Excerpted from a speech by Aileen Soto, Alumna, Course Director & Field Instructor, NYC Outward Bound Schools
I’ve been trying to come up with the best way to define the work we do, what it means to me and how NYC Outward Bound Schools has helped shape the person I am becoming, and one thing I thought of was running. I thought about what running means to me, and what it has done for me.
Many who know me, know my love and understand my passion for running, [and you know] that running is actually my definition of “type-two fun”: challenging at the moment but rewarding in the end.
Many have asked me, “what does crossing the finish line feel like?” The truth is that running hurts, the hills are hard and sometimes it’s just too cold to run. It’s exhausting, and sometimes you feel like your lungs are about to pop [as you push] yourself through long strenuous miles. At times you feel like you can’t continue and want to quit.
There are days when I question myself, “why do I keep do [I keep running?] Sometimes I lose sight of the beauty of running [and] I forget the feeling of worth I feel once I’ve reached the finish line. But then I remember all the people who are watching and cheering me on.
I remember that running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Running is hard, but not impossible. The feeling of knowing that you just covered so many miles on your own volition, using your body as a locomotive, crossing the finish line– [it’s] an indescribable feeling that I’ll never forget.
This is exactly what my work here at NYC Outward Bound Schools feels like: being a part of this organization is exhilarating, scary, emotional, humbling, riveting, inspiring, and gives me great pride and joy.
Friends and family are always asking me “Why are you so passionate about working in the woods?” I start to tell them about all the amazing aspects of this organization. Truth is, instructing and course directing can be hard: there are long and cold nights, homesick students, ticks, spiders and challenging hikes. Students can sometimes feel unmotivated, lack confidence, start to lose trust in themselves, and feel like quitting.
[In those discouraging moments,] I remember all the things we’ve taught them. I remember that at some point they are watching me, learning from me and are getting inspired by me. Even if they won’t admit it at the moment. Our goal is to set them up for success but remind them that failing is okay because it allows you to learn and grow. Yes, our courses are intended to be challenging, but not impossible. Again: 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
There comes a time on course where students finally realize and appreciate why they are here, why they (sometimes unwillingly ) gave up their phones, why they sacrificed not showering for three to 5 days to just live simply but most of all why they didn’t give up.
There is this feeling of accomplishment knowing that students stepped out of their comfort zones because of the support that you’ve given them. They pushed themselves in ways unimaginable and took control of their own experience and finally began to recognize themselves as strong leaders, and their crew as extended family.
That’s the feeling of crossing the finish line and It’s the reason why I love my work here. Once we cross that finish line at the end of the week we can only look back and smile at the work we have done, whether if it was type-two fun or not, we know that our work is important and always worth it.
I’m so happy to have been given the opportunity to be a part of an organization that makes lasting change in the lives of NYC youth, but what I am most thankful for is that everlasting impact that our students make on me.
Aileen is one of the 2018 Compass Rose Award Winners, an annual recognition awarded to two NYC Outward Bound Schools staff members by a body of their peers. This year, we also recognized long-time field instructor Charles Tolliver.
Aileen running in the 2016 NYC Marathon
This is exactly what my work here at NYC Outward Bound Schools feels like: being a part of this organization is exhilarating, scary, emotional, humbling, riveting, inspiring, and gives me great pride and joy.Aileen Soto