This Physical Education and Coaching student is trekking over 4,000 km to support fellow sexual violence survivors
Content warning for mentions of sexual violence and suicide.
As a wrestling coach, certified personal trainer and Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching student, Alyssa Kroeker knows all about the intense drive behind any athletic feat. This spring, she will trek the Pacific Crest Trail, a famous cross-continental hiking trail that takes six months on average to complete.
Alyssa has spent 17 months preparing for the challenge this 4,270-km trail poses, and the journey means more to her than a simple badge of accomplishment. As a survivor of sexual violence, Alyssa is undertaking this journey to heal. She hopes to extend that healing to fellow survivors. During the hike, she’ll be inviting fellow survivors to connect with her and share their stories, as well as raising funds for two charitable organizations to support those affected by sexual violence.
Alyssa spoke to us about her upcoming journey, how she’s been preparing for it, and how she wants to provide support and resources for fellow survivors.
The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the longest trails in North America, famous for the challenge of endurance it poses to hikers. You’ll be walking 10-20 miles a day through harsh weather and tough terrain. When and how did you decide to hike it?
It was about two years ago. At the time, I was in a very dark place. In 2015, I had been sexually assaulted by someone who I no longer accept as family. Then in 2019, I was assaulted again by a supposed family friend. I soon found myself questioning my will to live, and I did try at one point to take my own life. It was fight or die after that, but I still could barely get out of bed, shower or go outside alone – not even to walk my dog.
I’d always loved sports and the outdoors, but in that state, I couldn’t do them anymore. So I started reading and watching movies instead, because it let me escape without leaving the safety of my own home.
One day, my boyfriend threw on the movie Wild. It’s the story of a woman who faces personal tragedies that push her to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While watching it, something inside of me just clicked, like a light in a dim room.
The moment the credits rolled, I dove headfirst into researching everything I could about the Pacific Crest Trail. I wanted to see pictures, know what hiking it would be like, everything. Eventually I found footage on YouTube about the experience, and seeing those videos finalized the choice for me. I knew I wanted to take that hike on.
But I’m not doing this to find myself. I am hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to create myself. To create a version of myself that makes me proud of who I am and what I stand for.
To do this hike, you typically need a lot of training and practice with the necessary equipment. How have you prepared for your journey?
I studied the trail, gathered the gear I’d need and began training for it. It’s been tough, especially at first. There’s a heavy cost factor in finding the right gear, especially since you can’t return equipment that doesn’t work out once it’s used. And I’ve had an injured hip for over a year now. Before that injury, I had a whole plan to be in peak condition before the hike. But that vision was demolished when I learned just how much physio and rehab I needed. I would just keep re-injuring my hip by trying to force my body to train. I’m taking it a lot easier now, and I will get stronger on the trail.
Did you ever want to quit?
All that labour and training actually helped solidify my resolve by making me reflect on my motivations. The days I was most exhausted, physically and mentally, were when I really realized that I’m not only doing this for myself. It’s also for the people who have helped me along the way, and most of all, for other survivors. If I can inspire just one person to find the strength to keep fighting another day, then everything is worth it.
What impact do you hope your journey will have for other survivors?
I hope it will inspire them and reassure them that they can take power back. There are far too many survivors like me, voiceless and denied justice. I am fighting for my own justice, and in doing this hike, I want to illuminate our power and our perseverance.
To put that into action, I’m working with two organizations – WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women), a rape crisis centre in Vancouver, and the South Okanagan Women in Need Society. I’m going to be raising funds for fellow survivors as I hike by calling for donations. I’ll be sharing my travels on my Instagram and opening my direct messages to people who want to share their story with me. And I’m starting my own website to help document the hike and get the word out there.
You’re also working towards your bachelor’s degree right now. As you plan your departure, what makes your journey valuable for students like yourself?
Being a college student in Canada is frightening. Look at the federal statistics on student safety, for example. In 2019, 71 percent of students in college or university witnessed or faced unwanted sexual behaviours at school, or in a school-related setting. Given those numbers, and my own past experiences, I fear walking around campus and being in a classroom. I know that I’m not alone in that.
That said, I’ve been fortunate to have an incredibly supportive environment at Douglas. In fact, more than one of my teachers and lab techs have walked me from my car to the campus building and vice versa. They made sure I felt safe in class and during labs and field trips.
With that in mind, I hope that my travels and my story can help students on campus feel a little less alone, and a little more like they can get support from their communities.
Alyssa departs for her hike on March 26. Follow her journey at @thebcbackpacker on Instagram and at her website.