Friday, June 29, 2012

Jennifer Mackey: A life of gratitude

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Even before Jennifer Mackey heard of Outward Bound, life brought her challenges that seemed insurmountable. The two-time alumna had been abandoned by her family at age 12 and due to her age and behavioral issues, no foster family wanted her. With nowhere else to go, she was placed in a group home under the ward of Children's Aid. It was a situation no pre-teen should have to face.

Fortunately, at age 14, Jennifer's supportive and encouraging case worker, Judy Moir, connected her with the generous funds of the Royal Bank of Canada and Jennifer was offered the next challenge of her life: Completing an Outward Bound youth challenge program.

This program saw Jennifer portage a canoe in black-fly infested humidity over a one-kilometer densely forested course. It was her and her portage partner, neither able to carry more weight then they already bore. At one point, collapsing from exhaustion and frustration, Jennifer dropped the canoe and it thudded heavily against a tree. She shrugged off her heavy pack and cried out in frustration. 

But through this experience, Jennifer learned her true power: to carry on. She suited back up and picked up the canoe. 

"And when the forest cleared and my destination finally came into view, I unclenched my jaw and gritted teeth and smiled my greatest smile. I’d done it! The victory was that much more glorious because it hadn’t been easy."


Fast-forward to June 11, 2012 when Jennifer was invited to share her story at the Kurt Hahn Leadership Award Dinner. Joining her at the event were Outward Bound board members, staff and supporters gathered to recognize the leadership and commitment of Jamie Anderson, former board chair of Outward Bound Canada and Outward Bound International.

In showing her appreciation for Jamie, RBC and Outward Bound, Jennifer shared how this challenging experience served her well even seven years later. It was 2002. She was frustrated by her dead-end job and, having dropped out of college the year before, was at an all-time low. Wanting more for herself, she once again suited up and...carried on.

"And when the forest cleared, I was a two-time college graduate at the top of my class, with a bright future as a career counselling professional."

In the following selection from her speech, Jennifer expresses gratitude -- a theme introduced to her through Outward Bound and a theme she has found relevant and appropriate through her whole life.

One of my three-day Outward Bound solo experiences also had a profound impact on me. It had poured rain nearly the whole time, leaving everything on my private little island soaked. I could’ve been miserable, what with my inability to light a fire, my meagre supply of food I couldn’t cook, and my makeshift tent made up of a measly sheet of plastic draped over a thin piece of string tied between two young trees bowed by strong winds. 

I could’ve been scared, what with the heavily rumbling thunder and piercing cracks of lightning. I could’ve been bored, what with nothing more to do than think, journal, or explore. Yet I wasn’t miserable or scared or bored. 

“How could that be?” you may be wondering. 

Because I chose instead, as had been modelled to me at Outward Bound, to be grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to even be there; grateful for my new friends and teachers; grateful for the wondrous adventure; and grateful for the chance to reflect. Here’s an excerpt of the letter I wrote to myself during my solo: 

“It’s so beautiful out here with the only noises those of pure nature and your only thoughts being yours and having all the time in the world to modify your behaviours and grow as a person. Take care of yourself both physically and mentally and don’t judge others for their differences. You are a free woman. Free to choose who you want to be and what you want to do and who you want to share your choices with. Keep an open mind and when frustration sets in, evaluate the situation and ask yourself if it’s worth your energy. Love is beautiful. Hate is meaningless and time consuming. Be peaceful in your ways. Empty what’s full. Fill what’s empty. And scratch where it itches!” 

The remembering of this solo experience served me well in 2010, when I was laid-off after five years of dedicated service due to government-funding cutbacks in employment services. I was completely shocked and devastated. It took nearly a year and a half to secure new employment due to the labour market and economic situation. 

In that time, my greatest solace was gratitude. Gratitude for what I did have. Gratitude for what I believed earnestly would come my way again. Just as on my private little island at Outward Bound, the storm eventually passed, the clouds dissipated, and the sun shone once more. Gratitude had seen me through.

Before Outward Bound, I was broken. During Outward Bound, I was empowered. After Outward Bound, I was powerful. Outward Bound not only changed my life; it saved my life. Debby, Danny, and Kelly wrote this about me following my Youth Challenge: 

“Jenn is a lioness who knows her beauty, her strength, and compassion for others. She glides through the jungle, watching and learning, accepting each new challenge with a positive spirit.” 

Thank you, Outward Bound, for showing me myself. You saved my life.

-- Jennifer Mackey, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Outward Bound Canada Team currently in 2nd place in Yukon River Quest

This just in....the team is sitting in second place in the Women's Voyageur Canoe category. They are now in Carmacks, at the first mandatory rest stop, where they will rest, eat, drink for a few hours. They arrived in Carmacks at 10:15am this morning and will head out late afternoon/early evening. Check out their progress on the YRQ website:

Outward Bound Canada team crosses Lake Labarge

The race has begun and the team is endeavouring to cross Lake Labarge - this is a very challenging section of the race as the river widens into a huge lake that takes hours to cross. In addition, the team will have to deal with rough waters due to wind & weather, and less currant. All of this equals MORE EFFORT! Go Team Go!

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Outward Bound Canada team getting ready to depart on Yukon River Quest race.

The OB Yukon River Quest team spent the morning packing their boat and preparing everything racing through the Yukon wilderness. Favorite food items include pizza, Skittles, pickles, chocolate covered espresso beans, homemade protein bars, apple sauce and copious amounts of granola bars. 

The other teams are from all around the world - Australia, Japan, The UK, Belgium, and more! Some are experienced racers and others are newbies.

Our team's secret weapon is our support crew ninja Annemarie, an amazing woman who can move mountains, make miracles happen, deal with anything and do it all with a smile.

The OB team is feeling incredibly excited and deeply thankful for the incredible support from all across Canada and the world. Thank younger the letters, cards, Facebook messages and calls.

The race will begin at noon sharp, updates available on the YRQ website.

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Outward Bound Canada team prepares for their journey

As part of the preparations for the Yukon River Quest race, all teams must go through a mandatory gear check to make sure that they have the required gear, safety and rescue equipment, and supplies. They will be paddling 750kms, and only stopping for a few hours of rest/sleep twice during the race. So, this prep day is crucial in terms of ensuring that they have adequate supplies individually and as a team. Only one more sleep until the start....m
Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Outward Bound Canada Yukon River Quest team arrives in Whitehorse!

The Outward Bound Canada staff team consisting of ten ultra fit, experienced and adventurous gals, is in Whitehorse and preparing for the start of the gruelling Yukon River Quest race - the longest wilderness river race in the world. The 10 women have already raised 22K for the Outward Bound Women of Courage program for survivors of abuse. Stay tuned for more updates and more action from the team as they prepare for the race start on June 28th.
Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

From the instructor's mouth: Part 4

For the last couple weeks we've been featuring the insider experiences of an Outward Bound instructor, Megan Kelly. You can read more about Megan here

Today Megan tells us about how she was affected as an instructor while leading a group on a particularly unique Outward Bound trip. Here's Megan:

"A huge piece of being an Outward Bound instructor is the parallel process. We are continually learning and growing with our students. I always learn lessons from the group.

An example of this way my first year as an instructor. I was leading a group of young hearing-impaired students. The impairments ranged from minor hearing loss to completely deaf. It was inspiring to witness the growth of these students when on solo. Most people had never been allowed to be on their own because family and friends were always supporting them.

This experience taught me the importance of finding a balance between supporting someone while also allowing them to make their own mistakes."

Don't forget to comment on the blog, post on our Facebook wall or tweet @OutwardBoundCan about your own #personaldiscovery to save $250 on fees for a 2012 summer youth course in BC or Alberta. More details here:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

From out of left field: Natalie Fasano

"We sometimes meet people and they plant a wee seed in ones mind. It may not come to fruition immediately, but one day those ideas, thoughts or advice sprout and come into full bloom."

Natalie Fasano, a recent alumni, wrote to Sarah Wiley last week about her recent experience with Outward Bound Canada.

June 4, 2012

Hi Sarah, 

I'm not sure if you will remember me. It was about one year ago exactly that I met you at the Evergreen Brickworks Farmers Market and Outward Bound Open House. We met again at your office and we spoke of Outward Bound. You so kindly gave me an OB book. I think we both got busy with life and have not had the chance to catch up. 

I must say, I am a cheesy believer in the concept of planting seeds, kind of like the Van Gogh painting. We sometimes meet people and they plant a wee seed in ones mind. It may not come to fruition immediately, but one day those ideas, thoughts or advice sprout and come into full bloom. I think that is what you may have done for me. 

When I met you I had just recently moved to Toronto, and had taken on a marketing agency role. I knew that it was not for me but with the attractive salary and security it offered at the time, it was suitable. One day at the office I saw on your Facebook an advert for the West Coast Life Compass Course which was to be running May 14 - 27th. I read the description and immediately phoned my mother. 

I told her I was going to be leaving my job and going on this adventure. I told her that, for some reason, I knew I had to go there at this time. It felt very natural. It felt on purpose. 

Then I looked at my finances. With a large student debt and the cost of Toronto rent, I was not in a place to spend that kind of money on a trip. I called Angela Benoliel to ask if the scholarships and grants were only available for youth, or if adults could also apply. 

She was so friendly and helpful through the entire enrolment process. I was given support through Outward Bound for a portion of the course cost. I also dug into my Airmiles to help with the flight and soon enough, I was booked. I was a confirmed OB participant.

I decided that this was the perfect time to transition into something I was truly passionate about. When I had confirmed I was going on this trip, I put in my 3-weeks notice and chose to resign from my role at the agency. I was heading West and knew things would fall into place when I got home. 

Funnily, whilst I was on this course, I did not think about the uncertainty of life back home. I did not think that I needed a plan, a job. I just trusted that I was there for a reason. I absolutely loved and appreciated the way that Outward Bound courses keep you in the moment, present to what you are working on, the activity you are doing, or the conversation you are having. This kept the mind where the feet were. 

I have to extend the utmost gratitude and respect to the facilitators of this course, Kat McGlynn and Tim Ross. Words are so not enough to explain how passionate and dedicated these two instructors are. Their work ethic and commitment to each participant was beyond what I could have expected from this course. Their balance of humour, education, compassion, and expanding consciousness was done with such grace. I never felt as though they were forcing any of it either -- they were so natural in their role. I know I can speak for myself and my fellow participants that they were always going above and beyond to ensure we had the best experience. 

I cannot hold them up next to any other OB instructors because this was my first experience with OB. But if your other staff are anything like these two amazing people then I will definitely be signing up for another course in the future. They really live and breath the four pillars of Outward Bound. You cannot pay for that kind of passion. 

I just had to write to you to express my appreciation for planting the seed I needed in my life. 

I came home on Monday of last week and serendipitously was having lunch at a friend's restaurant in Burlington. By chance the owner of the restaurant's adjacent yoga studio came by to join us. I was talking about my latest adventure with Outward Bound and how I had left my job. The owner of the yoga studio began to speak of how just this past weekend her studio manager had finished up and left for a corporate job. Before I knew it I was on an interview, and that evening she sent over a job offer! 

I love how life comes together and gives you exactly what you need when you need it. I know that this Outward Bound course was exactly what I needed to do to switch gears once more and keep true to my life's journey. 

So, thank you. For you may not have realized it but meeting you set off a chain reaction of events that have left me with a smile on my face and in my heart. I will forever be grateful that I crossed paths with you.

I hope you are having an amazing Monday morning and that your week will be a fantastic one.

Best always, 


Natalie and her course crew pose in the forest of Vancouver Island.

Monday, June 18, 2012

From the instructor's mouth: Part 3

Have you been thinking about what you'll do this summer? Perhaps you just applied for your first ever Outward Bound course! If you're still thinking about it, make sure to comment on the blog, post on our Facebook wall, or tweet at us to save $250 on enrollment.

And if you're not quite convinced that an OB course is what you're meant to do this summer, we have Megan Kelly back today with some more insider's perspective.

Megan Kelly isn't just an instructor. Like any staff or volunteer of Outward Bound, she's also a participant. A course instructor may be the one in charge but it's hard not to be impacted by the experiences of those around them -- no matter how many times they've been out in the field.

"I love the first time that people see the mountains and are in awe of the beauty and peacefulness."

Realizing the value of what we regularly take for granted in our urban, developed lives is a common response to an Outward Bound trip, says Megan.

"Usually after a very tough day or a long period of bad weather, participants often reflect on the luxury of our everyday life. You can really learn to appreciate the simple things in life, like turning on a tap for water instead of collecting and boiling it."

Other personal discoveries can happen at any time during the trip. The famed Outward Bound solo, one of the modern world's few true rites of passage, is a common source of personal discovery.

"For most people, this is the first time in their lives they have sat alone without distractions -- for any length of time. The learnings from this experience are usually very powerful, impactful and different for everyone."

And these personal discoveries aren't always easy. We all deal with challenges differently, and in different ways. Even as an instructor and course director, Megan discovers new, challenging qualities about herself each time she's out in the field.

"Sometimes I discover something that I need to change and I am usually upset at first. But then I come to realize the importance of changing. After I accept the new awareness, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders."

So she gets it. All Outward Bound instructors get it. When it comes to facing change and handling personal discoveries, an Outward Bound course is the best place to be. You'll be in an environment of understanding and support.

When asked how she supports participants as they experience their own personal discoveries, Megan replies:

"I am there to listen, and to give small nudges when needed."

Want to know which courses are on offer this summer for youth in BC and Alberta? Check out this blog post for links to full course descriptions. And ask any questions you might have, right here on the blog.

Monday, June 11, 2012

When I went Outward Bound: Erik Bertram, Part 2

Even if you're accustomed to the outdoors and think you have a good grasp of who you are, there is always more to discover about yourself. Here's more from Erik, our intrepid alumnus.

Erik Bertram wasn't a stranger to outdoor adventures when he enrolled in his first Outward Bound trip. As a kid, he'd participated in many fall and winter Scout Camps and completed multiple day hikes. His family was really into camping, and he also completed two week-long camping and canoeing trips in Haliburton through the Greater Toronto Council's Camp Adventureland program.

This experience helped Erik build essential skills for working through challenges and having fun in group settings. When asked what personal qualities he discovered in himself through his first OBC course, Erik highlighted teamwork, leadership and patience.

"It felt good knowing that I was improving myself and the way I interact with other people."

Erik is a very independent young man and he felt confident making these discoveries on his own. But when he needed the support, he sure wasn't alone.

"My course instructors were really great, and were very easy to connect with. They were able to make everyone feel comfortable."

Want to meet some of the instructors of this year's summer courses? Check back tomorrow to meet Troy Patenaude and Delmar Williams -- instructors of the 2012 Mountain Passages for Boys!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekly Roundup: June 4-10, 2012

What happened in the world of Outward Bound Canada this week? Here's a quick summary:

The latest Duke of Edinburgh's Urban Expedition ventured outside their Toronto homes to practice their outdoor skills. Thanks for the fabulous weekend, team!

On the porch of a new staff cabin, our newly trained instructors ended their intensive Instructor Training Program adventure with a slideshow recap and celebration of the impending 2012 season. 

Did you know all our Veteran's programs are free? You got it! Thanks to the generous financial support from numerous partners and sponsors, we offer a range of programs for members of the Canadian Forces.

You can be sure that wherever paddlesports are involved, so is Outward Bound Canada! This weekend our instructors made a splash at Toronto's MEC Paddlefest.

Team OBC joined the national fundraising campaign and cycled 200km in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Thank you to everyone who donated funds -- we raised over $34,000! 

Courses are filling fast for Summer 2012 and these folks filled our Open House to find out how they can get in on a trip! There are still spots available on courses in BC and Alberta -- post your questions on the blog and we'll give you $250 off enrolment!

Friday, June 8, 2012

When I went Outward Bound: Erik Bertram

During the next few weeks on the blog, we'll be sharing first-hand experience from people who know the world of Outward Bound. You'll hear from one instructor and one participant to help you see if an Outward Bound course this summer is the next challenge in your life! 

Today we'll introduce you to Erik Bertram, our adventuring alumni participant.

Erik was introduced to Outward Bound like many other kids -- through his parents. As a pre-teen, he was fairly active with karate, winter skiing and Scouts. Home life was normal, with two parents and a younger sister. Grades were good and so were his group of friends. He was the type of kid who preferred outdoor adventures with friends over indoor activities with a computer.

"But when I was around 13, I quit [Scouts]," says Erik. "I was still interested in doing some outdoors camps, so my parents suggested Outward Bound."

Erik's first trip was EcoVentures, a former 12-day camp for pre-teens. Joined by other 12-13 year olds, he tried low- and high-ropes courses, orienteering, day hikes, swimming and even a 4-night canoe trip in the wilderness!

Preparing for this first trip was made a bit easier due to his previous outdoor experience. "I had a big hiking pack from Scouts, so I just packed that with everything from the clothing list. Anything I didn't already have I got from Mountain Equipment Co-op."

When it came to mentally preparing for the trip, Erik dealt with his excitement and anticipation by talking to others who knew more than him. "I didn't have too many questions because I was used to overnight camps. But for any small questions, I asked my parents because they knew more of what the course was about."

(FYI: Another great resource for questions and information are Outward Bound staff -- like Megan Kelly, Alberta Course Director. Just leave a comment below, write on our Facebook wall, or tweet @OutwardBoundCan with your concerns/questions. Megan will get back to you ASAP.) 

New Outward Bound students aren't the only ones who feel nervous and excited before a trip. As Megan Kelly said in this previous blog post: "I am always worried that I will forget something or that the trip won't go as I imagined."

But there is great reward to be had from facing a challenge with some unknowns. You'll likely find that the new sights, sounds and activities keep the excitement and anticipation going throughout the course.

"[These feelings] didn't really change," says Erik. "There always seemed to be something fun to do."

Check in with us again on Monday for more of Erik's first Outward Bound experience. And don't forget to ask us questions -- when embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, it's important to prepare. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

From the instructor's mouth: Part 2

Yesterday, we introduced you to our Alberta Course Director, Megan Kelly. And she's still waiting to answer any questions you might have about a summer youth course!

In the meantime, here are a few tips from the lady herself.

For new Outward Bound participants, its common to feel nervous and excited. How should they prepare for their first trip?

I definitely recommend doing some kind of physical training. Carrying a heavy backpack through the mountains is difficult at the best of times! More importantly, you should be mentally prepared for an adventure that will be strenuous and rewarding.

What are some good ways to prepare, both physically and mentally?

Get walking! It's important to get your feet use to carrying some weight for long distances. 

Try walking to the library, the grocery store, or your friend's place across town instead of catching a ride. Start with 30 minute walks, and work up to an hour and more. You'll also want to carry a pack on your back. Maybe even the one you've borrowed for the trip! Carry your lunch, books, extra clothing, and water to get an idea of what it will feel like. Make sure to do up that waist belt too, so you don't stress out your shoulders. 

Oh, and maybe leave the iPod at home. Going earphone-free will let you take in the sights and sounds of your urban environment while you can. You're going to notice some interesting differences when you're in the mountains!

As a former instructor, and now a director of courses, how do you feel prior to a trip?

I know that before I leave for an exciting trip I have a combination of nerves and excitement. I am always worried that I will forget something or that the trip won't go as I imagined. However, the more I go on adventures in the mountains, the more I realize that you can never prepare for everything! It is best just to relax, remember that there will always be unknowns, and that all journeys are different for everyone.

At what point in the trip do these feelings change?

I know that as soon as I'm in the wilderness, I can relax and enjoy the time away from all the 'business' of life. 

When does the nervousness ease for participants?

I usually see participants relax and start to feel comfortable after the first night, once everyone has figured out where they are sleeping and what they are eating. Also, after a few group activities, people start to get to know each other and begin to form friendships, and trust.

Have any other questions for Megan? Post them below, on Facebook, or tweet us, @OutwardBoundCan!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From the instructor's mouth

Throughout the next four weeks on the blog, we'll be sharing first-hand experience from people who know the world of Outward Bound. You'll hear from Megan Kelly, instructor and course director, and from Erik Bertram, course alumni and outdoor adventurer. Subscribe to the blog and discover what it's really like to be on an Outward Bound trip. And hopefully it'll convince you that enrolling in a course this summer is exactly the challenge you need to face the next phase in life!

So who is that backcountry chef in the above photo, with the wicked orange jacket? It's Megan Kelly, the Alberta Course Director. If you're out on a course this summer in Alberta, you're sure to cross paths.

Since she was a young adult, Megan sensed that working for Outward Bound was her calling. She was an active youth and was fortunate to be raised in a family that prioritized outdoor vacations. An early solo experience set her on the path she now leads.

"When I was 16, I participated in a youth leadership program in Ontario. As part of the program we did a two-day solo experience. On that solo, I wrote a letter to myself that I was to read one year later. In this letter I set a few goals for myself. One of the goals was to be an Outward Bound instructor by the time I was 21."

And she did it! By age 21, Megan was completing a two-year diploma at Thompson Rivers University and had started with Outward Bound in Pemberton, BC.

"I had met lots of ex-Outward Bound instructors at the university. It was [one of them] that wrote my reference letter for my instructor application."

During her studies at TRU, and during her free time, Megan honed her skill set as an outdoor professional. Ski touring, rock climbing, backpacking and mountaineering in groups provided leadership experience and surrounded her with like-minded people.

"I have calculated that during my first two years as an Outward Bound instructor and as a TRU student, I probably spent over 250 days in the mountains."

Megan can now add seven years of experience to her personal trip resume, having led multi-day youth programs in and around Pemberton, BC and Nordegg, Bow Valley, Jasper, and Canmore, Alberta.

And she sure knows how to prepare for a trip! As the Alberta Course Director again this summer, Megan's going to answer all your questions -- whether it's your first trip, or your tenth.

Do you know what you'll be eating? What route you're taking? How heavy your pack will be? Post your questions here on the blog and Megan will tell all!

Be sure to check back Friday for more firsthand insight from Megan.