Fearless Females

At RedThread, we are inspired by women who reject traditional standards, break the rules, and pioneer a new way of life. We are the new generation of women, and these are our stories.

Sherry McConkey chooses life, everyday.

Meet this Courageous Mom, Earth and Animal Lover, and Philanthropist

Many know Sherry McConkey as the wife of the late Shane McConkey, one of the most influential skiiers in the world, who died in a skiing accident in 2009 when their daughter was only 3 years old. In the face of heartache and tragedy, Sherry first wanted to escape: leave town, hold her daughter tight, and lead a quiet life.

Instead, Sherry made the courageous decision to become a better version of herself, everyday. She started the Shane McConkey Foundation, which has raised and donated over $450K to organizations that support environmental education and animal protection. She also kicked off the EcoChallenge, who donate money to the winning team with the most innovative project that protects the environment and fights climate change. On top of that, she was executive producer of a film about Shane that inspired the world, and created a loving family with her daughter, Ayla, and their extended Tahoe tribe. Inspired by her ambition, resilience, joy, generosity, and infectious smile, we sat down with her one Saturday in her home in Tahoe, California, to hear her story.

Shane McConkey Foundation

In your TED talk, you mentioned a moment in which you realized you’d intentionally chosen a non-traditional lifestyle by marrying Shane. (e.g. You didn’t marry a Microsoft guy.) I’m wondering how that recognition/choice has changed or deepened over the past decade?
I haven’t changed at all. I often say, I wish I had a normal life. But it’s just not me. It’s not who I am. I was not normal from the get-go. I never would have left South Africa to travel the world by myself. I’ve found what I love. This is what makes me happy. I do have a different mindset since Shane died, though. I would never go base-jumping or skydiving, I’ve become conservative in that way. So I don’t think I am as crazy as I was.

Let’s talk about motherhood. How has motherhood changed the way you think about yourself?

I don’t know if I think of myself as very different (other than my body!) but life has definitely changed. My focus is on Ayla and it’s way more incredible than life was before. You have more fears, and more crazy thoughts. You’re more protective of yourself and of her. There’s a million things that change about how you think when you have a child.

Now that Ayla is facing pre-teenhood (!), what are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now as a mom?

The biggest challenge is time. It’s so hard. You have guilt constantly. You’re doing it all. You’re bringing in the wood. Paying the bills. I see how quickly time is going by and how fast she’s growing up. I have to set priorities and let things go. The time juggle is real.

You’ve talked about how it was your community in Tahoe and their support that helped lift you up after losing Shane. Tell us about the tribe of people that keep you sane and how you stay connected.

My tribe is a loyal group of friends. We all bike, we all climb, we all snowboard together, we’re all mommies at the same time. We’ve become a huge family that’s come together for quite a few years. I’m fascinated by women and have a ton of amazing friends I wish I had more time for. But sometimes you have to step away and say, who is my tribe?

"I often say, I wish I had a normal life. But it’s just not me. It’s not who I am. I was not normal from the get-go. This is what makes me happy."

When you feel defeated, how do you push yourself to keep going?

It’s been a long battle for me. I’m by myself, so I go to bed and wake up spinning with all the things I have to do. I have some tools. In the last three years, I’ve started to get up when my mind is spinning like that and do a 10-minute sleepy yoga meditation. When I get up in the morning, I ask myself, what was the waste of time last night? Was that necessary? I call it putting the shutter down, and it works.

You’ve described cycling as a sanctuary for you. Can you tell us more about how you discovered it, and why it resonates with you?

I learned how to mountain bike in Canada, when I was living in Whistler. I got a $100 bike and backpacked everywhere with this bike. Then I came to Tahoe and everyone was starting to mountain bike then. I loved it right away. I didn’t realize it was my therapist until Shane died. I’d be angry or upset, and I realized the minute I got on my bike, this weight lifted and my heart opened. I could cry or I could think or I could get a slap in the face of how beautiful this world is and how I’m so lucky. When you’re pedaling uphill you can’t do anything but breathe and it’s just the best. You can be on your own and go for hours and escape. .

We’ve noticed that so many women we cross paths with have incredibly layered hobbies and passions that make them fascinating and complex. What else fuels you?

I am so into yoga. I teach a class I call yoga for athletes because there’s so many tight athletes. I love what it does to people, what it does to their body. It’s so cool to see people feel so good. They realize it’s a way of giving back to this incredible miracle that we have, the human body.

I’m really into traveling. I do everything to get my miles. I love surfing. I absolutely suck at it. But I’d love to get better. I love snowboarding, climbing - I don’t climb as much as I used to because it’s so time consuming. Work wise, I love the foundation. It’s changed my life in so many ways. In not only giving, but it’s been an education for me. It’s been hard. It’s what I needed; a slap in the face - to work . And I give checks to people who need it. That’s my favorite part.

"I’ve learned you can do anything you want in life. You have to believe. Always be kind. Don’t be insecure. It’s such a waste of time and it’s so unattractive."

What is your top life tip you think everyone should know that keeps you sane?

I tell Ayla, because of what I’ve gone through, I’ve learned you can do anything you want in life. You have to believe. Always be kind. Don’t be insecure. It’s such a waste of time and it’s so unattractive. It’s really cool to see a confident yet hopeful person. Just be yourself.

Just last night she told me she was embarrassed to play a song around her friends that she loves because it’s really cheesy. I was like, Ayla everybody likes cheesiness! The more you admit what you like, everyone will be comfortable with you. That’s how Shane was. He was such a dork. It was so refreshing for everyone around him.

How would your closest friends describe you?

A month before he died, Shane wrote me this Valentine’s Day letter. It really does explain my personality. Part of the letter said:

You are intriguing and always refreshing.
I will never get tired of the same old you.
You can do pretty much anything.
You know what is important in life, you are not vain or material or consumptive.
You are generous and kind far beyond what is expected.
You don’t think you are hot.
And a whole bunch more that I can’t think of right now.

If I were ever to write a book, it would be called “My last Valentine’s Letter.” It’s one of the greatest pleasures in my life.

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