2004 Justine Magazine - Born to be Wild
By Caitlin Goodrich
NAME > Rachel Zoller
AGE/GRADE> 18/rising college freshman
LOCATION > White Salmon, Washington
SCHOOL> None at the moment! She's taking this school year off to live in Bolivia and will attend Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, next fall.
BIGGEST ACADEMIC BUMMER > "Anything that has to do with math."
SHE INSPIRES US BECAUSE SHE > Is the youngest member of the Husum Volunteer Fire Department> helps run her family's river-rafting business> coordinated and led a public-Speaking class for community members> spent a summer as a camp counselor in Alaska> became the youngest certified white-water river guide in Washington at age 18
GOALS > "I want to experience other cultures and expand my worldview."
I HOW SHE SEES HERSELF I > "I'm definitely not afraid to try new things, and I'm not the girly type—I'm all about being outdoors."
For a small-town girl, Rachel knows how to make a big difference. The wilderness woman does it all: from packing into the high country with llamas (her family has six!) to racing down class-five rapids, she doesn't mind getting her hair wet or her hands dirty.
This Girl Is On Fire: Rachel grew up watching her dad, a volunteer firefighter, rush off to battle blazes and attend to medical emergencies so when a friend told her he was joining the department she decided to sign up too. Two years later, Rachel's still grabbing her gear at a moment's notice and racing out the door to fires, car accidents, and other crises. She doesn't think twice about rushing into a smoke-filled building or climbing onto the roof of a burning home to save a family's possessions; it's all in a day's—or night's—work. Rachel's most memorable calls wake her up after dark: Everytime I decide to go to bed early, the phone rings at two a.m."
Runs In the Family: Rachel took her first ride down a raging river when she was four years old, and it was all downhill (or should we say downstream?) from there—the tiny tike was hooked! Her love of rafting and the outdoors doesn't surprise anyone who knows her family. Both Rachel's father and grandfather are white-water rafting guides and nature nuts. In fact, her family lives in the loft above Zoller Outdoor Odysseys, their rafting company on the White Salmon River. Rachel and her sibs (brother Zach, 16, and sisters Mckenzie, 11, and Amanda, 10) each have their own cozy corner and help out with the business whenever they can. All four are homeschooled —talk about 24-7 family time!—and the rafting season determines their study schedules. ‘it's a living situation that a lot of families wouldn't survive, but it's pretty nice now that we're used to it," says Rachel. "We all get along."
Speak Out: Before the Zoller family relocated to White Salmon from Bend, Oregon, Rachel was enrolled in a public-speaking class for homeschooled children—a brave move for the self-proclaimed "quiet and shy" girl. Turns out she was a natural, so she was totally bummed when her family moved before she could finish the course. A few years later, a friend suggested that Rachel pick up where she left off by organizing a class for kids in White Salmon. Before she knew it, she was leading more than 30 children and adults! "It was so fun Rachel has accomplished to watch everyone go from being so much, but she's most self-conscious and nervous proud of her strong faith. about speaking in front of people at the beginning," she says, "But by the end of the six months they had learned to set goals and evaluate themselves — the self-confidence was contagious!"
Busy Summer Days: The two-and-a-half months Rachel spent as a camp counselor in Palmer, Alaska, last summer helped define her future plans. While bonding with her campers (they all slept in tepees), Rachel realized she wanted to make a career out of interacting with junior-high students. "I'd love to be a director at a Christian camp or maybe even a youth minister." She also did some serious multitasking this past summer when she helped run the family business. From ringing up customers and repairing wetsuits to cleaning bathrooms and coordinating shuttle schedules, she's got the experience or any director's job.
Into the Wild: When it comes to outdoor adventures, Rachel doesn't limit herself to the water, She and her llama Sabian lead the way during family treks into Indian Heaven Wilderness and Hells Canyon on the Snake «Everyone just took me River. And this year, Rachel's oft In and taught me things," again—but she'll have to leave Rachel says of her the llama at home. She's experience as a volunteer headed to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, firefighter. ‘I'm still one of the impoverished learning tons of stuff." country's largest cities, to live with her aunt and uncle who work as missionaries for an emergency-relief and development organization, Rachel will tag along with her uncle as he helps the villages surrounding Santa Cruz create economic opportunities for the people living there.
ON THE SIDE
> In 2002, Rachel appeared in an episode of Nickelodeon's Splash TV "I was in a bathing suit on national TV I don't even like being in one in front of my friends!"
> Between rafting and studying Spanish (to prepare for her Bolivian expedition), she found time to play varsity basketball for the Trout Lake Mustangs, a local high school team.
> When Rachel was 12, her friend fell from a tree and broke his neck. Her account of his miraculous recovery was published in a kids' magazine called Clubhouse.