There is a place in Marcellus that is changing lives. It's hidden in the woods and everyone that pulls in finds themselves asked to step outside their comfort zone, try something new, and build relationships with their peers- along the way you will have to work as a team, open up to new friends and trust each other enough to jump from the trees and fly. It's an amazing experience and it's one that I've been lucky enough to have at least a half dozen times with both co-workers and my students. Orenda Springs is a Experiencial Learning Center that aims to help teach life skills and, per their mission, wants to help people realize their true potential by learning how to embrace challenges that bring about change. I've watched Orenda Springs help change the lives of several students- but I'll just relate one quick story.
There is one student that I've had for a few years, and he struggled in our building. He ran the halls, got into fights, cursed at staff and students and on occasion put his fist through the windows in some of the doors. When I think back on the past few years, he is the one student I have ever felt afraid of. He was unpredictable and he was not succeeding in our school. He was eventually moved out and that's when Orenda scooped him up. I've seen a few pictures of him working at Orenda and I knew when we went as a staff this week there'd be a good chance that he'd be there. I knew before I got there that he would be a different kid then the one that ran our halls. I couldn't have predicted how different he would be. Over the course of the day we saw a kid who was responsible, respectful and who we could trust to hook us to harnesses and haul us 65 feet up in the air and to help hold the rope as we flew through the trees like a falcon. 5 months ago I wouldn't have expected this kid to ever turn it around. Now I see a kid that is successful and It's pretty inspiring. This kids story isn't the exception either, it's the rule. When kids go to Orenda they grow and change in ways that their classroom teachers often can't imagine. We talk a lot about diversity in the classrooms, offering new and exciting ways to learn, but we often forget that kids sometimes need a diversity of environment. They need to break out of the 4 walls and try something new. When the traditional school environment isn't working, getting outside and having a different perspective can make all the difference for some kids. For this kid it changed everything.
Not only does Orenda change kids lives but they offer team building days for adults- I've gone twice and both times it's been a blast. You get to know your co-workers a whole lot better and have a ton of fun. Personally I love the high ropes course, specifically the Peregrine Falcon, where you get pulled 65 feet up in the air by your friends and then you pull your cord and fly through the trees. You can also climb up a tree and jump off to catch a friends hand, cross logs suspended above the trees or get lifted a few feet at a time until you are ready to come back down. The whole time you are relying on your team mates to keep you safe. It's a blast.
Aside from team building and the ropes courses Orenda also has horses, does skiing and has a yurt that students can hike to. What Orenda Springs really does is help people realize they are stonger and braver then they may have thought all while teaching you how to work together, and those lessons carry long past the day and into the classroom. What John Powers has created at Orenda Springs is nothing short of amazing and I hope kids get to keep going there for years!
On the flip side I always ask runners that look like they are hurting if they need help, and I'll stop if they need it. The way I see it, I'm never going to win the race, so I might as well help people out a long the way. One of the perks of being a slowpoke is that you often come across people who need a pick me up (literally) or a kind word. Those people usually rally and go on to beat me in the race, but that's alright.
Lately though, I've seen some things, and not just at races, that have me concerned. More then what I'm seeing, is the reaction I sometimes get when I express how baffled I am. What worries me is how many people don't stop, who run by or watch as someone else struggles, and I wonder, when did it become socially okay to just not help a person who needs it?
I'll give a few examples:
1. At a race recently a lot of people struggled. It was hot, it was ridiculously hilly and it was quite a ways between water stops. As I usually do I was jogging along towards the back of the pack. A few people passed me, I chatted with them as we went, wishing them a good race as they pulled ahead. As I came around a turn at about mile 3 (all uphill so far) one of the girls I had talked to was laying on the side of the trail, hanging onto a rock. She was shaking and was about to puke. So I stopped and asked her if she was okay. She was overheating so I emptied my water bag onto her and let her drink my water. I held onto her arm as she threw up. Once she got up I kept her ahead of me until we got to the aid station where she stopped for help. During the 20 minutes I spent with this girl a lot of people passed us. A few asked if she was okay, but most just stepped around us and kept running. Before I got to her I watched several people run right by, didn't even look to see what was going on. When did that become okay?
2. This past weekend I was camping on a lake and there were some boaters out. The water wasn't rough or anything, but still a boat capsized off shore right out from my camp. My dad spotted it and went to go let the camp workers know. In the mean time I grabbed my kayak and a tow rope and paddled out to see if they needed help. At a bare minimum I could at least get the boaters back to shore. There were other kayakers out there and I thought that they were also coming out to help, but as I came up on the boat (and the dad and two teenage kids) one kayaker said "Well, there's not much we can do for you." but the thing is, there is almost always something you can do. I told them I had a tow rope and could try to help or I could paddle them in. So they tied me to their boat and I paddled while they kicked/swam beside the boat and the other kayakers watched. It was slow going but we did move towards shore. Eventually another paddler took a rope too and between the 5 of us we got them to where the boaters could touch and walk their boat into shore. It was an easy thing to do, to help out where I could, I didn't even really think about as I paddled out. It was also probably easy for others to just say "there's not much we can do."? When did sitting back and watching other struggle become okay?
Those are two really obvious examples of when someone needed help. I didn't particularly think much about my actions at the time, because to me, the lack of other helping was much more interesting then me helping. The reaction I got from others kind of took me by surprise though. From more then one person I've been told that if I stop checking on people while I run I would get better times. Another person commented that I was a hero for paddling out to that boat. Both comments seem ridiculous to me. Getting a good time shouldn't trump helping someone who is hurt, and helping stranded boaters shouldn't be considered a heroic move. Both are just being a good person, and that shouldn't be the exception, it should be what we expect from people. Part of why I stop to help is because I know that someday it could be me who needs help, or my daughter, and I hope that someone will stop to help. When I have struggled, the people who were there helped more then they really know.
What really got me thinking was a random post by an actor I like. I've recently been sucked into the TV show Supernatural. I get sucked into shows really easily, so thanks to the miracle of Netflix I've been watching several episodes of the show a day for about 2 weeks now. As is my usual habit, I then looked into the actors and happened across some posts from actor Jared Padalecki, who has been raising money for To Write Love on Her Arms through his #AlwaysKeepFighting campaign. For those who don't know To Write Love on Her Arms works to bring hope to those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. After reading his story and reflecting on my own bouts with anxiety attacks as well as the relatively recent loss of my cousin to suicide I began to think about how it's not just those obvious moments where we see someone struggling that we need to help, but the ones that are more subtle, that are sometimes hidden. How do you help if you don't see the struggle? I think Padalecki's post of the picture above about covers it. Be kind. Always. You never know when that kindness will be the thing that turns it around for someone.
If I'm being honest, I'm not always a nice person, I tend towards the sarcastic and I often expect people to just suck it up and get on with life, even while knowing that sometimes, that's just not a possibility. Having had anxiety attacks for the better part of my life I know that sometimes your mind just can't control itself, even when you know you should be able to. In fact, my attacks kept me from doing something I love (riding horses) for almost 7 years. It took someone who was willing to just be there as I struggled and give me tips to get through it to finally get over my fear. I not only had to learn to trust my horse (who is a champ), but trust other people to help get me through it. It was a guy named Tommy who had previously owned my horse, who helped the most. Just knowing he was there, that he trusted the horse, and that I could trust him got me back into something that I loved. Without that person to just be helpful, I don't know that I would have ever ridden again, and that would have been a shame. He didn't have to help, but he did. I still get anxiety attacks from time to time, but now I know I can get through it and come out the other side okay.
So for me, I'm going to work on being more kind. To keep in the back of my head that it isn't just reaching out a hand to someone who has fallen, but to be a person that people know will be there when the struggle is inside as well. I have a 6 year old and I work with middle school kids most of the year and I want for them to be the people who will stop to help and not the kind who will run by, and for that I need to be that person every day as well.
To end this rambling post I'll just say, life is an adventure, but we need each other to get through it. So be kind, help each other out, and keep moving forward.
Earlier this year I did something insane and signed up for a marathon- I'll be toeing the line at the Marine Corps Marathon in late October and this summer was supposed to full of training runs and pain. Well, I definitely got both, but not quite the way I pictured. I've been running quite a lot, but I've also been plagued with injuries. First my PF flared up and put me out of the game for a few weeks, then I tweaked my knee and couldn't do a long run for another few weeks- so I had the pain, but I wasn't getting any of the gain. Now I'm several weeks behind. If I was on schedule I'd be running 17 miles this week- If I'm lucky and my legs hold up, I'm going to go for 10. Even though I've been a bit of a mess on the training front, I have still had the opportunity to do some great races and have some amazing experiences.
Over the course of the summer I've done 2 really memorable races. First was the Utica Boilermaker, a race I got shut out of at registration time and then had the good fortune of winning a bib to. Better yet, I got to bus down and run with the Fleet Feet racing team. I was hurting and I didn't put up even a decent time, but I had a blast!
The second race was the one I was really looking forward to. Immediately after running the North Face Endurance Challenge 10k in NY I signed up for the one in Blue Mountain, ON. This is really the kind of race I love to do. Running around the woods, challenging yourself to really run outside the box and see if you can not just finish, but survive. I have to say this was the hardest race I have ever done. I completely underestimated the mountain. I was prepared in terms of water and fuel and I had a great attitude going in (and throughout really), but the mountain kicked my ass. In NY the 10k took me just over an our and a half. I figured this one would take me a little longer based on the elevation map. It took me longer- a lot longer- so long that I missed my daughter running the kids race. In fact it took me an hour longer. 2.5 hours to go 6.2 (a little longer per my watch). I walked WAY more then I ran, I stopped to help some fellow runners who were struggling, I stopped for pictures and a few times along the way I really wondered if I was legitimately insane to keep signing up for these races... but, the whole way through I had fun. I chatted with other runners, I learned about who they were and where they are from and heard about some other cool races out there. By the time I was done I was hot and sore and I've never been so happy to see an ice bath, but I also felt really proud that I had kept moving forward and finished even though it was hard. I can't wait for next year.
So what next? Now I keep fighting, keep moving forward and keep training. I may not finish the marathon, but it won't be because I gave up.
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