What does it mean to be resilient in a time like this? What does it look like to face adversity and unknowns with the same confidence and undefeatable spirit of a voyageur setting off into uncharted waters? We turn to what we know: to serve, to strive and not to yield. We ground ourselves not in the singular ‘me,’ but in the plural ‘we.’ We remind ourselves there is far more in us than we know, and together, much can be accomplished—challenges can be overcome.
Resilience is felt in everyday moments. Moments that lift our community up one by one. So even though we’re not currently ‘Outward Bound,’ we invite you to join us on an expedition of resilience as we unite together to spark life through action, instill endurance, offer joy and above all, lend compassion to yourself and your communities.
Day by day, let’s create a world that is #ResilientTogether.
During these times of self-isolation, working from home, and online school, I cannot help but think back to my Outward Bound trip. After a morning of hiking, we set our bags down and started to make lunch. I felt defeated. The rain, the humidity, the soreness in my back and shoulders. There was no way I was going to get back up. But then our instructor got up and stood in the center of the group. Everyone was silent and completely exhausted. I was preparing myself for an encouraging speech, a “don’t give up” speech, but that’s not what we got. She slowly lifted her finger and pointed and said: “you see that mountain in the distance, that’s where we’re going.” My immediate thoughts were, “there are at least seven mountains in that direction. I can’t do that.”
But the thing is, I did do it. After long hours of hiking in rain, mud, and through tiredness, my friends and I made it. We weren’t done though. We had to set up camp. We had to cook dinner. We had to try and get some sleep. We had to hike some more.
The point I’m trying to make is that there is always going to be a “mountain in the distance.” And when we finish that mountain there’s gonna be another one. Rather than focus on accomplishing the hike, focus on becoming a better person through the hike. Rather than focus on overcoming this pandemic, focus on becoming a more patient, a more ‘in the moment’ person. And this is all thanks to Outward Bound.
I’m a student and instructor alum. Once, as an instructor, we were hiking up, up, up and over a saddle. As we neared the top to begin our descent down, a fierce lightning storm rolled in. We needed to move up and over fast. One of my students, taking in the scene, threw her 50lb pack down the mountainside. It rolled, and rolled, and rolled down hundreds of feet. She then plopped down on the ground and said the only way she would move is by being airlifted out. Helicopters don’t land in that terrain and especially not for a healthy student.
We watched. We waited. One by one, the other students came to her, kindly resting a hand on her shoulder, or wiping sweat from her brow. Soon, they were all encircling her on the ground, explaining how much they needed her in the group, how much she was cared about. Her anger wasn’t met with theirs. It was met with a kind strength that within 15 minutes had us back on our way. When compassion perseveres over anger, it’s humanity at our best.
I am on point coordinating our emergency department and hospital preparations and fell back into a familiar Outward Bound instructor role. Feeling each individual on my team discover their inner self-reliance was an amazing (but familiar) experience. I was lonely at the beginning of these preparations, but gradually each critical individual on our extensive team awoke, ignited their inner engines, and got to work. I am so thankful for Outward Bound. It lives as an unending fire in my gut that reliably carries me through hard times. Having instructed, I learned how to share it. That has been invaluable these past weeks. Hard times are on our doorstep, (for many in our homes and work), but this is when the human spirit shines.
I was just thinking about my 2005 Outdoor Educator Course. I was thinking about how incredibly fortunate I was to be able to have the experience and not have my course canceled because of COVID-19. It rained nearly every day of my course, except when it was snowing or the wind was howling. I felt like Bilbo Baggins. I didn’t love it, it was hard, my knee hurt, my feet were usually cold. But Easter Sunday at the top of Mountain Mitchell made me realize something really important. I could be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I could perform when others just wanted to go home. It was a hard and valuable lesson.
I attended Outward Bound with a group of our 8th-grade students seven years ago. As a woman in her mid-40s who had never done anything as physically challenging as Outward Bound in over a decade, I was quite intimidated. I’m also an introvert, so the thought of being sequestered for four nights with a group of students and two strangers was enough to make me break out in hives. Let’s just be honest: I was scared.
I’m not going to say it was a magical, perfect experience. It was hard. Really hard. But after the first day when I couldn’t put my backpack on by myself because it was too heavy and my quads screamed when I moved, my 8th-grade boys took turns helping me take it on and off. When we needed someone to help one of our smaller, weaker students on a rather steep, rocky descent, I became that person for him, physically and emotionally. Listening to my students sing as they lay in a cave on top of a cliff while I slept on the path a few feet below, no tarp overhead, was a spiritual experience. Watching my students struggle and keep going gave me the push I needed to keep going, even when I wasn’t sure I physically could. The openness and closeness that I saw from my students helped me to take down some of those walls that I thought I needed to have as a teacher. Outward Bound made me a better educator, a better person, and challenged me physically in ways I would prefer to not be challenged ever again! 😉
Rough days of many miles and some even tougher social dynamics paired with challenging mental health obstacles made my course a real challenge. I started with goal-setting—this was life-changing. The optimism and light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel mindset that simple goal-setting provided me were remarkable. I set goals to work on how I treated my crewmates and how I would take care of myself. I even set goals for journaling and this was one of the biggest bits of help during challenging moments on the trail. My course was more than just an outdoor experience – I learned so much about myself and how I persevere best.
On course, I was filled with anxiety and worry. But when, towards the end of my course, we started the climbing unit, I realized just how much I was capable of. When climbing, I would forget everything else. Sometimes I would reach a rough spot, see how far up I was, and panic. But every single time, with the encouragement of my crew, I pushed up over it, and proved to myself that “I can.” Those “I can” moments have taught me so much about how strong and capable I am of overcoming anxiety and tough obstacles.
One of the biggest challenges I faced on Outward Bound was climbing. As I prepared myself to climb that day on course, I could feel my hands and my feet start to cramp at the mere touch of the rock and my limbs started to shake just a few meters off the ground. I wanted to feel successful at climbing and I started to get mad at myself when this wasn’t the case. That frustration only led me so far off the wall and a ways away from the goals that I had made from myself that morning. I distanced myself from my challenges by staying on the ground and belaying for my peers instead. Later in the course, I realized that by staying in my comfort zone, I wasn’t able to see how far I could push myself mentally and physically and I deeply regretted my decision.
To my surprise, I returned to that exact climbing site in the spring through my sending school, The Outdoor Academy. As we reached the base of the site, the goals I had once set for myself on this wall flooded back to me and I aimed to surpass them with an increased sense of confidence and perseverance. I couldn’t pass up the challenge of this moment and I threw myself at the wall losing the mindset I once had. I ended up making significant advances up the wall from the last trip and surpassed the original goals I had set for myself. As I reached the top of the climb and was looking out around at the incredible view that I was surrounded by with a smile on my face, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the growth I had made in the two years that had passed.
I learned that these experiences of being unsuccessful somehow pushed me back and fueled me to do better, to accomplish more, and gave me the power to choose the way I wanted to experience something the second time around.
I was part of the semester crew in 2019. My journey with Outward Bound changed my life forever. Still today, I can feel myself continuing to grow and experience the magic that the course provided me with. It was the hardest and most amazing 72 days of my life, and I would 100% do it all over again. I constantly tell people what I did with my gap year when they ask, and the first thing they say is, “I could NEVER do that”. I just smile and laugh because deep down, I know they can. I would have never thought that I could do what I did during those 2.5 months, and yet, here we are.
No amount of pictures, stories, or words will ever be able to describe what this semester course did for me. I have been transformed so deeply that it can be hard to even comprehend. Ever since I returned from my Outward Bound trip, it has been clear to everyone around me how much I have changed. I went from a 2.0 GPA to a 3.7 GPA and am thriving at everything I do in college and in life. Outward Bound taught me that I can do anything.
We were climbing/rappelling in the Devil’s Cellar. I remember struggling physically and mentally on the climb, I kept slipping and not getting my hands or feet where I felt stable enough to keep climbing. Then I said out loud to myself, because I am a big self-talker, “it’s time to stop falling and start climbing.” To this day, I say similar affirmations to myself and memories of how I persevered at that moment remind me to climb on.
There has never been a time more relevant than the world’s current situation for Outward Bound’s Four Pillars. NCOBS gave me that many years ago.
I took my first Outward Bound as a teenager in 1984. At the end of the course, as with most North Carolina Outward Bound School courses, we did a run. The run was nine miles, but right before the end, there was a fork in the road, with a choice to turn left and finish the run at 9 miles or to continue straight and run 13 miles. I have thought about that sign many times over the years because I took the easier route and finished at 9 miles. Too many times in my life, even in my 20 years in the Navy, I faced a similar choice and made that same decision.
Last year, I took up running again, as I had become too sedentary, was gaining weight, my blood pressure was going up, and my fitness was generally starting to decline. One day in November, I was out on a run and found I was approaching 9 miles. My mind went back to that day in the mountains near the Table Rock Base Camp where I took my Outward Bound course and had made a choice. Instead of turning right into my driveway, I kept going, and I ran my very first half marathon run! Four months later, on March 1, 2020, I ran my very first Marathon, the Newport News One City Marathon.
It was day four of a 28-day course in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were doing a bush push down the side of a mountain that was supposed to become a trail, but somehow we got turned around and couldn’t find it. We went out in small scouting groups with an instructor while another instructor hung back with the rest of the crew and then they’d switch and another group would go out. After hours of searching, we finally found the trail and continued on our way. At this point, the sun had gone down and the trail we had found seemed to have been abandoned years ago since we were having to scramble over fallen trees every few yards in the dark with our headlamps offering the only light. Everyone was feeling pretty defeated by this time. We navigated down a wet ravine over a creek and finally found a campsite.
That was the hardest day of our course, filled with unforeseen obstacles, but there was no way around them so we had to push through and we all came out the other side as stronger people. It also solidified my resolve to be strong when I don’t want to be or don’t think I can be. I think of this day fondly when I’m struggling with anything in the front country and remember that I can overcome anything.
I did a five-week-long course with my eighth graders at Episcopal Day School. I also did a two-week mountaineering course in Colorado.
I don’t think I would have been able to change careers to attend medical school at 40 years old without those Outward Bound experiences. I had to teach myself the algebra and trigonometry to manage chemistry and physics, and retool my thinking from humanities and education to science and medicine. I credit Outward Bound with giving me the confidence to hear the wind rippling in my sails and to understand that changing my course was fundamentally essential to continuing to become the sort of person I want to be.
Now, I am a first-year family medicine resident for ETSU in Bristol, TN, and the lessons I learned on course continue to make a difference as we face the first – hopefully only – worldwide pandemic of our time. As fear and uncertainty create a pandemic of their own, perhaps there has never been a better time to remember, and practice, compassion as a priority.
As for my part, I will continue to serve, to strive, and not to yield.
As someone who recently graduated from college, I was looking forward to taking time off after graduation to travel and have new experiences. I was lucky enough to be able to do so through Outward Bound after receiving the Ginger Simms Leadership Fund Scholarship. Over the course of 72 days, I and a group of nine others traveled from Patagonia, Argentina to Everglades City, Florida, and finally to my home state of North Carolina. We spent time backpacking, mountaineering, paddling, and rock climbing, all the while learning to communicate more effectively, developing our skills as leaders, and functioning optimally as a group. My time with Outward Bound has led to some of the most formative experiences of my life, from learning the technical skills necessary to cross a glacier, to learning how to keep a positive mindset in times of stress and exhaustion. In uncertain times like those ahead, I find myself looking back on my experiences with Outward Bound for a reminder – we’re capable of more than we know.
From her blog post: A Lesson in Perseverance: the Story of the Bailers.
Outward Bound literally saved my life. I was headed down a disastrous road, making terrible choices at the age of 16. I went to NCOBS and came back a much stronger daughter, sister, friend, and human being.
Rock climbing and backpacking, critical thinking, teamwork, community service, leadership skills, wilderness medicine, all helped me turn my life around. Amanda and Sarah were my instructors who were more than patient, understanding and accepting of me. Thank you Outward Bound.
In 2012, I had a lot going on medically (including a reconstructed ankle ligament and a reaction the medication I was taking for it) that should have been a sign for me to maybe not go on course, but you see, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and tend to push myself a little too far.
The hikes were easy at first and I was feeling good in my body and was able to manage my medication issue okay. As we approached the halfway mark though, the hikes got steeper and my ankle hurt badly. I cried a lot and titrating off my medication was not going well as I chose between an itchy throat and fear or stress/sadness. I didn’t want to be there. I was irritated with everyone and embarrassed by my inability to do the things that normally, I would be crushing. Success for me looked different than I’d expected. When it was time for the group to hike without the instructors, we made a call that I shouldn’t stay. Instead, I returned to the base camp for a three day Solo. I had FOMO about the adventure my group was on and as irritable as I had been, I really didn’t want to be alone. I found a million things to worry about–the fat spider moving from under my tarp, the rustling in the woods, the dark clouds in the afternoon. I felt paralyzed by anxiety and contained to my tarp.
Eventually, I got to a place where I began walking from my campsite and exploring the trails in all directions. I got really good at my knots and hitches. I felt comfortable and I was able to accept my situation for what it was knowing that the rest of the summer would be better. This lesson has served me well for the past eight years and especially now in quarantine. I can’t change the situation. I know I can spend lots of time alone and not lose my mind. And I can go in the yard and practice tarp set-up if I get bored.
As a veteran, I’ve been on several Outward Bound courses to help reset my azimuth and reconnect with myself. My most recent course found me in a kayak in the Ten Thousand Islands of Florida. As the oldest in the group, I discovered that I might not be in the physical shape that my mind thought I was in as we were battling the wind and tides. It felt self-defeating as I watched my crewmates who appeared to have a much easier experience than I and I kept thinking to myself “damn, this is hard.” But the feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day and especially the last when we entered the mangroves for this “old guy” made the struggle worth it.
I went on my first Outward Bound trip at the beginning of my sophomore year. I was experiencing the course with some friends and some people I didn’t even know. But I became friends with everyone and I was able to learn so much about each person, they were amazing people to be alongside. Throughout the course, we experienced some times of hardship but we continued to push and overcame every obstacle we encountered. The experience is not something I can easily forget.
In 1995, I went on an 8-day life-changing/saving course with Sue and Greg. After that trip, I vowed to become an Outward Bound instructor and was back at NCOBS as an assistant instructor in 2000 and full instructor in 2001. During difficult times (graduate school, childbirth, sickness, and currently), I continue to reach back to find strength from my own student course, as well as from the many I instructed. The Four Pillars are still with me today.
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