John & Allison Hardy

Founder & Executive Director

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John and his wife, Allison, have a lifetime of experience in the outdoors. Born and raised in Texas, John is a graduate of Texas State University in San Marcos. He has held numerous positions in the outdoor industry, including a whitewater rafting guide, backpacking guide, camp program director, and general manager of Mountain Adventure Guides Summer Camp and USA Raft located in North Carolina and Tennessee. He’s also Wilderness First Responder, Swiftwater Rescue, and CPR certified and has led numerous group trips into varying environments and locations. After leaving camp life for a summer to pursue a career in marketing, John realized that his heart and passion remained in the outdoors, working with teens; so he returned to Mountain Adventure Guides. Torn between Texas and his career, John and Allison made a bold decision to return to Texas and start their own company, EPIC Adventures, to share their love of the great outdoors with others.

Allison worked as a camp counselor and lifeguard during the summers while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. After graduating from East Tennessee State University, she currently works as a Director at a local hospital and is the consulting nurse for EPIC Adventures during the summer. John and Allison have an incurable passion for international travel and have explored over 21 countries over 4 continents. So much of the vision and values for EPIC Adventures were dreamt during these experiences. They truly believe that students who take the opportunity to travel and get out of their comfort zone will become a leader who is more confident, self-assured, and able to find their true passion in life. This core belief and their love for the outdoors are the Hardy’s driving force behind EPIC Adventures.

Kristin Personius

Program Director

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In 2013, Kristin took a gamble on a summer job at a guest ranch in Montana – never imagining it would set her on a path completely different from the classroom teaching career she had planned. While there, a conversation with a former outdoor educator inspired her to set out on a journey that merged her love for learning and teaching with her lifelong passion for experiencing nature. She graduated in 2014 from Thomas Aquinas College with a B.A. in Liberal Arts and returned to her home state of Texas to join The Outdoor School, where she was quickly promoted to Director In Training. The following summer, Kristin took another leap and landed a job as a guide for EPIC Adventures.

 

Those two months with EPIC proved to be one of the best summers of her life. “Mama K,” as her peers and campers dubbed her, thrived on the daily adventure of camping 24/7 with eight teenage boys and two co-leaders. Her caring spirit and organizational skills emerged to ensure safety and fun for everyone. Every trip since then has only enhanced her personal growth and her desire to share the wonder of travel and the outdoors with young people. She spent six weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, has traveled and hiked throughout the U.S., loves rock climbing, and is a certified Wilderness First Responder. As the personnel and program director for EPIC Adventures for the past two years, Kristin loves using her interpersonal skills, leadership, and creativity to recruit high quality staff, build the EPIC team, and consistently find ways to improve the EPIC Adventures experience for all involved.

Garrett Welch

Trip Leader

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Garrett will return in 2018 to lead our Texas Adventure, Ultimate Ozarks, and Epic New Mexico trips. Garrett’s sense of humor helps ensure that everyone stays upbeat and laughs a lot on long backcountry hikes! But don’t let his easy-going manner fool you: his coaching background, 10+ years volunteering in the Special Olympics community, quick thinking, WFR training, and commitment to the group’s goals demonstrate his value as a leader. He loves the outdoors (especially snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, and running rivers) and is an old fashioned adventurer who is always up for a last minute trip. Over this past Christmas break he climbed Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. (In case you were wondering, Mount Whitney rises to an elevation of 14,505’ in California’s Sierra Nevada range.) He is currently a student at Northern Arizona University working on a Parks and Recreation Management degree with an emphasis in Outdoor Education Leadership. Upon graduation he plans to travel the world to learn as much as he can. His favorite quote is, “If the world was a house, then I’ve only been in the pantry.”

Leanne Riegel

Trip Leader

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Leanne graduates from Liberty University in Virginia in May of 2018 with a degree in studio art and teaching. She has 12 years of kayaking and hiking experience, has traveled extensively throughout the US and Europe, and is a certified Wilderness First Responder. She loves empowering students to thrive outdoors by teaching practical skills in campcraft, river navigation, and backpacking. Known as the trip “mom,” Leanne is always watching out for campers, making sure they’re well taken care of and having a blast. She brings boundless energy and joy to every trip, and her goal is that camp would be a meaningful experience that impacts students’ lives. She loves how camp reveals and shapes students’ personal character, providing opportunities for participants to be courageous, persevere, stay positive, work together, solve problems, and celebrate victories. This is Leanne’s second year guiding for EPIC. On trips, Leanne can be found teaching camp skills, leading games, planning meals, and hiking around with a group of campers in search of the best spot to watch a sunset.

Felicity Criner

Trip Leader

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A native Australian, Felicity’s boundless love for the great outdoors has led her to snowboard in the Alps, kayak the Whitsundays, snorkel with whale sharks, and attain a Diploma of Outdoor Recreation from the Chisholm Institute. Felicity believes the outdoors has helped her become a stronger, more confident individual. Her passion for introducing the world’s wonders to youth has prompted her to lead trips with World Challenge and GapForce in places as far away as Southeast Asia. She has helped students rescue turtles in Malaysia, appreciate historical sites in Vietnam, and assist with kindergarten facilities improvements and education programs. Felicity has an unexpected quirky side, too: she decided on a whim to take a stunt course in Queensland and join a circus school, which took her to Chile and Argentina and later led to touring Europe in an old car. After this, she tested her survival skills in the jungles of Belize, where she built shelters, made trails and foraged for food alongside other participants in GapForce’s Expedition Leader Training. This spring, she will complete WFR Certification in preparation for her first summer with EPIC Adventures. Her success as a trip leader has inspired her with entrepreneurial ambitions to make those “off the beaten track” adventures a reality for others in the future. For now, no matter what part of the globe she is in, Felicity is passionate about helping teens fully embrace their experience to discover what the great outdoors can do for them!

Nathan Swanton

Trip Leader

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When he isn’t hiking, traveling, or volunteering in his community, Nathan can be found preparing for his next adventure—wherever that may take him next. Volunteering and traveling have been some of the most formative experiences in his life and have taken him throughout the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia. During this time, he found that the outdoors can be one of our best teachers and he enjoys working with youth to help them have the most rewarding experience they can. Nathan also studies Biomedical Engineering at Binghamton University, in New York, where he works closely with the international student community in the ESL classrooms. Once he graduates, he hopes to move into international development work. His other interests include playing the bagpipes, martial arts, and writing.

Partners and Staff Alumni

Ben Kvanli

Trip Leader

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We are lucky to have Ben working with us again this year! Ben brings over 32 years of paddling experience and contagious enthusiasm to our programs every year. His passion for paddling and sharing his talents with others has not only brought him great pleasure in life, but also incredible success. He has competed in numerous international kayaking championships around the world, including the Olympic Games in 1996. He was also the U.S. National Champion in the men’s double canoe race in 2005. He holds a business degree from Texas State University, is a USACK certified coach, an ACA Whitewater Instructor/Trainer, and holds many other paddling certifications.

Ben’s passion for paddling led him to create a non-profit organization to help raise money for disabled military veterans and at-risk children through whitewater adventure programs. In addition to his non-profit, he served on the Dallas Olympics committee, working to bring the Olympics to Texas. He was a member of the Texas River Protection Association Broad of Hidalgo Falls, served as Treasurer on the San Marcos Convention Board and Visitors Bureau from 2003-2008, and is currently on the Board of the USA Canoe/Kayak Slalom.

Russell Nyberg

Trip Leader

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Russell is a native North Carolinian guide who headed to Alaska with a desire to pursue a career in the outdoors. He is a graduate of Alaska Pacific University with a degree in Environmental Science and holds nine different wilderness certifications, including a WEMT. With more than 10 years of climbing, paddling, and mountaineering experience, he’s spent countless hours exploring the Alaskan back country, including a traverse of the Arrigetch Mountains in the Brooks range. In the off-season he is a Firefighter / EMT for the Sunriver Fire Department in Oregon. Russell’s unique sense of humor and his spirit of adventure is what EPIC Adventures is all about!

Sari Smart

Trip Leader

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Sari graduated from Texas State University with a Masters in Recreation and Leisure Services. Throughout her life, Sari has had a passion for the great outdoors. She has visited both state and national parks all over the nation, including Big Bend National Park. Her family has made yearly journeys to the Chisos Mountains since before she was born. She’s also been involved with the Boy Scouts of America since 2001 and, with their organization, has been apart of many incredible adventures. Sari has experience in teaching kayaking, canoeing, caving, climbing, camping, hiking, and many other activities. She holds Wilderness First Responder, CPR, and First Aid certifications, and serves as the First-Aid and CPR Instructor for our camps. In addition to her passion for the outdoors, she enjoys bringing others along with her as she explores her surroundings in ways she never thought possible. When it comes to Texas terrain, Sari is a real expert and can tell you anything you want to know!

Julie Westerman

Assistant International Program Director & Trip Leader

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Julie graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor’s in Sociology in 2004. She has extensive travel experience; she has studied in England, visited many European countries, and has taught English in Mexico, Thailand, and Nicaragua. In addition, she has worked as a guide in Alaska’s Denali National Park, volunteered on a farm in Costa Rica, and backpacked through much of Central America. Most recently she served as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer with her husband in Nicaragua from 2010-2012. She has a passion for cross-cultural exchanges and exploring remote corners of the world. Sharing these life-changing experiences with others could not make her any happier. Julie is currently pursuing a Masters degree in higher education with a focus on studying abroad and international education at the University of Texas.

Daniel Lane

Trip Leader

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Daniel is currently studying Recreation Administration at Texas State University. In addition to his studies, Daniel has almost 20 years of outdoor experience, exploring many national parks in both the United States and Mexico. Him and his family continue to take yearly trips to Mexico to scuba dive and hike to remote Aztec Pyramids. He’s an avid diver and has led numerous diving groups. He also has experience with canoeing, climbing, hiking, and camping. Daniel has always been drawn to the outdoors since he was a child and enjoys taking every opportunity he can to share his experiences with others. EPIC Adventures is excited to have such a positive and ambitious person on the team!

Matthew Reid

Service Trip Leader

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Matthew graduated from Stephen F. Austin University in 2004 with a Bachelor’s in English. He has more than 10 years experience working with teens in various settings and locations. He has worked as a field instructor in Denali National Park, Alaska, for an outdoor education program, led teen adventure programs in various parts of Texas, and most recently taught English to teens in Nicaragua as a United States Peace Corp Volunteer. Having traveled through numerous countries abroad, Matt brings a lot of energy to our programs and believes strongly in the power of exposing young adults to the wonders of traveling and exploring the many corners of the world while teaching them to respect the world around them.

Greg Parish

Trip Leader

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Greg is a Native North Carolinian and a gradate of Brevard College with a degree in Wilderness Leadership. Growing up near the Blue Ridge Mountains, he knew at an early age that the outdoors were where he wanted to spend his time. This passion, combined with his experiences, has allowed him to lead whitewater rafting, rock climbing, backpacking, and teen adventure programs in 7 different states, including Alaska. In fact, while working in Alaska he met his wife Becca, a Native Alaskan and an avid outdoors lover. Together, they have a young daughter and split their time between North Carolina and Alaska depending on the season. In addition to guiding in the United States, he has also led trips in Costa Rica and British Columbia. This will be Greg’s 3rd year to work with EPIC Adventures, and we could not be happier having him on our team!

Randy Cook

Assistant Director

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Randy holds a Ph.D in Special Education and teaches full time throughout the school year in Tennessee. He is also Allison Hardy’s father and enjoys spending the summer working with EPIC Adventures. Randy is an avid hiker, gardener, caver, and saltwater fisherman who enjoys spending time with his family. The 2015 season will be his fifth year working with EPIC Adventures as the Assistant Director. Originally from Caney Fork, North Carolina, he has spent a great deal of time in the Southern Appalachians and has a wealth of knowledge about the mountains and many of the areas we visit. He is also credited with the first descent into Cash Hollow and Gap Creek caves in Eastern Tennessee.

Tyler Jarvis

Trip Leader

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Tyler graduated from University of Texas Austin in the spring of 2014 with a degree in Biology. His studies have only fueled his love and passion for the outdoors and now he enjoys sharing his knowledge of nature and all of it’s components with others. He enjoys being a part of the EPIC Adventures team where he can share his knowledge of the outdoors with us. His leadership qualities have allowed him to be elected for several student leadership positions where he was responsible for over 120 members. Tyler is also an avid rock climber, traveler, and advocate for environmental sustainability. He spends most of his free time rock climbing and traveling both internationally and locally. Tyler’s personality truly captures the spirit of EPIC Adventures!

Wenli Zhou

Program Director – China

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EPIC is pleased to have Wenli on our team! Prior to moving to the United States to pursue a doctoral degree in biochemistry, she was born and raised in Chengdu, China. She has worked in various positions in the biotech industry including academia. Fostering her love for encouraging growth in others, her work has allowed her to mentor many young students and scientists. Her love of travel, connections with many local organizations, and working relationships with friends abroad makes Wenli a perfect fit to the EPIC team. She has led and organized international trips for groups of all sizes and ages to various destinations, including China. Her local knowledge combined with her connections inside of China provide EPIC’s students with an inside look into the Chinese culture that is incomparable. Her passion for travel and education have taken her to many European and East Asian countries. In her free time she enjoys working with youth, teaching, and Sunday school.