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From Hairdressing to Hiking; How Walking Changed my Life

Posted on February 12, 2016 @ 4:34 PM in Walking

Foreword by Mid Ulster Walking club  and UFRC Member Ronnie Irvine:

I first met Samzie Hale around 10 years ago in Tesco’s Cookstown store. I knew she cut my wife’s hair, and I always gave her a smile.  One day we happened to be lifting groceries at the same spot on the shelves, and Samzie asked “Are you in the walking club? I would be interested in joining”.  I enjoyed advertising the walking club, which was fairly close to my heart, so we chatted about the joining process and the types of walk we did.

Samzie duly joined and, to my slight surprise, soon proved to be a strong walker with lots of stamina, keen to learn about plants and animals encountered on walks, and with a good sense of direction.

Hiking in the Sperrins; Leading in Snowdonia 

After a few years she completed her Mountain Leadership Course, and was soon fit to lead the club Spring Trip to North Wales. It was then that some of the old hands realised that Samzie was both an excellent leader and a good organiser-she had prepared an enjoyable trip almost single-handed, and led the harder walks on the trip as well.

After a few years, she ventured abroad as a leader on a trip to Thailand with a combined Schools Adventure Group. Since then she hasn’t looked back and has been in charge of trips to many countries, gaining confidence and a wealth of leadership experience. One has now only to look up ‘Samzie Hale’ on the internet to discover the extent of her leadership for ‘Ramblers’.  This is her walking story….

I was not originally from Mid-Ulster having moved over from London. One day walking past Cookstown Library towards my hairdressing salon I saw a poster advertising a Charity Trek to Nepal. To be honest, I was not quite sure at the time where Nepal even was, but it sounded like an adventure and I was ready for one. I asked my mum if she would come and look after my young son. I sent off the registration cheque and began fundraising.

I was keen to start walking as I did not even know the surrounding area where I lived well. I joined our local club, Mid-Ulster Walking Club. That was it, I was off on a journey that would change my life and make me so much happier within myself. I found I loved hiking, especially walking towards a summit or hill-top. With each upward step I felt I was leaving all my cares behind and simply thinking about putting one foot in front of the other in order to get to the top. I even forgot about bills and work! I used to feel sad when the return walk down began. Each downward step seemed to bring me closer to all those day to day worries. When I first began walking, I was running my own small hairdressing business and managing staff. The business entailed long hours and the fact that I was raising my son on my own was an added burden.  Walking gave me a huge release and when out with ‘Mid-Ulster Walking Club’ every other Sunday I was introduced to so many new places in Ireland. I am sure I would never have discovered them on my own.

Clockwise from top left: Samzie, On the Great wall of China, leading a local camel and Cooking in Mongolia 

The Charity trek to Nepal was the pinnacle of my experience and as a result I was determined to try to make walking more than just a hobby; I wanted to make it my career. I trained as a Mountain Leader which was exciting and interesting, but on the course I felt like Bridget Jones. Everyone else was so much more experienced than I was. A hairdresser who did not even know how to use a compass! I logged the 20 mountain days required before starting the course-mainly gaining experience in the Mournes. With good luck and a map I never had any incidents!

After the training, I was on a mission. Every spare minute found me climbing mountains all over the place, I travelled to England, Scotland & Wales and practiced, practiced, practiced. Finally I felt as ready as I would ever be, and after a week of hell in North Wales; they considered me competent and I proudly became a Qualified Mountain Leader in 2006. I think it was the hardest thing I ever had to do, to me it was just like getting a Degree.

The rest is history; I now work as a Freelance Expedition Leader and have been all over the world taking both adults and students on life-changing challenges of their own. I wish I had been introduced to walking and the outdoors when I was at school (in those days there was no Duke of Edinburgh at my inner London comprehensive). It is fantastic to be able to enjoy a great activity that is both free and non-competitive. It doesn't matter if someone walks faster or longer than you, it is all about enjoying the walk!  Sometimes, when I think back to the time before seeing that library poster, I am not sure how I would have got through some really anxious times if walking had not become my outlet.

Clockwise from left: Leading in Samaria Gorge, Crete; In Rain Forest near Tena, Equador

I now work freelance for ‘World Challenge’, taking schoolchildren from the UK, Australia & Middle East all over the world and I also lead ‘Ramblers Worldwide’ walking trips for adults mostly in Crete & South East Asia. The job has given me opportunities to visit many beautiful countries, but my most enduring memories are of the kindness and friendliness of the people I have met on these trips. It is both staggering and humbling to receive such generosity from people who themselves often have little. The combination of travel and adventure and opportunities to lead groups in jungle, deserts and high mountains has enabled me to share close-up time with a wide range of people from many countries, and appreciate how lucky I am. I found out that it is never too late to change your life and to follow your dreams-no matter how big or small those dreams may be. Walking has helped me make many new friends as well as cope with pressures.

This year I am going to Sri Lanka, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, China, India, Thailand & Crete and will be posting blogs on my Facebook page and website www.Shortstrides.co.uk

If you’ve been inspired by Samzie and want to join a local walking club in your area check out the walking club list on WalkNI

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

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