“The Leap of Courage: A Journey of Overcoming Fear and Empowering Others” by: Elliot McEachern

“The Leap of Courage: A Journey of Overcoming Fear and Empowering Others” by: Elliot McEachern

Cool tears streamed down my burning hot cheeks. As I looked over the rocky edge, I could see the cliff growing farther and farther away from the abyssal water. My stomach dropped when I was told it was time for me to jump. My dad went first, so now it was my turn. I could barely hear him from the water 25 feet down, beckoning me to plunge into the murky depths. My 11 year old body was weak and shivering as the frigid air nipped at my wet skin. All the other girls dove right in without any hesitation while I was shaking in fear. How could a motionless mountain fill me up with so much anxiety? I cracked. I couldn’t do it.

High Adventure Treks (HATS) is an organization with a mission of “growing relationships, communication, and leadership through adventures with our dads”. Every year, participants attend two campouts–each one with its own life lesson. From rock climbing and building trust in one another to white water rafting and learning about enjoying the journey not the destination, opportunities to flourish as a young adult, while having fun, are plentiful. Participating in this program has taught me that embracing my fears and failures is what makes me grow stronger as an individual.

Backpacking through the Rocky Mountains is a physically and mentally strenuous activity on its own, but anxiety and exhaustion are definitely elevated when you are lost in the rain, with no map, no trail, and no cell service. With each soggy step, the 50 debilitating pounds on our already weak backs weren’t helping as we had to ascend 2,000 feet in attempts to find base camp. Hour after hour passed as we prayed to find our designated site before nightfall. There was nothing we could do but keep going, one laborious step at a time. When we finally found our campsite, the overwhelming feeling of relief flooded our emotions.

Reaching our destination gave me proof that I am capable of overcoming countless obstacles. I credit my courage to conquer fearful situations and my love for adventure from memorable HATS experiences like this. It has led me to become a nationally certified sailing instructor and a newly certified recreational scuba diver. These adrenaline pumping, face-to-face encounters with adversity are what have strengthened my mental stamina and ability to lead.

As many of you know by now, a red hat, embroidered with the words High Adventure Treks cannot be purchased. One must earn this hat through mentoring younger girls in the program, nurturing their courage and tenacity. A HATS mentor must confidently lead a campout of 50 or more people and properly guide girls through new, fun, and often unexpected situations. Mentoring with HATS has ultimately molded me into the fierce leader I am today. And I know I couldn’t have been as impactful of a leader if I hadn’t gone through the experiences myself. Empathy is key to connecting with the girls on the campouts and helping them face their fears, just as I did.

I recall seeing her panic as she looked over the edge. It was one of my 11 year old campers’ turn to jump off the cliff. Her eyes welled up with tears, her knees locked -this all seemed too familiar. I knew that she felt powerless and insecure, just like I did when I was on that cliff at her age. I went up to her and reassured her that everything would be okay. When she wouldn’t budge, I offered to go with her. Although I was now 5 years older than I was last time I stood on this cliff, I still felt queasy. However, I had grown so much during this program that I knew I was ready. Ready to not only jump off this rock face, but to shepard others down and cultivate the next generation of leaders. Together, we held hands and jumped off the cliff.

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