Quinn Brett: Failure Brings Learning

In The Wild

Quinn Brett: Failure Brings Learning

We first heard of Quinn Brett when our mutual friend Micah Ling told us Quinn had rocked the White Rim trail with our Fat Tire Bike Bag. Naturally, we wanted to know more. People like Quinn, who take their development as a person as seriously as their development as an athlete, are exactly the kind of people we want to learn from. If that’s the kind of person you are, too, read on.

There’s a common notion that people can’t change, or that they don’t change. We love to say it anytime we’re disappointed by someone’s seemingly chronic behavior. But the truth is, we can change — we do it all the time. We learn things, we set goals, we achieve feats that one time seemed like a far-off fantasy. We constantly adapt. Change might be the thing that makes us the most human of all.

Quinn Brett lives in Estes Park, Colorado. She works for the National Park Service in wilderness, accessibility, and outdoor recreation. She also executes gigantic physical feats at a wildly impressive rate. And while she’s not slowing down anytime soon (she’s currently embarking on one of her biggest adventures yet), one of her ongoing goals is to take time to be still — to acknowledge the need for calm. “A long time ago I started a blog and titled it ‘Look up, stand still, and breathe,’ because I felt like I needed a reminder to just pause. I’m such a bumble bee and that’s okay, but you need to have space to just breathe.”

With change comes growth. And growth doesn’t usually happen without some discomfort. You decide you want to try something new, or go farther, or get faster. The process is tough. But pausing to take it all in — to enjoy goals achieved — should be part of the journey too. “I didn’t used to pause — it was always just another step in realizing what I could do. But failure comes along with all of it, and then there’s more learning. There’s way more learning in failure.” And in those times — when there’s failure and learning — Quinn likes to set expectations low. “Get back out there and take it one day at a time. Just get the bike shoes on and see if you can get out the door.”

Quinn also likes to be aware of purpose. “Are athletic endeavors another form of distraction, or are they a form of self betterment? And sometimes we do need distraction. Sometimes you’re going out on a run to clear your head, and then all of the sudden you’re learning something about yourself.” But being aware, and sometimes changing how you approach goals and achievements, makes all the difference. Are you avoiding change, or confronting it?

In 2017, Quinn fell over 100 feet while climbing on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and sustained a spinal cord injury, leaving her currently paralyzed from the waist down. “Trauma and severe situations force adaption. But old habits die hard. I’ve had to learn how to communicate differently [about my needs and abilities] . I was always someone who liked to fly under the radar — not be noticed, not make a scene — and so I find that that’s still part of my personality, which is maybe why it is hard to ask for things. I feel like a burden or a nag.”

Recently, Quinn has been working on her frame of mind. “I need to shift away from the societal norms that women are nags and disabled people need help.” Change, growth, adaptation — it’s all exhausting. But also, it’s incredible. When you set goals, when you communicate your needs, when you accept who you are, allow for failure, and pause to acknowledge the process, it’s pretty damn great. Look up, stand still, and breathe.

Thanks to Micah Ling for this written piece.

My Topo Designs Go-to’s

Keep up with Quinn on Instagram at @squinndalina.

Photos: Rebecca Detterline, Jimmy McAllan, Sarah Stratton, and Quinn Brett