For over 17 years I have been organizing and implementing experiential recreation opportunities for clients, families, friends and even my own children. What I love about experiential recreation is that participants are generally so caught up in achieving a specific objective that they let their guard down and reveal their authentic selves. At times these revelations are frustrating and embarrassing because they reveal areas of growth that need attention and focus. Occasionally, during these moments of stress and frustration we realize just how far we have come.
As the snow began to gather in the mountains early in December of 2020 a knot started forming in the pit of my stomach. For months I had been telling students, families and staff about all of the fun we were going to have taking our Cascade Academy students skiing. While enrolling students into our program it was concerning to hear a number of parents talk about how we would, “Never get their anxious daughter on skis”. – Challenge accepted.
Through a tremendous partnership with the staff at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Ut our students were provided with the opportunity to trade service hours for access to their cross-country ski course. Twice a week our students would arm themselves with masks, gloves and garbage bags and clean the parking lot of the 2002 Olympic facility. After their beatification efforts they would slip on their ski boots, strap on their skis and head out onto the mountain.
If you have never cross-country skied it looks a lot easier than it really is. Defying gravity and working your way up-hill on a slippery set of skis takes a certain amount of finesse. Just standing on flat ground on a slippery set of skis takes some serious practice as we all learned. Slowly our students began to get the hang of skiing and began looked forward to our bi-weekly outings.
Once we had conquered the slow rolling hills of the cross-country course, it was time to “disrupt our comfort zone” and ski the big mountain. We spent several weeks skiing the Sundance Ski Resort with the added challenge of ski lifts, steep hills and treacherous cliffs. Having built the self-efficacy needed to master cross-country skiing, the same principles applied. Week after week our students worked on technique advancing from the initial “French Fry or Pizza” skiing approach to actually attacking the mountain with tight turns. Over time, each student demonstrated growth and improvement.
As you know, my favorite question to ask after these experiential recreation activites is, “How is that like your life?” Often times the responses I get to this question are relevant but predictable. Occasionally I get a thoughtful answer that penetrates my mind and my heart and leads to hours of reflection for my own life. Early on in our ski sequence, after a long day of learning, as we loaded 12 very exhausted and anxious teenage girls back into our vehicles, one of our students who struggled tremendously on the ski hill demanded everyone’s attention. I was ready for her to complain and vent to her peers; instead I witnessed the following interaction. “Hey everyone, I need your attention right now! Look, today was a really hard day for me and it took a lot of courage for me to try skiing for the first time. I’m not going to lie, it was harder than I thought it was going to be. I think I fell 26 times. But guess what, I got up 26 times!”
As each one of us take risks, push ourselves out of our comfort zones and learn to embrace life with courage and joy, there is a pretty good chance that we are going to fall down 26 times along the way. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that we get up 26 times.