Each time she hesitated, she quickly remembered something, or someone, who believed in her. Little did Lisa Young know that her biggest advocate would turn out to be herself.
The 39-year-old La Crosse woman, who is a mother of two, wife to Mayo Health System radiologist Dr. Jesse Young, a homeschool teacher and avid outdoors person, admits there have been times in life she simply needed a little nudge when trying something new.
Like mountain biking, for example. Or fly fishing. Or kayaking. Or cross country skiing.
The Youngs — Jesse, Lisa, 9-year-old Caleb and 7-year-old Jaylee — you see, are a highly active outdoors family who truly appreciate where they live, how they live and where they fit into the big picture. Yes, faith is a big part of their lives as well.
“The more time we spend outside, whether biking, hiking or fishing, the more we appreciate and value the world around us and feel grateful for each day we are given,” Lisa Young said. “It is inspiring to witness our kids filled with wonder and excitement as they see God’s creativity in the beauty and intricacies of nature.”
The journey that brought the family to La Crosse five years ago was filled with interesting twists and turns, from a happenstance viewing of an Outdoor Recreation Alliance (ORA) video that proved to be icing on the cake, so-to-speak, when the family was looking for a place to relocate after Jesse’s residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“We watched the video put out by ORA of the 7 Rivers Region at the time. They had a video to display the different things of the Driftless Region. We watched that, and yes, we said we need to live there,” Lisa Young said.
A big factor, of course, was that Jesse could stay within the Mayo Health System, simply in a different city. A city with almost-instant access to multiple trail systems, and a short drive to trout streams, camping and countless other outdoor adventures.
Growing up in South Dakota — Lisa in Sioux Falls, Jesse in Mitchell — was great, Lisa said, but the outdoor activities were different, and less in scope, than those the couple discovered in the Coulee Region. With that said, their love of the outdoors began when Jesse and Lisa met when Lisa was a middle school teacher, and high school volleyball and track and field coach in Sioux Falls.
In fact, a two-week span after their honeymoon 15 years ago was filled with outdoor adventure, but not where you might think.
“We got back from our honeymoon and packed our bikes, kayaks and cheap camping supplies and took off for two weeks. Jesse had not started med school yet and I was off for the summer with my teaching, so we drove around northern Minnesota,” Lisa Young said.
“We camped, biked, kayaked. The black flies were so bad at one spot we had to bike to the lake and jumped in the lake to escape them. I think that’s what really started us in the outdoors.”
Such an experience might deter some folks, but it was the start of an unbreakable bond between the couple and the outdoors. A bond they are now passing onto their children.
“We picked up all our hobbies together, as far as what we’ve got now,” Lisa Young said. “He is who I want to do everything with, my favorite person to do things with. It is fun to have your spouse to share those hobbies with, and not feel conflicted.”
Jesse Young truly enjoys outdoor adventures, he said, but sharing them with his family makes it even more special.
“Ya, it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy the many adventures and moments the outdoor lifestyle brings with the people you love most,” Jesse Young said. “It gives me joy to see the smile on my daughter’s face when she conquers an obstacle on the trail on her bike or listen to my son’s utter excitement when he sees a unique species of bird and can promptly identify it and mimic its call.”
When Lisa and Jesse were first beginning their outdoor adventures, there were some anxious moments — at least for her — Lisa said.
A new sport, say mountain biking, would seem a bit intimidating at first.
“We were just starting out and had just learned about mountain biking from Jesse’s colleagues at medical school. I was super nervous. I didn’t have a nice bike, I was wearing tennis shoes, a t-shirt and shorts,” Lisa Young recalled.
“I remember getting there and one of the other guy’s wife was at park with little kids. I was, ‘What am I doing? Should I be over there?’ Then I thought, ‘I brought my bike and my husband told me I could do it.’
“I think that was probably a turning point that I could do it and learn a lot. I gained confidence through it. And I did trails, I didn’t even realize what I was in for at the time. It turns out it was beautiful and amazing.”
Since that moment, Lisa and Jesse have mountain biked on trails in the Black Hills of South Dakota (one of their favorite spots), Moab, Utah, Colorado and Bend, Oregon, to name a few. They have not only ridden trails in the La Crosse area, but joined the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) where Lisa blew through the different levels.
Lisa started in the Citizen (beginner) level, then advanced through the Sport, Comp, Masters levels and on to the highest division, Pro, Cat1 or Elite.
Forever humble, she downplays her achievements, instead recalling her early experiences that spurred her on. Like her first race, where a woman at the registration tent provided courage and support.
“My husband joined the Sport (level), but I was not that daring. I had not been on a bike in a while, was just out of shape and I didn’t know the trails well. I had never raced,” Lisa Young said.
“That was my first introduction to the mountain bike community here. I remember going up a hill and wanting to push my bike, but there was a photographer there, so I couldn’t. I finished and wound up getting a medal.”
It would open up a whole community of new friends for both Lisa and Jesse, and she hopes opens some eyes to what mountain biking – and who does it – is really all about. She continues to work toward those goals as a board member of the Outdoor Recreation Alliance (ORA).
“I definitely care a lot, as I think trails really help a community. And I think it’s a way to break down stereotypes about mountain bikers. I was a mom, with kids, who liked to mountain bike,” Lisa Young said. “Some people view mountain bikers, or have in the past, with a little more of an edge. I am not a Red Bull downhiller.”
Don’t get the idea she’s not competitive, as she is, but there is more of a balance in her life now, as she enjoys a ride in the woods with her family. A ride where the kids will make frequent stops to ask questions about the trees, the vegetation and the wildlife.
“I homeschool both of them (kids). When my son started kindergarten, I decided to try it, and thought ‘Why not?’ I did it before COVID, so it’s worked out. Honestly, it’s a year-by-year thing. It gives us flexibility to do more outdoor things,” Lisa Young said.
Like kayaking – the kids, when smaller, used to ride along, propped up in the kayak’s storage hatches – and fly fishing. The couple discovered fly fishing while in Rochester, as they would make frequent trips to different branches of the Whitewater River near St. Charles and Elba, Minn.
Now, they make treks to streams in the Coon Valley area, such as Timber Coulee and Spring Coulee. It’s still fun to catch fish, but there is so much more to the trips now.
“It’s hard not to have joy when your kids are laughing uncontrollably trying to catch tadpoles in a spring fed creek as your wife simultaneously has a beautiful trout on the line and the sun is setting over one of the many gorgeous driftless coulees,” Jesse Young said. “It’s an oasis for the mind and soul that is needed in times like this.”
The couple mixes the enjoyment they experience with learning moments for their kids. It’s a win-win situation.
“When we are out on the trails, I get to take advantage of the time with them (kids) to stop and look at something and let them ask questions. I don’t know a lot of things, but I am learning with them,” Lisa Young said.
“My son, even at a young age, has developed a love for birds. He could name every bird and knows their calls. And we still fly fish around here, and the kids are in their waders. They fish a little bit, but enjoy finding treasures like nymphs or turtles.”
With all of their outdoor activities, the onset of COVID-19 and the worldwide pandemic over the past year didn’t disrupt the Young’s lives as much as it may have others. They still did what they have done in terms of enjoying nature and outdoor interests.
That, Lisa said, won’t change.
“As the seasons rotate, we are outside with a different activity. We, as a family, value our outdoors time together,” she said.
While she never intended to be an example of an outdoors woman, she does hope that other women read about what she has done, then find it within themselves to try new things. Things that may be male dominated, at least right now, but don’t have to be in the future.
All some women need, she believes, is perhaps a little nudge.
“You have to get over the hump of learning. (Mountain biking), the first few times it may not seem fun and you may want to give it up as, especially for women, it can be intimidating,” Lisa Young said. “You see more men out there and you don’t want to be judged. When you are out of shape, it is hard, but you want to learn a few of those (new) skills. Then it’s like you turn this corner and it just becomes fun.”
Living in La Crosse, Lisa Young says, has been a lot of fun.
“I’m not sure what our future holds, but we definitely have been blessed to be living here,” she said.
Jeff Brown, a former longtime sports editor for the Tribune, is a freelance outdoors writer. Send him story ideas at email@example.com