This past week, I had the incredible opportunity to go on a young adult cancer survivor surf trip to The Outer Banks, North Carolina with the organization, First Descents. I went into the trip knowing I would make new friends, laugh a lot, and form a new community. Of course all of that happened and I felt so much joy for a whole week straight.
I began the trip with a little self doubt about my physical ability. First Descents is an organization which empowers young adult survivors to be “out living it” through outdoor experiences such as rock climbing, kayaking, and surfing. I chose the surf trip knowing even if I had a hard time physically, I would be in a beautiful place to reflect, build community, and be at the ocean. To be honest, I didn’t have a ton of faith in my ability to paddle out to catch waves.
The first day seemed to prove my theory about my physical limitations. The waves were a little tricky for everyone to navigate. I was so exhausted and sea sick by the time I got out there, that even my surf instructor told me we should just paddle back in. I hadn’t let him in on the fact that as soon as I could catch a wave I had confidence and the ability to pop up and ride every single one.
Feeling defeated by the struggle to paddle out, I spent the rest of the day on the beach reflecting on how I would take on the next few days. I knew I couldn’t settle for a “one and done” kind of experience every day. I had to figure out a way to keep going and push myself.
Back at the house, I spent the night getting to know the group, eating the most delicious, incredibly healthy food, and reminding myself that I had a goal and fears to conquer. I took some time alone to sit with some of my feelings of defeat from the day. I promised myself the next day was a new day and I could try again. I expressed my fears to the group and was met with encouragement, kindness, and the offer of help.
When we got to the beach in the morning, we were looking at a whole new ocean! The conditions were perfect for beginning surfers. I got right in the water and went to paddling. This time, it didn’t feel impossible. It just felt really freaking hard! From my experience with navigating a paddleboard, I knew I would have no trouble getting up on my board. I was right. It was the big reward for the big struggle. Riding the first wave at the beginning of the second day gave me the push to get right back on my board to paddle out and catch another wave.
Before I knew it, I had gotten into the flow of paddling out for another ride. Don’t get me wrong, this was no miracle. A few times, I asked my friends for a tow and almost every time, I got a starter push from someone as they cheered me on. That damn paddling was worth it! I got up every time and rode those waves until they ran out of steam. I had a lot of excitement and dance moves on the board, but absolutely no form. It was magical.
The next day, I knew I could do it again. My body was sore, but I had the drive to keep going. I had motivation to get better and stick with it because I had a goal, and because I saw my full experience as a way to show gratitude to the hundreds of amazing donors and fundraisers who work relentlessly to make this opportunity possible.
After the third day surfing, I was moved by a shout out from a lead staff member. He said he saw going out again and again. He had no idea how much it meant to me, but hearing that in the moment was one of the most powerful things I heard all week. My goals and accomplishments were validated in one statement.
Facing a challenge head-on builds confidence. It is a way of telling myself I can be good at physical outdoor activities and I no longer have to give up so easily. It has never been too much of a challenge to persevere though illness. I have a strong foundational belief that I have the skills and ability to face whatever health challenge comes my way. Now, I have started to build confidence to go outside, challenge myself physically, and become passionate about new things.
Luckily, First Decents has its headquarters in Denver, CO and there are plenty of ways to continue to be part of the community and continue to challenge myself physically and meet awesome new people who don’t mind giving me a push and cheering me on.
It is extremely important for me to continue to grow and see myself in new ways. I have been given this life with plenty of challenges, but those are nowhere near the number of opportunities for growth, adventure, passion, and meeting new people.
How are you Out Living It?