Outdoor Adventure Therapy
Round the world with Sarah Outen
From the comfort of our cozy lives, it is difficult to imagine what it is like to cycle, row and kayak around our planet. Sarah Outen has done just that and her experiences provide one with a sobering sense of perspective and genuine awe. Tony Richards reflects on her epic trip and makes the case for opening up outdoor education to those who are yet to experience its benefits.
It takes a certain strength of character and raw courage to head out across the beautiful but bleak landscape of Antarctica, to sail across oceans, to climb the highest of peaks, to run through deserts, to dive to the very depths of the ocean. And yet fellow humans are inspired to take on such challenges.
Having rowed alone across the Indian Ocean in 2009, having been stirred by the massiveness, power and fragility of nature and having felt empowered by her experience, Sarah sought a grander challenge.
With the aim of inspiring children and fundraising for charities, Sarah set out from Tower Bridge in April 2011 on her “London2London: Via the World” expedition which would take her around the northern hemisphere.
Hardships and humanity
Along with many others I sat entranced as Sarah recounted her adventures at a recent talk in Bristol. She spoke of typhoons, vodka-fuelled proposals, encounters with bears and days, weeks and months in searing heat, biting cold or at the mercy of the ocean.
Mostly Sarah spoke of people; her occasional companions, the lottery of birth, wrestling with expectations and aspirations, people’s dreams, insight, innocence, generosity, kindness, support, courage in the face of unimaginable adversity, cheerfulness and warmth. Her love of humanity was tangible.
Sarah touched upon, indeed made light of, the personal impact of her experiences: the exhilaration of being at one with nature, the joy of becoming engaged, the frustration of being driven off course or strapped into the boat at the mercy of storms, the sense of loss when forced to abandon her beloved boat, the emotional turmoil of admitting temporary defeat, the counseling necessary to tackle psychological scars, the invigorating realization that others truly believed in her.
In reality few of us will ever experience the level of adventure enjoyed and endured by Sarah, but her message to us would be that if we really wanted to, we could. It may not be to our liking, of course, but, as Sarah witnessed, each day humans face and overcome challenges. For Sarah what was and is important is accepting those challenges, taking a positive view of life on a daily basis, smiling and breathing! Her journey taught her to accept that changes are inevitable and there are, “No roads, just destinations.”
Listening to Sarah speaking, with delightful self-deprecation, was humbling but also uplifting and energizing. One wanted to rush to the ski slopes, don the trekking boots, run through mountain pastures a la Maria Von Trapp, simply get out there and relish the outdoor adventures within one’s grasp. But, somewhat surprisingly, accompanying such thoughts was the realization, so clearly evident from Sarah’s experiences, that for many such opportunities do not exist. Their life experiences are constrained/limited by poverty, war or shackled aspirations resulting from their home circumstances.
Close to home there are children who have never experienced the joys of outdoor adventure, the sheer exhilaration of running free in the countryside, of rolling down grassy banks, of splashing about in streams. Often these are children who would gain the most from such experiences.
Sarah would acknowledge that her adventures have had a powerful impact on moulding the person she has become. Her belief that outdoor adventures can transform and be truly life changing is deeply held and explains her commitment to inspiring children and helping them to benefit from charities who provide opportunities otherwise beyond their reach.
The Youth Adventure Trust
In my neighbourhood, one such charity is The Youth Adventure Trust, who aim to inspire vulnerable young people, between the ages of 11 and 14, to reach their full potential, learn valuable life skills and build confidence and self-esteem. They hope to make a measurable difference to the lives of these vulnerable young people through a programme of outdoor activities and challenging experiences.
What makes The Youth Adventure Trust different is that its programme is a series of completely free residential adventure camps and day activities over three years, recognising that establishing the “believe-achieve” approach to life takes time and continuous support.
Research strongly suggests that such organisations are making a difference. A Review of Research on Outdoor Learning brought together the findings from 150 studies in the period 1993-2003 and concluded “Strong evidence of the benefits of outdoor adventure education is provided by two meta-analyses of previous research. Looking across a wide range of outcome measures, these studies identify not only positive effects in the short term, but also continued gains in the long term.” This has certainly been the experience of The Youth Adventure Trust.
By writing and speaking about her experiences Sarah has inspired many, but through her support for particular charities she has also enabled others to inspire as well – truly a remarkable woman.
Learn more about Sarah at: http://www.sarahouten.com
Learn more about The Youth Adventure Trust at: http://youthadventuretrust.org.uk . The trust is reliant on volunteers working with young people, and helping at various events if interested follow the link: http://www.youthadventuretrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer.html#.VufhM5yLTIU
For our review of Sarah’s account of her epic trip across the Indian Ocean in 2009, click on the book.
 Mark Rickinson et al. for The Field Studies Council, 2004