Inclusivity in the outdoors is an ethos close to We Are Explorers’ heart, so we sat down with The North Face Explore Fund grant recipient, Trailblazers, to hear how they’re helping kids find belonging and enjoyment in movement.


A recipient of The North Face’s first-ever Explore Fund grant, Trailblazers is a New Zealand not-for-profit that supports underserved, underprivileged, and marginalised tamariki (children) to access the outdoors – helping them find strength through connection, mindfulness, and movement.

We spoke with founder Jo Ryder to find out how the Explore Fund – which aims to create access and drive equity in the outdoors – will help Trailblazers reach more kids in need, and why it’s more important than ever.

Brooke Nolan: What’s the goal of Trailblazers?

Jo Ryder: The goal of Trailblazers is to create a program where all children and young people can succeed and find a sense of belonging — regardless of disability or disadvantage.

We aim to help children develop social and emotional regulation strategies whilst developing their physical fitness and enjoyment of the great outdoors.


What led you to create Trailblazers?

Too many children are excluded from groups due to challenges and barriers beyond their control. In my role as a police officer, and my life as a mother of a child with disabilities, I have seen too many children fail to thrive because they are unable to participate in group activities.

Sport is not, in general terms, designed to heal and support children from trauma and adversity. The program really seemed to work so I was driven to establish it as a charity so that we can be sustainable and positively impact more children.


Trailblazers Run Club, New Zealand, Photographer JulieChandelier

Jo Ryder, Trailblazers Founder | Photo by Julie Chandelier

What are some of the best moments you’ve had so far, personally and as an organisation?

The thing I love most about Trailblazers is when we successfully engage a child in the program that has been failed and excluded by other groups. I love seeing them find their sense of belonging and build positive connections with us.

I’ve competed in many sporting events over my life but the proudest I have ever felt is crossing the finish line as a buddy runner for our Trailblazers kids – there is nothing quite like it, and it’s even better when they get a medal placed around their neck.

Trailblazers New Zealand. Photographer Julie Chandelier

Trailblazers New Zealand | Photo by Julie Chandelier


What have been some of the challenges the organisation has faced?

There have been a few challenges along the way, including a few logistical ones like a lack of transport to get children to the trails. There’s also the issue of getting enough volunteers. Because we cater for all children, we need to have a very good ratio of adult to child – sometimes one-to-one support is required. The more awesome adults we have, the more children we can help.


What’s next for Trailblazers and how will receiving The North Face Explore Fund grant help you get there?

Thanks to the North Face Explore Grant, we can now expand the program to support more children. The funds will ultimately help underprivileged and marginalised children explore the great outdoors by providing them with transport, a team top, event entries and suitable shoes when needed.

We have three squads in Christchurch already, each with the capacity for growth, and one squad in Porirua. We’ve also started working with schools and have a pilot project with two, plus more on the waitlist. All of which help us reach more children.

Off of the trails, we are introducing a workbook/journal to really help children learn strategies to overcome stress and challenges in their lives.


Trailblazers New Zealand. Photographer Julie Chandelier

Trailblazers New Zealand | Photo by Julie Chandelier


Does representation in the outdoors need to change?

When I lived in Porirua, Wellington, there was a local Parkrun on a lovely trail called Bothamley Park. It was right on the back doorstep of a place called Cannons Creek, where ethnicities were 24.3% European/Pākehā, 26.6% Māori, 62.7% Pacific peoples, 8.6% Asian, and 3.1% other ethnicities – totals add to more than 100% since people could identify with multiple ethnicities. The area also had a high level of poverty.

Despite these demographics, park runners were predominantly white middle-to-upper-class people coming in from outside of the area.


Trailblazers New Zealand. Photographer Julie Chandelier

Trailblazers New Zealand | Photo by Julie Chandelier


I promoted Parkrun to the Porirua Trailblazers I was working with at the time — they were very keen to attend but transport was a huge barrier to them. One family walked 4km each way to get there. That was a 13km day for a young, beginner person. Use of the outdoors is not as accessible for some people as we may think it is.


Read more: 100 Park Runs for One T-Shirt – Is it worth it?


What role should the outdoor industry (and those who enjoy it) play in making the outdoors a safe space for all?

I’d love to see positive and inclusive use of the outdoors promoted in a fun and community-minded way to those who have barriers to access.

Let’s encourage whanau (families) into nature by supporting transport, putting on shared kai (food) and putting on activities such as orienteering, rogaining, games, relays and so on.


Trailblazers New Zealand. Photographer Julie Chandelier

Trailblazers New Zealand | Photo by Julie Chandelier


We also need more organisations like Trailblazers where the program is specifically designed to support people with extra needs. More people and users of the great outdoors need to jump on board and support others in using nature’s playground.

Nature heals. Our Indigenous people have a very special and unique connection to the land. Let’s do what we can to help people unite in kotahitanga (unity/togetherness), conquer their maunga (mountain), build resilience, and overcome challenges.

How can We Are Explorers readers help support your cause?

If you live in a Trailblazers city, reach out to us and come join us on the trails. Or, check out our website and support our cause via the link for support.



Check out the Explore Fund page to learn more about the other grant winners get the latest news!