Losing a leg might slow some people down, but Sarah Doherty isn’t one of them. After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. McKinley, and then embracing a role as an occupational therapist, she’s founded Sidestix, a company that produces sports-crutches designed to be used on extreme terrain.
Having scaled some of the tallest peaks in the world, you know a thing or two about setting goals and hard work. What advice would you offer to a student with disabilities entering the job market? Aim high, but be realistic and know that short term, doable goals are what keep you motivated and focused. I make a plan with two or three steps and then set dates to make these goals accountable to a timeframe. When these are completed, I focus on the next three steps towards my goal. It truly is like rock-climbing — start with doable boulders, to easy rope climbs, to face climbing with difficult pitches to finally being able to climb El Capitan (a 3,000 foot vertical rock formation — and no, I haven’t climbed this literally).
Finding one’s way in the world can be difficult. As a person who’s taken a somewhat atypical route, from climbing enthusiast to occupational therapist to entrepreneur, can you relate any life-lessons you found particularly enlightening along the way? I have found that it takes a lot of work to create the job you want, and I’m willing to work hard. I am also open to feedback, especially from users of my designs. I believe it is important that adaptive equipment be designed by the people who use it. SideStix is designed by end-users for end-users.
People who travel off the beaten path might find it hard to get their bearings at times. Do you think it’s useful to have a mentor, or are there other role-models that are similarly helpful? I have mentors for the many roles I’m in: parenting, occupational therapy, marriage and those who run start-up companies, both successfully and unsuccessfully. You can always learn from those who are good at what they do and have really walked the path.
People with disabilities often have more challenges to overcome than the average person. What has living with your disability taught you about work in specific and life in general? I have learned to be patient and gentle with myself while in a learning curve, because it takes me longer to learn and do things. I have learned to ask for help and to realize that most things cannot be accomplished without a team behind me. I have learned to value my skills and step up to the plate to lead. I have managed chronic pain through yoga and spiritual practice that teaches one to be present. In a society that is often rushed and distracted by cell phones, social media, or other stimuli at our fingertips, I’ve learned to slow down and take a walk each day with my dog and really see the beautiful world around me. We have this gift called life and it’s ours to cherish. Don’t get me wrong; I often need tune ups to get me back on my path. I do this by taking enforced breaks, sleeping and naps, counselling through spiritual practice, being with good friends who make me laugh, and going to gatherings with good food. jp