On June 4th, I finished a 711-mile run across North Carolina on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The run gave me some impactful perspectives on life and work that I could only earn through miles and miles of rain, rocks, mountains, bears and heat. A humbling experience for my mind and body, 24 days on the trail awarded me time to reflect, sometimes deliriously, on the value of what we do within wellness and recreation on college campuses.
I found many parallels between the impact we make on student’s lives to the obstacles and challenges faced on a long trail journey. Some low hanging fruit hit me immediately. After I started ducking, I thought about the value of building bridges, finding a comfortable pace and using resources effectively.
Two specific moments on the run continue to stick out to me when I think about the connection between wellness and student success, two of the major buzz terms we often hear – and probably use – within collegiate recreation.
The first moment, a quintessential mountain trail highlight, was running up to the incredible overlook on day four at Pisgah Inn after a notably hard section in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In clear weather, you can see for miles over peaks, valleys and endless trees.
This view reminded me of the awe-inspiring terrain I was immersed in and my reason for taking on this challenge: To prove I could achieve anything despite relentless rain, crazy steep mountains and my already mangled feet.
The second moment was far less picturesque. On day 11, I found myself trekking through the woods in 90-plus degree sunshine donned with a rain poncho while carrying two large sticks in front of me, or what I now call my “spider suit.”
They were everywhere. Webs, and their corresponding spiders, blanketed the forest by spanning gaps between what seemed like every single tree on the trail. The sticks, when waved at a precise height, broke up the webs before they reached body. The poncho protected me when I missed, which was often.
The day was a hard, long, slow slog with few redeeming qualities. There were no spectacular vistas or inspiring sights. It was difficult to imagine how I would make it through 24 days of this.
It’s all about perspective.
Whether on a trail journey or wellness journey, we have days that inspire us and days that challenge us. Some days we need to take in the view and other days we need to put on our “spider suits.”
Hitting that certain notch on the belt (or scale), doing so many burpees without stopping, eating two healthy meals a day, earning a certain grade, etc., all of our students have wellness goals they want to achieve. How can we help them appreciate their successes and build their resiliency through the rough patches that are all but guaranteed?
Here are a few keys to keep in mind when supporting someone, or ourselves, on a wellness journey:
During a challenging day, we may not want to think about the rosy ending 700 miles down the trail. We are focused on the dread of the webs right in our face. Finding motivation and tools to get through today’s situation will help build resiliency and use our “spider suits.”
Whether running across the state or finishing a group fitness class for the first time, reaching a goal is a big deal, or at least it should be. After completing a long journey, it’s important to take time to appreciate the achievement. Finding ways to recognize, if appropriate, and reinforce the value of success is motivating to continue pushing forward.
Every journey has hidden dangers that can derail our plans. Often, these risks can be minimized through awareness and preparation, but sometimes we have no control over their impact. Injuries and other major life events can quickly shift our priorities. In the meantime, let’s put on our protective boots and get moving.