‘Fun, freaky’ adventure | VailDaily.com

‘Fun, freaky’ adventure

Nicole Frey

Bret Hartman/Vail DailyAna Garcia gets some help from her Pink Elephant teammates to get though a hole during the spiderweb challenge. The Berry Creek Middle schoolers received a lesson in working together during a Meet the Wilderness challenge course Wednesday in Minturn.

MINTURN – Eleven eighth graders stood stranded on an island looking longingly at the life raft just a few feet away. But how to get to it? The waters were infested with flesh-eating fish, and any attempt to swim to the vessel would leave the swimmer legless. It was the scenario Berry Creek Middle School students were presented with during a Meet the Wilderness challenge course last week. Working together, the students learned they could conquer the most unlikely challenges. It’s a lesson the Meet the Wilderness staff hopes trickles into their everyday lives, said Tom McCalden, the nonprofit’s grant and evaluation specialist. “We think that they take the success from the physical activity and apply that to everyday situations, like challenges in the classroom and everyday decision making,” McCalden said.

With teenagers ages 15 to 20 being the largest criminal age group per capita, McCalden said he feels the program will infuse kids with self reliance and confidence to make the “right” decisions to see them through a productive childhood. Of the 2,500 children Meet the Wilderness serves every year on daylong courses to 6-day trips, more than 1,000 of them come from Eagle County. The program was developed in 1974 to combine academics with physical challenges to build character and motivation in students, McCalden said. Wind in the willowsThe Berry Creek students started out with simple exercises before making their way to the challenge course. Simple maneuvers like the trust fall, in which one person falls backwards into another’s arms, encouraged the teens to have faith in another.

The Human Knot challenged them to work together, working through language barriers and social circles. And Wind in the Willows showed the strength of unity as one blindfolded volunteer stood in the center of a tight circle falling this way and that as many hands reached out to steady the person and pass him around. “That was fun. It’s freaky,” said Larry Cavanaugh, the first to take the Wind in the Willows plunge.The lanky teenager would continue to be a backbone of support for his team, enthusiastically participating in each obstacle, starting with the lifeboat challenge. Studying the dilemma, some took the challenge alone, leaping for the boat. Some made it. Others didn’t, and landing in the water they lost their legs to the carnivorous fish, forcing them to accept the help of their teammates. Cavanaugh used his height to create a human bridge from the island to the safety of the boat, slowly transporting his teammates, including Tim Loewer, who was blindfolded. Those with all functioning limbs climbed under their own steam, while those lacking legs were hoisted up by teammates on the island and dragged onboard by those already in the boat. Once in the boat, some hung out in the back, while others, like Aili Anderson jumped at every chance to help drag people onboard. Ana Garcia, who is bilingual, stayed on the island, translating rapidly to help get those who were less proficient in English to the boat.

“A lot of today is about perseverance, about not giving up,” their team leader Laura Handy said. And persevere they did, getting all their teammates safe and sound into the boat in less than 20 minutes. As Handy declared the first mission successful, the students cheered in the boat.Evaluating the program over a decade, Meet the Wilderness staff said they’re convinced it works. Students get the same questionnaire before and after the program to measure trust and self esteem. “Every year we see positive results,” McCalden said. “They perceived that they did something fun in the outdoors, and in the process of having that fun, they’re really learning a lot about themselves.”===============

Meet the WildernessFor more information about the Meet the Wilderness program, call 926-9376. ================Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado