forest,” or “lovely homogenous ecosystem.” Yet we may stumble on recognizing or even verbalizing why that diversity should be seen, heard and valued in communities that recreate in those same landscapes, that work in outdoor industry brands, that design and create in the narrative of the outdoors, that lead companies and organizations.

The simplicity of why diversity is important is because it provides the beauty, complexity, expansion and strength we see in the natural world. That matters in public lands, our outdoor brands, our conferences, our marketing, our production and our leadership in the outdoors. It is the horizontal and vertical spectrum. That means the diversity of lived experiences and diversity of outdoor experiences connecting in the landscape. It is also moving beyond our communities as objects of programming and marketing and being part of the design, co-creation and leadership of the space.

It is needed.

And we need to engage in the workout of what that is. To evaluate what resources and support systems are needed to have it be successful, not merely relying on good intentions and wishful thinking. To experience discomfort while not getting hurt — or at least knowing how to respond with a first aid kid and healing.

I think we can do it, with a proper workout plan.

Diversity is strength, diversity is challenge, diversity is growth, diversity is valued, diversity is needed.

Happy, and safe, trail running.


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