Outdoor activities like rock-climbing, hiking, skiing, stand-up paddle boarding, yoga, and kayaking, are full-body exercises that offer incomparable mental, spiritual, and physical benefits. However, as Sarah Herron will tell anyone, “full-body” is a relative term. As long as you reap the many rewards of nature’s challenges by participating in activities to the best of your abilities, you are using your full body.
Born with one arm, Sarah has faced her share of obstacles ranging from bullying to low self-esteem and struggles with self-love. Through a journey that included an appearance on The Bachelor, as well as an empowering exploration into outdoor sports and activities, Sarah has strengthened her self-assurance and found confidence in nature. With her organization, SheLift, Sarah has been mentoring other young girls and women with physical differences to use outdoor recreation to build confidence.
Nature’s message is simple: create experiences, feel joy, and be energized. Sarah’s message is inspiring: be active, feel self-love, and share your light with others. Face the Current is lucky to be the recipient of that glow, so get ready to bask in the warmth of Sarah Herron.
Kirsten Alexis: You were born and raised in Denver, Colorado, a city that boasts endless outdoor adventure opportunities. How has outdoor adventure helped shape who you are today?
Sarah Herron: Despite growing up in Colorado, I was never much of an outdoors girl. I much preferred playing inside, coloring and playing with dolls. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided to take up skiing and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. It was then that I discovered my latent love for the outdoors. Today, I feel I can attribute those years of opting inside to my fear of trying things with only one hand. I was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which resulted in the loss of my left arm from the elbow down in utero. I can recall so many instances as a kid and teenager that the anxiety of having a physical difference limited my recreation, but now, I see my difference as a tool for growth and empowerment.
I was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which resulted in the loss of my left arm from the elbow down in utero. I can recall so many instances as a kid and teenager that the anxiety of having a physical difference limited my recreation, but now, I see my difference as a tool for growth and empowerment.
KA: Your love for the outdoors helped you challenge yourself and overcome obstacles that came your way. How did you find self-worth at such a young age?
SH: Once I learned to overcome the fear of being stared at or looked at funny in recreation, I realized there was so much growth to be had outside! It took a lot of personal development and self-acceptance to arrive at a place of being able to say, “People are staring at me because it’s awesome to see someone rock climbing with one hand.” That was more helpful than the usual self-defeating story that it was because I didn’t belong rock climbing. When I accepted that people were eager to help push my boundaries and take me adventuring, I leaned into those opportunities and started taking advantage of every invite to go outside that came my way.
KA: Looking back on your experiences, what would be your advice to children growing up with differences that might “set them back?” How would you advise them to become stronger and find self-love?
SH: Working through my organization, SheLift, we encourage young women and girls to do the things they’ve always dreamed of doing – especially if they are fearful of others’ perceptions. Most of the fear and discomfort of trying new things is what we call “self-limiting beliefs.” Once people are able to recognize that no one cares how long you take, how you look, or how you reach the top, truly anything is possible.
I was 25 years old when I decided to appear on The Bachelor and I fully credit that experience for launching my journey into confidence and self- acceptance. The reason I went on the show was actually because my self- esteem was so low that I didn’t have the confidence to believe that finding love was possible for me without the support of a production crew.
KA: You wore a prosthetic arm until middle school. What was the catalyst for no longer having a desire to use it?
SH: I wore a prosthetic arm until the 5th grade. I learned to crawl with it, to tie my shoes, and even to peel an orange! But in many ways, the prosthetic arm was more cumbersome and frustrating than I had the tolerance for. I decided to stop wearing it the day my teacher asked me to give a presentation about it to the class. I distinctly remember the day. I was very proud (yet afraid) to stand in front of everyone and tell my story. What I didn’t like was the attention my presentation garnered afterward. My arm suddenly became a show-and-tell toy rather than a piece of who I was. It made me uncomfortable that the boys in my class wanted to take turns playing with my robotic arm when all I wanted was to be seen as normal. I went home that day and told my mom I never wanted to wear it again.
Today, I’ve considered getting an activity-specific arm to help me experience more of the outdoor activities I’m interested in learning – like mountain biking – but for the most part, I’ve found ways to do most everything without it.
It took a lot of personal development and self- acceptance to arrive at a place of being able to say, ‘People are staring at me because it’s awesome to see someone rock climbing with one hand.’ That was more helpful than the usual self-defeating story that it was because I didn’t belong rock climbing.
KA: What inspired you to put yourself out there and audition for The Bachelor, and what did the whole experience teach you about self-love?
SH: I was 25 years old when I decided to appear on The Bachelor and I fully credit that experience for launching my journey into confidence and self-acceptance. The reason I went on the show was actually because my self-esteem was so low that I didn’t have the confidence to believe that finding love was possible for me without the support of a production crew. I was totally insecure and afraid to date in real life. I would hide my arm behind my jacket when out at bars with friends and never went out of my way to meet new people. When casting called me for the show, I remember thinking to myself, “If I can go on this show and own my story, maybe I won’t have to hide my arm anymore because once and for all, everyone will see me on TV and know who I am. I can finally stop hiding.”
After the show aired, I slowly started to feel more comfortable owning who I was, but it took a long time – and two more attempts at finding love on the show – before it finally clicked. I had to love myself before anyone else could. That’s when I decided to fully commit to building a relationship with myself; one that practiced forgiveness, compassion and motivation. I started spending time with myself on the trails, at the movie theater, at the gym, and in classes. Once I started doing the things that nourished my heart and body, the people that aligned with those values started pouring in from left and right. I started dating the right kind of partners, I made friends that encouraged me to be the best version of myself, and I got comfortable with being me – even if it meant being romantically alone.
KA: How do you believe people can find self-love and how do you want to help in the process?
SH: If people are interested in finding self-love, it truly takes being committed to getting honest with yourself. Self-love requires unapologetic reflection, understanding, and compassion for what makes you the person you are. It also requires a lot of selfishness and setting-of-boundaries. To be in a place of self-love is to have the guts to recognize when you’ve messed up, but the permission to realize it’s okay and that you’re imperfectly human. Having self-love is telling people “no” when you’re feeling exhausted or manipulated; it’s having self-respect for the way you treat your body and the people that get to experience your joy. Like building any relationship, self-love takes honesty, communication (with yourself and others), and it takes time! My greatest hope is that I can be here to support women who are working on themselves by saying, “Hey sister, I get it! I love carbs and Netflix binging too, but let’s not beat ourselves up in the gym the next day for it.” We’re all deserving and worthy of love and loving ourselves.
KA: Can you tell us more about your organization, SheLift, and its mission? How did starting SheLift help you find self-love and your purpose?
SH: SheLift is an organization that empowers women and young girls with physical differences to discover confidence and self-acceptance through outdoor recreation and mentorship. I started the organization after having an epiphany mountain-side while skiing with my dad. I realized, if skiing could change my life and improve my confidence, I could surely help other girls with physical differences experience that, too. In its second year of operation, and having hosted over 30 women and moms, SheLift continues to be a place of growth and personal development for me, too. I decided to incorporate a heavy component of life-coaching because I believe it’s important that we tackle the hard-hitting fears and self-limiting beliefs that have made women (including myself) feel unworthy or undeserving up until this point. SheLift’s metaphorical mantra is to help women physically and emotionally conquer mountains because there’s more to confidence than literally reaching the top.
KA: Of the many sports and activities that typically require the use of ‘full body,’ such as yoga, SUP, kayaking, and rock climbing, you venture out to experience all of these and more, proving there really are no limits. The tagline for your company is, “Maybe You Literally Can Even.” Where did you get the inspiration for the tagline and what is its significance to you?
SH: The line, “Maybe You Literally Can Even” was written by my friend and mentor, Elan Gale, Executive Producer of The Bachelor. Elan has been a key figure in my life and has personally helped me walk through some of the more challenging times of my journey to self-discovery. When I launched SheLift, Elan offered to help me kickstart an online fundraiser by rallying Bachelor Nation to help promote sales of a t-shirt printed with one of his Unspirational quotes. One hundred percent of the proceeds would be donated to SheLift. Unspirational is an Instagram account Elan created, poking fun at inspirational quotes we see online. When I read maybe you literally can even, it just felt dead-on for SheLift. The saying takes a cultural stab at the colloquial catchphrase, “I literally can’t even” and says, “YES YOU CAN…if you try!” I never anticipated the phrase becoming our un-official tagline beyond the fundraiser, but the shirt continues to sell today and has helped us raise over $70,000.
KA: What are some of the accomplishments you’re proud/grateful to have made so far since creating SheLift, and what are your ultimate goals with it?
SH: I’m just proud of SheLift in itself. At initial conception, I never set out to make it a non-profit, let alone make it my full-time career. My goal was to host one ski retreat and go back to my regular job. I’m beyond proud that the women who’ve shown up to participate share their stories and ask for more. I’m grateful for the women who’ve selflessly devoted their time and energy to helping me craft and execute the brand, its mission, and its online presence. The ultimate goal is for SheLift to help make physical differences in media, recreation, and everyday life more normalized so that ultimately, women won’t need SheLift to feel a sense or place of belonging.
KA: You often share contrasting perspectives on how we tend to view “problem areas” of our own body, from stretch marks to cellulite and all things in between! What is one of your favorite go-to perspective-shifts to remind yourself, or others, to see and focus on the beauty?
SH: As someone who struggles with body image insecurities myself, it’s never as easy to say to someone, “Focus on inner beauty because that’s all that matters!” I try not to preach from a place of knowing and instead teach from a place of not knowing. I think the most valuable way I can help motivate and remind people that beauty ranges and is imperfect is to stay unapologetically vulnerable with my life. By pulling back the curtain on the things I’m struggling with in life, I hope women can realize they aren’t alone in their struggles. Fat days, skinny days, bad hair days, and good hair days will all come and go; what’s important to remember is that our worth and deservingness of love and acceptance isn’t based on those factors.
KA: Of all of your travels, can you share one of your profound experiences?
SH: International travel is very new for me! Until this year, I had never traveled beyond Mexico or Canada (except for as a kid and that doesn’t count). When I started dating my boyfriend who is an adventure and travel photographer, venturing to new lands quickly became a more regular experience for me. With each country we visit, I learn something new about people, perspectives, and myself. I think what I appreciate most is seeing the ways different cultures accept and appreciate women (and their bodies)! It’s always refreshing to see fuller-figured, natural women all across the world.
KA: How can people get involved and support your movement?
SH: This winter I will be launching a series of retreats and private coaching services to women of all abilities. While SheLift will remain focused on nurturing women with physical differences, I want to be able to expand my learnings and tools to women everywhere. I’m excited to start this new chapter, sharing self-love and adventure for all. Stay tuned for ways to work together, attend a retreat, or support SheLift by following me on Instagram.