Women Who Crush It: Nichole Danis

Nichole Danis is crushing motherhood, the weekday grind, and every moment in between. The 41-year-old grew up in Plainfield, Conn., and now calls Canterbury home with her husband, two beautiful daughters (who will also be crushing it, sooner than later), two dogs, chickens, and a bunny to boot! Nichole and her family absolutely love the outdoors, staying active and getting the most out of every day.

WWCI Nichole Danis
All photos credit: Jennifer Langille

goEast: Who gave you the “bug” for being active outside?

Nichole: Would have to say that my love of the outdoors comes from my dad. As a child, my father was always involved in outdoor activities. I enjoyed seeing him excel in the sports he played, but I think the camaraderie with his friends was what I remember most. Besides playing softball, he also was an avid golfer, hunter, [and] fisherman and enjoys hiking. Today, he is in his 60s and still lives an active lifestyle.

WWCI Nichole Danis

20170116_Danis_Family_087

goEast: You don’t have the average job. Your daughters are equally passionate about living an active life, and your husband is just as driven. Can you tell us a little bit about finding time between work, family, and personal fitness goals?

Nichole: Well, I just celebrated my 15-year anniversary at Pfizer Pharmaceutical, where I’m a working supervisor in a high-output histology laboratory. It’s true: I have two very active daughters. Leah is 10 years old and participates in karate. Avery is 8 years old and plays soccer. They each participate typically twice a week. On top of their sports, they are also both involved in a local theater club.

My husband Matt and I have been happily married for 15 years. He is an avid cyclist. If he’s not on his bike in his spare time, then he is tinkering with them! If I am not at work or running my children to their activities, then you can usually find me tying up my laces for a run, jumping on my fat bike, or in the pool for a swim.

“Free time” is not a word we use a lot around our house! We are always in motion. I find it very important to make time for the things that make you feel good. I’m up at 4 a.m. each morning, put in an eight-hour day at work, and then squeeze in whatever exercise I can for myself.

Getting regular exercise is really important for me, so each year, I like to set a goal for myself. The goals over the past few years have been quite challenging, but [I am] extremely grateful to have a family who recognize just how important it is to me. They are my biggest cheerleaders!

Recent events I’ve completed include the Olympic Distance Triathlon, Half Ironman Triathlon, [and] Vermont 50 trail run, and last year, I biked up Mount Washington in the Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb. There are days when it is really challenging to train, or simply doesn’t fit in, but setting goals makes me get out. It becomes something that I almost have to do, and I secretly like having that pressure to get it done!

WWCI Nichole Danis

WWCI Nichole Danis

 

goEast: While you’re crushing it across all points of interest here, can we also add you’re crushing the textbooks?

Nichole: Ha ha, yes, I’m pursuing a master’s degree in public health with a focus in nutrition. Thankfully, I can do this online! Might be a good time to talk about nutrition, which truly is a passion of mine! In the past, I would beat myself up a bit: “I’m not fast enough, strong enough, or have the energy I used to have; if I were only five pounds thinner,” etc. These are the things that would actually cross my mind! I have decided to let all of that go. Today, I focus on being healthy, happy, and want to be a positive role model for my girls. So, my kids make fun of me for drinking protein shakes and eating salads, but that’s okay.

Nutrition plays a huge role in how you feel and perform. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way! These days, I tend to eat a mainly plant-based diet; however, I incorporate lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, and beans. When I’m on the run, I’ll quickly throw together a shake. My favorite is chocolate protein powder, coconut water, [and] a tablespoon of peanut butter with a frozen banana. Yum! When out for a long ride or run, I choose Shot Bloks. They tend to be quick and easy to grab from a jersey pocket.

WWCI Nichole Danis

goEast: We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but one cannot “go east” without touching on the gear you cannot live without! Can you share, say, your three must-haves?

Nichole: Three items I just can’t live without…When I think about this question, the first thing that comes to mind is my winter wear! It doesn’t matter how cold it is, as long as you have the right gear. I have a heavy pair of tights that I wear for both running and riding. Another important item would be a reflective vest or coat (safety first!), and lastly, I need ear coverage. I’ve had the same two EMS headbands for close to 10 years!

WWCI Nichole Danis

goEast: OK, Nichole, it feels like a fairy tale, from supportive family to an incredible career and even grad school. We know this is just a snapshot, and it’s not always easy. What inspires you to get out of bed at 4 a.m.?

Nichole: What inspires me to get out of bed? Honestly, as much as I love being active, I also love the friendships I have through being active. For instance, I have regular running dates with my friend, Nicole. Not only will we get out for eight miles, [but] we will also catch up on all the craziness our lives have brought us that week. Most of my friends whom I exercise with are in the same boat. We are all trying to be good moms, and exercise helps us do just that.

Sounds funny, right? I have a feeling that many of you know what I am talking about. Exercise helps us feel better about ourselves. It releases stress and keeps us healthy. It gives us confidence and helps connect us with others who have the same interests. I just won’t spend an hour talking on the phone with friends but schedule some running or biking time, and we will have plenty of time to chat.

WWCI Nichole Danis

WWCI Nichole Danis

goEast: To wrap up our time together, do you mind sharing advice on how to stay inspired?

Nichole: Do what you love, and love what you do. If you don’t like running, then don’t run. There are so many other options. My knees just can’t handle another full marathon, but that’s okay. I enjoy getting on my bike more and have added more pool time. I guess that would be my advice to other women. Don’t beat yourself up or give up. Do what you like doing and have fun!

WWCI Nichole Danis


Women Who Crush It: Laura Drenen

Meet Western Massachusetts native Laura Drenen who is a true goEast gal at heart. Even after being seduced by the mountains of Colorado, Drenen found her way back East to the Green Mountains of Vermont. Through a balanced life, she manages to crush-it daily while being devoted to her career, husband, pup, and self.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen
All photos credit: Jennifer Langille

goEast: You are one of the busiest gals I know, crushing it from the yoga mat to the mountain, and every little bit in-between. Would you mind sharing with folks a little bit about what you do as a day job, the outdoor activities which inspire you the most to be outside, and your secret to finding the time to work and do what you love?

Laura: I am a Registered Nurse as well as a Nurse Practitioner, and have practiced in various settings including as an NP in orthopedics for almost 6 years. Currently working as a nurse at Copley Hospital in Morrisville, Vermont in the field of Oncology which I feel truly passionate about. I worked in this area previously and felt the desire to come back.

One of the reasons I love living and working in this area, I’m able to do the job I love while finding the balance to enjoy what really matters most to me. Unless I have the flu, you will find me outside playing. A typical day involves commuting to work on my bike, then returning home to fetch my dog Zoey. Depending on the time of year: mountain biking, skinning up any one of our local mountains, cross country skiing, and/or hiking. I practice yoga almost daily and when the weather is nice, I find a place to practice.

As for my “secret” – I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner in my husband, Noah. He supports my goals and visions for fitness. Shares the love of the outdoors. Luckily, we enjoy the same activities too!

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: Vermont was not always your home, in fact you lived out in Colorado for a bit and came back East. What drew you back?

Laura: Yes, I lived in Colorado for a couple of years but eventually made my way back East. Vermont was the natural stopping point because of it’s proximity to family and it being an outdoor enthusiast haven due to it’s natural playground. There are lots of little secret zones I love to bike and back country ski, each very close to my home. Feel like I could live here my entire life and never find all of the amazing places the Green Mountains have in terms of great hiking, biking, swimming, and skiing.

I learned to mountain bike in western Mass where, believe it or not, the biking is super rugged. There are so many exposed rocks and roots, it made me love difficult and challenging terrain with a lot of natural technical features. The White Mountains are an area I would love to explore more of. I drive through those craggy mountains on my way to Highland Mountain Bike Park  and think, “I’d like to do more hiking and camping in that area, so that’s on my list for next summer!” The coast of Maine is also pretty sweet and I’d like to do more weekend surf trips in the future.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: Riding bikes and finding time to be on your bike is clearly important to your active lifestyle—so much so we met up with you at 6 a.m. to catch you on the way out the door to work one snowy morning! How do you stay motivated to hop on your bike and not into the car?

Laura: For me, I try to focus on how I will feel after I do something which initially may be difficult. Getting up to skin when it’s dark feels like, “why am I doing this, I could be sleeping in!?” But of course, the reward of watching the sunrise over the mountains and having early, fresh turns is always worth it. Biking to work is the same way (although with maybe a little bit less adrenaline). I often have a sense of gratitude that I am able to commute to work via bicycle, for my health, ability to afford a bike, and to live within proximity to work where bike commuting is even an option.

 

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: To make your commute more comfortable on a cold – snow – wintery morning, what are your must have pieces of gear?

Laura: Well, in short, bike commuting in the winter requires—at the very least—studded tires (or a fat bike which I do not have), and neoprene booties to keep your feet dry and warm. Fenders are also a must-have because they prevent the water from spraying you the entire way. Before I got the fenders, I would be soaking wet when I arrived to work! They aren’t cheap but these few things make a huge difference. Warm gloves and keeping all skin covered on super cold days is also necessary. I like to wear sunglasses to keep the wind from making my eyes water. I also suffer from a condition called Raynauds which is where there is very poor circulation to the extremities. This makes outdoor activities difficult in all of Vermont’s seasons, but most especially in the winter months. I am very prone to frostbite and painful fingers and toes. This requires a lot of planning: I sometimes take a hot shower before my activity, pack extra dry layers, hand warmers, etc.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: We caught you mixing up something of a potion, collecting eggs from your chickens, as we trekked through your now snow-covered veggie garden—all clues your nutrition is equally as important to you. As a nurse, a pretty reliable source for information on the topic, could you share more?

Laura: Nutrition is a huge part of an overall healthy lifestyle for me. I try to start my day with either a super food smoothie or a bowl of warm cereal like quinoa or oatmeal to heat me up in the winter. I think the best snacks are the homemade ones but I have to admit I don’t do that as often as I should! In general, I’ve been trying to incorporate some principles of Ayurveda into my diet and have found it’s had a dramatic influence on my health. This includes something as simple as starting the day with a warm glass of water with lemon which I have really found to be helpful with digestion.

My husband is a lifelong vegetarian and we eat a vegetarian diet. I am super lucky that he loves to cook, and is really great at it! We both value healthy living and enjoy growing our own food when possible. We’ve also really love caring for chickens who give us delicious eggs. We are extremely fortunate to eat so well.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: A part of your story which really blows me away, aside from gearing up and riding your bike to work in all sorts of conditions, is learning that you use to be an avid snowboarding until an accident on your bike. Though your passion to be on the mountain inspired you to take up alpine skiing/touring. Could you share a little bit about your experience of letting go of something you loved, and what it took for your to take up a new sport later in life?

Laura: Getting hit by a car has affected my life more than I guess I really admit to. Most notably, I did stop snowboarding because it bothered my back. But I don’t focus on giving something up, but rather how happy I am to have discovered skiing. Unlike most people in a ski town, I did not grow up skiing. In fact, when I moved to Colorado I had hoped to chase the good weather and try to mountain bike and race year round.  But I made friends and people convinced me to stick around and experience the Rockies in the winter. I had never liked winter before then. I was 29 and learned to snowboard- it was my first ever experience on a ski slope. Instantly fell in love.

Since I love mountain culture, learning to ski at 35 was just another challenge; one I readily accepted! It’s never easy being new at something, and it certainly affects the ego, especially since I feel that everyone around me has been on skis since before they could walk! I feel grateful that I found all of these sports and hope to continue to enjoying them into old age. And I hope to continue to learn new skills on my bike, skis and yoga. Yoga is great at teaching us to take things slow, realizing growth comes in time and cannot be rushed. My practice has taught me to be easier on myself, and enjoy the present moment.

Laura Drennen

Laura Drennen

goEast: You must tell us more about your adorable pup and the role she plays in your active lifestyle. From what I see she and your husband are your greatest cheerleaders in your crushing-it lifestyle!

Laura: Zoey is my constant companion on all adventures (except riding to work and the lifts at the mountain of course). We adopted her from an amazing no-kill animal shelter here in Morrisville and instantly fell in love with her. She loves bike rides and hiking, but skiing is her favorite—a true snow dog! Think she would’ve made an amazing sled dog, actually! I make it a priority to get out with her pretty much every day. A tired dog is a happy dog, which leads to a happy dog parent! I use to compete in down hill mountain biking, however gave it up because I didn’t want to leave her every weekend. It didn’t feel fair to her, but in the long run ended up finding more balance in my own life. That’s what it’s all about: doing what you love within reason.  I would never entirely stop something because of a dog, but in ending the weekly travel, I was able to enjoy my life here and find time for everything that I love!

Laura Drennen

 


Women Who Crush It: Jennie Porter

Meet Jennie Porter, a humble-hearted gal who is devoted to improving the connection of local food systems to local schools and institutions, all the while chiseling time out of her seven-day work week to play and explore. We recently connected with the New York native to hike Mount Hunger in Waterbury, Vermont, and chat about how she’s crushing it Monday through Monday!

Photography by Jennifer Langille
All photos credit: Jennifer Langille

goEast: OK, Jennie, you were a little nervous to “sit down” for this feature! Why is that? [Editor’s Note: There was no sitting, but instead, we joined Ms. Porter on one of her post-work adventures.]

Jennie: I don’t really consider myself as “crushing it.” I’m not particularly great at any one thing I do, be it climbing, skiing, hiking, etc. There are so many women out there who are truly “crushing” it at those things, and I greatly admire their commitment! As for me, I’ve always been interested in too many things to really become an expert in any of them. What’s important to me is living my life to the fullest, being as active as possible, being outside as much as possible, and doing work that I care about. As it turns out, it takes a lot of work and commitment to do all of that simultaneously!

Photography by Jennifer Langille

Photography by Jennifer Langille

goEast: Since I’ve met you, one thing stands out: Your incredible ability to seemingly do it all, working nearly seven days a week. While most are working for their days off, you equally work hard for the days in the office and time outside…Why?

Jennie: Basically, I work weekends, so that I can afford to do my weekday job and still do the things I love. Working as a Farm to Institution Coordinator at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, I’m committed to making our food system more just and sustainable, and unfortunately, at least for now, I have to work a second job to be able to do that during the week if I want to be able to do all the things I love, as well. So, at times, a second job becomes necessary, especially to afford staying active.

Photography by Jennifer Langille

goEast: I’m already in awe of how your professional line of work inspires you to work even more, but what inspires you to spend as much time outside as you seem to manage, day in and day out?

Jennie: OK, I may not answer this directly, but stay with me. I would say that rather than my day-to-day adventures being inspired by something, it’s my day-to-day adventures that inspire me. What I mean is, the reason for my adventures is inspiration for the rest of my life. When I’m standing on top of a mountain, gliding through powder, hanging off a rock face, or swimming in rivers, lakes, or oceans, that’s when I find inspiration. When I find myself in awe of nature, that’s when I experience pure bliss. Those moments are gold. They recharge me to go out and try to make the world a better place. They restore my faith in the world. They put my worries at ease. So, that feeling that I get from being outside and recharging my batteries—that’s my inspiration!

Photography by Jennifer Langille 

goEast: Now, Jennie, you are crushing it, whether you realize it or not! Something tells me it’s not as easy as it may seem. How do you stay motivated?

Jennie: I could never do what I do (i.e. working so much) without balancing it with outdoor adventures or exploration. I would go crazy! On days when I’m feeling less motivated, I try to remember how lucky I am to be able to do all of these things in my “backyard.” No matter how unmotivated I may be when I set out, I always feel better after. Oh, and I have such an amazing community of people here in Vermont, who inspire me on a daily basis! I am much less inspired by pros than I am by people in my own community who are crushing it as part of their regular life—people who prioritize being outside and make sacrifices to do the things they love. I have one adventure buddy in particular who tends to either go along with my crazy ideas, no questions asked, or puts forth her own absurd plans. She is someone who doesn’t blink an eye at the thought of hiking up Mansfield in the middle of the night to be as close as possible to the biggest supermoon in 70 years. That’s what you want in an adventure buddy!

Photography by Jennifer Langille

Photography by Jennifer Langille

goEast: You mentioned your “backyard” here in Vermont. What are some of your go-to places for a quick dose of being outside?

Jennie: Stowe Pinnacle is great to squeeze in before or after work and still pays off with a great view. On days when I’m in Burlington, I love roaming around the woods out at Rock Point. When I’m working in Montpelier, I sometimes run up Hubbard Park right behind the State House. It’s just a little hill, but it has lovely trails and a great view of our capital from the top! I’m so lucky to be able to get out into the “woods,” even if only for a short time, on my lunch break. It definitely helps break up the office work!

Photography by Jennifer Langille

goEast: Food plays an important role in your professional life. When you’re off and playing, what’s your go-to snack or meal?

Jennie: Nuts, seeds, dried fruit. City Market sells these amazing chia seed goji berry energy bites that I usually keep stashed in my pockets. And, I always always have spare O.W.L. Bars or Garuka Bars kicking around in my packs.

Photography by Jennifer Langille

Photography by Jennifer Langille

goEast: There also has to be at least one piece of gear you cannot live without. Care to share?

Jennie: A water vessel! Usually my CamelBak. I bring it everywhere—climbing, skiing, hiking, biking. I even wear it to festivals. I take hydration very seriously, as we all should, especially after being hospitalized in India for dehydration. Oops. My biggest packing regret on my trip to Asia this past year was not bringing my CamelBak. Now I know better! That thing never gets left at home. I keep it in my car, so I’ll always be ready. But, seriously, how can you keep adventuring and exploring if you’re dehydrated? I literally could not live without a water vessel.

Photography by Jennifer Langille

goEast: I know you don’t pay much attention to “professional” adrenaline junkies, but are there any adventure idols who kind of help light that fire and keep your imagination inspired on what’s possible?

Jennie: I’m mildly obsessed with Chris Burkard! Not only are his photographs absolutely stunning, but he goes to such incredible lengths to get them. If he can surf in the Arctic Circle, surely I can get out of bed and on a mountain when it’s only negative ten. His Instagram posts are daily reminders that it’s worth it to be a little (or a lot) uncomfortable!

Do you know a woman who crushes it? Get in touch or leave a comment!

Photography by Jennifer Langille


Women Who Crush It: Mountainbiker Clair Sick

We recently sat down with Clair Sick, an empowering young woman who rocks the 9-to-5 Monday through Friday all for the rush of spending her weekends racing bikes down mountains. An up-and-comer on the Women’s Pro VITTORIA Eastern States Cup Enduro Series, Clair was born and raised in Rochester, New York, but now calls Vermont home.

Credit: Jenn Langille
All photos credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: So, lady, tell me: What led you to riding a bike in the first place?

Clair: I wish it was a deep, passionate story about my turn to biking, but in reality, it was a blown ACL and torn meniscus. Snowboarding caused the injury, but biking was the rehab. Then, the rest is history. The obsession of bigger and faster continued and still does every day I get on my bike. Each ride is an opportunity to progress.

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: With every sport, there comes the gear and kit that keep you going. What keeps you crushing it?

Clair: Do my friends count? Biking would be incomplete without the community of folks I live to shred with! Though, for real, [it’s] my sports bra! It’s near impossible to send it and feel comfortable without this piece of gear. Okay, for real real: While that is the truth, my bike is my pride and joy – an extension of my body. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to ride a Liv Intrigue SX this season, and it has progressed my riding to new levels. Typically, I am a strong believer that it’s the wizard, not the wand. But, my wand is pretty badass this season!

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: You mentioned friends and community. If you could name three women who’ve inspired you, who are they and why?

Clair: Clarissa Finks convinced me to do my first enduro race, and I’ve been chasing her ever since. In work and in play, she crushes it. Casey Brown is incredibly talented and has a killer style. [She] makes me want to get out there and push the limits of my own biking. My mom inspires me to give back to others and genuinely love those around. In addition, she taught me that hugs and saying “I love you” can never be done too much.

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: You have college degrees, a full-time job at Burton Snowboards, live out of your Jeep, and compete every chance you get. What drives you, Clair?

Clair: Life is short, and you only get one shot. There were a few factors that I knew would get in the way of my racing. Finances were one of them. Bikes, parts, entry fees, [and] travel costs are just the beginning of the list. I looked at my budget and something had to give. I had spent time living the simple life out of a vehicle in the past, when I was a whitewater raft guide, so I knew it was possible. To most, it might seem crazy to give up the comfort of home for a sport, although the experience has been freeing in so many ways. It is all worth it when I’m out on the trail.

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: About those trails: When you escape the desk, where do you play?

Clair: I can’t give up my secrets that easily! Between the lift-access downhill and VMBA’s great trail networks, you can find a variety of amazing single-track just around the corner in the Northeast. Perry Hill in Waterbury is where I ride most often. The uphill climb to get to the trails will be a butt-kicker, but the descents are well worth it! High-five to WATA for doing an amazing job with trail maintenance!

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

goEast: OK, Clair. This is the point where I ask you the proverbial question we have to ask incredible people like you: What’s the best advice for inspiring others to get out there and crush it?

Clair: You’re the only one that is going to make it happen!

Credit: Jenn Langille

Credit: Jenn Langille

Do you know a woman who crushes it? Get in touch!