How Cancer-Survivor Sara Cockrell Stays Active Outdoors

See if you can catch Sara Cockrell. When she’s not hiking, biking or paddling at one of her favorite spots with friends in Northern Michigan, she’s likely traveling the world—hiking in Iceland, backcountry skiing in Colorado, or trekking along famous Western trails, to name just a few of her adventures.

“I love being outside,” says the Interlochen resident, who belongs to several area outdoor recreation clubs, including Cherry Capital Cycling Club and the Grand Traverse Hiking Club. “In the spring and fall, when I’m here, I bike, canoe, hike and enjoy my friends.”

Her latest big trip this summer is a backpacking excursion along a 400-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington state with friends. “I really haven’t backpacked in the last few years and I’ve mostly been hut-to-hut hiking. You don’t want to overdo it,” she says.

Her world travels have taken her to a slew of countries, including Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, Corsica, France, and Chile. Sometimes the adventures have been unexpected, like the time she and her friends were stranded for hours in a gondola nearly 12,500 feet above a glacier between the French and Italian Alps.

“We used our ropes and harnesses and we rappelled down the glacier in the middle of the night and walked about 45 minutes with a guide to get out,” she recalls, noting attempts to helicopter-rescue tourists became problematic because of the weather. Some 30 people remained stuck in the gondolas overnight. “Good thing we had our hiking boots.”

Despite her frenzied schedule, Cockrell, a cancer survivor, concedes she wasn’t always so athletic.

She grew up in Dallas where she occasionally waterskied or rode horses. Sometimes there was downhill skiing in Colorado. Married for a short time, she and her husband moved to Traverse City in 1986, where they ran a small business.

For a long stretch, she jumped into the world of racing in cross-country skiing, mountain biking, and paddling, mostly in Northern Michigan. She’s done all the big races, including the Iceman Cometh Challenge, a well-known 30-mile mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Traverse City, and the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon, an annual 120-mile canoe race from Grayling to Oscoda. She never finished the latter, and although disappointed, she has no plans to make another attempt.

“I don’t want to train anymore or go somewhere I don’t want to go or be out in bad weather,” she says. “I don’t like 40-degree rain.”

Although she is not as fit as during her racing days, she’s in good health. She eats right and gets plenty of sleep. Her life remains active, with a calendar stuffed with outdoor activities. The rewards for being outdoors, she says, are innumerable.

“What you get in return is so worthwhile,” she says, conceding she often returns home exhausted after a day filled with outdoor pursuits. “It’s so rewarding to be out and share a day with friends in beautiful surroundings.”

Sara’s Great Outdoors

A few of her local haunts for keeping fit.

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Northern Michigan Outdoors