How did your interest in the outdoors develop?
I credit my parents. I was climbing by age 2, skiing at 3. All our family vacations were visits to national parks or skiing trips. Being in the mountains, on the water, or outdoors, I always get that same feeling—like a 5-year-old at heart. I still get that feeling when I’m working with people outdoors. It just feels right.
How does your work in outdoor education relate to your interest in health?
I try to connect the things I do in outdoor education back to everyday life. When I’m guiding a group, whether it’s school kids or adults, I like to get them thinking. What abilities did we just use to cover that section of trail? How did we work together to set up that shelter? There are leadership skills and team-building aspects in those experiences that can be brought into people’s lives to promote better health.
There’s also cross-over between physical activity and mental health. When people go canoeing or mountain biking for a few hours, it frees their mind. They come back refreshed and more efficient in whatever they’re trying to accomplish. That’s what I find so exciting about outdoor education—it’s applicable to everything, just like public health.
What’s your favorite part of your work in the outdoors?
I’ve been fortunate to live in and travel to some amazing places, from British Columbia to Chile. But I also like introducing people—especially kids—to the outdoors.
For a few years, I worked with the adventure program at a YMCA camp in Michigan. A lot of the kids came from Chicago or other urban environments. We’d take them canoeing, and for the first two days they’d fight it. They didn’t have their iPods, there’s no bathroom, they’re eating new foods. And then something would switch. We’re all dirty, stinky, hungry—barriers get dropped. By the end of the trip, they’re all friends. Sometimes at night, we’d have them talk about their “miracle moments” of the day. We’d also talk about the challenges and how that maybe corresponds with something else in their life and how they’re going to overcome that.
The backcountry forces you to look at things differently, and I enjoy being part of that experience with other people. I think that’s one of the reasons I got put on this earth—to be that spark, to light other people’s passion like a wildfire.