From the Slopes to Harvard – Meet Delaney
At SOS, we firmly believe in the inherent power of the outdoors. It’s a space where we believe all should be welcome and it provides the opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive. That’s why for 28 years, SOS has been using mountain sports as the catalyst to introduce youth to core values, develop leadership skills, cultivate community, and build resilience. The outcome is youth feeling equipped and supported to walk through their own opportunities and unleash their full potential. This leads us to Delaney.
“Prior to SOS, I didn’t even really know [snowboarding] was a thing,”
Meet Delaney, a highschool junior and SOS Denver participant with an unequivocal ambition to challenge herself, learn, and succeed. Despite having grown up in Colorado with the mountains only a few hours away, snowsports were not something Delaney had ever given much thought, “Prior to SOS, I didn’t even really know [snowboarding] was a thing,” says Delaney, “but in 7th grade, I learned about the program through my school and immediately knew that it was something I wanted to do.”
Shortly thereafter, Delaney enrolled in SOS and dove headfirst into snowboarding along with the opportunities that came with it. At first, learning to snowboard wasn’t easy, which came as a bit of a shock, “It was tough” she says, “as a kid who was a part of programs like Gifted and Talented in school…it was kind of frustrating because I wasn’t immediately good at it like I had been with other things. It was definitely a learning experience, I was humbled.”
As Delaney began to embrace humility, her skills and confidence on snow rapidly progressed. Before long, Delaney had developed a deep passion for snowboarding that she says will stay with her “for the rest of her life”.
“At this point, I don’t think there’s anything that would ever stop me from snowboarding, besides maybe money,”says Delaney.
At SOS, we recognize the barriers to entry that exist in skiing and snowboarding. Oftentimes, the youth we work with have been told either directly or indirectly that outdoor spaces like the mountains or trails are not for them. We’re shifting that narrative with the goal of changing the culture of the outdoors to being a space where everyone is welcome. Despite the progress, there is still work to be done.
Delaney, too, recognizes the shortfalls of the outdoor community when it comes to making the outdoors inclusive and welcoming. Aside from financial barriers, Delaney acknowledges the “subtle privilege” that exists on the slopes. Delaney recalls a time when she and some friends had decided to go snowboarding for the day, “My friends and I were down at the base and we were just looking for somewhere to sit so we could get our boots and our gear on,” remembers Delaney, “and there just happened to be these chairs that were kind of part of a table, but not really.”
Delaney and her friends proceeded to sit down so they could put their boots on and get out on the mountain to get some laps in. “My friends and I, we’re not white people” continues Delaney, “we very much did not fit in with the stereotypical person you’d see at a ski resort.” That quickly became apparent when another guest in the lodge approached the girls, “So this older white lady comes up to us,” recounts Delaney, “and she gets a little intense. She’s like ‘you guys can’t be sitting here, there’s a family outside, they’re coming back, and I don’t want you taking their stuff’. And then she was like ‘when I come back, their stuff better still be here’, but I hadn’t seen her do that with anybody else, so it was kind of weird because we were just putting our boots on, we have no reason to take anybody else’s stuff.” The contents on the table consisted of a children’s coloring book and some broken crayons. “Why in the world would we ever want to steal that?!”
Despite the negative experience, it did not stop Delaney from going out to do what she loved. She and her friends got their gear on and went out to enjoy a day on the mou ntain. Though faced with adversity, Delaney’s persevering attitude and love for snowboarding remained unwavering. “My experience with snowboarding is actually really positive,” says Delaney, “It’s very exciting and tranquil at the same time.” And while Delaney loves the serenity of being in the mountains, she also admits the thrill keeps her coming back for more “I just love going fast” she says.
As Delaney progressed through the SOS curriculum, she began to discover opportunities that existed outside of snowboarding, yet were still deeply rooted in her love of being in the mountains. During the summer between her sophomore and junior year, Delaney learned about SOS’s Career Development Pipeline– a program that connects SOS participants with unique paid internship opportunities in the outdoor industry. Without hesitation, Delaney applied and was invited to work with the major outdoor apparel brand, Smartwool. “It felt like a major accomplishment” says Delaney, “This was my opportunity to present myself to people and make connections”.
SOS also helped me gain courage to talk to all kinds of different people. I learned to not just communicate, but to do so in a way that is effective”
Just like snowboarding, Delaney approached the internship opportunity head on. During her time at Smartwool, Delaney was able to experience a myriad of different jobs and responsibilities. Through it all, she met incredible people and made lasting connections. “Starting off, I was kind of nervous because I was going to be working with a bunch of adults who I didn’t know,” reflects Delaney, “But once I got to know them they were all actually really cool.”
Delaney credits much of her success with Smartwool to what she learned in SOS, “SOS taught me to trust and rely on people. SOS also helped me gain courage to talk to all kinds of different people. I learned to not just communicate, but to do so in a way that is effective”. Applying lessons learned, Delaney unapologetically asked questions, self advocated, and requested help when she needed it, “If I didnt know if somebody wanted something a certain way, I wouldn’t be embarrassed and think that they thought I was stupid for not knowing, I would just ask them” says Delaney, “I think that was another part of building and improving communication with other people, especially in a work environment because I’d never been in that kind of environment before.”
Along with the professional skills gained at Smartwool, Delaney was also given the opportunity to sit down with Smartwool CEO, Jen McLaren, “We talked for over an hour and got to know each other. She asked me about what I aspired to be in the future, and I actually got to learn a lot about her too,” says Delaney, “it was a really great connecting moment”.
Having Jen as a role model to look up to helped Delaney tremendously. “From Jen, I learned that I don’t have to start off where I want to be immediately after high school, like I don’t have to be a physicist at NASA right after I graduate,” says Delaney, “[Jen] didn’t start off as a CEO, she worked her way up. She showed people that she was very capable and they respected her for it. It reinforced to me that not everything has to happen all at once.”
Although Delaney still isn’t sure if she actually wants to be a physicist at NASA, she’s taking Jen’s words to heart and putting in the work to get there. Earlier this year, Delaney discovered an interesting summer college program that allows high school students to take university level courses. Naturally, Delaney applied and was accepted into the prestigious Harvard Summer Program where she will be taking a multi-week physics course on the Harvard campus.
While it’s quite an accomplishment on its own, the cherry on top was receiving a letter of recommendation from her mentor and Smartwool CEO, Jen McLaren. “I was so excited because I didn’t know she was doing stuff like that for people.” says Delaney, “I would see her in the office and she always looked super busy… so when I received a letter of rec from her, I just felt so grateful”.
Though receiving a letter of recommendation was huge surprise for Delaney, it was ultimately an easy decision to carry out for Jen, “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a letter of rec for such an incredible opportunity,” states Jen McLaren, “Delaney is such a bright young individual and she really lives out SOS’s core values every single day. She developed so much during her time with Smartwool and I felt honored to personally witness that growth. I have no doubt that this experience at Harvard will serve as yet another extraordinary opportunity for growth, just as Smartwool and SOS Outreach have.”
Delaney is, of course, looking forward to diving into college level physics this summer and to being involved with SOS for one more season as a Junior Mentor. Delaney’s accomplishments speak volumes to her drive, determination, and character. At SOS, we are so proud of Delaney. We are also incredibly grateful that we’ve been able to support her and provide challenging and invigorating opportunities throughout her SOS experience. The beauty of it all, is that while Delaney is absolutely exceptional, in SOS, she’s not the exception. There are so many others – whether it’s Armando from Eagle County, Mercer from Detroit, or Jeffery from Park City – whose experiences in SOS have served as the catalyst to go on to do extraordinary things.
The unique theme that exists across all of these wonderful individuals is that it all started with the simple act of learning to slide on snow. Who’d have ever thought that learning to snowboard would ultimately lead to physics classes at Harvard?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – stronger youth creates stronger communities; and SOS participants like Delaney drive that message home. Together, we can continue supporting opportunities for young people like Delaney. Learn more about how you can be a champion for SOS youth today.