As a graduate student at UCLA, Samantha reflects, “My perspective on STEP is a little different, because I went through the program so many years ago. When I was younger and just entering college, I probably would have focused on the leadership skills I gained and how the expedition was a journey of self-acceptance.” But the lessons Samantha learned with STEP have extended far beyond college.
“Out in the wilderness, there are so many variables. So much is out of your control! You can plan the perfect day based on what you expect will happen, but the reality can be so different. STEP’s Alaska expedition taught me how to adapt when things don’t go as planned.”
This ability to deal with sudden challenges has become crucial in her experience as a student, daughter, and athlete. “I’m a planner… I have my schedule set for the next three years,” Samantha laughs, “I plan on getting my PhD and winning an Ironman triathlon by then.” But things don’t always go according to plan. “Earlier this year my mom was re-diagnosed with breast cancer, and it looked pretty bleak. The first doctor basically gave us a death warrant. But my mom is a fighter and found another doctor who put her on an extreme chemotherapy. It was heartbreaking for me to be away from home at grad school, and watch my mom lose her hair and a lot of her morale over Skype. I thought about taking a leave of absence from my program. But in the end, I decided it wasn’t the right choice. I needed to finish what I started and make my mom proud.”
Now, Samantha is about to earn her Master’s and go on to write her dissertation. She’s also going back home to Arizona to race in her first full Ironman Triathlon and make a bid for the World Championships.