Celebrating women and stories: A pioneer in Portland

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In 2017, women took center stage and shared their voices and stories in new ways. Many claimed their pasts; many claimed their futures. We heard from women as part of the #MeToo movement. We also heard women (and men!) denounce the former Google employee who claimed women were not biologically capable of being engineers.

In 2018, as part of a series on the cooldeb blog, I’m highlighting women I know who are bold and beautiful in their unique ways. I’m offering a lens and a loud-speaker to their individual narratives about grit, gut and celebratory glory. First up? A Q&A with Katie Marshall.

A blond woman with black glasses, a grey jacket and a black pantsuit smiles at the camera as she stands in a doorway.

A pioneer in Portland. Photo Credit: Katie Marshall

Katie has worked in corporate communications, launched a consultancy business, mastered martial arts and chased down a West Coast travel dream. As Katie tells her story, “In late 2017, I traveled to Portland, Oregon for a 3-week stint on what some might call “digital nomading.” It was an adventure in the most ‘let’s see what might happen’ sense of the word. I brought a suitcase, backpack, my cat and three weeks of work. I also brought a sense of excitement over accomplishing a goal I had held for more than three years.”

Yes, incredible things do happen on ordinary days

Debbie: What prompted your journey and choice of Portland? And by the way, I loved your pre-travel Facebook photo post – “The plane is about to board and everyone is acting like this is a normal Wednesday, even if it feels like anything but for me and my cat. An important reminder incredible things can happen on ordinary Wednesdays, if you work for it.”

Katie: I’d been dreaming of moving or traveling in the way you only can when you’ve been in the same place for a long time. In 2014, at my previous employer, I became a certified Diversity & Inclusive leadership facilitator and did a training in Portland. I stayed an extra day and explored the city but got enough to know I loved it.

I started after the dream of Portland like I do most – small shots in the dark. I applied to jobs and reached out to people through LinkedIn. While I got close, I never hit the target. When I began consulting on my own, I realized I had the time, space and opportunity to cross the country to this amazing city for an extended period.

A blond woman takes a selfie in the airport with her cat in a carry on case on her shoulder.

Just another selfie with Katie and her cat Gus on an (extra) ordinary day. Photo Credit: Katie Marshall

Seek with your whole heart – and you will find joy

Debbie: Martial arts are an important part of your life. What led you to this art, specifically Balintawak and what did you experience in Oregon?

Katie: First of all – thank you! I really appreciate that.

I was driven to martial arts by the same thing that drove me to travel the country and post up in a new city: some deep, internal longing for something more than my current space – or habits, or choices – had to offer. Martial arts are the first thing I really went after with my whole heart, even though I was not immediately great – or even good – at it. It’s one of the most important things I do in my life.

I found Balintawak through learning about other stick-based Filipino martial arts. I heard about this incredible martial arts system where the players move so quickly with their sticks, you can’t see them. One of the reasons I knew Portland was a great city to adventure in was my local teacher had connections there. He hooked me up with a senior student and I was able to train with him. It was humbling to start a new system after I had achieved a black belt rank in my home system. But it was a challenge I appreciated and a style I enjoyed. That’s what is at the heart of these missions, both martial arts and travel: joy.

Old trees and Lord of the Rings

Debbie: How did Oregon’s outdoors affect your mind, soul and energy?

Katie: The trees felt old and like they had waited for me. Trekking into Washington Park felt like walking into a meeting of Ents (from Lord of the Rings). I felt like I should bow or whisper. The most constant act of nature was the rain, and she was not one to be ignored, though most everyone did their best to. Being in Portland with a fluid schedule was like living out every ‘if I were home now…’ daydream scenario.

A dirt path leads up a hill with green pine trees in Portland Oregon.

The wisdom’s in the trees, not the glass windows: Jack Johnson. Photo Credit: Katie Marshall

Languid days in Portland

Debbie: What magic did you expect by the sheer decision to do this? What magic caught you off guard and surprised you?

Katie: In the back of my head, I expected not needing the return flight ticket home. So the first magic that caught me off guard was the feeling of a completed journey when I was on the plane ride back. 

I anticipated being busy every day and packed my schedule daily. I was on work calls, checking out downtown and coffee-ing my way through the place. But there were days I didn’t schedule. I would find myself in the art museum for hours, which is such a specific luxury. Or, I would bring a book and hang out at a coffee shop until close. The busy days were powerful and I learned a lot. But the languid days were magical in their own way.

A blooming tree with yellow leaves in front a beige brick building in downtown Portland Oregon.

Urban nature. Photo Credit: Katie Marshall

Katie and I welcome your thoughts and insights on travel busting dreams or going after a goal you put your head and heart on. Your voices are invited – do share.

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Kay · at

Love this. Love the adventures no matter whose they are. Gus must be laid back for such travels.

Who is your lane changer in life? · at

[…] part of my ‘Celebrating women and their stories‘ blog series, I posed this question to a few fearless and fab women. Here’s what they […]

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