Meg Smaker fractured her spine and ruptured a disc in a car accident in January. Just a few weeks later she was back at Mills College’s swim practice.
“Swimming was the only thing that wasn’t painful, being in zero gravity,” Smaker said. “I love the water. I love the feeling of it; it’s like flying.”
Not to mention the fact that Smaker probably feels at home playing every sport; she’s been on the Mills College track and field, volleyball and swim teams.
Smaker’s heavy sports involvement reflects her adventurous side. Another indication? Her heavily-stamped passport. The first semester senior Public, Legal and Economic Analysis major has traveled to over 40 countries, from Somalia to Afghanistan and everywhere in between.
“I’m not wired like most people,” Smaker said. “When I’m sitting somewhere and not doing anything, it’s like there’s a pack of drunken monkeys on crack dancing in my brain.”
And when Smaker says she’s not wired like most people she means it and has stories of overcoming struggles to prove her point.
The 30-year-old was held hostage at age 22 along with two other Americans by Colombian paramilitaries in the Darien Gap, a rain forest infamous for drug runners and political rebels. Her wanderlust and curiosity led her to the rain forest. And although during captivity she was beaten and had guns held to her head, her traveling ways have yet to dim.
Smaker said she wasn’t afraid of death until she was forced to kneel on a graveyard ground with a gun to her head.
“You’d think you’d start to freak out, but you don’t when your options are taken away from you and you have to accept your fate,” Smaker said, reflecting on here 10 days in captivity in 2002.
The Colombian rebels released Smaker and the two other Americans as a political move. She returned home, but only for a while; she had other countries to visit, after all.
And Smaker’s stories of travels are endless.
“Meg had so many unbelievable facts about her life, and her experiences, that it crossed my mind that she may have an issue with honesty, you know, someone who… exaggerates a lot,” said head volleyball coach Susan Forbes. “I thought, no way could this women have done everything she said she has. Sure enough though, she had!”
And Smaker’s presence never goes unnoticed.
“As Meg says, when you first meet her ‘it’s like getting in a Hot Jacuzzi; it’s a little too much at first but once you hop in and stay awhile the more comfortable you get,'” Forbes said.
Not to mention Smaker is nearly six feet tall. She has blond hair to her waist—she calls it “mermaid hair”—and unquestionably blue eyes. These traits led to the press mistakenly labeling Samker as tennis champ Anna Kournikova when she was kidnapped in Colombia.
“Are you kidding me?” Smaker said. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t blend in anywhere except Sweden.”
But traveling abroad hasn’t been the only place Smaker stuck out.
Smaker attended the Butte Fire Academy in Chico, CA at age 19, working “in a strict chain-of-command structure,” according to the academy’s website. When Smaker first started training, there were eight women. By the time she graduated, she was the last woman standing.
“They all dropped out except for me because the men were horrible,” Smaker said. “They would key my car, slash my tires. Someone wrote a note saying I was on steroids, had the answer keys for tests. I’d sit down for lunch and all the guys would get up and leave.”
Smaker used this as fuel and powered through the 21-week program, ready to prove any helmet-wearing man wrong.
“I did it because I really didn’t like these people and if I left they’d win,” Smaker said.
Smaker held down the job for six years but felt the need to travel after putting out a fair amount of fires.
“I had some wild oats to sow,” Smaker said.
Smaker came to Mills at age 30, ready to relinquish an airplane seat for a desk chair, at least for a year or two. Nowhere near honors in high school with a 1.2 GPA, Smaker now has a 3.9 with a 5.75 overloaded class schedule.
“One thing that all that traveling did is that it humbles you and you realize you don’ know that much,” Smaker said, looking back on her years of travel. “What drew me back to school was that I knew what I wanted to do.”
Smaker took up PLEA to apply her world travels to her studies.
“I’ve been to most of the places we talk about in class,” Smaker said.
And with that degree? Smaker plans to travel around the world, making documentaries about “third world countries that are funny,” a combination she describes as “Planet Earth meets Apocalypse Now meets Jon Stewart.”
“If you go to these places these people have some of the sharpest sense of humor you’ve ever known,” Smaker said. “Humor helps to the news, and the world is so depressing.”
But who knows if Smaker can stick to just making documentaries.
“I need to have constant chaos in order to be internally calm,” Smaker said, then reconsidered. “Not chaos, just overload.”