Last Saturday, Foxcroft School welcomed Jennifer Pharr Davis to campus as the 2018 Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellow, and the keynote speaker and workshop presenter at Foxcroft’s first Wellness Weekend
. A highly accomplished hiker who has been to all 50 states and six continents while exploring her passion for the lifestyle sport, Jennifer also set the speed record in 2011 for completing the Appalachian Trail's entire 2,185-mile distance in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.
As Jennifer began her talk among the roomful of students, faculty, staff and community members in Currier Library, an early question posed to the group garnered their full attention. “How many people have spent a night in the woods?” she asked. As hand after hand was raised across the room, Jennifer offered a confession that seemingly captivated the audience. “Hiking was the hardest thing I’d ever done,” said Jennifer, who clearly learned to love it since she owns a hiking company and presented a “Backpacking 101” workshop after her speech.
Growing up in North Carolina, Jennifer participated in sports most of her life and was in great physical shape. But sports games had a certainty that hiking did not: an end time. After college, when she set a five-month goal to hike the the Appalachian Trail for the first time, Jennifer convinced herself that it would be “technically just walking” and wondered, “how hard can it be?” She imagined the incredible scenic views and wildflowers that would greet her along the way as she set out on her journey with her brother’s Boy Scout backpacking supplies.
“I’ll never forget the sense of pride I had when I started in Georgia and walked 77 miles. It took about a week and a half and I got into North Carolina. It was like, Wow! I made it to a new state,” she recalled.
Jennifer soon learned that hiking the Appalachian Trail was harder than she ever expected, enduring blizzard conditions, blistered feet, frozen eyelids, and limited food as she continued her hiking journey through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that straddles North Carolina and Tennessee. It would take a total of six days for Jennifer to make it out of the Smoky Mountains, but she did it!
That early sense of achievement served as motivation for Jennifer to continue her quest to hike all the way to Maine. She spoke of perseverance, the value of simplicity, her love for silence, and becoming one with nature. “Up to that point, I had been on a path that my parents had set for me, that teachers set for me, and that my coaches set for me. For the first time in my life, I knew who I was and I was okay with that,” she said.
In an era where young women often place too much emphasis on their physical appearance and how others’ view them, Jennifer reflected on her realization of what truly matters. “Looking in the mirror after a five-month trail hike, I never felt more beautiful. I began to see myself through interactions with other people,” she said.
Jennifer’s presentation definitely hit home with students. “I learned so many things from our speaker!” said sophomore Marina V. “The first that comes to mind is that it's okay to be forward and truthful about what you want. I also learned that happiness does not come from material things.” Freshman Bianca M. added: “What I took away from her presentation is that you should be willing to try a new experience in life and, more importantly, stick with the decision to try that new experience, because it might change your life.”
Without a doubt, she inspired all of us to be a better version of ourselves and to consider how taking a hike can bring joy and peace within.
The Alison Harrison Goodyear ’29 Fellows Program, offered through the generosity of the family and friends of Alison Harrison Goodyear, Foxcroft Class of 1929, brings distinguished speakers and provocative performers to Foxcroft to deliver a keynote address and conduct small group seminars with students. Fellowship recipients during the program’s 47-year history include such remarkable voices as Maya Angelou, James Baker III, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jean Kilbourne, Richard Leakey, David McCullough, Sally Ride, Barbara Walters and most recently, tech entrepreneur Sheena Allen.