“I hope you know this isn’t completely safe.”
Just a few moments before, I began climbing a tree, my safety device being my own ability to tie a knot and unclip and clip myself onto the staples that I was to use to climb. Once I got to the top of this tree, I worked my way out onto a single wire, still only supported by my own ability to keep myself alive, and set up a rescue and backup belay device as if someone needed me to save their life. Never once has my own life been so on the line, but never once have I known that much that this is where I belong.
You could say my love for ropes courses and adventure education started in the fifth grade. After that typical elementary school field trip to a challenge course, I discovered this really cool world of zip lines and of weird icebreaker-like games where you actually learned things beyond a person’s name. However, seven years had passed since that fateful day in 2005 and I never did set another foot on a ropes course – that is, until my first NSLP. At my first NSLP as a new student at Longwood in 2012, I was thrown into these leadership development activities – both up in the air and on the ground – and I realized the potential we really had to be in true leadership. I grew more and more attached to adventure education each passing year as I returned on NSLP as a leader, until this past year changed my life.
Come this past fall, I made that courageous but terrifying decision you probably already know about to drop my elementary education concentration and add my leadership studies minor. Everyone’s week two of classes was my week one – and on Tuesday, September 1st, I showed up to RECR 350, my first class of this new minor of mine. It was Ropes Course and Initiative Dynamics, and it was the class that made me truly fall in love with adventure education.
Adventure education is so much more than some wire and rope dozens of feet in the air. Adventure education is learning not in a classroom, but through engagement and interaction outside. Adventure education focuses in on practical skills we use (or we should use) daily. Through adventure education, our leadership, communication, and problem solving skills are put to the test. While you may not spend your everyday life on a tiny wooden platform in the middle of a field, the knowledge you gain here and the teamwork built here is carried into your life in a new way. You put your life in others’ hands, and you learn new meaning to words like “trust” and “leadership” and “teamwork.” You take an initiative activity that had you laughing besides your teammates, and you break it down and notice just how much you can connect to your everyday life.
Today? I’m getting closer to truly living this dream of mine. During the week, I find myself in my outdoor adventure skills class, canoeing across lakes and belaying my classmates on a rock wall. On weekends, I find myself dangling off of cliffs in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or working – facilitating low ropes and high ropes at the ropes course at school, the course where I decided this is what I wanted to do with my life. And next year? I get to spend every single day in the mountains in Pennsylvania, learning the ropes (get it?) of running a camping ministry and furthering my knowledge of and experience with adventure education.
Last spring, before I even knew where my life was going, I was asked what I wanted my legacy to be. I answered “teaching others how to grow as leaders and how to be themselves.” That’s exactly what I want to do. Through belay devices, through ropes tied onto harnesses, through trust falls and processing questions and steel cables stapled into trees, I want to guide others to discover not only their potential as people, but their potential to step out of their comfort zone and grow in their leadership.
Adventure education follows the philosophy “challenge by choice,” and so do I. I’m choosing to challenge myself everyday. I choose to challenge myself when I belay someone and I know that their life is in my hands. I choose to challenge myself when I am facilitating a debrief and the conversation does not go how I anticipated. I choose to challenge myself as I learn high ropes rescues and my professor says to me “this isn’t completely safe – but it’s not about your safety, it’s about theirs.” I choose to challenge myself when I am reminded that I don’t know everything there is to know about leadership development – but with a little bit of determination, a good amount of passion, the right facilitation model, and a harness with all the buckles closed and a rope with a figure 8 follow through tied right, I’ll get there.