Outward Bound revisited…

I’m sitting on a plane on the way back from a four day holiday in Queenstown and Central Otago. When the wedding invitation arrived earlier in the year for a wedding in the middle of nowhere – okay Glenorchy – it was the opportunity we needed to leave the boys in Auckland for a week with the grandparents, and take a much-needed break just for the two of us. 


The wedding was for my dear friend Jasmine – a friendship forged at Outward Bound, and then over many drinks during a weekend in Dunedin for me, and another in Wellington for her. She was the “baby” of our “tight five” at Outward Bound – a core group of us who literally got each other through – Stu, Kath, Pete, Jaz and myself.


I had been to Stu’s wedding in Dunedin in 1999, Kath’s in 2003, and she flew back from Africa from ours later that year. Kath and I – the two red-heads of the bunch – have remained close and in close contact, sharing births of children and other life experiences. I had lost touch with Stu and then Jaz, and hadn’t actually seen or talked to Pete since Outward Bound. Apart from Kath, we were all reunited at Jasmine’s wedding. And true to form for her, it was the most Outward Bound wedding of them all, with the ceremony in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere, and the reception 30 minutes down a gravel road. And all the memories have come flooding back.


It’s now been 12 years since we took on Outward Bound, and I still carry it with me every day. It extended me in more ways than I could ever have expected or hoped for. And in fact I haven’t been stretched this far until my journey to Ironman began. When I was preparing for Outward Bound, I was living in Taupo, was single, a bit of a party girl, and had lost my way when it came to my career (hard to believe now!). At the time, I was often asked why I, of all people, was doing it.


Even my doctor expressed his surprise when he was giving me the medical all-clear to go.


“But you’re already such a strong, confident person, why do you need to go to Outward Bound?”


I’d also thought I was pretty good in the confidence stakes. I already knew I was assertive (my dad calls it bossy) and had a good level of self-esteem, and I was pretty fond of taking a leadership role (again with the bossy). I thought I was going to work on the fitness side of things.


Outward Bound certainly did stretch me on the physical side. I never realised what true exhaustion was and through aching and pain I found new muscles I never knew I had. I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking straight up hill, through solid bush, for four hours solid, carrying all our gear, running out of water and crying from exhaustion and effort. I didn’t think I could take another step further. But of course you do. And then you take another one, and another, and before you know it, four hours have gone by and you’re at the top. It’s an amazing feeling and one I’ll carry with me forever.


The day I arrived at Outward Bound I made a promise to myself that my low levels of fitness would not stop me achieving anything while I was at Outward Bound and it was a promise I kept. The rest of Hilary watch were much, much fitter than me. I was the slowest by far. But I kept plodding up the hill and used my mental energy to get me there.


Outward Bound pushed my personal barriers and took me to new levels. I found new limits, and I also found ways to push those limits and to take it one step further.


Twelve years on, I still apply these philosophies to my every day life. At work when I think I just can’t take anymore, I look back within myself and carry on going. I’m constantly setting new goals – both in my personal and professional life – and not a day goes by that I don’t think about Outward Bound and what it did for me.


I left Outward Bound an even stronger person than I was when I arrived. Sure I was fitter, but I was mentally stronger than I ever had been before.


As I think back on it now, I realise that Ironjack is my new Outward Bound. Its stretching my physically more than anything since Outward Bound. In fact, I’m fitter now than I was at Outward Bound. But its also about the mental game. Its all in my head. If I can beat that, I can do anything.


To the “tight five”, thanks for bringing back the memories.


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