A self-described sports fanatic, photo dramatic, and word worker, Alisa Mokler Harper is living the dream. Dividing her time between being a mom, T.V. producer for ESPN, wife, athlete, and photographer she manages to do it all, and exceptionally well.
She recently took a break from her hectic schedule to visit with In State.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: My parents were divorced when I was 6 so I grew up both in Ft. Collins and on a small farm outside of Wellington (just north of Ft. Collins).
Q: What were your parents like (interests, careers, influences)?
A: I always say, “My Mama was a horse and my Daddy was a motorcycle,” which explains a lot about my personality—a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll
My dad has always liked to go fast, take chances and live life just a little on the edge. He’s grown incredibly wise through his life experience and is someone that I consistently go to for advice when I get “stuck” in life.
My mom is country through and through—she likes to be settled, work in the garden and has an innate talent when it comes to animals. She is responsible for giving me the opportunities I have had to develop relationships with horses and other animals. She’s a seriously tough woman and has taught me a lot about being resilient.
Q: How many siblings do you have and what are they like?
A: I have a brother, Nate, who is three years younger, who is also a pretty noticeable mix of my mom and dad. My (half) sister, Nessie, is 12 years younger. She’s in college and is currently studying animal science in Brazil.
Q: On your resume it says you were once a Vet Tech. How old were you when you became a Vet Tech and why did you leave that field?
A: I was only 18 when I started working at an equine center in central California. My mom was also working there at the time—I learned so much and I liked it…but didn’t necessarily love it. I also had the opportunity to spend a month in Hawaii, working with a marine vet at a dolphin center. I think I would’ve stayed there if they had offered me a full time job, but everything works out (or doesn’t) for a reason, and I’m glad I moved on. When I had the opportunity to go to school in Mammoth I took it.
Q: When did your athletic interest, particularly in winter sports begin and how did it develop/evolve?
A: Well, I was always an athlete, I guess. I started skiing at the age of three, and as a kid I did everything from ballet to gymnastics to Kung Fu. I started snowboarding in the late ‘80s, which was looooong (sic) before it was popular or well developed. I continued to get to the mountains as much as possible until I finally moved to Mammoth Lakes in the California Sierras in 1996. I went there to go to college and snowboard on the side, but all my classes were at night, which meant I was doing a lot of snowboarding. I entered a local contest and won it so I entered a bigger contest and won that too. When I finished at the itty bitty community college in Mammoth I had to make a choice between moving to continue my schooling or staying and taking a shot at a snowboarding career. I called my dad and he was like, “Well, you’re only going to get a shot at this while you’re young; school will always be there.” My parents were supportive. I was dedicated and in the right place at the right time. It led to joining the U.S. team and traveling the world to do something I truly love. And yes, school was still there when I went back.
Q: When you say you were a Team Rider for both Mission Six and Palmer Snowboards, does that mean you performed on the team, but also did photography and articles?
A: I was a team rider for Monix/Mission Six and Palmer for several years, which basically meant I rocked their equipment in return for support for my travel and competition. I also was able to weigh in quite a bit on the design side with both companies, which was both fun and eye opening. When my body finally decided it was over the abuse of competitive snowboarding I naturally gravitated to documenting the sport that I loved and knew so well.
Q: When did your love for writing and photography begin, and how did it evolve? What were some of your primary influences in both mediums?
A: I’ve always been a writer—it’s just one of those things that comes naturally. I often say that it’s a good thing I’m a writer because I fumble my words so much in real time—when I write it just pours onto the page. It’s an art just as much as anything; you can make words so beautiful when you structure them correctly, you know?
I started to dabble in photography towards the end of my snowboard career. As I decided to go back to school I knew that I wanted to do something with visual art (because writing would just be too easy, right?). I decided that photojournalism would be wiser than visual arts because there were actual jobs in journalism (few as they may be) and I could tone my photographic skill while also utilizing my writing skills. The very first article I wrote for school ended up being published in a major magazine and I was hooked.
Q: How did you land the gig at ESPN and do you both compete and do the research on athletes for ESPN?
A: After I was done with school I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do. I had worked in the food service industry for so long and was headed back that direction when I talked to a good friend in the snowboard industry. She had just finished up a gig at the Winter X Games, but wasn’t thrilled with it and didn’t plan to go back. My first baby was young and I knew that most of the work was from home, so I asked her for the contact. Even though I knew nothing about T.V. production I was hired in 2007 based on my snowboarding background, and have been there since, working as the lead researcher for both Winter and Summer X Games. I competed at Winter X in 2002 and 2004, and it was shocking at first to see the other side of the event—the magnitude of the event, the money and manpower that goes into it is absolutely mind blowing. A lot of people criticize X Games for producing a T.V. show first, contest second, and “selling out snowboarding,” but our sport would not be the same without the wide-reaching platform ESPN has provided for a bunch of grungy snowboarders. Of course, some would prefer it still be grungy…
Q: How does your freelance photography at the Iris Photo Agency tie into everything else you do or is it a sideline creative outlet?
A: I’ve continued to shoot photos in several different fashions outside of my job at ESPN. I do some portrait stuff (not my favorite) and some pretty stuff, but really try to focus my “spare” time on creating my window photos; it fulfills my artsy side. I take old window frames and either leave them in their current, deteriorated state or paint them to morph them into something new(er) and then I put my photos in them. It’s a long, involved process and each piece has labor of love invested, but I really like the way they turn out. It’s something different and I always feel like I’m taking my photography a step further by putting it in a window—this is the way I see my world, from the inside looking out.
Q: Will your award-winning landscape photo, “Distinction,” be featured in Hard Shell Press’s first book?
A: Yes, it was actually chosen for the cover and was featured in Hard Shell’s “Colorado: Flora, Fauna and Landscapes From the Perspective of Women” released in May of 2011.
Q: How did adding a husband and children to the mix enhance/challenge/change your lifestyle?
A: Best thing I’ve ever done. My husband Paul is my true soul-mate and my best friend. It is so amazing to share each and every day with the person who’s your No. 1 go to in life. Our kids came fast and furious—two girls within 2 years of being married! But we were married “older” and knew what we wanted very early on. Having two kids under two was hard the first year, but now I wouldn’t change it for the world. My life is crazy and always full-on busy, but I love it. I see a lot of people who lose themselves when they become parents—they dedicate everything they have to their kids’ lives and forget to lead their own. Hiding behind the wheel of a mini van—that’s just not for me, I want to have a career and hobbies while still being there physically and emotionally for my kids and providing them with every opportunity they could ever want. It’s hard but definitely doable, and I truly think that remaining attached to my endeavors only influences them in a positive way.
Q: How do you manage to juggle it all?
A: I make a lot of lists!!! I’ve also learned to prioritize and realize that you just can’t do everything. Learning when to let go of an opportunity is difficult but valuable. My grandfather always said, “When the bus comes you don’t always have to get on—there will be another one along shortly.”
Q: What words of advice would you give an aspiring athlete/artist with similar interests as yours?
A: Don’t be afraid. Do what you are passionate about, and don’t settle for less, but realize that it may be a process—it isn’t necessarily going to happen overnight. If your passion is a career that’s difficult, set yourself up to chip away at it. Maybe that means working in a restaurant while you’re shooting photos or building up snowboard skills until you can financially support yourself with what you love. Life takes serious balance and finding it is tough, but you should never settle for anything less than happiness—everyone deserves it!
If you’re interested in trying to keep up with Alisa, you can follow her on Twitter @amokharp, read her bio and see her freelance work at: irisphotoagency.wordpress.com/alisa/, or visit ESPN’s archives to see news, features, video clips, PodCasts, photos, and more at: http://search.espn.go.com/alisa-mokler-harper/.