You don’t have to spend too much time in the woods, water and mountains of The Natural State to see it ain’t just for the boys anymore. Women are getting their kicks outside in increasing numbers, giving men a run for their money. You go, girls.
By Dwain Hebda Photography by Novo Studio
Olivia Vitaterna, 23
Like many climbers, Olivia Vitaterna is wired a little differently. In describing her achievements, the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch guide lists her hardest redpoint at 5.11d and hardest bouldering grade at V6m. And, she adds, “the most times I’ve fainted from dehydration in a single day is three.”
“Every single climb teaches you something new. You learn what you can and can’t yet do, what creatures live in rocks, how your body is feeling that particular day, the importance of preparing well,” she said.
Vitaterna said unlocking what rock climbing holds comes down to making it about you and the mountain.
“Do what’s good for you,” she said. “It can feel like you are competing with what has been traditionally done by men; that’s when to remind yourself this is your adventure.”
Grace Brown, 23
Grace Brown didn’t show early markings of a future two-time national champion; in fact, she hated trap shooting the first time she tried it. Today, she not only holds that distinction (2018 ACUI National Champion, wobble trap; 2017 ACUI National Champion, international trap), but she’s the new coach for her alma mater, the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, a rarity among collegiate shooting programs in Arkansas. She’s also unique among competitive shooters in that she doesn’t hunt.
“Labeling a sport with the image of a particular type of person based off their interests is the same as stereotyping against women in the sport,” she said. “If other girls from a variety of backgrounds have an interest in pursuing the sport, then I feel it is important to emphasize that an interest in hunting is not necessary.”
Kaylynn Finch, 18
Though she only fished competitively her senior year of high school, Kaylynn Finch made the most of the experience. Teamed with her cousin Tanner Fife on a boat skippered by her uncle Toby Fife, Finch placed first at a competition on Greers Ferry Lake, second on the Arkansas Youth Trail on Lake Hamilton and third at a contest on Lake Ouachita.
In the process, she and Tanner were named Anglers of the Year for West Side High School and capped their season placing ninth in the inaugural Commissioners’ Cup, sponsored by the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation.
“The fresh air helps me think and it is enjoyable to be outside,” she said of the sport while offering credit to her cohorts. “None of this would have been possible without [Toby and Tanner]. We made several memories on the water my senior year.”
Katrina Johnson, 31
“Let’s go outside and explore!” is a familiar quote of Katrina Johnson, the go-sign for her and her 5-year-old daughter, Abby, to suit up and experience wild Arkansas. It’s become something of a credo for Johnson, a hunting and fishing enthusiast who’s bagged deer, turkey, squirrel, raccoon, dove, waterfowl and various fish.
“It’s not just about harvesting game or fish, it’s about connecting to nature and enjoying the resources Arkansas has to offer,” said Johnson, grants manager for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “It’s also something my family and I can do together. It’s rare to have the opportunity to spend time with my daughter without distractions. The outdoors gives me the chance to teach her about nature and the value and appreciation of hunting and fishing traditions.”
Aerah Hardin, 40
Growing up in Malvern, Aerah Hardin viewed the outdoors as one big playground. Things haven’t changed much for the now-40-year-old globetrotting mountain biker who also hikes, kayaks, paddle boards and camps.
“That time as a child, wild and free outside, fed my spirit and love for all things nature,” she said. “There’s something about being out in nature to soak up every ounce of wonder and beauty and be completely rejuvenated.”
Hardin has ridden all over the world, and says Arkansas can compete with anyplace.
“You don’t have to ride a mountain bike for 100 miles; you can get in a kayak and float on the incredible rivers we have throughout Arkansas. You can hike short or weeklong hikes through this state and find some of the most amazing views.”