The forest industry’s strongest woman

It isn’t often that the tough men of the forestry world are seen to have tears in their eyes when a young woman talks about her life as a forwarder operator. But the story told by Sweden’s Anna Utter at an inspirational seminar at SkogsElmia at the end of May must be one of Swedish forestry’s most impressive achievements.

At the age of 22, Anna was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. This disorder of the connective tissue means that every joint in the body risks becoming dislocated. If such trouble wasn’t enough, a few years later she was also diagnosed with cancer, for which she is receiving treatment.

“I’m happy every morning that I wake up, and my goal is to make every day as good as possible for myself, my daughter, and the people closest to us,” she says.

The small meeting room at the fairgrounds was jammed to the rafters, mostly by burly forestry men who were both teary eyed and impressed.

Anna works as a forwarder operator for her father’s company. Even under Sweden’s now very restrictive labour regulations, she would be entitled to a disability pension. But she chooses to work, and at a job that even men regard as both tough and stressful.

“I love my job,” she says. “Despite my illness, I can lift large trees and go everywhere in the forest.”

Not only does she work full time in the forest, she is also a rally and enduro driver – the latter with an ATV. She wears a neck brace for support. If her cervical vertebrae become dislocated she risks becoming a quadriplegic. Yet she won’t stop.

“I don’t want to sit in a glass bubble or have people pity me. I want to live,” she says with great determination.

How can a person maintain such a positive attitude when life keeps throwing them one curve ball after another? The answer: by deciding to just keep pushing ahead, and choose what kind of life you want to life.

“I’m the one who has to decide, not my illness,” she says.

At the same time, she has a plan in mind if it becomes impossible to keep working in the forest. Between her cancer treatments she is studying journalism.

Her inspiring talk was part of a special focus at SkogsElmia 2011 on gender equality in the forestry world. As a role model, Anna Utter is one very tough lady who happens to come in fragile packaging. If she can manage to do a full-time job there is nothing to stop other women from also being much more active in the forest industry.

Everyone who listened to Anna’s lecture can bear witness to the fact that the strength needed in the forest isn’t to be found in the arms, but in the will to live well.

“I’m the one who decides, not my illness,” explained forwarder operator Anna Utter during her inspirational presentation at SkogsElmia.
Anna Utter’s courage made an impression on the tough men of the forest. A strong will to live and thrive is more important than strong arms, even in the forest.