Jess Cramp is brave, but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, she swims with sharks and has her pilot’s license, but she’s also done something that most people will always be too scared to do: she quit a well-paying job and a stable future to chase a dream.
Cramp, a Pennsylvania native, was living in San Diego working as a scientist and running experiments in search of new medicines. She loved her job and the freedom it gave her to surf during lunch and take vacations, but she still felt a gaping hole in her life. That’s when, three years ago, a stroke of luck changed her fate. “In a strange turn of events, I won a ridiculous game show with two of my best girlfriends,” she tells GrindTV. “It gave me the funds to pay off college.” After her big win, Cramp quit her job and began volunteering with organizations and causes she believed in. Since then, she’s been to Haiti, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and Chile, and then she sailed to Tahiti before she decided to settle down in the Cook Islands, where spent the past two years as program manager for the Pacific Islands Conservation Initiative, an organization that runs a sea turtle research effort and a conservation education project and campaigned to create the Cook Islands Shark Sanctuary, the keystone in the largest contiguous shark sanctuary in the world.
“I learned to live simply in a very tight-knit community,” she says of her new life. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it because I’m living true to the fire that burns in my guts.”
We asked Cramp to help us fill in some blanks about her life:
My name is Jess Cramp and I live between Rarotonga, Cook Islands, and San Diego. I’m originally from the Poconos, Pennsylvania, where I grew up learning to climb trees, build fires, rock climb, and play baseball.
I’m in the middle of forminga nonprofit organization called Sharks Pacific, which is dedicated to understanding sharks in Pacific communities through research, outreach, and advocacy. I’m currently trying to get some sponsors!
This summer I will be leading a marine research expedition around the southern Cook Islands in July and August and then honing various shark-tagging techniques for about a month in the Bahamas. I’m really excited, and I’ll be in the water a lot!
I admire women who stand up for themselves and think outside the box. I love women who take risks and who dream big. I love women who go out of their way for strangers and who sacrifice their dreams for their families—there is so much honor in that.
When I have a weekend off form working, I usually spend it outside, diving, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, and running with whoever wants to play!
My favorite outdoor activity is surfing and it has taught me that you don’t always have control and that sometimes scary, unexpected events will pop up and you have no choice but to deal with them.
One luxury item I always have with me is my Nivea lip gloss.
One thing I’d love to learn to do is fly airplanes in varied terrain, in most weather conditions because although I have my license, I lack the confidence and skills to disappear into the wilderness with a partner in crime, go surfing, hiking, and snowboarding and then fly us out again!
My favorite advice for living your best life is to do what’s in your heart. You may occasionally fall flat on your face, but you will never regret being true to yourself. And drink lots of water.