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Shelby Stanger: Finding love is a bit of an adventure, especially finding radical love of yourself. Today's guest has an incredibly unique story of finding all sorts of love through the outdoors and by pushing herself out of her comfort zone.
Shelby Stanger: Sarah Herron is a creative, a filmmaker, a nonprofit founder, and an entrepreneur. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, a place known for its access to lots of outdoor activities, Sarah didn't love spending time outside as a kid. She was born without the bottom half of her left arm. It's a condition known as a congenital limb difference, and it affects about 2,000 babies born in the US every year. Because of this physical difference, Sarah often felt timid and embarrassed. She didn't love how her arm looked in a ski jacket or having to ski with one pole. She just wasn't as confident as she is today. In her 20s, things started to change, and when she decided to say yes to being on a national TV show, things changed even more.
Shelby Stanger: I'm Shelby Stanger, and this is Wild Ideas Worth Living.
Shelby Stanger: As a kid, Sarah didn't love doing sports. She didn't want teammates looking at her or treating her differently because of her limb difference. In her 20s though, she was living in L.A., and she was working at a place called 72andSunny, which is a top marketing firm. While there, a friend nominated her to tryout for the reality show, The Bachelor. But before we get into if she got the final rose or not, I wanted to ask Sarah a little bit more about her childhood and her relationship to the outdoors.
Shelby Stanger: Thought we'd just start with your background. I thought it was really interesting: you're such an outdoors-woman now, but you said you grew up hating sports. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about just your background and why you really didn't like sports.
Sarah Herron: Oh my gosh. Okay. That's a good question because I do feel like it gets glossed over a lot. But when I was a kid, I hated doing anything that required physical effort. I think a lot of that came from feeling awkward in my body, and only having one arm, just feeling a little bit insecure about my ability and capability, and not wanting to draw attention to myself in an arena where I already felt like I was looked at for being different. And so as a kid, I didn't gravitate towards the sports or the teams that most of my peers were doing because I just wanted to stay inside, or play with dolls, and be creative, and use my imagination, which is also really cool and awesome. But I just didn't really want to be looked at, so I really didn't take to sports or anything that challenged my physical ability.
Shelby Stanger: I mean, being a kid is awkward enough growing up. So I can understand that. But then as an adult, you moved to L.A., which is such an interesting choice of places to move. I mean, I love that you're an artist. You get this job. Tell me a little bit about this job you get. You got a job at literally the top, I think, one of the top advertising agencies in the country, 72andSunny.
Sarah Herron: Well, I actually moved out for school because, like I said, I was super creative and always gravitated towards arts and graphic design. I moved out for design school. I landed this internship at 72andSunny, which was a startup ad agency that had about 50 employees at the time. They were doing mostly just digital work for brands like Carl's Jr. and Call of Duty. So I took the opportunity, and it turned out to be the greatest stepping stone of my career because 72 turned out to grow into this major powerhouse.
Shelby Stanger: So The Bachelor is a pretty big TV show. Take us to that moment, where you were in L.A., you were single, and you didn't really love dating, but somehow, you decided to do The Bachelor. How does that happen?
Sarah Herron: Okay. Well, the thing is, I actually loved boys, but I didn't like dating. I wanted to. I was just really struggling to put myself out there. So let's see, I was about 24 years old, and at this point, probably five or six years into that job at 72andSunny. And that was my focus. I put everything, all of my energy and all my efforts, into that job, and quite frankly, distracted myself with the job from developing my personal life and developing social skills and dating skills. I was just so insecure as a 23 year old living in L.A., surrounded by beautiful women and beautiful men. It was like every time you'd go to the bar, everyone's just getting phone numbers of hot people and hooking up, and I wasn't.
Sarah Herron: So I was tired of being single, and I had explored doing some of the dating apps. I don't think Tinder or any of that was around back then but Match.com. I just remember being at this particular part of my life where I didn't feel comfortable putting photos of myself on my profile because I was worried that if people saw my photo, that I only had one arm, they would just immediately reject me and that I wouldn't even have a shot. Or two, if I didn't put photos of my arm or a full-body image on my dating profile, that then the guy would show up for the date and feel tricked and then walk out on me. So I just was like, "I don't know how to handle it. I don't know how to put myself out there."
Sarah Herron: I guess the moral of the story is, a friend knew I was obsessed with watching the TV show, The Bachelor. She went in for casting, and she was like, "I have to be honest. I don't think this is really for me. However, I work with this girl who would be an amazing contestant." So she gave them my name. She came back to work, and she was like, "Sarah, I told the casting producers about you. You're going to be getting a call from them." And I was just like, "Oh my God. Are you serious?" It was totally surreal. It was weird because it was like, "This is my dream. I've grown up watching the show. I fantasized about it. This is incredible. But at the same time, oh my God. I can't even put a photo of myself on the internet. How am I going to go on a national TV show?" So that was how it all came about.
Shelby Stanger: That's so interesting. I mean, first of all, you have model-like looks. But L.A. is a really ... I mean, I remember being single. I would say that's one of the hardest towns to be single in.
Sarah Herron: Yeah, it's brutal.
Shelby Stanger: But that's great. So you do The Bachelor, and you're the first contestant they've ever had with a physical difference on the show.
Sarah Herron: Yes.
Shelby Stanger: So first of all, how did you get the courage to just say yes when they said, "Hey, we want you on the show?"
Sarah Herron: Well, I went into casting, and you have to know, I truly did believe in the format of the show because this was before, like I said, Instagram- [crosstalk 00:07:25]
Shelby Stanger: Early days.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. Literally had come out that year. I mean, I had 15 followers on Instagram. So there wasn't this hidden agenda to go on The Bachelor and become an influencer. No one was doing that. It was just you go on the show for the experience and hopefully to meet someone. I am a hopeless romantic, and I did grow up watching the show, so I believed in it. I believed, if I go on the show, I could have my chance at meeting someone, and at the very least, I will have come out of my shell and I will have faced my fears, and then I don't have to hide anymore. I don't have to hide my photos online. I don't have to hide my arm when I go out to the bars because by that point, I will have already been on a national TV show. There's nothing to hide anymore.
Sarah Herron: So that was literally my mindset, was this is either going to work for me by finding my husband on TV, which sounds so crazy now, or it's going to help me just break free from this fear that I've been living in my whole life.
Shelby Stanger: That takes a lot of courage. What was it like? I mean, I understand, because I've watched some clips of you, you had to do some crazy things, beyond wearing a bathing suit on TV, which is nerve-racking for anybody. You had to do things like jump out of giant buildings, do obstacle courses that would require or be a lot easier with two hands than one. It almost felt like ... Well, you can say it. It almost felt like they cast you as the girl with a physical difference and we're going to test her a little differently.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. You're right. So it's funny because going into it, my biggest fear was being in my swimsuit on TV. I never was like, "Oh, they're going to put me in compromising situations with only having one arm." I never anticipated that. I was like, "I don't want to be in my swimsuit on national television," and that was kind of what I fixated on, going into it. But then once I got there, I did quickly discover that they kept putting me on these dates that seemed to challenge my ability. I like to think that because of my experience in production and advertising, they didn't have one over on me. I knew exactly what was going on. This is funny, that I keep getting put on the date where they're asking me to saw logs. Are you kidding? No, I know exactly what they're doing. I leaned into it, but was frustrated about it, obviously, because after a certain point, it just felt like, man, they really just want to see me struggle and they really want to see me crack under these pressures. But I saw it also as an opportunity to show them that I wasn't afraid. For example, my very first date was ... I got the very first date of the season. They took us to this skyscraper, Downtown L.A. My bachelor was Sean. Sorry, I don't know if I mentioned that.
Shelby Stanger: What's Sean's last name?
Sarah Herron: Sean Lowe. So I got the very first date, and they took us to this skyscraper, Downtown L.A. They were like, "Okay, you're going to jump off the top of this skyscraper." I think they were expecting me to be so afraid because that's the tension, right? They want the contestants to be afraid, so that then the bachelor has to console them through the high tension and get them down safely. I was just like, "I'm not afraid. This is awesome." Because I was beginning to like adventure more. We haven't really discussed that yet, but at this point in life, I was coming around to thrill and adventure. So when they put us on the top of the skyscraper, I was like, "This is awesome." I totally didn't need anyone to hold my hand down. But yeah, I was always- [crosstalk 00:11:20]. Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: The most hardcore of adventurers would be terrified jumping off of a ... How many story building was it?
Sarah Herron: It was 300 feet.
Shelby Stanger: Yeah. That's no joke. I mean, that's-
Sarah Herron: No, it wasn't.
Shelby Stanger: That's so scary. So when you do it, you jump, you obviously survived. How did it change you?
Sarah Herron: My thing is, I knew nothing was going to happen. They're not going to let me get injured or die. It's a TV show. I felt very safe. But what was cool is that it allowed this expressive side of me to come out, that was like, "I love adventure, and I love doing these things," or maybe it was that I loved proving to the producers that I wasn't afraid. It's proving to them, "Oh, you think I have one arm and I'm going to be afraid to do this. Well, watch me." I really liked that feeling of just showing people no! You might have this idea or this perception of me, and it's wrong. I actually really like doing things that push me out of my comfort zone. So I think it was cool and it just awoke that challenger force inside of me.
Shelby Stanger: So I'm a little bit of a hopeless romantic too. I feel like if I jumped off a building with a guy that I just met and had some sort of attraction to, I'd fall in love with him after we jumped.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. You do. But I felt like I was still so afraid. I was so afraid to just be myself still, under those circumstances, because everything is so heightened. Right? Now, it's been your first date, and now, you've jumped off a building, and you're laying on this amazing chaise lounge, and you're supposed to kiss, and you're supposed to share your deepest, darkest fears, and within 24 hours, you're supposed to be falling in love. And maybe, but I don't know. I was so afraid still. I felt like I was just very guarded, but at the same time, I wanted it really badly.
Sarah Herron: I think part of being on that show is, you convince yourself that you are in love with the lead. You are in love with the bachelor because everything is so magical and everything is so curated. It is that hopeless romantic fairytale that you've always grown up reading about in Disney books or seeing on Disney movies. It feels real. So you convince yourself into thinking, "This is real. It's only been 24 hours. We're totally falling in love." But the reality is, I don't think I was really there. I was really guarded.
Shelby Stanger: So you're a big proponent of supporting other women, but on The Bachelor, you're competing with other women. How did you handle that?
Sarah Herron: Well, it's really interesting because you actually form better relationships within the house. Because if you think about it, you're only seeing the lead when he comes into the house, when you're at cocktail parties, when it's shared time with other women, but you're living in the house with the other women. It really creates this very strange, very unnatural dance, where you're supposed to be competing against these other women. You're supposed to feel ... I don't know. But then they become your best friends, so you're like, "This is weird. You're my best friend, and I'm helping you get dressed to go on your date with the guy that I'm also seeing today."
Sarah Herron: It just creates these really weird relationships. So you have to create these blockers in your head of, "Well, I want what's best for my friend and I want what's best for me. We all just have to go through this the best that we can right now. What's meant to be will be." It can't be a fight. It's not an actual competition, in my eyes. It was always like, "Well, if my friend ends up being better for Sean than I am or if he's better for her than he is for me, then more power to them." It's weird. I didn't get competitive in that sense.
Shelby Stanger: Wow. You're a very strong woman.
Sarah Herron: I mean, it might've been different if I had serious feelings for Sean, but to reiterate, I don't think I actually did. I think I thought I did.
Shelby Stanger: So you got pretty far on the show, even though you weren't totally in love with him. But you didn't obviously get the final rose. But after the show, you had to have been changed. How did the show change you?
Sarah Herron: Immediately, the show didn't change me that much. Right? Because you come back, and you go back to your normal life for six months while the show's being edited. And then it airs, and that's when everything changes. For me, it was this tsunami of just outreach from people all across the country and the world. Little girls, moms, dads, aunts, sisters, of women, who were like me, who either had a limb difference or a physical disability or even just an emotional disability, reaching out and saying that they felt, for the first time, I was someone that they could relate to on the show.
Sarah Herron: A lot of that was because on the show, I did express a lot of vulnerability and just those feelings of not being worthy and not feeling deserving of being on the show, which a lot of women, up until that point, never expressed. Everyone was very confident and very sure of themselves of being on that show. I was the first girl that was like, "I don't think I belong here. This is kind of different for me."
Sarah Herron: So women related to that. When I started getting this influx of messages, and fan mail, and literally handwritten letters that were sent to my boss and redirected to me at work because they were just trying to find me, it really made me realize, "Holy cow. There are so many women out there like me, who also are experiencing these feelings of insecurity and self-doubt when it comes to their worthiness and their value." I just wanted to do something about that, but I didn't really know how for a long time.
Shelby Stanger: Yeah. People fell in love with you. I mean, you're a really likable human. At one point, you told me you felt like you had some more work to do on yourself.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. So I mentioned that I had this influx of people wanting advice. I didn't know how to be that role model for them. I felt like I was still ... There was so much work to be done on myself, and I was still needing to grow so much into my self-acceptance and my self-love that I couldn't possibly be that person or that role model for other people. Even though I was getting this huge fan base, I ignored it for a long time because I just didn't know how to own that responsibility. I felt that I needed to continue working on myself, which is what took me outside and took me hiking and skiing. So yeah. It was definitely a couple years before I knew exactly how to mobilize, I guess you could say, this audience that I was getting.
Shelby Stanger: This show is about adventure. It sounds like between The Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise and then what you did afterwards, the most incredible story about finding love.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. I do. It's interesting because I've been on all these dating shows now. It's like I never found love on the dating shows, but I found love with myself. It just took a really long time to get there, but I really feel that each time I went on the show, it helped me get closer and closer to the real self-love that I needed to find. It was never about finding a husband or Prince Charming. It was about finding love within myself.
Shelby Stanger: So let's talk about that. Self-love is a big thing and it's hard. It's hard today, especially with Instagram and other people showing us what self-love should look like. It's a filtered self-love. So what are some of the ways that you think you've been able to find self-love?
Sarah Herron: One of the biggest ones for me has been community. I think being able to surround yourself with like-minded people, who allow you to be your true, authentic self, who love you and appreciate you for whoever you are, however you show up, helps you believe that you are deserving of that love. So for me, as I said, I started to find a really strong community through hiking and being outside because that was where I felt I could be my true, authentic self. I wasn't trying to wear fancy clothes. I wasn't trying to have my hair perfect or put on a ton of makeup. It was like you just get to show up as you are.
Sarah Herron: And then people in that particular community, in recreation, I feel like they just want to see you succeed and everybody just loves each other for who they are. There's so much encouragement and support, that once people started seeing me for who I was and encouraging me and supporting me, it allowed me to see, "Yeah, I am a badass," or "Yeah, I am awesome," or "I am lovable." So for me, I think community is a huge component of self-love because it allows you to just be who you truly, authentically are.
Shelby Stanger: While Sarah didn't find love on the show, she found so many other things: confidence, a willingness to push herself outside of her comfort zone, and a passion for adventure. After the show, people started contacting her. They loved that she shared her story and was sharing more of her whole self on social media. There was a ton of people who also had a similar story and related. It took some time, but eventually, Sarah decided to connect with her new fans in a more meaningful way. Find out how after the break.
Shelby Stanger: As more women are getting out there, doing badass things in the outdoors, it's important to find gear that's actually made for women. That's why I was excited when Keen, from Portland, Oregon, came out with its women's Terradora Athletic Hiking Shoes. Every detail is designed specifically for a woman's foot, taking into consideration things like a more contoured arch, a narrower heel, cushioning in different areas, and more support in others. I love that Keen gets that. I also appreciate their consciously constructed approach to making shoes using more sustainable materials, all the way down to eco anti-odor, which naturally breaks down foot funk without pesticides and water repellency that's PFC free. We can feel great treading lighter on the planet while we're out exploring it. For an all-around hiking shoe, check out the woman specific fit of the Keen Terradora, available at REI.
Shelby Stanger: After her adventure on The Bachelor, Sarah found a passion for adventuring outside, and she even took up sports like rappelling and rock climbing. Pursuing these activities wasn't easy, but they proved to be rewarding.
Shelby Stanger: So you went back to your normal job, but you told me after that, you got even more into the outdoors.
Sarah Herron: Yes. So right around that same time exactly, I started hiking. I think it was because I dated a guy that took me on this epic hike. It was just like, "Wow. I really like this. I really like being outside." So I started doing it more and more often. Every weekend, I would find a new hike to go on and a lot of times, by myself. But I quickly started making friends through that community. I would meet people on the trail, and then we would link up the next weekend to go on a hike. I just got really, really hooked. Before I knew it, it was like I wanted bigger adventures, longer adventures, more extreme adventures.
Sarah Herron: And I was sharing all of it to Instagram. I was sharing my photos from the summit. I would be sharing me along the trail. It felt really true and authentic and just these snapshots of my life and how I was feeling empowerment and confident in those moments. People loved it. I started getting all these messages that were like, "I've never been hiking. I would love to go hiking with you. Do you have any hikes you recommend? What kind of hiking boots do you wear? This is so amazing." It really created this great dialogue between me and people I didn't know. Most of those people were also girls with differences like me. It created a really fun way to engage, that felt really authentic and inspired through nature and getting outside.
Shelby Stanger: Now, you get outside a lot.
Sarah Herron: Yeah.
Shelby Stanger: You started hiking. And then along your journey to pushing yourself more and more in the outdoors, you find rock climbing. What was that first experience rock climbing like?
Sarah Herron: Okay. So rock climbing is newer for me still. I would say though it started with rappelling. My boyfriend ... Spoiler: I did find love, but not on the show. My boyfriend is a pro at everything outside. So when we started dating, he was like, "Oh, you want to be this adventure advocate? Sweet. Let's see what you're really made of," and took me to Utah, and was like, "Let's take you rappelling." He took me rappelling down in Moab and I just loved it. I mean, I was terrified at first, but I was like, "I really love this feeling of being self-supported on a rope dangling 90 feet into a canyon." Just getting that adrenaline rush. So we started rappelling more and more, and that obviously just escalated into climbing. And then eventually, Dylan was like, "Well, let's take you climbing." So we started in a gym, and it was tough. It was really hard. I get frustrated really easily. That's just my personality type. I think if I don't cry when I'm trying a new sport, something's not right because I typically always cry. So we went climbing in a gym and I liked it. I was totally gassed, but I freaking loved it and I wanted to do it again. We live in western Colorado, so we started going outside. I would just do some little slabs and get comfortable on the rock. I'm slowly working my way up.
Shelby Stanger: Okay. I can't see this. So climbing with one arm, how do you do it?
Sarah Herron: It is tough. So my arm is ... I lost my arm right at my elbow, but I have an elbow joint. So I have a little bit of mobility. Imagine bending your elbow. I have just a tiny little bit of a grip on my elbow, which allows me to get a little bit of a hold on ... I guess I can kind of grab on or get a little bit of a hold on a rock. So it's tough. I think that's been my biggest learning curve, is those holds have to be the right size for my arm because it's not as small as fingertips cramping on. So it's really tough with just my elbow. But I'm learning how to climb more with my legs and use the strength of my legs and really only use my hand and my arm for balance and navigating my way around the rock. But it's definitely a long learning curve.
Shelby Stanger: Yeah. I've taught a lot of adaptive surfing and it's a whole other ballgame. I mean, you have to be really creative and really smart and have a lot of confidence.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. It's tough. And I think you just have to get inventive because there are a lot of adaptive climbers and I'm meeting more and more. We could talk about Maureen Beck, for example, who's a champion paraclimber. But Maureen and I, our arms are different. Right? She lost her arm at a different place than mine, so she can only give me so much beta on how to climb with one arm because we're going to experience it differently. So you really just have to try things out for yourself. I'm learning slowly, but you learn different techniques as you go.
Shelby Stanger: A few years ago, Sarah decided she could really help a lot more people beyond connecting with them through email and sharing her story on social media. In 2016, she started SheLift. It's a nonprofit organization that aims to share Sarah's love of the outdoors and the transformative powers of adventure with other women and girls who have physical differences. SheLift helps people gain confidence and lifts women up through outdoor adventure and body positive mentorship. It's an amazing organization.
Shelby Stanger: So you've started this movement and you started a nonprofit called SheLift. Tell me about SheLift because ... I'm just going to tell you a story really quickly. Sorry, I know this is your podcast interview. I have a girlfriend who had a child really recently who was born without her lower left arm. She said, "There's one girl that's just gotten me through this and taught me that my daughter's going to be a freaking rockstar and that I shouldn't be scared, and that's Sarah Herron." And she tears up when she tells me. I'm going to tear up telling you about this. I'm having lunch with her tomorrow, but you've been her biggest source of inspiration. She has this little daughter that's totally doing everything she should be able to do, but there was a moment where her mom was really scared.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. I know. Well, first of all, tell her thank you. Hopefully you're able to connect us. It is, I think, very scary for moms, as I'm learning through the organization. We do serve moms as well, moms of kiddos with limb differences and physical differences. So I do hear their stories and their perspectives, and of course, I know my mom's. I think a lot of moms carry anxiety of did they do something wrong or how is my daughter going to survive and get through things. The biggest thing that I can just tell everyone is, they're going to find a way. There's always going to be ways to help these kids be rockstars.
Shelby Stanger: So you started SheLift when and what's the mission?
Sarah Herron: I started SheLift in 2016, and I was still working full-time at 72andSunny. I had this idea because skiing is above all my favorite sport. I love skiing. I did draw some inspiration from Bethany Hamilton because I had attended her surf camp, and I was like, "It's awesome that Bethany brings all of these amputees together and teaches them to surf." I was skiing with my dad in Aspen one year and I saw this man who was in a sit ski ripping down these moguls. And then he fell, and he was by himself, and he just propped himself back up and took off back down the moguls. I was like, "That guy is so badass." That was the most incredible thing. I just had this light bulb go off. I was like, "I love skiing. Skiing has been so transformative for me. I want to bring together a group of girls with limb differences and teach them how to ski."
Shelby Stanger: So you wanted to start SheLift with skiing?
Sarah Herron: Yes. So I wanted to be able to give girls that same feeling, of looking up at a mountain and saying, "That was my mountain and I just conquered it." It's funny because that became the whole organization's tagline and everything. Yeah. So initially, I just- [crosstalk 00:31:54]
Shelby Stanger: Wait, what's that tagline?
Sarah Herron: Every girl has a mountain to conquer.
Shelby Stanger: Love it.
Sarah Herron: So I just started it as like, "Hey, this is going to be a side project, like a passion thing of mine. I'm going to take a group of girls skiing and it's going to be awesome." So I'm not sure why I felt like it needed to be a nonprofit right away, but I was like, "Yeah, let's make it a nonprofit." I went through all of the formalities of starting the nonprofit and then raised a bunch of money, raised $35,000 within a couple weeks.
Shelby Stanger: Wow.
Sarah Herron: Yeah, mainly through Instagram. And then I put together an application, and said, "Hey, girls. I'm taking six of you skiing in Colorado. Submit your application on SheLift.org." We had 200 applicants and we narrowed it down to a final seven that we actually took. I rented out a house and took a bunch of girls skiing. We partnered with Challenge Aspen, which is an organization in Aspen that helps adaptive sports. So in the winter, they do skiing. And we took girls skiing and it was pretty amazing. And then the organization just continued to grow and expand from there.
Shelby Stanger: I imagine you've watched so many people go through a transformation by taking them skiing.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. And that was definitely the fixing point of SheLift, is I didn't want to just take girls skiing on a mountain for one day. Yes, we could've taken all 200 people skiing. But I wanted it to be really intimate. I wanted it to feel very special and curated for these girls so that they could build lifelong lasting friendships and mentorships. So I did bring in mentors. I brought in Jen Hudak, who's a retired pro skier. She's also on my board of SheLift. She helped mentor the girls. We worked with amazing partners. As I said, I just wanted these girls to have really a transformative experience, where whether or not they decide they want to be skiers, at least they had some sort of experience that showed them they're not alone, they can conquer any obstacle, and a lot of it is done through community and mentorship.
Shelby Stanger: What do you tell people who come to your retreats for advice on fitting in when you have a physical difference?
Sarah Herron: I think one of the biggest discussion points that we encounter and have often is, there's a lot of anger. And there's a lot of feelings of unjust and feelings of "Why me? Why am I this way? I hate it when people call me inspirational, or I hate it when people tell me I'm a badass."
Shelby Stanger: Sorry. I really just called you a badass, but I mean, you're a badass.
Sarah Herron: No. I know. But I'm glad you did because I wanted to talk about it. Because I think a lot of these women, they just want to feel normal. Right? They don't want to be seen as extraordinary. They don't want to be seen as different.
Shelby Stanger: That makes sense.
Sarah Herron: So when they come in feeling this way, it's so important that we redirect that conversation into feeling like you are a badass and here's why. It's not because anyone pities you and thinks it's amazing that you're rock climbing or skiing. It's just amazing that anyone is rock climbing, and it makes it extra amazing because you're killing it with the challenges that you've encountered. I think the biggest piece of advice is just trying to help these girls realize that they are amazing and what they're doing is incredible and that's because they're incredible, resilient human beings, not because they have a disability.
Shelby Stanger: So what advice can you give to me? I have this interesting thing that happened. I've had Vitiligo. It developed pretty recently. After I got back from New Zealand, my lips were starting to turn white, and I was like, "Oh, I'm just sunburned." And then the doctor's like, "No, you have Vitiligo." I was like, "Oh, that sucks." Thought I could just put some cream on it and it would go away. I've done every diet in the book and just fasted on water. Sometimes it goes away, sometimes it doesn't. The only thing that correlates with it is stress. It's an interesting physical difference because it comes and it goes. And then it gets worse, and then it'll be healed, and then it'll get worse. But it's weird. I find myself wanting to go up to other people with Witiligo being like, "Oh my God. I totally relate." But if someone went up to me, it'd drive me nuts.
Sarah Herron: Okay. Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that. I actually know a few women who've come through some workshops of mine, who have Vitiligo. We've talked about it a lot. I have two things to say. So just this last week, here in my small town of Carbondale, if anyone listens to this knows where Carbondale is, it's western Colorado-
Shelby Stanger: It's supposed to be one of the best places to live if you're an adventure athlete.
Sarah Herron: It's pretty epic, but it's very small. We have 4,000 people in my town. We were at a county fair this weekend, and I was ordering a sandwich from one of the food booths. The girl working the register was this 16 year old girl who had one arm exactly like me. I was like, "Oh my gosh!" So loud. I was like, "Oh my gosh, you have one arm! Oh, oh my gosh." I was like, "I'm so sorry. I don't mean to embarrass you. I hope I didn't embarrass you." I just got so excited because we're in such a small town and I never see anyone like that. I immediately felt shame. I felt so bad for calling her out because I remember, as a teenager and a young adult, I remember also people coming up and being like, "Hey, you have one arm. So do I." And all I wanted to do was murder that person. I was like, "Oh my God. Thank you for just calling me out for the number one thing that I am most insecure about. Thank you so much. You make me feel horrible." It was the worst feeling. When I knew I did this to that girl, I was like, "Crap. Oh my God. I feel so bad," because I'm in a different place than she is right now. So I just went back up to her subtly and I was like, "I'm really sorry if I embarrassed you, but here's my name and my number. I'd love to chat with you sometime. I love to paddleboard. If you're into paddleboarding, let's go hang out." She was like, "Okay, thanks." I'll probably never hear from her because I get it. I probably mortified her.
Sarah Herron: So my advice to you is, it takes work. Right? You were just recently diagnosed with your Vitiligo, so it's hard to see that difference as a uniqueness or a beauty right now. But I always try to tell our SheLift girls, "What makes you different is what makes you unique and beautiful." I used to hide my arm when I would go out because I didn't want people to identify me or notice that I had one arm. And now, I wear it like a badge. The more people that can see me rock climbing with one arm or the more people that can see me paddleboarding with one arm, the better, because I just want to show people that differences show up in all kinds of ways. The more that we see those differences, the more we can see the beauty and just the universal similarities that we all have. So with Vitiligo, I think it's ... If someone asks you if you got a facial or a peel or something, I would just confidently explain to them, "No, I have this skin condition. It's new to me, but I'm rocking it, and I'm figuring it out day by day."
Shelby Stanger: That's great advice. I've been trying to use humor as much as I can, but also honesty. I think what's interesting about having an outer physical difference is, most people struggle with an inner difference. We all have insecurities. If you have one on the outside, it's like, well, you get to deal with it.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. It's interesting you say that because my personal trainer says that also. My personal trainer is also like my life coach. She's like, "Sarah, in many ways, you're lucky because what makes you different and your challenges are outward facing. For many people, it's on the inside. And sometimes, coming out and getting those off of our chest is so much harder than just seeing someone like, 'Oh, she has one arm.'" Well, a lot of people are struggling with anxiety and emotional or learning disabilities or mental illnesses, and those aren't visible. They're harder to explain, and they're harder to talk about.
Shelby Stanger: Yeah. That's really good advice. Thank you, listeners, for letting me hog Sarah for my personal use. But hopefully, some people listening, I imagine, got something out of that as well.
Sarah Herron: There are some amazing models coming out more and more, who have Vitiligo. I just think it's so, so unique and so beautiful. I hope that you can see that too.
Shelby Stanger: Thank you. I'm working on it. Besides that, you went out, and you're a storyteller, and you decided to take storytelling to a full other level by making a documentary, which is really cool, Dead Last. Serendipitously, REI licensed, which is so great. So let's talk about Dead Last and what it is. Because when we first talked, you'd just done this film, and I was like, "Wow, this is so cool."
Sarah Herron: Yeah. Dead Last is a project I've been working on for a little less than a year with Dylan, my boyfriend, who's a director. It was kind of this birth child of, we both love creating film and we love telling stories. Simultaneously, a girl who had come through SheLift reached out to me and said, "Hey, if it wasn't for SheLift, I never would have come home and started rock climbing. It turns out, I loved rock climbing so much that I entered myself for the National Paraclimbing Championship, and I placed fourth place, which means I'm going to world championships in Innsbruck, Austria."
Sarah Herron: I was just blown away. I was like, "Are you freaking kidding me? All of this within nine months." She was so dedicated to learning to climb. I mean, she was taking herself to the gym three to five days a week, learning how to do it with one arm, watching her mentors, and just absorbing as much as she could. So she placed in worlds. I was just selfishly like, "Kaitlin, I have to come tell your story. This is amazing. I'm so proud of you." So we arranged to go to Innsbruck with her and followed her to worlds and created the piece Dead Last, which is her journey. Spoiler alert: she came in dead last at the competition. The point and the reason we named it that is because, as Kaitlin very well demonstrates in the film, it's not about winning. It was never about winning for her. It was about coming to the competition, finding a community, and finally feeling like she belonged somewhere because her whole life, she never felt like she belonged. So she placed dead last, and it's a great little film about body confidence and what your body is capable of achieving in such a short amount of time. I'm so excited to have it on REI's channels.
Shelby Stanger: Well, it's great. It's only eight minutes long, but you're pumped when you watch it. And you want to be friends with Kaitlin, and she's so funny. She's a really lovable character. It's on REI.com. You can find it on their video and podcast page, or you could just Google "Dead Last." What's next? Are there going to be more films in your future? You're really good at this.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. Thanks. I'm definitely trying to move more into filmmaking and just more storytelling, whether that revolves around SheLift or not. I would love to tell a SheLift story every year. I think that's my goal. Yeah, some changes are coming structurally to the nonprofit and to the organization because we've grown so much really just in the last year. I mean, we hit that tipping point where were hovering around 40 members in the organization, and now, we're at 500. So just in a year, it's really blown up. Like I said, we're having some structural reorganization discussions about how we can serve a bigger community and be more intentional about it. I said earlier my goal has always been to create these very intimate, intentional experiences for women. So as we're growing, I think it's super important that I want to stay that way. I don't want it to expand so quickly that we lose that intimacy. So yeah. We're just going to figure out what the next step is. And in the meantime, hopefully just keep sharing amazing stories from these incredible ladies.
Sarah Herron: We're partnering with REI Adventures in May and taking SheLift to Machu Picchu. So yeah. It's going to be huge, and I am so excited. We get to take anywhere between four and 16. So I guess however many people sign up, we're going to Machu Picchu.
Shelby Stanger: That's fantastic. So we'll put a link to how to sign up in the show notes.
Shelby Stanger: Before we ended our chat, I wanted to ask Sarah how things were going on the love front.
Shelby Stanger: So I'm sure there's a lot of people wondering ... Anybody who's single advice on finding love? Because your adventure has been on land, on skis, on rocks, rappelling off mountains, but I think you had the greatest adventure in finding love. Why don't you tell us how you met Dylan, who's a total hottie and seems like a great guy?
Sarah Herron: Yeah. Dylan is great. He's amazing. I actually met him because I hired him to help with SheLift. It was that very first ski retreat that I told you about. Well, let me back up. Because of my background in advertising, I knew I wanted to make a storytelling content piece about the retreat. So I hired Dylan as a director, who came as a referral from a friend of a friend of a friend. I remember I was living in L.A. still, kind of closing up my life there, getting rid of my apartment. I had a director call with him and it was all just very professional at first, but I immediately was like, "He sounds really hot. His voice is really hot." And then we had a production meeting the following week. I was like, "Yeah, not really into it like I thought I was, but he's super talented. That's awesome."
Sarah Herron: He was kind of intimidating, to be honest. We went skiing together on that first production meeting. We hiked Aspen Highland Bowl together because I was like, "Hey, I know you're a pro skier, but I just want you to know, these girls that you're going to be filming are not pro skiers, and we're going to be moving at a much different pace. So I think it'd be good if you and I spend some time on the mountain and I tell you a little bit about skiing with girls with physical differences and some of those challenges that we're going to be encountering and how I want you to approach documenting it from a sensitive perspective." So we spent the day. We hiked Aspen Highland Bowl. I was very intimidated. I was like, "He's a really good skier." And to me, that was a huge turn off because I was just like, "No, he's out of my league." And then I don't know. We went to the SheLift retreat and I saw that he was very sensitive. All the girls there had mad crushes on him. I was like, "Yeah. Actually, I think I have a crush on him too." He asked me out on a date after that, asked me to lunch. We went on a date, and pretty much we've been inseparable since. I mean, no joke, I moved in with him six months later. And now, we've been together two and a half years.
Shelby Stanger: That's great. That's how it works. When you know, you know.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. So my advice or I guess ... You asked advice I'd give on falling in love is, I had been searching for love for so long. It's like I went on a TV show to try and find love. What we realized is that I had to find love within myself first. Right? So that was the first step. But then secondly, it was like once I stopped looking for it and once I was just truly invested in the things that inspired me and made me the best version of myself, then loved walked in. It was like I was only fixated on SheLift, and skiing, and hiking, and being with like-minded people that accepted me for who I was. I finally stopped trying to be someone that I wasn't, and then it was just like love showed up.
Shelby Stanger: I mean, that really is the ultimate adventure.
Sarah Herron: That can sound kind of heady. If I was 32 and single right now, and someone was like, "Just stop looking for it and it'll find you," I would be like, "Yeah, thanks. That's the worst advice ever." But I guess some more tangible advice I would say is, just keep doing the things you love. Right? In that community I think is where it shows up. So it's like if you love hiking, keep hiking. Say hi to people on the trails. Make friends. Whatever that is for you, wherever that outlet is, that you can be the best version of yourself. That's where I think it'll show up.
Shelby Stanger: Yeah. I met my love surfing.
Sarah Herron: Did you?
Shelby Stanger: Of course. And I just kept taking his waves until he talked to me. It's funny how that works. I would encourage ... I think when you're in the outdoors and you want to experience the outdoors, it's a great place to experience love.
Sarah Herron: Yeah. I agree.
Shelby Stanger: Any just advice for people listening who want to live more wildly, want to be more themselves no matter what?
Sarah Herron: I think my biggest piece of advice is always just to put yourself out there. Take a step out of your comfort zone. It's so hard, but fortunately, this is the positive side of social media these days is there are so many communities to join. If you want to get into hiking or if you want to get into climbing or indoor cycling, there's a group for it. It's really scary to put yourself out there, but I can guarantee that when you do and when you make a step towards the community that you want to be a part of, magical things can happen. So I just encourage everyone to take that step outside of their comfort zone.
Shelby Stanger: Loving yourself is hard. Loving yourself when you have a physical, mental, or even emotional difference, it can sometimes feel even harder. I admire Sarah's journey to finding self-love and her unwavering ability to share her most raw, real self with us all. I also love how Sarah prioritizes self-love, adventure, and being outside in nature. I've personally been opening up more on social media about my insecurities, about how I can be really hard on myself sometimes. Hearing from people like Sarah, it reminds me I have to be better to myself. We all do. Give yourself some love right now. And remember, a little outdoor adventure is often the antidote to our own obstacles.
Shelby Stanger: Thank you to Sarah Herron for being so open in our conversation and for doing the work you're doing. It's really important, and I'm really grateful to you.
Shelby Stanger: You can follow Sarah at SarahHerron.com. That's S-A-R-A-H-H-E-R-R-O-N.com and @SarahHerron across social media. To find out more about SheLift, the organization, visit SheLift.org or on Instagram, @SheLiftgrams. You can also check out her first short film Dead Last at REI.com. And lastly, if you want to learn more about Sarah's upcoming trip with REI, the Peru multi-sport trip from Machu Picchu to Rainbow Mountain, you can call 800-622-2236. And we'll have links to all of this in the show notes of this episode.
Shelby Stanger: This podcast is produced by REI, with help from Annie Fassler and Chelsea Davis. Tune in week after next as I talk to a previous guest about her recent climb up Mount Everest. Yes, really, Mount Everest. As always, we appreciate when you subscribe, rate, and review the show wherever you listen. Give me your feedback. Tell me what you like. And go ahead and write a funny name because I'm really appreciative of a little humor. Remember, wherever you are in the world, some of the best adventures often happen when you follow your wildest ideas.
Here’s the Wild Idea
Sarah Herron is a creative, a filmmaker, a non-profit founder and an entrepreneur. Born without the bottom half of her left arm, a condition known as congenital limb difference which affects about 2,000 babies born in the U.S. every year, Sarah was uncomfortable with adventure and sports growing up. Even though she grew up in Colorado, a hotbed for adventure sports, she hated having to ski with one pole, and didn’t like the extra attention from having only one arm. When she had the opportunity to appear on season 17 of The Bachelor, she took the plunge. She received an outpouring of love and support from women and girls with their own physical differences who were inspired by her courage, and has made an impact in many lives.
After her time on national TV, Sarah found a passion for outdoor adventure, including sports like hiking, rappelling and rock climbing. It inspired her to found SheLift, a non-profit organization aimed to help women and girls with physical differences embrace outdoor activities.
Today, Sarah’s adventures go further than Bachelor Nation. She’s an athlete, a mentor, and now a filmmaker. We talk about how she broke out of her comfort zone, discovered the value of community and finally found love inside and out.
Listen to this Episode if
- You are looking for love.
- You want to learn more about adaptive sports.
- You’ve seen and supported Sarah Herron on The Bachelor or Bachelor in Paradise.
- You want to start a non-profit.
- You could use some inspiration to find self-love.
- You want to hear from one badass woman.
- 04:20 – How Sarah got on The Bachelor.
- 09:10 – Sarah’s experience on the show.
- 15:45 – How The Bachelor changed her life.
- 23:00 – Why Sarah got into hiking and climbing.
- 26:20 – How Sarah climbs with her limb difference.
- 30:25 – The mission of SheLift, Sarah’s nonprofit organization.
- 34:20 – Advice on living with a physical difference.
- 41:35 – Sarah’s new film “Dead Last.”
- 46:15 – How Sarah finally found love.
- 50:25 – One last piece of advice on being yourself no matter what.
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