No mountain high enough // Sammie Bennett
Personal growth, serving others, adventure and leading an active lifestyle have always excited Sammie. She stumbled upon a leadership program called Mountains and Marathons that took her on a six-month journey of physical, mental, and personal development. The program concluded recently this year (2020) with an epic climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania, East Africa).
Upon reaching the summit Sammie knew then what she had embarked on was just the beginning of more passion, opportunity, adventure, and career exploration. Since then she has created a platform to inspire others to live their most authentic life.
Photo by Oussama Yousfi
Where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
I grew up in Port Huron, MI and currently live in Grand Rapids, MI (since 2008). I moved to the Westside to attend Grand Valley State University and after graduating recognized my dreams and goals at the time could not be found back in my hometown, so I accepted a job and made Grand Rapids my home. It has been a great city to grow with over the last decade.
Tell us about your vision, or mission. What’s ahead for you and/or your career?
My personal mission is to serve others in their mental health journeys through adventure, travel, & exercise. I am an athlete and have been for years and never connected my physical abilities with my mental strength and I want to talk about it. By sharing my personal stories of my wins and adversities through all areas of my life I have created space to be a resource for others to relate, share and spark positive change in their major life-areas. In turn, I receive support in the areas I need. I have personally found that finding alignment between my mental and physical health has created an overall happier life for me. I never want to mute my athletic abilities or love for adventure so I will always be seeking out physical and mental challenges. I will never stop finding personal development opportunities because my life is constantly evolving towards the best version of me and I think others should feel empowered to find that version of themselves too!
I am on the path to find a career I am proud of that aligns with my core values and missions to contribute to the world and not take from it. I am practicing patience through the process. Since I am honing in on specific values and non-negotiables with a company this is not going to happen overnight. Although at times it is very tough to do, I remain patient. It is important to me that I do not rush into a career that does not fulfill my passions because I cannot be my authentic self in a role that does not have a mission I stand behind.
As for the next adventure; I have put this on hold for anything in the near future to reflect on the journey to the top of Kilimanjaro. It was much more than a 7-day climb for me, so I am allowing myself to embrace the feeling and work that went into it over the last 6 months. As for a later this year; I have a dream to run the New York City Marathon, so I am slowly working on making that dream a reality! The lottery ends on February 13th, so I am anxiously awaiting. I am also seeking out other opportunities for travel and adventure for later this year, but I can't share exactly what or where yet because my career is the first priority. I will know soon, and it involves more climbing!
At fueled by choice. we are fans of those who break the boundaries and relentlessly push toward their goals. You literally just climbed a mountain! What drives you to make a decision like that? Was there an event, or personal moment that triggered it all?
My life was and is great, but I was leading it without any direction towards my true happiness. I was checking the boxes of things I thought I had to do to be successful and ignored what truly drives me; serving others, speaking about mental health, adventuring, travel and training my body for a purpose.
I was working for an organization with zero integrity that did not support my role for growth or future success. I was unhappy with my life and felt so isolated and lost. I often lived these peaks and valleys of pure happiness and then very low lows. I have always dealt with anxiety and depression and often blamed that for the peaks and valleys until one day I had enough of blaming others and playing the victim. I took control of my life (which was no easy or fast process) and realized there was nothing to blame except for my lack of action to make the changes I needed to live authentically.
I am and have always been driven by using exercise as a means for managing my mental health journey through anxiety and depression, but the drive somehow became something I felt I had to do day after day to stay fit or healthy instead of for myself. I often sought out local races to run to make myself feel like I was training for a purpose, but something was off. My love for adventure and exercise was so hidden beneath my mental illness and I used money as a blocker to not take it to the next level. I was sick of saying “one day I’ll do this or go there.” So many things were of alignment and I was determined to figure it out. That is when I came across Mountains and Marathons (6-month leadership program that ended with climbing Kili) My blog shares the story more in-depth of how it came about and it changed my life - blog here
Mountains and Marathons truly taught me the tools I needed to navigate a the most important relationship that begins with me. I am a changed human on so many levels and although I will always pro-actively personally develop my lens, I am human. I will still experience peaks and valleys, but that doesn’t scare me anymore. Somehow life seems more exciting and dreams become much more obtainable when you accept the things that come at you and are empowered to choose how to view and handle them.
We can only imagine the training regimen for such a feat. Were you faced with some tough moments, both emotionally and physically? Did anyone tell you it was a crazy idea? How did you feel? How did you overcome it?
There were many tough moments. After quitting my job and taking a part-time job at Apple working retail hours, I had to lean on so many people to accept what was happening and trust it was 100% right for me. I had to get really creative with my training and found mostly really early mornings were the best time. In Michigan, there is no real elevation so my training hikes were steep stairs downtown Grand Rapids which I would climb over and over for about 2-3 hrs. before work on Sundays. I would put on my favorite podcast and in moments of “WTF” (which happened a lot in 3 hrs. on stairs) I would remind myself what it was all for.
Also, all of the money I had and was earning went towards the trip, so my social life essentially was non-existent. I had minimal funds to go out with friends or do much. I could not sacrifice sleep knowing the energy I needed for training and to make it through a retail shift on my feet for several hours. My priorities changed quickly, and it felt lonely at times, many times. It is really important when navigating transitions and major changes that you open up your communication to the loved ones that know you best. They will show up. I vocalized my anxieties and fears of missing out, lack of finances to pay my bills and worries for my future to my people. Although I had doubts, they would be able to help me since I chose this path on my own, they showed up in so many ways with zero questions. I viewed myself as the always prepared and organized Sammie who was now "spiraling" and they chose no such judgment. My loved ones saw the transformation that was taking place and they stood behind me. I became a force. By making this decision, yes, I put some obligations and responsibilities on the back burner, but I was doing it for long term results to be a better person. Those obligations shifted, and I still managed to handle them, just in a different way than I used to. It took me a bit to see it this way though.
My coaches from the program were my saving grace to find the confidence to open the door to ask for help and many more conversations with loved ones. This helped me repair and strengthen so many relationships in my life. What was most important to me was that they taught me to trust myself, love myself and listen to my heart. Somehow things work out when you stop fighting change, questioning the challenge, and accept failure may happen...When we do what we love with integrity even if it isn't clear and we follow our values, things seem to work themselves out beautifully.
If you could offer a piece of wisdom/advice to someone who is ready to break their own boundaries, what would you tell them?
Don't stop yourself from trying something you love because you are afraid to fail or feel you are not capable. Anything in this world is possible, ANYTHING. If what you are ready to do or share is truly your passion, aligns with your values, and is done with integrity then even if you "fail" or it doesn't go as planned, you'll have peace knowing you tried. Failing can lead you down a path you never knew existed. Towards YOUR path. Really it is not a failure at that point it is redirection to your true path.
What mantra do you want the world to remember you by?
“Each experience we have is temporary; success or failure fades into the background as we make room for new moments. It is how you choose to navigate those present moments, good and bad, where you grow the most.”
This is something I wrote to remind myself that staying in the present moment is the key to staying grounded. Present thinking is a sign of trust, patience, and respect for yourself and others. It is human nature to plan and defend ourselves from harm and change, but try letting go of that type of control. Control what you can, dream big, but be ok with that path changing. My dream of running the NYC marathon will happen…one day. I say this year, but things happen and if it doesn’t, I will trust there is a reason and move on to the next adventure.
Try practicing these three key things: Trust, patience, & respect. You’ll be amazed.
What does it mean to you to be fueled by choice?
You are empowered and confident to choose to take control of your life and do what you love every day. You decide to succeed every day by surrounding yourself with your desires and passions. Success is defined by you living your version of your best life, not by what others tell you or say.
My fuel is serving humanity, adventure, and exercise, but yours could look like the complete opposite. That doesn't make yours any less important than mine. As long as you are living your passions that you've decided, you are fueled by choice. That is powerful.
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