Nov 1, 2023
Cover Stories

Be Bold

Rachael Rudzinski has always lived an adventurous life. She has been a competitive rock climber and mountain trail biker while also enjoying camping, boating and golfing. RIGHT: To Sarah Stillman, learning to fly a plane was as essential as learning to drive a car. Nothing will stop her from pursuing her dreams. Photos provided

Seeking adventure is innate for some women. It’s part of their daily focus and what drives them all the time. But for others, adventure is a little scary. Whichever you are, a little dose of adrenaline can be inspiring and a good way to jumpstart yourself if you need a boost of motivation. Luckily, you don’t have to go far to find thrilling activities. And there are plenty of local women who can tell you all about them.


For a full-body workout along with varying degrees of risk, rock climbing is a great activity. Pensacola has the benefit of two indoor rock-climbing facilities: Weatherford’s and UWF (membership required).

Gulf Breeze resident Rachael Rudzinski has climbed both, among a whole lot of other adventurous activities. Having grown up both in Gulf Breeze and Colorado, she’s not only a rock-climbing enthusiast, but has also been a competitive trail biker and loves to boat, camp, golf, surf and hike.

“Both climbing walls are great in Pensacola. That being said, UWF’s climbing gym is my personal favorite with a big wall for both bouldering (which is climbing without a rope) and rope climbing,” she said. “At UWF you either have to buy a membership to the gym or go with a college student as a guest.” 

Weatherford’s is open to everyone for rock climbing, and Rudzinski likes its variety of routes for beginners and more advanced climbers.

“Growing up I climbed a lot recreationally and competitively in Colorado,” she said. “I like the adrenaline rush that comes with climbing. Accomplishing a route after trying multiple times and failing is exhilarating.

There’s even more to rock climbing for her.

“I love overcoming my fears as well. It makes me feel like I can do anything. I am always up for a new adventure where I can learn more about myself and grow,” Rudzinski shared.

She has some good advice for first-time rock climbers.

“Find a gym and go try it! You will most likely meet a group of awesome climbers who can show you the ropes literally and metaphorically,” she said.


According to the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide, as of 2020, a mere 5.7% of American private and commercial pilots were women. However, more and more females are taking to the skies. This Blue Angels season was the first for Lieutenant Commander Amanda Lee, who joined the team in September 2022, and she, among others, is inspiring a whole new generation of female pilots.

Sarah Stillman of Gulf Breeze is one of those young aviators. At 16, when most people her age were just getting their drivers licenses, Stillman started working toward her private pilot license through Sky Warrior Flight Training in Pensacola.

“I turned 16 in May and was flying with Sky Warrior in June. By September 20, 2022, after only 12.5 hours with my instructor, I completed my solo flight,” Stillman said.

She continued her training through a United States Air Force Flight Academy Scholarship and earned her PPL in July of this year.

Stillman said flying is “really fun and challenging,” although reading the manuals and understanding the technical terms can be difficult.

“When I am up in the plane, it is so relaxing. Being able to see the world from another perspective is eye opening and a beautiful site to see,” she said.

With her PPL under her belt, she plans to continue flying and hopes to fly for the Air Force one day. But for now, she must finish high school first.

Jumping out of a plane was an adventure that Jennifer Joyner finally accomplished. She said she is a thrill seeker and isn’t afraid to try new things.  Photo provided.


If flying the plane isn’t your thing, maybe you’d rather jump out of it. Jennifer Joyner, a teacher from Navarre, decided that was just the thing to mark her 50th birthday in 2019.

“Several former students had done it and they inspired me!” she explained. “I am a thrill seeker and don’t have many fears of trying new things.”

Joyner did her skydive with Skydive the Gulf, based in Elberta, AL. They are the closest skydiving center to Pensacola, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Mobile and Destin.

So why would anyone want to “jump out of perfectly good airplane?” Owner Jacob Strain said people share many reasons.

“Most of our customers are first time skydivers. We have people that come for the bucket list check mark, the adrenaline rush, but also more uncommon reasons like conquering the lifelong fear of heights,” he said.

“We’ve done ‘ash dives’ with customers that release the ash of a loved one that never had the chance to skydive. We have siblings, mother-daughter, father-son duos. All in all, skydiving is a unique experience that means something very deep and sometimes very personal to each individual. We love being the vehicle for people to have these extraordinary experiences,” Strain said.

Joyner described her experience as being both thrilling and peaceful.

“During the first few seconds after leaving the plane, we free fell. Meaning, no parachute. Total exhilaration and a rush. When the chute was pulled, there was total peace. I felt a sense of calm, the air was so crisp and cool with no sound other than the flutter of the chute. The cloud line below us was like a pillow and the sun was setting. I can only imagine that is what Heaven will feel like one day,” she said.

Skydiving locally, where you know the terrain and feel a connection, is powerful. 

“I could see the cloud line below me and spots of the Gulf and shoreline in between the clouds as we got closer to landing. The sunset was incredible,” Joyner said. “Taking off over land and landing on the beach, coming in over the Gulf, was exhilarating!”

Strain shared some things first-timers need to think about before skydiving.

“Dress code is athletic wear. Sneakers, shorts, t-shirts. We don’t advise to eat a three-course meal before skydiving, although a light meal is encouraged,” he said. “Lastly, don’t let yourself be too anxious before your skydive. Our tandem instructors and entire staff are excellent at making all our customers feel comfortable upon arrival as well as throughout the skydive.” 

No matter what your choice, take a bold step and add some adventure to your life. All it takes is a little courage. Or not.

“Bravery is really 95% crazy,” according to Joyner.

“When the chute was pulled, there was total peace. I felt a sense of calm, the air was so crisp and cool with no sound other than the flutter of the chute. The cloud line below us was like a pillow and the sun was setting. I can only imagine that is what Heaven will feel like one day.”

— Jennifer Joyner



Weatherford’s, 3009 E. Cervantes St., Pensacola; 850-433-2822; Open seven days a week, 3-9 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 12-6 p.m., Sunday. You must arrive at least two hours prior to closing to complete the required introductory course. $15 per person for new climbers (it takes two people to climb) includes climbing shoes, harness, chalk bag, 10- to 15-minute introductory course and 2 to 3 hours of climbing. $12 for experienced climbers with no gear included.

UWF, 11000 University Pkwy., Pensacola; 850-474-2819; or email Requires UWF HLS membership or guest pass with member.


SkyWarrior Flight Training, 4141 Jerry L. Maygarden Rd., Pensacola; 850-433-6115; Call or visit website for more information.


Skydive the Gulf, 28502 Frank Rd., Elberta, AL; 850-543-8756; Prices range from $259 per person for an ocean view dive with an airport landing to $495 per person for the all-inclusive sunset dive with ultimate media package.