Civic

Pharr Davis Joins the Presidential Fitness Council

Jennifer Pharr Davis holds a hiking balance pole.

Hendersonville Hendersonville native Jennifer Pharr Davis, a renowned distance speed hiker and adventurer, takes her message for outdoor fitness and health onto a bigger stage than ever with her appointment to the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

Pharr Davis was appointed Dec. 11 to the non-partisan presidential fitness council for a two-year term, after passing an ethics review. The council has an annual meeting.

This 30-member volunteer federal advisory committee of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is sports-centric. It promotes sports participation by youth far more than active lifestyles for people of all ages, Asheville resident Pharr Davis noted.

As an athlete, the slender six-footer was a 1990 1-A state tennis singles champ. She also starred for Hendersonville High School in basketball. Her parents Yorke and Barbara Davis still live in Hendersonville.

Jennifer veered into competitive running and distance hiking, as a young adult. She sees room for the council to dedicate more to such activities as hiking, bicycling, backpacking and paddling and for greater use of public parks and trails. She wants to be a “voice for outdoor recreation and public lands.”

She told The Tribune “when we think of health and wellness, we think of gyms. Outdoor recreation should be highlighted as an affordable option” in public school extra-curricular activities.”

Emotional benefits “outweigh exercise,” Pharr Davis emphasized “You have a good time outdoors. That’s so beneficial — especially with COVID going on — to one’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.” It offsets how people are “overly stimulated by technology.”

Outdoor recreation such as a walk in the woods can “reduce anxiety and stress,” she said. “There is endorphin release, and release of toxins. It affects the way your body stores energy.”

Pharr Davis was invited in the fall to the White House to talk about national parks. Weeks later, Donald Trump administration officials asked her to serve on the fitness council. They did not ask if she supported Trump, she said. Instead, they “talked about my work ethic — resilience as an endurance athlete. They knew I was up to difficult tasks, and I’m a communicator who can both write and speak well” to get across council messages.

Pharr Davis, registered as an independent voter, said “my goal is to bring people together, to reach the best results.”

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is also a new fitness council member, joining such celebs as TV health guru Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Distance hiker, author, business operator

Jennifer Pharr Davis is in front of the White House Rose Garden.  Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pharr Davis.
Jennifer Pharr Davis is in front of the White House Rose Garden.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pharr Davis.

Pharr Davis, 37, is quite the inspiring success story herself. For 15 years she has owned and run Blue Ridge Hiking Company, which leads group hikes and has a supply store on College Street in Asheville. Hiking the “Trail helped me run my own business,” she figures. “I apply lessons such as ‘hard work pays off.’ It’s important to not be afraid to make mistakes, to learn from them and grow. I also learned how to budget, to plan.”

She is an American Hiking Society ambassador, and an inspirational speaker. She scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. She has hiked on six continents and in all 50 U.S. states. She was National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2011, at age 28.

In that hot summer, she turned in the fastest “through-hike” ever of the 2,190-mile, 15-state Appalachian Trail (AT) from Maine to north Georgia including 88 miles in N.C. — mostly along the Nantahala River. She did the entire trek in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. She averaged an amazing 47 miles per day — nearly four times the average hiker’s pace.

This was despite humid 90-degree heat, painful shin splints and a queasy stomach for three days. While feeling queasy she nearly “quit on the trail. I thought my body couldn’t keep going,” Pharr Davis said soon after. “My husband (Brew Davis) said I felt too hungry, tired and sick to make a good decision then. He said, ‘you just can’t quit right now.’ He told me I needed to keep going 36 hours,” until her stomach settled from food and medicine. Four hours later, she revived her “resolve.”

She set the AT speed record for any person with support. Brew supplied her snacks at rendezvous points. They kept contact by cell phone, where possible.

She “stayed hydrated and regulated electrolytes” from energy drinks and hourly water sips. “My body and training determined how far we’d get each day.” She convinced herself “I can hike one more mile,” and how “fortitude, intelligence, and perseverance” outweighed fitness and strength.

On her eighth day, she ascended 13,700 feet then down 5,700 feet. She spotted 36 bears — 14 in one day. Crucial was a pair of hiking poles, to boost balance and ease knee wear. Her waist pack contained food, water and emergency meds. She walked in cooler hours.

She first hiked the App Trail in 2005, in five months. She was struck by lightning, and had “my eyes freeze shut in a snowstorm.” She did a 57-day AT hike-jog in 2008. She set speed-hiking records in Australia. Her family covered the 1,175-mile trek across Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

She has written books about her treks and reaching “my true potential,” and several hiking guides. These days, the Davises hike with their daughter Charley, age eight, and four-year-old son Gus. They often go up to Big Glassy Mountain at the Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, as Jen did in her youth.

Check www.blueridgehikingco.com for more on Jennifer Pharr Davis, her business and books.