Richelle Olsen was a tough chick.

As she mounted her bike on the first day of an adventure of epic proportions that would take her from Canada to the border of Mexico, she wasn’t worried about the physical demands of what she was about to undertake. She would handle what the elements threw her way. She would find the mental strength to push through when the going got tough. But what she didn’t expect, was for her biggest obstacle to come from the confines of her own mind. “Riding a bike for five months will make you seriously reassess your life. It makes your appreciate the things that money can’t buy. Freedom. Independence. The simplicity of carrying your life in two bags strapped to a bike.” Richelle was faced with the glaring realisation that she no longer wanted to live a life dictated by stress and protocols. The truth was that her corporate job as a Business Analyst for over a decade had provided her with financial freedom, but not much else, and out here on the open road she came to understand that even financial comfort was no longer cutting it.

Adventure had never been about fitness for Richelle. She had never been particularly interested in sports throughout her life, but her insatiable curiosity and her passion for travel and self-discovery had led her to some incredible physical achievements in bike touring, triathlon and trailrunning. Backed by a supportive community of family and friends, she never doubted her abilities to achieve what she set her mind to. She says “no-one ever told me I wasn’t fit or skinny enough to do something. But I know there are so many women out there who think they don’t belong in the outdoors because of media representation.” Irritated by social media and the fitness industry’s obsession with weight loss, Richelle saw an opportunity to help and empower women. She wanted to provide an inclusive space for women who felt like they didn’t fit the ‘traditionally athletic’ body mould, and support them in their outdoor endeavours. It was about adventure, not fitness, pushing limits, not weight loss. And so, with a deep breath and a huge leap of faith, Escaping Your Comfort Zone was born.

In May 2016, Richelle tentatively launched her business and hosted her first ever organised hike in Lysterfield Victoria, bringing together a group of women looking for a supportive community. Since then, Richelle has led over 200 hikes throughout Australia, and has recently been awarded a Sports Innovation grant from VicHealth. The most valuable part of the experience has been to connect with like-minded women and to give them the confidence to pursue their desire to explore, as well as providing them with the tools to take control of their lives without living in fear of judgment. Richelle explains, “women are always put in boxes and told what they can and can’t do. What I hope to convey to them is that they can truly achieve whatever they want. That they are not defined by what their bodies look like. We spend so much time worrying about how we look and what others think of us, guilt-tripped into restrictive diets to lose weight. What if we took all that negative energy, and moved it into caring for ourselves and doing things we enjoy, with people who build us up. Imagine then what we could achieve!”

Richelle created Escaping Your Comfort Zone to help women challenge themselves beyond what they thought was possible, but at the end of the day, it has challenged her the most, in her own journey as an adventurer, as a woman, and as a business owner. She says “it has made me visit my own comfort zone intimately. I may be adventurous, but I still have my own fears. Asking others to face theirs has made me realise I also need to walk the walk, and re-examine the limits I set on myself in my own life.”

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