Out of My Comfort Zone

I strike out on the trail, descending away from the parking lot into the Manistee River valley. Slowly the noise of the campground and parking lot fade away, replaced by the sound of the wind rattling through the fall leaves. For the next couple days, it’s time to hike.

Hiking and backpacking are different kinds of sports than any I’ve done before. I grew up playing soccer and other fast-paced team sports, loving the competition and intensity of the games. Now as an adult, hiking has become a way not just to stay physically healthy, but mentally healthy as well. And yet, I don’t think I would have ever started this sport without the foundation of sports that I played as a child and young adult.

Growing up, my family was outdoorsy, hiking on vacation and encouraging me and my brother to play outside, but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I developed an interest in hiking long distances and backpacking, in getting farther away from the comforts and safety of civilization. It’s a disconcerting thing to be out on the trail, knowing you are miles away from any help if something should happen. It’s a feeling we’re not too familiar with in this modern day and age.

At first, learning the ins and outs of this new sport was a terrifying and overwhelming task. What if I got lost? How would I know what to pack? How in the world do you get safe water in the middle of nowhere? What do you do if it storms? Is it safe to hike alone? And what about bears!? Horror stories about camping are quite easy to come by on the internet, especially when you’re researching backpacking for newbies.

But that’s where the confidence and courage I had gained from participating in sports throughout childhood really kicked into gear.

After a lifetime of sports, I was confident that my body could handle the trail while carrying a heavy pack. And the competitive edge I gained from playing those sports drove me quite literally outside of my comfort zone and into the woods.

On the Manistee River Trail!

And learn I did, starting with smaller hikes and graduating to overnight trips. Friends started to become interested as well, joining me when I’d head out on the weekend. I gained confidence in my abilities and learned some valuable lessons along the way. While backpacking and hiking are very different kinds of sports than the ones that I grew up playing, the same core skills helped me to find this new love as an adult.

The courage, the ability to take a risk, the confidence to try something new, all of these things that we learn through playing sports as kids are so incredibly valuable to us as we grow.

It’s why I’m so proud of the work we do at Girls in the Game and so passionate about helping girls to find THEIR sport and THEIR opportunity to try something new. I can see in my own life how my experiences with sports as a child continue to impact who I am today. I want all of our girls to have the confidence they need to take on new challenges, whether that be standing up to a bully or deciding on a college or career path. That innate boldness we gain through sports gives us the courage we need further down the road when it’s time to strike out on our own, literally or figuratively.

Jess Larson is the Development & Communications Manager at Girls in the Game