LONDON/DETROIT: There are so many of us who cannot wait to see the backside of 2020. It’s been a difficult year from the start with the Australian bush fires and then that dastardly global Covid pandemic. The contentious U.S. presidential election, Brexit, the swarming of locusts in east Africa and now even rumblings of a civil war in Ethiopia. It’s made for a hellish year. For me personally it’s also been hard. Not only did our beloved Labrador, Mila, drop dead from a heart attack while out on her daily walk but my husband and I decided to separate and divorce—right before lockdown. (I don’t recommend being stuck in your house with an estranged spouse for six months!) At one point, I was not sure if I would be able to travel home to see my mom in Michigan but luckily I donned my face mask and flew back to the U.S.
When I was home I saw a segment on the Today show that really impacted me, in part because I think we all want to have feel good stories of empowerment at the moment. It was about four friends –Sheri Hunter, Angenette Frink, Brenda Jegede and Mia Lewis–who met while serving together in their suburban Detroit church. Over the years the ladies got to know each other and Mia one day threw out the idea of going out to Colorado to go whitewater rafting. That intense bonding trip led the four women to start travelling together across the U.S. and then the world, pushing the limits of their comfort levels and learning about themselves as they did. They call themselves the Dare Divas , and they hope that their trips and challenges will inspire other women to get out of their comfort zone. Sheri Hunter, who is based in Detroit, answered a number of questions about their first trip, pushing boundaries and what’s next for the Divas. EXCERPTS:
GINANNE BROWNELL: Tell me a bit about yourself.
SHERI HUNTER: I am a journalist at heart. I eventually earned an MBA and began my career as a sales and marketing professional, but, I never gave up writing. I worked freelance as a newspaper reporter for the [Detroit] Oakland Press, published short stories and eventually wrote for magazines before writing my memoir, “Daring to Live.” I was married 21 loving years to Mannard whom I met when I was 10 and he was 16. Our parents were co-workers. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2012. He was 50. He was my great love and I’m so thankful we shared our lives over the years. I’m a wife (I remarried my other great love, Mike, in 2019), I’m a mother of two, bonus mom to two and now bonus-grandmother to two sweet little kids via my second marriage. I love to travel and look forward to doing more when our world is healthy and strong. With the pandemic, I’m enjoying more of nature including hiking, biking and skiing.
What did you all think when Mia threw out the idea to go whitewater rafting? I understand Brenda needed some convincing.
When asked by Mia, only Angenette was wildly onboard, gleeful, as she had rafted before with friends. I was intrigued though a bit curious and nervous as I’m not a swimmer—I’m taking lessons now. Angenette is too. Mia and Brenda are swimmers. Though I wasn’t an immediate “Yes” my ears did perk up. At that point in her life, Brenda wanted to be open to building relationships outside of her marriage and being a mother of two.
What was that first trip like?
My late husband Mannard purchased fried chicken for our car trip in Angenette’s Jeep to West Virginia and we snacked and chatted as we headed from Michigan through the scenic hills and scary narrow back roads. The drive alone was a time to share and dig into each other’s lives outside of church. When we arrived we were inside quaint log cabins and snuggled and talked. It was true intimacy before the all-out white water river extravaganza. We were tickled as we hoisted our raft out to the river, all bold, confident, assured. That changed quickly. We were tossed about, bouncing, crashing against boulders with water entering our craft and our mouths. It was lunacy…it was joy. I thought many times, “Wow, I’m doing this” and we each all along were amazed that we were doing it. The excitement did turn to grave concern when our guide, Katy, (the only one on our raft who knew what she was doing), during a major hit with a boulder, was dumped from the raft. Shortly, another craft assisted, and our guide was back aboard and we continued the journey.
How did the skiing trip come about? Did it not only solidify your friendship but also about creating Dare Divas as a movement?
[We went] to the bunny hill and our spirits aligned to falling, crashing, trying desperately to hang on to the ski poles or each other. It was out-of-world funny. I recall laughing so hard I could barely breathe as the four of us in our forties and late thirties tried to ski (not tumble) down the bunny hill. As we always do, we took it to another level. At the resort they offered zip-lining and we did as instructed and even zip-lined upside down. Angenette jokingly said we had “the spirit of non-stop” on that trip as we just wanted to keep going and going.
Your husband died before you could travel together on a much longed for trip to France together. I think it is lovely that Dare Divas joined you on that trip instead.
The trip to Paris was an all-out Girl Fest. I had planned a 65-day solo trip throughout Asia and Africa to do some soul searching following the death of Mannard, only I didn’t want to go alone, or at least not start alone. The first leg, Paris, was where we convened and boy did we turn Paris out! We kicked up our heels at the Eiffel Tower in these sleek bedazzled Dare Diva shirts that Mia had custom made for us. We even got lost in an inner-city hamlet of Paris where we ended up at a wig shop speaking broken French to Black folks who looked like us but were [Francophones] who lovingly took pity on us and guided us back to the subway station. The trip was indeed empowering. I journeyed on alone, and the ladies ventured to Spain. I discovered a lot about myself in those 65 days. With every storm, there is the other side of the storm.
Tell me about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I did the day one hike and it was a killer! How did you all train, how did you decide this was the trip for you and how did you encourage each other on during the hike?
Mount Kilimanjaro, which I call Mt. Killa because it nearly did me in, was phenomenal. It was rigorous, exhausting, taxing, wondrous and worth the time and effort. We each trained differently, and speaking for myself, the hikes, cardio and weight training wasn’t nearly enough. I feel like if I trained for a marathon, that would have made it a lot easier. I was the crazy wildcat who suggested the hike as someone I met on my solo trip to Africa said it was highly doable. What helped greatly was when one of us was whipped emotionally, spiritually, physically, someone always had a word of encouragement or literally pulled us up. I can’t say enough about our guides and porters who are elite hikers who carried 30 pound bags on their backs, their heads even (tents, food, supplies) for eight, 10 hours as they guided us up the mountain. I learned how short of a temper I have when I’m exhausted, that I get silent when I feel out of control, that there’s a tenacity that just keeps me churning, and that there are bigger things than the mountain. Each of the Dare Divas is ferocious and strong, and that was clear in Tanzania.
What would you say is now the goal of Dare Divas? How do you inspire women you don’t even know to harness their courage and sense of adventure?
We hope to inspire women to live outside their comfort zones and join us in doing so with our dares. We each try to apply that zest for living in our relationships, health, careers, etc. What works in the Dares, can certainly apply in other areas of one’s life and we want to encourage that thinking.
Your book is being turned into a film. How did that come about?
The film deal came via an article I wrote for MORE Magazine. I wrote the article and there were many questions…questions from many different perspectives…How do you manage grief? How do you move forward? How do you meet friends? How do you form a sisterhood? How can I become adventurous? All these and more came my way and I thought, “Hey, let’s write a book.” Paramount Pictures optioned the book. There were many dips and turns along the way. Currently, a screenwriter is in the second round of edits with the script with the goal to begin filming the summer of 2021 with a release in 2022.
Covid has stopped travel for now but where will you go once you can hit the road again?
We plan to visit Iceland…hike it maybe, see the Northern Lights, serve the community in some way. Maybe like we did in Tanzania when we visited an orphanage and gave a brand new computer, supplies, educational math/reading aids and toys for the kids. We each have been active: walking, keeping ourselves healthy, taking care of loved ones and even getting involved with different causes that are meaningful to us individually.
All photos courtesy the Dare Divas