An Adventure to Remember
Dyan deNapoli ’81 and Suzanne Snyder Johnson ’82 never imagined they would embark on a journey of a lifetime together when they were friends at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Mass. At sixteen and fifteen years old, Dyan and Suzanne shared very similar backgrounds with both having a love for skiing and an appreciation for sailing. Little did they know they would be sailing to the beautiful continent of Antarctica together over forty years later.
Here are their individual stories and how they landed on the southernmost continent together on an unforgettable voyage.
As a high school senior, Suzanne chose Colby-Sawyer College for its equestrian and ski teams. Dyan had come to CSC a year earlier, so the college was somewhat on her radar. Suzanne was very involved on campus, taking part in both the equestrian and ski teams and student government.
Upon receiving her associate’s degree at Colby-Sawyer, Suzanne continued her education at Pine Manor College. She began a family and a career in real estate. Then in 2010, Suzanne was faced with a breast cancer diagnosis. After going through her treatment, she knew she wanted to do something to make a difference, and help people re-enter the real world after their own cancer diagnoses. This is when the seed for Healing Winds was planted.
Her brainchild became a reality a year later when an acquaintance was dying of cancer. He had one month to live and wished to give her his sail boat, knowing that she had a lifelong love for sailing. Not knowing what the boat looked like or what condition it was in, she decided to take the boat, sight unseen. She made the trek to Maryland to pick up the 29’ sailboat and brought it back to its new home in Burlington, Vt. The vessel was dubbed “Jubilee” and would become the first stepping stone to creating her dream company.
In 2014, Suzanne began operating the non-profit 501(c)(3) company Healing Winds Vermont. The mission was to provide free three-hour sailing excursions for patients, friends and family touched by cancer. Suzanne and her entirely volunteer crew (who must have been touched by cancer themselves in some way) continue to provide a unique therapeutic recreational experience free of charge, to help reduce the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of cancer. Since its humble beginnings, Healing Winds has brought a breath of fresh air to over 1,500 cancer patients and their families.
Now, after five summers operating out of Burlington, Suzanne has added another charter in Salem, Mass. With over 40 volunteers and several mission sails, Healing Winds – North Shore is off to a great start.
For more information on Healing Winds USA, go to healingwindsusa.org or call 1.800.233.9777.
Dyan was no stranger to Colby-Sawyer. Her mother and two aunts had attended the college. Dyan was a member of the ski team and made many lifelong friends at CSC. She graduated two years later with her associate’s degree and then decided to take a year off. That year eventually turned into an eleven year hiatus from college.
Having so many interests, Dyan was struggling with what to choose for a career. She remembers thinking, “I had so many interests. How was I supposed to just pick one? How do I know if it is the right choice?” Dyan hesitated going back to college until she had a plan. She dabbled in a few different jobs, not really finding her passion. Then, for her 30th birthday, her parents gave her a gift that would change the path of her life forever.
“I had always been interested in dolphins since the age of five. My parents gave me an Earthwatch Expedition for my birthday. I chose to go to Hawaii to a dolphin facility for a month and fell in love. I knew I had to do this”, says Dyan. While she was at the facility, she learned of a semester-long internship working with dolphins. As soon as she returned home, she applied for the internship and was immediately rejected. The facility said they would only accept applicants who had a degree in animal science. This is when she knew she had to go back to college.
Dyan entered Mount Ida College at the age of 32 and started her new degree. Two years later she reapplied for the dolphin internship and was accepted. She spent the summer working as a dolphin trainer at the University of Hawaii.
During her senior year, Dyan held another internship at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Mass. She spent four months in the penguin exhibit. She continued working at the aquarium until 2004, monitoring the health and behaviors of the penguins, as well as supervise 75 volunteers each year. She then decided to branch out on her own, and has been known fondly as The Penguin Lady ever since.
For the past 15 years, Dyan has run her own business in which she travels internationally to teach kids and adults about penguin biology, behavior and conservation. She is known as a penguin expert and is an award-winning author. More information on Dyan can be found at thepenguinlady.com Dyan says, “I donate a portion of my proceeds to conservation groups. I speak at schools, universities, libraries, museums, science centers and nature cruises. My big dream was to be a guest speaker at Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.”
Coming Together Once Again
After leaving Colby-Sawyer College, the two friends lost touch for several years. It was not until Suzanne’s 35th reunion that they were back in touch with each other again. When Dyan was offered a guest speaker position on her dream 24-day expedition to Antarctica, the Shetland Islands and South Georgia Island, she was allowed to bring one guest free-of-charge. Knowing Suzanne’s passion for sailing and desire to help others, Dyan immediately asked her to join her on this epic adventure.
Dyan and Suzanne are both very thankful for where their lives have brought them and feel passionately about giving back to others. Anyone who knows these two ambitious women is keenly aware that they believe that everything happens for a reason and has brought them to exactly where they need to be in life – helping cancer survivors and conservation groups researching penguins. Dyan reminds us, “It is about having dreams and pursuing them. You have to believe in yourself and do what you are passionate about. The definition of success is waking up every day, looking forward to your work and making a difference.”