• Athletics
The Outdoor Leadership Experience: Teamwork and Trust

By Sally Lee ‘23/The Lawrence

Last year, feeling incredibly indecisive, I signed up for my first fall co-curricular at Lawrenceville. Although I had tried out all the sports my middle school offered: cross country, lacrosse, and basketball, I wasn’t keen on committing myself to a competitive sports team at Lawrenceville. If I had the choice, I would’ve opted out of sports entirely to focus on academics and the arts. So, in trying to avoid engaging with too big of a time commitment, my options were narrowed down to a few select activities. I finally decided to act on a whim and sign up for Lawrenceville’s Outdoor Leadership (OL) program.

Initially, I was confused as to what kind of “leadership” being outdoors could possibly entail. I thought I signed up for a “campy” summer program, one with hyperactive bonding activities and hikes tramping through mud, so I entered the first day of sports with mild disinterest. However, after being introduced to OL’s group of students, my sense of discomfort and unfamiliarity quickly disappeared. My Second Form self was astonished by how easily the [older students] created a playful and lively dynamic.

We spent the first few weeks fiddling with rope and learning the usages of basic equipment. After two weeks, we moved to proper set-ups and belaying skills at the rock wall. Although I never once considered myself an “outdoorsy” person, I began to spend each day after OL thinking about climbing routes and outdoor equipment, mulling over the proper steps in a set-up until I began to commit them to memory.

Despite OL being a recreational rather than a competitive sport, I never felt bored or considered what we were learning to be easy. Each day felt physically and mentally challenging: I struggled with how to unlock carabiners and tie a proper figure-eight knot, forgetting how strands of rope could lie parallel against one another. My hands were cold and sweaty as I belayed my first person up a rock wall. My first time climbing the overhang was riddled with accidental slip-ups and a nervous panic—it took me nearly half an hour to finish the climb, my entire body shaking with the physical strain at the very end.

However, OL is a group that leans against one another through such challenges. Those who had experience as Ropes Course Instructors or previously participated in OL patiently helped me with tying my knots. Coaches (Director of Experiential Education) John Hughes and (English Teacher) Pier Kooistra  (whom we affectionately call “Hughsie” and “PK”) gradually taught me how to belay and gain confidence in my skills. Even as I swung in the air, wildly grabbing at rock holds thinking I wouldn’t be able to finish the last part of the climb, my belayer, and back-up belayer’s cheers helped me persist in reaching the top ledge and finishing the climb.

As months went on in my first season of OL, I further developed an admiration for the [upper Form students]and their eagerness to engage with my millions of questions about Lawrenceville. The notion of a strong distinction between each form dissipated as Fifth Formers asked me about my day and empathized with the adjustment to high school.

I’ve participated in OL for a while now, and I’ve discovered a certain simplicity to its routines: walking to the Ropes Course and enjoying the nature on campus, seeing students running in and out from the Field House, hearing the music blasting from the fields, and preparing our equipment of red buckets, blue ropes, and milk cartons filled with heavy holds. I love climbing and challenging myself, but my favorite part of OL has always been getting to know others. From a small conversation about the weather to the unique bond forged through trust and teamwork, I’ve felt incredibly lucky to be a part of this program.

For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.