How the outdoors transformed my life and my leadership

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By Sophie Kelly, an Avid4 Adventure former Leader In Training:

Last summer I spent 15 days hiking outdoors in the hot desert of New Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail as a member of the Student Conservation Association. With seven other crew members, I carried wooden posts along with a host of unbelievably heavy tools up miles of trail every day. Tirelessly, we woke up before the sun, tightened our hiking boots, swallowed down cold oatmeal, and headed out onto the trail, sore feet and tired legs propelling us forward. We did this everyday for two weeks. My arms hurt, my legs were tired, my nose freckled, and my feet blistered and beaten down by the grueling hikes. But every morning, I woke up, grabbed my pack, and faced the day ahead with a huge smile on my face.

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My friends asked me who in their right mind would put themselves through that torture for even a day, let alone two entire weeks. At certain points, I would ask myself that question too. But at the end of the day, I’d sit down, breath in the sunset, revel at the stars, and find solace in the sound of the coyotes howling themselves to sleep. Nature is my peace, my sounding board, my driving force. If hiking for eight hours a day restoring trails is what I need to do to maintain that, then heck, sign me up for a lifetime’s worth of trail work.

But at what point was that passion for the outdoors instilled in me? Looking back, there are a lot of fundamental events that took place to get me to where I am now. I started skiing when I was three years old. My parents insisted on taking my little siblings and I hiking as much as possible. And as a perk of living in Colorado, I grew up at the foot of one of America’s greatest playgrounds: the Rocky Mountains. But perhaps one of the most impactful experiences I have had in the shaping of my devotion to conservation work was the time that I spent working with Avid4 Adventure. It undoubtedly led me down a path of passion for conservation and for educating the people around me on the importance of practicing sustainability and gratitude, living environmentally connected as we pursue happiness through the exploration of the outdoors. For anyone who is even remotely interested in the pursuit of outdoor education, working with kids outside, or growing as a seasoned outdoorsmen themselves, I would urge them to take part in the community of Avid4 Adventure.

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My time in Avid4 forced me to take initiative, and find it within myself to be a leader for myself and the little kids I was fortunate enough to work with. There is a level that you reach as an individual in which you feel comfortable in the outdoors… comfortable enough to know what gear you need to be safe, to know the correct procedures to follow when you’re in the backcountry, to know how to find it within yourself to persevere and push forward. There is nothing that will force you to address those qualities within yourself more than having to work with children and instill those same qualities within them. In that way, working with Avid4 allowed me to develop my skills and solidify my comfortability being outdoors; in the sense that I personally gained crucial skills, but also in the sense that I learned the ins and outs of being a strong and assertive force when it came to keeping children safe.

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Reminiscing on the time I spent with Avid4, there is one particular experience that sticks out in my mind: the nights were notably dedicated to a series of games, but the popular game was a twist on foursquare, in which the ball had to be moved through a series of squares without any “double taps” or “outs” until one person failed to return the ball. Bustling with little kids screaming and laughing, that court always had an energy that was addictive, full of laughter and joy and competitiveness. I found myself playing with the kids a lot, getting out more than I was ever in the court actually playing, but enjoying myself nonetheless. There was something so innocent and pure about that game. Away from technology, and the stresses of home life, all of us, in those moments as the sun was setting, were able to breathe in the air of the mountains, throw caution to the wind, and channel our inner “little kid.”

For me, those moments on that tiny foursquare court were when I learned most about being a leader. I learned how to encourage others to step out of their comfort zone, how to help kids when they were hurt or upset, how to let loose and be silly, and how to funnel my passion in a way that spoke to a large group of people. Avid4 Adventure is an embodiment of that foursquare game, a program that fosters teamwork, camaraderie, physical exercise, time outside, and passion.

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You can learn a lot about yourself and the world around you in unexpected places. That unexpected place was a dusty crop of pavement just outside of a dining hall at CMC in Bailey, Colorado. And whether I knew it at the time and not, those moments shared with those screaming kids as the sun was setting allowed me to become who I am today.

If you are considering a career in the outdoors, learn more about Avid4 Adventure jobs

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About the Author: Sophie is a 17 year old at Legacy High School living in Broomfield, Colorado with her parents, two siblings, and Wheaten Terrier. When she’s not doing trail work or working with children, she’s swimming competitively for her school, avidly advocating for the environment, hopping around coffee shops in Denver, playing music, and taking an over-abundance of pictures along the way. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends skiing, backpacking, fly fishing, and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

March 3, 2016 | Emily Moeschler
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