This is a story about motivation and what is and isn’t worth doing and why we should do things at all. And these thoughts, generally speaking, don’t nearly get the air time they deserve, because, for most of us, we think, “I’ll do that because I want to do that.” And that’s it.
But some people have a bigger social microphone than others, and that adds a layer. And some are part of groups fighting second-generation gender biases, and that adds a layer. And some have histories that make what they’re doing inspiring or, even, incredible, and that adds another layer (among many other layers).
And so when someone sets out to do something — especially something public, notable or big — there is a lot to consider. What are the conscious or unconscious motivations driving this human to do that thing? What does this human doing this thing mean both for that human and for the rest of us humans (and also the world at large)?
Those thoughts are big thoughts. And big thoughts are a space where Sunny Stroeer is very comfortable.
Stroeer’s a woman. A first-generation, German American immigrant. A former, self-described “couch potato.” A current, top-tier endurance athlete. A vocal advocate for equality in mountaineering and ultra running and expedition and sport. And someone who likes to be outside and find the yet-to-be-seen capabilities of her body.
We need to stop thinking that women can’t do things.
For her motivation, it begins with the body. Descartes’ mind-body dualism seduces a lot of our collective consciousness, but the dichotomy of mind and body is not by a long shot the only (or right) way to understand our existence. Athletic pursuits often present a form of unifying monism that is compelling, including to Stroeer.
When discussing her athletic pursuits, she describes them as “a physical meditation.” A palpable unifying of mind, body and heart. In the long stretches of physical activity — scaling a mountain, running across the land for multiple days — “mental” and “physical” thoughts and needs unify in a very real way, presenting a truth of our consciousness in a palpable form.
So there’s that. And that overt unifying and conscious monism is memorable. Stroeer recalled that, after her first ultramarathon, “the mental spots it took me to were both powerful and clarifying.”
Body athletic pursuits are also fun — not only to accomplish something new, but to discover something new about oneself. “In order for something to be exciting and big to me,” Stroeer said, “it needs to include an element that pushes my understanding of what I’m capable of.”
This is the unknown — another key element of motivation. “I like to add an element where I can’t predict what will happen,” she said. “It makes the pursuit more interesting. It increases the uncertainty.”
And as Stroeer has gained prominence in mountaineering, climbing and racing — her accomplishments are numerous (and still growing) — her achievements have also taken on more meaning. What she chooses to do, also, therefore, takes on new weight.
One of Stroeer’s current goals, breaking the overall speed record to the South Pole — for both male and female athletes — is a weighty mission. It is a statement for gender equality. It’s a physical act that, as she put it, is “an active beacon of advocacy” — a clear message that we need to stop thinking that women can’t do things. Period. End of sentence.
“Those dreams are yours and your dreams are valid.”
This speaks to a larger, more communal purpose for athletic pursuits. To show the world that there is a need to pursue gender parity in expeditions, mountaineering and, more broadly, all sport, proactively ending the gender bias that’s still active.
And it’s a direct message to women. Stroeer wants women to know that not only is there nothing they cannot do, but their interest and curiosity is something to celebrate. As she put it, “those dreams are yours and your dreams are valid.”
In the months and years to come, Stroeer will continue to attempt and complete incredible feats of human potential. Those accomplishments will be impressive, notable and compelling. And they will happen as one human doing incredibly difficult things.
But until it is no surprise to people that those things are accomplished by a woman, she will also take the public opportunity to educate the rest of the world that this is not only a mountain, a race, a record that she completed to fulfill her own corporal and spiritual happiness, but it is a beacon, a statement, and a challenge to the deep social, structural discrepancies that may, in whatever way, prevent other women from doing something that she so deeply loves.