Reflections: Nickie Sekera, destined to make a difference

Nickie Sekera of Fryeburg

Editor’s Note: ‘Reflections” is a series of stories on citizens in and around Fryeburg, written by Rachel Andrews Damon.

Nickie Sekera, 48, is a woman destined to make a positive difference for all living creatures when it comes to the topic of water.

Sekera was born in Bangor, the second of nine children to Joseph and Marie Sekera. Her paternal grandfather, one of 13 children, served in WWII and immigrated from the Ukraine. Her paternal grandmother was from Maine. Sekera spent her early years in Eddington along the eastern banks of the Penobscot. She attended John Bapst Memorial High School, where her father was a founding principal. Her mother ran a day care center and taught preschool.

Following in the footsteps of her parents, she received her degree in secondary education from the University of Maine, Orono and wanted to become a high school English teacher.

“I was very lucky to do my student teaching under Maine author Sanford Phippen. I have so much respect for teachers and this deepened my respect,” she said. “I liked following in the tradition of my mother and father, but I found the classroom somewhat confining. So, I took pause.”

“I grew up with a deep sense of inquiry,” Sekera said. “People interest me. Situations interest me. There is so much in this world to know and I am always acutely aware of what I don’t know.”

With a mind to self-discovery, Sekera hiked the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail by herself in 1994.

In 1996, she took on the Pacific Crest Trail, 2,600 miles running from the Mexico to British Columbia.

“I recognize that not every person has the physical ability or the privilege of being able to do this, but it is a gift I gave to myself,” she said. “On nature’s terms, it is the experience of being able to survive, to take care of yourself and to interact. It taught me that if we don’t take care of the land and especially the water, we lose it.”

These treks altered Sekera’s life forever and solidified her passions for protecting the natural world, especially water resources.

Sekera’s hiking expertise led her to western Maine to work with a new startup company — Summit Achievement in Stow.

“They were looking for lead wilderness guides. I thought it sounded right up my alley: education in a nontraditional setting. This work was basically bringing my passions together,” Sekera said. “I was with Summit from 1996 to 2001 as one of their lead backpacking guides and human resources director.”

Sekera’s next professional stage in life would take her to Asia.

“A friend of mine from Summit, took a job as the executive director of the Women’s Exchange in NYC. She was Burmese and invited me to go with her to Thailand and Nepal on her first project site evaluation,” Sekera said. “My contribution was as photographer and helping prepare her final presentation. We were investigating an area in Bangkok and working on women’s education opportunities to help get them out of the sex industry. I made deep connections with the Burmese people during this time.”

Sekera returned to Burma a second time and worked for a clinic on the country’s border with Thailand that served over 350 patients a day.

“By that time, I had gotten my Wilderness EMT certifications. When I arrived back home, the U.S. Campaign for Burma Board of Directors recruited me to work for them as a human rights advocate on Capitol Hill,” she said.

Sekera also returned from Burma with malaria. She credits U.S. homeopathic medicine for her recovery.

In August 2003, Sekera gave birth to her only child, Luke Sekera Flanders.

“Luke’s birth was the end of me cavorting around the globe! He is 15 now and a brilliant young man. He’s also my best friend. We are very sympatico,” she added.

Since settling down in Fryeburg and raising her son alone, Sekera has been the assistant director at Solo in Conway, a nonprofit school teaching wilderness medicine.

“I love living in Fryeburg. The mountains, clean water, forests, the people are wonderful and the school systems are great,” she said. “It is a uniquely special place.”

All this brings us back to Sekera’s advancing advocacy on the topic of water security.

Nickie Sekera and son, Luke Flanders, age 15, of Fryeburg

“Luke and I were watching a documentary that talked about water issues and it featured Fryeburg. I had to pause the documentary 20 times to answer questions from Luke, who was getting visibly upset,” she recalled. “I didn’t have the answers. So, I’ve gone out and tried to find the answers. I’ve talked to neighbors, legislators, those involved with water issues in Maine and across the country. I have made connections and broadened our horizons on how Maine is positioned globally with our water wealth and how that water is being taken. Looking at the water situation on a global scale is daunting. Water insecurity is rampant.”

She continued, “Water as a resource does not follow political boundaries. Water is life and it has a bigger value than monetary value. I’d like to see strong protections ensuring every human being can have free access to clean water.”

Twenty-four years after her Pacific Crest Trail trek, Sekera reflects back, “It was standing on the summit of Mt. Whitney that would lead me to the environmental work I’d be doing today. A great watershed (2,600 square miles) once fed a lively, flourishing valley now drained and dry due to misappropriation of water resources via the Los Angeles Aqueduct. At that time while hiking, I was straining under high temperatures with up to 40 miles walking between potable water sources. A stark reality befalls one when traveling through the desert on foot. We, as humans, are made up of 70% water. Without clean water, we die. Vast populations in the world face this insecurity each day. Water displacement, diversion and misappropriation is not a new phenomenon, but a serious ongoing problem that marginalizes people and degrades our environment for private gain. Less than 2% of the water on the planet is potable. Industry is destroying water at a rate that is going to be hard to recover from. So, people need to think about the problem and about the limited amount of fresh water. I don’t believe we can tech our way out of this problem. We have no idea what the capacity is that we can sustain if we do not conserve and take responsibility for what we consume.”

Sekera may be considering running for office.

“I’ll not count that out. Clean, fresh water is a very difficult topic. We have to meet in the middle more,” she said.

Sekera and her son, Luke, a gifted and talented 10th grader at Fryeburg Academy, were featured speakers on “TED Talks.” They presented their concerns about clean water and the extraction of it by for-profit companies.

Luke has followed his mother into advocacy, conservation and responsibility. He is the youngest citizen on record to testify in front of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.  You can find the Sekera’s “TED Talk” on YouTube.

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