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Traversing Environmentalism and Fighting Against Racism Require Proactive Leadership

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

The outdoors are for everyone. Morgan is an Environmental Activism Associate with Patagonia. We explore how her passion in sports and her competitive spirit has driven her to help bring an indisputable right to nature to underrepresented communities.

(Scroll down for a sample of off/pre-season training regimen for field sports.)


Morgan has a decorated background from competing as a Junior Olympian in Alaska, to earning a black belt in karate, and, more recently, laying the groundwork for a competitive ultimate frisbee community in Reno, Nevada. These have all contributed to her lead-by-example tenacity when it comes to fighting for social justice especially with respect to the outdoors.

From her early years in competition, Morgan pushed past obstacles. “I’m really competitive with myself. [Training] was super freaking hard and I cried a lot,” we share a chuckle, “but it made me a lot stronger and I learned that my limits were a lot higher than I thought.” Sounds like a classic athlete breaking boundaries triumphantly through grimace and physical pain. It’s almost no wonder that Morgan works tirelessly to push for greater support to nonprofits to make land (and outdoor activities) more accessible to marginalized communities, and to be proactive in helping America’s Indigenous populations, including the Navajo Nation, especially during this global pandemic.

Patagonia, where Morgan's worked for some years now, has been at the forefront of environmental efforts: they consistently prioritize sustainable environmental practices for their products (from sourcing materials, to the impact of what's used, and recycling fabrics); campaign through films (highlighting issues such as inclusion in the outdoors, species conservation and sustainability, engineering and ecological impact, and more) and support grassroots organizations internationally through a series of ongoing grants. As topics of environmental sustainability are met by a growing demand by consumers for responsible practices, more companies are riding the wave of environmentalism. The movement thirsts for new leadership and greater inclusiveness.

Changing Directions: National Organizations’ New Leadership

The great outdoors, the National Parks, are often associated with picturesque expansive forests, majestic mountains, breathtaking dunes, or undisturbed rivers and lakes. However, its “pristine” existence stems from colonialism including pushing Indigenous people off their land, and claiming the expanse for a new population. More shocking still is the detailing of eugenic goals (“controlling reproduction to eliminate the genetically unfit and promote the reproduction of the genetically fit”¹) that John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and otherwise respected environmentalist, wrote in aiming to establish the National Parks as a pristine space for only a fraction of white, privileged American population, touting “the desire to preserve the 'best' in both the germ plasm of the human population and natural environments.”¹ ²

Any successful organization that has been at the pinnacle of environmental activism needs to evolve. The Sierra Club has come a long way since its inception in 1892 and is the largest renowned grassroots organization in the United States. Its past is marked by leaders, like Henry Fairfield Osborn (advocate of preserving nature and the white race ³ ) and Joseph LeConte (practiced pseudo-scientific eugenics). But environmental sustainability encompasses much more--particularly in the arena of implementation of inclusiveness starting with leadership where voices hold most impact. Members of leadership influence visibility. Leaders, board members, and people in power can use their voice to dictate progressive goals of sustainable ecological practices, preservation, accessibility, and public health in the coming years. Although founded on racist principles that “continue to cause Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color…significant and immeasurable harm”, the Sierra Club has put forth active anti-racist practices to bring BIPOC leaders to form a greater majority of their re-designed team for organizational decisions.

Although Patagonia still has more work to do, Morgan is proud of the strides that Patagonia is taking to educate themselves and redefine what environmentalism means and who is included in that definition. She works on a team that supports existing nonprofits, donates material for masks to be made by Native lead organizations, and promotes organizations that empower youth by bringing surfing , climbing, hiking, gardening, and a range of enriching activities to underrepresented communities. There are resources available from non-profit organizations and companies like Patagonia who lend their platform, so that anyone can learn about these community-engaging programs and actively contribute as individuals. Morgan steadily reminds me of her company culture; “We don’t like to pat ourselves on the back and say the amounts donated and things like that.” Certainly her humble demeanor moves in synchronicity with the company culture. Ideally it won’t be long until companies and organizations beyond the outdoorsy community join in on activism on both social and ecological platforms.

Racism In The Quest For Healthy Living: The Fight for Inclusivity in the Environmental Movement

The underlying sentiment is that there is a lot of work to be done, both with work to fight issues like climate change and in fighting social injustices that riddle BIPOC communities. For instance, BIPOC communities experience disproportionately higher rates of pollutants and health risks from environmental damage. In fact, the curious can dig deeper--there is a database that reports the chemicals released and many different areas around the country including your nearest parks and schools are impacted. Combating this, the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program came about only twenty years ago to continue to fight for clean water and air in felt rising numbers in cancer incidences, respiratory damage, and toxic water supply have had their problems recognized as “public health problems” for far too long as opposed to systemic discrepancies that craft environmental and health hazards impacting BIPOC communities disproportionately. The economic disparity that corresponds to negative impacts from pollutants and side-effects of industrial, modern activity is no coincidence.

Environmentalism is heavily intertwined with the fight against racism. The Atlantic aptly pointed out in 2016 that “care for the earth and for vulnerable human communities belonged together. Empowering workers, protecting public health, and preserving landscapes were part of a single effort”. In 1962, Rachel Carson brought forth her book “Silent Spring”, following the path of pesticides contaminating water, soil, and traveling up the food chain, which brought the creation of the EPA we know now as well as the Clean Air Act (1963), the Wilderness Act (1964), the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act (both 1972) that preceded it. Carson primarily brought focus to the harmful effects of pesticides and pollution but painted them as a threat to suburban, predominantly white populations. The same population that effectively voiced their concern and used that power to create some positive change. And what of marginalized communities? Today, we have coined a term, "intersectional environmentalists”, coupled with a plethora of resources by a diverse community and writers like Leah Thomas who draw a stark contrast to the literary conversation of the past century. “The Black community in the U.S. has faced an inability to breathe through both police violence and disproportionate impacts of poor air quality. We must address this in order to change and also acknowledge and validate black traditions, experiences and practices in relationship to nature,”Leah's words pack a swift punch.

Living in urban areas and being physically removed from the outdoors has served as a physical barrier for BIPOC and people of specific socioeconomic status. Even Morgan, having studied Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at UNR, who had the goal of becoming a Park or Forest Ranger, quickly realized that “there were too many unpaid volunteer work hours and the system limited access to people who would be able to afford to do that”. In her story, she’s been fortunate to join a company that prioritizes redefining what accessibility needs to look like in this field.

And Morgan’s current efforts set no limit to what forms of activism she continues to make. Limits are simply not in her nature.

Activism in Morgan’s Community

It doesn't seem her nature to stop with solely participation. It wasn’t enough for her to play on a competitive ultimate frisbee team in the San Francisco Bay Area at the National Championship Level. She created a local team from scratch, coaching and captaining with direction and implementation for the Reno community to develop its existing young athleticism. The hippie roots of ultimate frisbee can be misleading in concealing the rigor needed to establish competitive and cohesive team culture, but Morgan has done it with the support of her friends and life partner.We train hard to be the athletic team on the field and to be able to grind when the points get tough. Cutthroat prides itself on having the mental and physical strength to win the longest points,” she answers my question about leadership with firmness and confidence. “We lead by example and have a high retention rate to show the newcomers too.” The tone leadership takes, the examples set, and the priorities established form the backbone of a sustainable organization and, in her case, one that continuously outperforms expectations at tournaments as they consistently rise in team ranking. It’s no easy task to motivate others to push their physical limits the same way she persists, but she has it ingrained in the entire growing eclectic team.

This is the same tone in leadership needed when it comes to implementing strides for social justice across access to information, ecological sustainability, food sustainability, environmental justice--the list goes on. Today, Morgan’s ultimate frisbee club team, Reno Cutthroat, is comprised of a close-knit group who is banding together to continue learning about how to combat racism, work on anti-racist agendas on the team and as individuals, and fundraise to support black-led organizations fighting for racial and social justice.

Now is time for action, to continue to learn, and be bolder in activism. It is not enough to take part in a few protests or carefully craft a post on social media. Communities need you and the fight to save species, ecosystems, and solve some of the biggest crises in human history will determine how we function as an economy, feed our children, and interact with the world around us; this requires a diverse and unified front.


So what does “healthy” mean to our athlete?

“I guess to me, healthy has a pretty broad definition. It means I am making sure to physically move in some way and stay active (be it hiking, running, gym workouts, just going on a walk, etc.) but also not stress or feel guilty when I take a rest day to relax and maybe read a book. I can certainly feel my mental health going down when I take a lot of time off from being active, but I also think athletes (or at least I do) sometimes get stressed out that a rest day or off day is a wasted day from being in better shape. When I allow myself to rest and get rid of the guilt, I am a lot happier.”

And at her healthiest? “I think when I imagine myself at my healthiest, I am being kind to myself and balancing that rest/relaxation time with activities and working out. It makes me mentally and physically happier!”


The following exercises featured in the article are common recommendations from our training/physical therapy team, but they are not to be used as prescriptive movements. Each reader should be advised to seek care from a primary physician or licensed therapist if they are experiencing notable pain/discomfort, and to be advised to practice safely if they choose to try the exercises without supervision.

Morgan and some teammates are given a challenging set of exercises that include high intensity sprints, plyometrics for sport specific quickness and agility, as well as strength and stability work. The workout is structured for field athletes (appropriate for soccer, ultimate frisbee, and similar sports) and can be completed up to three times within one week. Please note that sessions like these are demanding and the description below is generalized for your consumption.

If you want to know more about how to create different challenges in your training or learn how to develop speed, agility, and build a solid foundation, hit the message button below!

The Warm Up

Begin with diaphragmatic breathing then a 400m jog warm up (and set cones at 20m and 60m mark for drills) followed by dynamic stretches including:

  • hip rotation (in place)

  • ankle rotation (in place)

  • lunge walks + reach (20m)

  • side shuffle + (20m)

  • dynamic hamstring stretch (20m)

  • dynamic quad stretch (20m)

  • knee to chest pull (20m)

  • inch worms (+progressions can be done in place)

  • shuffles, and plyometric skips for running and movement preparation

Questions about what some of these look like? Message us!

Jog to the 20m cone, focusing on bringing the elbows back with your arm movement patterns; increase speed to 75% maintaining for to finish past the cone at the 60m mark.

Repeat 4 times and finish stretching/hydrated as needed.

Sprint Drills

60m sprints at 100%; 30 second rest intervals x 8 Followed by a water break (2-3 minutes)

40m sprints at 100%; 30 second rest intervals x 6

Followed by a water break (2-3 minutes)

Box Drill (set cones for a square with 10-15m length sides) :

-sprint from cone 1 to cone 2

-turn towards cone 3 for a steady forward bear crawl

-quickly establish base to backpedal from cone 3 to cone 4

-turn to face cone 1 and steadily bear crawl to finish

Perform 4 starting from cone 1 towards cone 2, and 4 reps from cone 4 towards cone 3. Use 40-60 seconds rest between reps to focus on core engagement, acceleration angle of torso, and body position during backpedal.

Z Drill (touch each cone while maintaining low hips and body on the inside of the square):

-sprint from cone 1 to cone 4

-shuffle from cone 4 to cone 2

-sprint from cone 2 through cone 3

Perform 3-4 starting at cone 1 and the same reps starting from cone 4.

Use 30-40 second rest intervals to focus on proper deceleration, quick efficient change of direction, and speed through the finish.

Plyometrics and Form Work (coaching intensive)

Jump and Stick Drill (Stability and Muscle Recruitment), Sprint Breakdown Drill

1. Starting in full extension (arms up, hips extended, legs straight and on toes, jump and quickly land so that feet are planted and weight is evenly distributed in athletic stance, pause in this stance with feet "spreading the floor" to engage the proper muscle groups)

2. Sprint 10m and stutter step into the athletic stance that is practiced in the jump and stick drill. Hold that position for about 2-3 counts before walking back to the sprint line.

Focused Lateral Walks (Stability and Engagement), Lateral (fall-to-) Sprint and Breakdown

1. Starting athletic stance with proper hip hinge and core engaged, side shuffle/walk by spreading from the knees (as opposed to reaching with the foot) and firmly stepping with the leading foot, then replacing the lagging foot to achieve the athletic stance again before taking next steps. (This is also called "step-replace".) Keep the body low and think about gliding where shoulders and hips make parallel lines to the ground.

2. Starting in athletic stance, position with the finishing line to your right. Fall laterally (sideways) until the foot on the line begins to peel from the ground--this is the leg you derive the first push off of as the lagging leg will drive with power (think high knee) to generate a strong second step. The body turns to face the finishing line as you sprint. At the finishing line, stutter step and "breakdown" into your athletic stance and hold for 2-3 counts.

Single Leg Hop and Stick

Find balance on one leg--you will start the move and finish the move on the same leg. Raise both arms up overhead and come onto the toes on the balancing leg. Swing arms downward and bring opposite elbow towards balancing knee. Your end position should look similar to the beginning motions of a sprint. Hold end position with the balancing leg bent for 2-3 counts before repeating.

(The happiness on my face is from not being able to do this one year ago due to ankle injuries.)

*Follow up with sprint form drills.

Core Finisher

High Plank/Elevated Hip Extension, 1 minute

A common mistake is to lift the leg too high. This exercise only requires inches off the initial position. The lower back will want to get involved, so check in with your body at the "highest point" and take a pause to assess core engagement when the lift is at its peak.

A progression takes the move into an "elevated" position where the feet are on a bench, and the hands are firmly on the ground.

High Plank Slow Mountain Climber Knees For Running Form, 1 minute

On these climbers, we look for the knee to come towards the chest, in line with the hip. The foot should be flexed (dorsiflexion) and the return to high plank should be equally deliberate with soft foot placement.

Stretches: include breath work, static hamstring stretches, kneeling hip flexor stretch, and quad stretch

Proper cool down is essential to return the body to homeostasis and promote proper recovery, as well as optimizing performance for continued training. Cool downs should last about 10 minutes if not more.


Have questions or want more? Comment below or shout us out. We want to know what you think!


Written by:

Judith Wang

Founder, Project Green Beard

UCSC Banana Slug

Special thanks to

Delphine Wartelle Morgan Greenwood

and Jorge Vargas

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