Everyone, meet 5th term Wild Keeper and Wild Keeper Leader, Mal! Mal has been a Wild Keeper for a full year now and is based in Arvada, Colorado.
"Since I was a child, my family took me camping," Mal shared. "We grew up learning about building fires, safely extinguishing, outdoor survival tips, and more. I never really dove into the outdoors until moving to Colorado 4 years ago. It's something I've always been missing - packing up the car with the tent, finding a place in the middle of the mountains and just enjoying the space without technology or an agenda. I love being in a place where my problems feel so small. The outdoors reset and ground my mind in so many ways."
She also shared that her preferred way to get outdoors is by going camping - "throw the tent in the truck with my husband and dogs and I am the happiest. Add in some great company with drinks and games around the fire and I could not be happier." Mal also graciously shared what it is like to live with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) since she was 15 years old.
"This diagnosis has come with so much pain and resentment. It has limited me in so many ways. I have had two total hip replacements. I've also broken my collarbone, tore my ACL and tore my meniscus. I can't keep up with friends hiking. I can't climb the mountains I want to climb. I need to take more breaks. I never have energy. It's a killer when your body literally attacks itself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," she expressed. "Being in the outdoors, whether it's picking up trash in a local park, or climbing a mountain that I've been wanting to summit, I can pick up trash and just exist. I can forget about my illness, for even just a moment. I no longer surround myself with individuals whose intensity is too high, and those who do not take the time to understand my boundaries."
Mal also has taken on leading local cleanups within her community with Keep Nature Wild. We asked her what it has been like to become a leader and she reflected that she "wanted to be a bigger part of this already awesome community. I have been saying for months I wanted something else in my life to motivate me to give back to the planet and leave it better than I found it." She then recounted, "I find myself doing that every hike and camping weekend I go on already, why not spread that awareness to the community in my own backyard? I am a full-time speech language pathologist working with patients of all ages, ranging from children with disabilities and delays, to adults with brain injuries and post COVID-19. I love what I do. I feel good about what I do each day. I wanted to carry that love of what I do into my free time by giving back and doing more good."
She also gushes that since starting to lead community cleanups she "has gotten just that: community. I have gotten to know so many amazing, like-minded folks that I, likely, would not otherwise meet as the odds of our paths crossing are small. It’s a gift to meet these other individuals after the same mission, and connecting on personal levels along the way. I’ve also learned so much - I’ve learned things impacting our Earth and waterways. I’ve learned about proper ways to collect and dispose various pieces of trash. I’ve learned about eco-friendly and sustainable household changes to further improve the environment. The list goes on, and I’m just happy to be here."
Learn more about Mal and her Wild Keeping below!
Keep Nature Wild: Between mountains, desert or forest, which would you choose?
KNW: What is your favorite adventure snack?
M: Charcuterie board to go, please and thank you ;)
KNW: What is an experience that has shaped your relationship with nature/ the outdoors?
M: My first 14er summit. I climbed it with my best friend. We woke up before sunrise to catch the summit as the sun tipped over the peaks. It was so hard. I didn't think I was going to make it, but I set a goal for myself to summit one 14er. My best friend was the perfect support to do it with. She supported me every step of the way. We summited at 6am, had a beer, and went back down together. It was a huge moment for me after living more than half of my life being angry with my body and my disease. I will never forget it (though I don't need to do another!).
KNW: What is one thing you'd love to bring more awareness to in the outdoor space?
M: People with disabilities can get out there and DO THE THINGS (climbing, camping, hiking, picking up trash, enjoying nature). I wish the more intense personalities could take a step back to appreciate how much effort it takes someone with disabilities or less experience to get out there. We all have to start somewhere. Imagine a life where you could not walk, or when every step you took was painful? I wish we all were a little more understanding of each other's pasts.
KNW: What is your favorite thing about being a Wild Keeper?
M: Hosting cleanups and building community!
KNW: What has picking up trash outdoors done for you?
M: Opened my eyes to how much GARBAGE fills up this beautiful place we call home.
KNW: Roughly how many pounds do you think you've picked up since you became a Wild Keeper?
M: I think I'm over 500 pounds now? But I log group cleanups!
KNW: What goals do you have for this year? (or beyond?)
M: I'm not really sure what's next for me. I want to be a bigger part of the KNW team. I reached my goal of becoming a mentor, so my next step would be to recruit 3 more WildKeepers, and get at least one group cleanup hosted a month.