Welcome to our series, #WHYoming.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
For this week’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to talk with Mesa Weidle, a Family and Consumer Science teacher and track coach at Rock Springs High School, and a self-defense teacher under SASS Go. Mesa started teaching self-defense over two years ago after her University of Utah Track and Field teammate, Lauren McCluskey, was killed by her ex-boyfriend on campus. Mesa wanted to do her part to prevent this from happening to other people.
A Rock Springs native, Mesa returned to her hometown after graduating college and ultimately made a career for herself here. When she’s not teaching students in the classroom and in the techniques of self-defense or coaching, she is spending time outside biking and hiking. She loves Wyoming and the community she grew up in, and she is happy to be home. And we’re lucky to have her back here.
Mesa, what do you do for a living?
I teach Family and Consumer Science classes at Rock Springs High School. These classes include kitchen basics, nutrition and culinary arts 1 and 2. I also coach indoor and outdoor track and field. My passion project I do on the side is teaching self-defense classes under SASS Go.
How did you get into teaching self-defense?
I got into teaching self-defense classes because I had a teammate on the University of Utah Track and Field team by the name of Lauren McCluskey. On October 22, 2018 she was walking to her on-campus dorm after a night class, and her ex-boyfriend killed her on campus. She was on the phone with her mom, Jill McCluskey, when her mom heard Lauren say, “NO NO NO NO.” Those are the last words Jill heard her daughter say and that will always stick with me. It was not even three hours before that I was at practice with Lauren and did not think that would be the last time I would see her.
The time that followed this tragedy was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through. It was very emotionally draining on me because I was very scared for myself and others around me. It was like my stress level was always at a 10 because I never knew when something might take a terrible turn.
I was searching and searching for something to make sense in all this. It was not till April of 2019 when I found it! It was a non-profit called SASS Go and there were two amazing women there by the names of Shannon Henry and Brett Brown. I had never heard of SASS Go since they were based in South Carolina, but since the recent murder or my friend Lauren, they brought SASS Go out to Salt Lake City.
They had two education sessions for anyone that wanted to come and 2 Self-defense classes for women only. The first one I could attend was an educational session but I had a tight schedule around the session since I had practice before it and work right after it. It was going to be so close that I even asked my coach if he could move up practice. Even with moving up practice I still was running late to the class and was trying to be as discreet as possible. As I walked into the room, there was a lady presenting in the front by the name of Brett and another lady there by the name of Shannon by the door. I asked Shannon, “where should I sign in?” She asked, “are you in a sorority?” I said, “no I am on the track team.” Not realizing what weight those words had (the news about Lauren was plastered over every big news site) she got tears in her eyes then I got tears in my eyes. She then had a hard time finding the words and blurted out, “I want you to have this shirt.” I said, “Oh, you are giving out shirts?” Shannon said, “no, but I want you to have it.” Come to find out she designed these shirts with Lauren in mind, and told me later as soon as I walked in the room she heard a voice in her head saying, “give her the shirt, giver her the shirt.”
That was the start of my most amazing and powerful healing journey! Nothing this far had made me feel so strong and at peace. I could not thank SASS Go enough for what they did for me and I knew I had to be a part of their non-profit organization in some way. So I reached out and it turned out that they were going to have their first ever instructor training outside of South Carolina in, you guessed it, Salt Lake City. Something that had been in the works before Lauren had been killed. I was asked to come to the instructor training which so happend to be right after graduating College and the Pac 12 Championship meet. I still can not believe how easily everything fell into place. I attended the 40 hour training and felt physically and mentally exhausted, but knew I was in the right place! I was beyond excited to share this with as many women and girls as possible.
I have been an instructor for two years now and have taught over 150 women and girls. The classes I teach are SASS 1, which is a two hour class where participants are trained physically and mentally for the most common threats to their safety from simple grabs to complex strangulation scenarios. This course is paramount to creating a community of women and girls who know they are worth the fight! SASS 2, which is also a two hour course, is where women and girls review material from SASS 1 and learn additional physical and mental skills to safeguard them from ground attacks and numerous abduction scenarios. This course builds on the power and purpose discovered in SASS 1. The SASS Elite course lasts eight weeks, a two hour class a week which experiences both SASS 1 and 2 plus defensive tactics and awareness against the behaviors of criminal minds.
Additionally, experience extensive physical training including threats to safety involving guns, knives and multiple assailants. I also just became certified to teach Sassafras which is an hour and a half long and is designed for elementary girls and their mothers or guardians, this course feels more like play than preparation. Girls are taught to trust their instincts, recognize manipulative behaviors and use their voice with new physical skills to run, yell, and tell in order to get the help they need. Advocating for oneself, physically and mentally, begins here. I am also newly certified to teach Miss independent which is a two hour class and this course teaches middle school girls to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships and the dangers hidden in social media. Participants learn to use their voice, recognize their own worth, and fight back if needed, with precision and determination, to get to safety and help quickly.
Here is more information about SASS Go if you want to learn more: https://www.sassgo.org/.
What was your experience coach track and field like last year, and what do you enjoy most about coaching?
I started coaching outdoor track and field in March of 2020 which ended up being a season of online workouts. I was able to coach in person during the indoor and outdoor track season of 2021. There were some changes due to covid but we got through it and still had a great time coaching. I specifically coach the athletes that run the 400 meters and up. I really enjoy it since the 400 and 800 were my races in high school and college. I love coaching so much because it is a sport that has given me so much and without amazing coaches in my life I would not be the person I am today. I hope to pay it forward and help my athletes as much as my coaches helped me. I love that I can run with my athletes and maybe have a little competition with them. I am constantly inspired by my athletes and the values they have gained from the sport that will help them be successful in their future.
How did you end up in Rock Springs?
Grew up in Rock Springs and went to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Although I loved my time in Salt Lake, I was ready for a change after living there for five years. It was a transition period for me and I wasn’t sure exactly what the next step was. Rock Springs has always been my good place to come back to. I feel comfortable here, I know how much support I have here and that is a great feeling. I moved back thinking it would be for a short while until I figured out a career path. I ended up finding a career I love in the same place I went to high school.
What do you appreciate most about our community?
The community is always lending a helping hand to myself and others. Most people that live here are kind and simple people. They don’t expect a lot but will give a lot in return. If I called a community member today saying, “I need help,” I know they would help me. That is something you do not find everywhere and I enjoy that aspect of Rock Springs.
What are some of your hobbies?
I love being outside and really anything that gets me outside, I will try. I do, however, have an obsession with mountain biking. I also love to hike, backpacking, kayak, run, fish and do a little bit of climbing.
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
My new favorite quote is, “Always remember your life has purpose, your voice has value, and celebrate who you are and where you are.” -Tasha, RAINN speaker.
This means something different at different points in everyone’s lives. I want everyone to know they have a distinct purpose in this life. Our voice is valued and matters which some people sometimes forget and I want to remind them of this.
Also, remember to take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments and what you have done this far. Remember we are all going somewhere, that matters and together we can make a big difference.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
In Green River at the mountain bike trails. It is my escape from reality and my happy place. I usually ride with some people in the Sweetwater Mountain Biking Association (SMBA) when I am there, which is always a good time. Even if I crash I still enjoy myself.
I owe a lot to Brent Skorz and Cory Poole for showing me the ropes, being so kind and looking after me.
Who would you want to play you in a movie about yourself?
Sandra Bullock because I have always loved her movies, especially Miss Congeniality. Her character in that movie reminds me of myself with her not being very graceful, goofy and teaching self-defense. Even though I only know her through the TV screen I think we have similarities and she would represent me well.
What would you sing at karaoke?
Sweet Caroline because I don’t like singing by myself but I know this song usually gets everyone in the room to sing along.
How would your friends describe you?
Knowing my friends, they would be sarcastic at first but then probably tell you that I am selfless, kind, loyal, empathetic, driven, and active. They may also say I am a little annoying at times because I don’t watch TV or movies and always want to be outside.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
My proudest accomplishment is becoming a SASS Go Self-Defense instructor. It is my way to help shine Lauren’s light and hopefully prevent anything like that from happening to anyone else. (picture features me after I got the other instructor and I finished our week long training)
What is something unique about you?
I don’t really like technology much and don’t own a TV. I do not watch Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ or anything like that. I gave it up a couple years ago and found I was way more productive without it.
Why do you choose to live in Wyoming?
I choose to live in Wyoming because of the people and the beautiful outdoors that is still so untouched by humans. One of my favorite mountain ranges is the Wind River Mountains and it is just a short drive for us. Truly one of my happy places and still have so much of it left to see.