Recently, I left my home on the sunny beaches of Florida, and headed for the Pennsylvania mountains for a few days. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “outdoorsy,” but maybe I could change? This trip to the mountains was unlike any other I’ve experienced. And there were 30 people meeting me there who’d change my perspective in a matter of hours.
You see, I was headed to NMFA’s Operation Purple Healing Adventures® retreat, a free three-day experience for wounded, ill, injured, medically separated, or medically retired military families. At Healing Adventures, families use outdoor exploration, like hiking and canoeing, to encourage each family member’s growth on their new journey post-injury.
I met and chatted with some of the families as they arrived to the Pocono Environmental Education Center—where we’d be camping for the next few days. Some of us connected over our outdoor skills (or lack thereof), and we shared an excitement for the days ahead.
I went hiking with a Navy veteran, who injured his back during a deployment training exercise, and listened to his family’s story of resiliency. He shared how it felt helpless to rely on his wife to do things for him, and how devastating it was to tell his crying daughter that he couldn’t pick her up to console her because his back couldn’t support them both. Talking to them, I found out it wasn’t just the service member who had to recover after an injury—the family also has to find a ‘new normal.’ After a few more miles, we made it to the summit of the mountain, and I snapped a photo of them to celebrate the moment. They’d been the through peaks and valleys of military life, but when they stood by each other, no obstacle was unconquerable.
The next day, I watched an Army National Guard veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder share a loving moment with his two adolescent sons as they worked together to coax an ember into a burning fire. When the flame took, the sons high-fived, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the father looked transformed with pride as he glanced at his wife, who stood next to me, watching. She was nearly in tears when she shared that her family rarely did anything outdoors together because of her husband’s injury. I watched as she encouraged her boys to gently flame the fire, and celebrated with them when it grew in size. Something told me they’d be an outdoorsy family now.
As I shared Thanksgiving dinner with my own family yesterday, I thought about the millions of people who’d be hitting the pavement to take part in the Black Friday hustle and bustle. Waiting in lines and braving the crowds for stuff wasn’t for me. I wanted to #OptOutside.
Today, REI, parks, nonprofits, companies and communities are all coming together to get more people outdoors on Black Friday instead of standing in line. And we want you to go outside with us! Whether your family takes a walk together to a playground nearby, go for a bike ride, or rock climb on the Appalachian Trial, we know being outside does something good for the soul.
I decided to take my dog on a long walk in the bright Florida sunshine, because being inside on a 75 degree day seemed unjust. While walking, I remembered those two military families from Healing Adventures camp. Being “outdoorsy” together brought them closer, without distraction, without crowds, and without the need for ‘stuff.’
That trip to Healing Adventures, and meeting those families, was the perfect reminder that despite my lack of outdoorsy-ness, when you decided to #OptOutside, you change on the inside.
Join in the #OptOutside movement by simply walking out your front door! When you do, share it with the world using the #OptOutside hashtag!
Posted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager