Nancy Board is an extraordinarily self-reliant woman focused on wellbeing. She loves her life and the man she shares it with in Wauna, and maintains an abiding faith that somehow, someway, everything will be all right.
As a girl from a small town in southeastern Michigan, she used to sit out in her backyard in the evenings and look up at the sky. She told herself, “There’s a big world out there and I’ve got to get out of this town.”
Education was her ticket. She went to a local university and earned her degree in social work but wanted more. A guidance counselor encouraged her to apply for a graduate program at a prestigious university with one of the best schools in social work. Funding from the National Institute of Mental Health paid for her first semester when she started but her mother worried about money.
“I told her, ‘Mom, I’ll figure it out. Where there is a will there’s a way. Let me just get there.’ ”
She studied economics, public policy and social issues. She chose a track of family therapy and behavioral medicine and was trained to work as a social worker in a primary healthcare setting. There she learned the significance of combining mental health and primary into one.
Board worked in a hospital setting, an alcohol and drug program, and with kids and families and discovered she was really good at it. For many years she operated a private practice in St. Louis.
Eventually Board got the chance to move to Chicago to work in large corporations that had employee assistance programs. It opened national and global opportunities and is the work she has done for the last 25 years, culminating in her co-founding the nonprofit Global Women 4 Wellbeing.
She was doing consulting work for the U.S. Postal Service when she met Erden Eruç. He was a software engineer who had just moved from Washington, D.C. to Seattle. He was in Chicago for his employer working on a big software project for USPS and walked into her office one day.
And then her whole life changed.
“There I am, totally content,” Board said. “I’m having a ball living in Chicago. I’ve got a great apartment and I’m living the life.”
“We both had been married once before,” she said. “I was just out of a longer-term relationship six months before and decided I would never, ever get married again. I was done.”
She flew out to Seattle for the first time in early September, where the water and mountains worked their magic.
Back in Chicago she questioned herself. “Long distance relationship? That stinks,” Board said. “Erden was much more direct about it. He told me, ‘If we’re going to give this a try, we need to be together. Chicago is a great city but it’s really flat.’”
She moved to Seattle to give it a go. She could always move back.
But she didn’t. That was 2001. She became a mountain climber.
“I was, as they say in the Midwest, ‘a flatlander,’” she said. “I kept saying, ‘How do you know all the names of these mountains?’ I had no concept whatsoever that mountains had names, that people knew what they were, that people climbed multiple peaks. Not part of my life at all.”
Board played competitive volleyball nearly all her life but had never hiked or climbed mountains. But she learned. Within no time she knew every peak here and around the world. She got involved with some women climbers who taught her how to rock climb, really scramble and hike.
“That’s what I enjoy,” she said. “I’ve been on glaciers, and I’ve had crampons on my feet, but I wasn’t interested in big technical stuff like that. But I found I really enjoyed rock.”
Eruç had been a rock climber for many years. “Yosemite, big walls and stuff like that,” Board said. Once she started rock climbing, she was hooked.
Board conquered her fear of heights thanks to a patient friend.
“People can only teach you so much about how to climb and how to be safe in climbing. But once I found what I call ‘how to dance on the rock,’ oh my God, it was like ballet. Suddenly I trusted my body. I trusted my footwork. I understood how to move. I had to learn from the core, from my own center of gravity.”
Once she did that, the fear went away and she started stretching herself and leading harder and harder climbs. Her whole world became a 3-foot radius and she found it meditative.
“It was stressful at first, learning how to do it, but rock climbing became a great stress release for me. I’m glad I stuck with it because I really enjoyed it. I don’t do it much anymore.”
From 2009 until fall 2013, home base was Australia. In 2010, on Eruç’s first solo circumnavigation, he bicycled across the country. For a time, she thought it would be great to ride with him for four to six months. “But honestly, I had a career that I loved and opportunities to travel overseas and I thought why would I give this up? It’s money, number one. It allows us to do this expedition. Who gets to have that kind of a chance?”
They are a team. They moved to Wauna in August 2017.
The longest they have been apart is 344 days when Eruç crossed the Pacific the first time, between 2007 and 2008.
“While he was gone those 11 months, I thought if he is going to challenge himself, I’m going to challenge myself too. I changed. I grew, I did things, I became more resilient and I don’t have to look back on my life and say I gave up too soon,” she said. “We do these things kind of simultaneously.”
“People seem to think it is really hard or they think that I’m lonely or whatever because I hear that a lot. People ask, ‘Don’t you worry?’ And I say, ‘No, I’m not wired that way and if I worried, I’d be a mental case.’
“I love my life. I love my independence. I love being alone. He does too. He enjoys it out on the boat. When he comes back home, it takes a little while. He’s very conscious of coming back into what has been my space. He’s been really respectful of that. It’s different and then we adjust to ‘our space again.’ And when he leaves I go through a similar adjustment. It takes a couple of weeks.
“I’m sitting here now with you today and I say, ‘He’s going to be home in 10 days.’ Ten months ago, that wasn’t the case. I go through emotional feelings when he leaves; it’s more of an adjustment. And when he comes home it’s more, ‘Gosh, that wasn’t so bad.’”
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