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Inspiring Teen Leaders Thousands of Feet Above Yosemite Valley

BOLD and GOLD (Boys and Girls Outdoor Leadership Development) groups are comprised of teens who come from a variety of backgrounds and head into a challenging backcountry environment, often with little to no experience in the outdoors. They work together to tackle the obstacles that are inherent to a backpacking trip, and they learn to successfully overcome these challenges by communicating effectively, practicing resilience, and being part of a supportive community.

Perhaps no camper is a better example of BOLD & GOLD’s impact than Nancy. I remember Nancy’s first trip with us, a co-ed backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park during the summer of 2016 with seven of her peers. Nancy, a quiet 16-year-old Latina, showed up feeling like so many of our participants do, cautiously excited for the adventure that awaited her and nervous to be thrown in with a group of peers she hardly knew. After hiking South from the trailhead off Tioga Road and spending our first night in the wilderness, we arrived at the top of Yosemite Falls where Nancy first encountered the indescribably beautiful and remarkably terrifying drop-off into Yosemite Valley below. I took a break from my own joy to see Nancy gaping in awe at the sight in front of her.

It was during our lunch break just up the trail that I became more aware of the physical challenges Nancy had already been facing. Nancy told us that her feet were hurting and removed her boots to reveal several large, bubbly blisters on each foot. My co-instructor Hannah and I spent quite a bit of time throughout the remainder of the trip helping Nancy dress her feet with moleskin and tape. Nancy’s asthma posed a challenge for her as well. Nancy started to lag behind the rest of the group so we adjusted our hiking order with Nancy in front setting the pace. Despite our best efforts to set goals that were about enjoying the journey and bonding as a team rather than about reaching the destination, some members of the group became frustrated with Nancy’s slower pace. I could tell that Nancy felt bad for holding the group back. On Day 3 of 6, Nancy twisted her ankle forcing us to cut that day short. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that despite every physical and emotional challenge Nancy faced, she still never failed to express her appreciation of the experience and connected with her peers.

Nancy knew that her family could not have afforded to send her to this program if it weren’t for the support of generous donors. Perhaps knowing that gave Nancy the resilience to embrace the challenges ahead of her, huff and puff her way up each hill, and hike with several foot ailments. When Nancy was tasked with being Leader of the Day, her positivity and perseverance shined. Nancy demonstrated that you don’t have to be physically the strongest hiker in the group to be the best leader. Nancy got off the bus a few days later, gave her mom a hug, and immediately asked if she could come back on another trip (with better boots, of course). Nancy joined a GOLD course in Big Sur later that summer and came back for two more trips the following summer, impressing her instructors on each trip with her maturity, leadership, and growth. Nancy attributes boosts in her confidence when involved in leadership positions at her school to the BOLD & GOLD curriculum. Recently when tasked with interviewing someone in a career field of interest to her, Nancy reached out to one of her GOLD instructors. I’m sure Nancy will excel in whatever field she ends up in, but I selfishly hope her interest in BOLD & GOLD sticks with her for a few years. Were Nancy to become a GOLD instructor herself one day, I know she would be at least as strong an inspiration for her students as she is for me.