MEET THE TEAM
Our staff and therapists
Andrew Taylor, MBA
Co-Founder & Executive Director
A native of Utah, Andrew grew up in the outdoors and spent his college summers as a river guide on the Upper Colorado River. After graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in Organizational Communication, Andrew went to Costa Rica in search of whitewater. During his time in Costa Rica, he fell in love with the Costa Rican people and the wide range of adventure activities the country has to offer. Andrew has been running adventure trips in Costa Rica since 2004. He has rafted and kayaked rivers all over the world, including Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Venezuela. He is trained in Swiftwater Rescue and has also spent time as a White Water Rescue Technician Instructor.
In 2010 he received a Master of Business Administration from Westminster College in Salt Lake City and pursued a Substance Use Disorder Counseling Certificate through the University of Utah in 2012. He has enjoyed and been inspired by his work with individuals suffering from drug and alcohol addictions at Cirque Lodge, which is one of the top substance abuse programs in the nation.
Andrew speaks fluent Spanish and is a certified Wilderness First Responder. He has a passion for adventure, the outdoors, and helping others experience the beauty that exists within nature around the world. He loves adventure travel and the many lessons it has taught him along the way.
Jeffrey Calderon, MA
Clinical Director & Adventure Therapist
Jeffrey is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of clinical psychology with experience in clinical practice, training and consulting. He specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based treatments with young adult clients struggling with emotional, behavioral, and adjustment issues. Jeffrey graduated as psychologist from Ludwig Maximilians Univerisity of Munich, Germany in 2006. After graduating he worked as scientific researcher at the Universities of Ulm and Regensburg in Germany. There he developed research programs for gifted students and talent development plans for young adults. After working in Germany, he worked in Costa Rica at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung developing leadership programs for young adults in Costa Rica and Panama. He also worked the Universidad Latina in Costa Rica as academic coordinator of the Psychology department. For the past twenty years Jeffrey has worked in an outpatient setting both in individual and group therapy.
Jeffrey’s areas of clinical focus include anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, relationship problems and depression.
Kjrstin (KJ) Walters, MA, LMFT
KJ has impressive experience working with adolescents and young adults in adventure therapy and residential treatment. She began her formal education with a Bachelors in Recreation Management and Youth Leadership and continued with her Master in Marriage and Family Therapy. Over the last ten years, KJ has honed her practice with young people with anxiety and depression. Her practice focuses on complex family systems, learning differences, trauma, attachment, and school refusal / failure. She incorporates a multi-modal technique in working with her clients and has recently included EMDR training to her therapeutic toolbox.
KJ is also an accomplished outdoor enthusiast and shares her love of new experiences with her husband and two daughter. She is an adventurer by nature and has fully embraced the Costa Rica lifestyle.
Mara Mueller, MSW, LCSW, CADC I
Mara is passionate about supporting people through the growth process and believes that each person has within them the means to achieve emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. She often employs approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She takes a Family Systems and solutions-focused approach in her work with parents. Mara holds advanced EMDR training, is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor and a Certified Yoga Instructor. She feels competent working with people who experience a range of struggles including anxiety, depression, trauma, identity development, substance misuse and addiction, adoption and attachment struggles, and difficulties with executive functioning.
Mara has worked as a mental health clinician in wide-range of treatment settings beginning in 2000 including therapeutic boarding schools, in and out-patient therapy, hospital emergency departments, and her favorite, wilderness therapy. She earned her Master of Social Work degree from Portland State University and was shortly thereafter introduced to the healing power of wilderness therapy. She feels deeply fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with several wilderness therapy companies serving adolescents and young adults.
In her time away from work you can find her running, surfing or practicing yoga. Mara also enjoys biking and spending time with her friends, family and her pup, Mija, who she and her husband adopted from Peru during their travels there.
Carrie Weatherhead, LCSW
Director of Admissions & Marketing
Carrie has dedicated her entire professional career to providing opportunities for at-risk adolescents and young adults. She received her BA in Sociology from Clark University in Worcester, MA and went on to complete a Master’s in Social Work from Boston University. Carrie has more than 20 years experience working with young people and their families in public schools and in community settings. Her work focuses on youth empowerment theory, self-efficacy training, and project-based learning. She also has extensive experience in community organizing, nonprofit management, and program development and implementation.
A devoted Bostonian, Carrie enjoys spending her time outside hiking and biking throughout New England with her husband and two sons. She has learned first hand about the transformative nature of an active lifestyle. Carrie fervently believes that young people learn best when they are challenged and stretched outside their comfort zone.
Allan’s passion for adventure started at an early age. Whether it be surfing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, fishing or mountain biking, Allan feels most alive when he’s active and connected to nature. He began working in the outdoor industry over 15 years ago. Allan discovered wilderness and adventure therapy, and worked for years as a guide, leading backcountry expeditions and adventure activities. He eventually moved into program management and leadership, and has worked with numerous programs over the years. A jack-of-all-trades, Allan is also a certified yoga teacher.
Allan has spent years surfing and exploring Latin America, including Mexico, Columbia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. He initially came to Costa Rica in 2006, and fell in love with the country and the “pura vida” culture.
Allan operates his own consulting and life coaching business. In 2018 he was invited to Pure Life to do an assessment and provide feedback for the program. He was impressed with the program, and now works with Pure Life providing support with program development and mentoring.
Amalia is a native Costa Rican who grew up in a small coffee farming town. She received a bachelor’s degree in eco-tourism. Upon completion of her degree, Amalia worked at Outward Bound – Costa Rica in a partnership with Girl Scouts. Amalia was a field guide with Pure Life for 2.5 years before transitioning to the Field Director role. She is certified in WFR, CPR, Technical Rope Rescue, and White Water Rescue.
Amalia has a passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures. She loves the outdoors, specifically mountain biking and rock climbing, and appreciates the power of nature. Amalia’s passion lies in helping Pure Life guides grow and develop in the field. She finds joy in seeing student’s overcome their struggles and find lasting change in their lives.
Laura was born in Guatemala and moved to Costa Rica when she was four years old. She grew up with 6 siblings and surrounded by nature. She has a passion for music and started playing at 6 years old. She received certification in both music and history from the EMS institute in San Isidro, Costa Rica. She served a mission in Panama where she had the opportunity to serve others for 1.5 years.
Laura has been part of the Pure Life team since 2016; filling various roles including intern, field guide, Program Support Coordinator and now as Medical Coordinator. Laura is certified in WAFA, WFR, CPR, Technical Rope Rescue, and White Water Rescue. She went to North America Rescue Institute in Las Vegas where she got certified as an EMT. She loves to read, create music and spend time in the outdoors; specifically rappelling and working with ropes. She loves to travel and learn about new cultures. She sees the benefits that Pure Life offers to their students to create a better future and open their eyes to a new perspective on life.
Adam Balls, MD
Dr. Adam Balls is a board certified emergency medicine physician who is actively practicing in the Salt Lake City area for Utah Emergency Physicians. He obtained his MD degree from Georgetown University in 2004. In 2007, Dr. Balls completed his residency in Emergency Medicine at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ where he also served as chief resident. After his residency, Adam and his family relocated to San Antonio Texas where he served on active duty for four years as an EM physician at Wilford Hall Medical Center, a Level 1 Trauma Center and EM Residency Program. During his time in the Air Force, he served as a team leader for a Critical Care Aeromedical Transport Team on deployments to Iraq, Germany, and Afghanistan.
Adam currently resides in Salt Lake City with his wife and three chidren. He serves as Medical Director for Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, a Level 1 Trauma Center and the largest ED in the state of Utah. He also works as Medical Director for Murray Fire Department. Adam is passionate about delivering excellent patient care in the Emergency Department and enjoys training and teaching. He is excited to support the needs of Pure Life in his Medical Director role. Outside of his clinical work, Adam enjoys the outdoors in Utah, supporting his children in their various sports and school activities, and living life through travel experiences around the world.
Brandi Froelich, RN, BSN
Health and Wellness Liaison
Brandi Froelich, born in Honolulu Hawaii, began nursing in 2001 at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. After graduating she moved to Florida and began her nursing career, specializing in critical care and trauma. She then began traveling as a nurse, broadening her experiences in her profession. She worked in different hospitals throughout Florida, California, Nevada, and the U.S. Virgin Islands allowing her to experience nursing in different regions.
In 2016, with more than 13 years experience in the critical care, hospital setting, Brandi expanded her field of nursing to a more personalized care-giving environment. Living in Costa Rica has allowed her to focus on the health and wellness of her children, family, Pure Life students, and home care clients. Living in the the rainforest, with differing medical practices presents challenges she hopes to help clients navigate with ease.
Brandi is excited to be a part of the Pure Life team. She enjoys Interacting with the environment (outdoor play), cooking for her family, and practicing pilates. She feels there are strong family values and connected communities in Costa Rica and at Pure Life. These values have made an impact on her core values regarding mental and physical health. Her hope is to share her experiences with clients, and promote mental and physical wellbeing throughout the community.
Brandi has American Heart Association certifications for Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Basic Life Support. Brandi also maintains her U.S. nursing license per the Board of Nursing and has Critical Care training.
Roy has over seven years of experience on the road driving with distribution companies, heavy machinery and ecotourism. He had a rough time while growing up which gives him a unique insight to relate with the students in so many areas. Roy is an example of hard work and effort. His greatest satisfaction is the opportunity to help others and knowing that a few of his words or simply a smile might change a person’s life or make their day better. His energy is contagious and it makes him a terrific person to be around. In his free time he loves to spend time with his family and on maintaining his farm of fruit trees that he grows all natural without fertilizers or herbicides. Roy is very generous to share offerings from his farm with the Pure Life family and the students.
Base Management Team
Antonio is a hardcore kayaker who enjoys adventure and loves the outdoors. He began raft captaining in 2002 and became a certified kayak instructor shortly thereafter. Antonio moves fast both by land and by sea; rumor has it that he can complete the trek between Domer’s Hill and Piedras Blancas (usually two days of hiking) in eight hours flat – carrying both of his kids and his kayak. His ability in the water has earned him the nickname Cherepo (Jesus Christ Lizard) which is famous for being able to run on top of the water.
Antonio holds the following certifications: Wilderness First Responder, First Aid, CPR, and AED for the Professional Rescuer, Whitewater Rescue Technician, Technical Rope Rescue: Operations, International Rafting Federation Instructor, International Rafting Federation Guide Class I-IV, Instructor Judgment Training, Land Instructor Training, Waterfront Lifeguard, Whitewater Kayak Training.
Andrea grew up on a farm learning hard work since she was very little; collecting coffee beans and working with cattle. Andrea oversees student chores and teaches them how to properly clean the student space. She is an example to our students of perseverance and dedication. The construction of her own house was one of Pure Life’s service projects in 2015. Our students helped her to materialize her dream of having a proper house for her and her daughter, Nicole. Having accomplished that dream; her next goal is to improve her English. However, the language barrier has never been an obstacle to create bonds with the students. Andrea’s life motto is, “life has ups and downs but we should continue and not let anything or anyone break our dreams.”
Leo Zumbado Soto
Leo comes from the small town of San Vito de Coto Brus. He enjoyed growing up on a farm; allowing him to run free and enjoy nature on a daily basis. Leo received an English teaching degree from Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. Although, his degree is in English, his main passion in life is technology. His skills are self-taught and there is a reason his nickname is “Ninja”. In regards to Pure Life, Leo stated, “Before coming to Pure Life, I was suffering from depression that I did not know I had. I stopped dreaming and caring about myself. 3 months after my first day of work, I was a different person! I now have hope for the future, thanks to my coworkers and the energy at Pure Life.” Leo loves that he has found a career that allows him to enjoy two of his passions, nature and technology, while also seeing people change their lives; similar to his own transformation.
Cristopher was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala. When he was 12 years old, he moved with his family to Costa Rica. At 19 years of age he served a full-time mission for 2 years in Panama where he helped many people and learned English as second language.
Cristopher worked with the Red Cross as a first aid assistant, where he had the opportunity to do rescue work with accidents and natural disasters. He is certified in WFA, CPR and Physical Therapy Study at Santa Paula University. Over the years, he has developed leadership skills in commerce, photography and administration.
He discovered his passion for technology and mechanics, obtaining a degree in Engineering in Computer Systems at the Latin University of Costa Rica. Cristopher likes adventure activities, rappelling, driving his motorcycle, and spending time with his wife and two children.
In 2018, Carlos joined Pure Life because he was struck by the positive impact and emotional change that nature generates to improve society. He previously worked for nine years for Banco Nacional in Costa Rica. Carlos has six years of experience as a CPA and he likes to provide the financial analysis that’s needed to provide balance to companies. He like things to be done correctly and safely.
Carlos loves adventure and traveling to learn more about new cultures. I am constantly curious about how to grow and improve every day
Jesenia grew up on a farm on the outskirts of the city. She grew up among beautiful landscapes and the simplicity of a traditional Costa Rican family. In order to enter secondary school she moved to the city, however, her preference has always been life in the countryside, peace and tranquility of nature. She loves to go for rides on her motorcycle and enjoy walks in the fresh air.
She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources from the Universidad Nacional Estatal a Distancia de Costa Rica (UNED). She obtained her degree with honors and a perfect score on her thesis. When she started her career, her greatest desire was to be able to work in a place where she could help others; a place with values such as respect, consideration and tolerance. She found all that and more in Pure Life
Alex grew up in the province of Heredia, Costa Rica for 23 years, but 3 years ago he decided to leave the city for the beautiful mountains of Pérez Zeledón. Alex has a bachelor’s degree in Forest Management and Wildlife from the Universidas Técnica Nacional, hence his love and respect for nature and animals.
Alex’s family is the center of his life and from that he has learned to work hard to have a better future. When he joined Pure Life, Alex realized that serving others was an undiscovered skill and passion. He found a great team with the same goal, helping those who need an extra hand.
Mauricio was born in San Isidro del General (also called Perez Zeledon). He is the son of farmers. He grew up on coffee plantations, working since he was a child. Mau had the opportunity to travel to the United States, and worked there for five years for a moving company. This allowed him to travel to 32 states, driving throughout the United States. He was also able to learn the English language, which was very difficult but something that he still enjoys working on.
Mauricio has been with Pure Life since 2017, he loves being part of a team which helps young adults find their focus and direction in their lives. At the same time, he has had the opportunity for personal growth. He has received numerous certifications including: BLS, CPR, TRRO, and WAFA.
Scott Embley, MSW
MSW – Therapist
Scott Embley, CSW
Born in Utah, Scott was raised with an intense passion for the outdoors and believes in the healing power of connecting to nature and integrating healthy activity to find balance in the daily routine of life. Since 2013, Scott has worked with adolescents in wilderness and residential settings in developing effective social skills and well-rounded life habits within families and the school environment. After graduating from the University of Utah with degrees in Jazz Performance and Adventure & Outdoor Programming, Scott returned and received his Masters Degree in Social Work. In this time, he has worked closely with those working through addiction, adoption complications, behavioral and emotional issues, difficult relationships, as well as those who have experienced trauma.
To keep his personal life balance, Scott enjoys practicing self care in the form of regular recreation with trail running, rock climbing, and canyoneering being what he enjoys most, but is always in pursuit of more time for surfing, skiing, frisbee, biking, or playing his trumpet.