The Outdoors for All volunteer community exudes calm, quiet passion. Yes, there are real challenges to confront each day, whether that means loading a sit ski, skier and all, onto a moving chairlift or helping a young participant with Down syndrome ride a bike for the very first time. Yet there is a sense that these volunteers are ready, and willing, to help immediately with whatever challenge the day brings forth. Throughout each season, the enthusiasm of the volunteers collides with the ambition of the students they work with, and the two feed on each other. This expands the Outdoor for All community’s excitement for feeling that wind on our faces as we soar down the slopes, ride a bike through a city park, or paddle around Lake Washington. So, who are these volunteers? I thought you’d never ask…
Read on to learn about a few of Outdoors for All’s volunteers, and the unique flavor of passion that each one brings to this inspirational cause.
This week’s highlighted volunteer:
Every week, skier and snowboarder, Sarah Langlois, looks forward to the camaraderie she shares on the mountain with the Skihawks Racing Team as one of their volunteer instructors. The Skihawks Racing Team provides training and racing opportunities for athletes with intellectual disabilities in the alpine, Nordic and snowboarding winter sports disciplines.
As part of the annual curriculum, Langlois’ job was to prepare her student to compete in the Special Olympics Winter Games the weekend of March 4.
She marveled at her student’s enthusiasm this year, particularly on that last Sunday after the annual competition in Wenatchee. Even after racing, and placing third in the unified race and fifth in another two races, Sarah’s student was thirsty for more.
“I asked my athlete if she wanted to do one more run which she agreed to,” explains Sarah. “Once we were on the chair, she said, how about we do this run and one more? We ended up doing three total last runs. Best day of the season!”
Sarah, who has reveled in the camaraderie that skiing and snowboarding brings since starting the sport as a teenager, says her inspiration to volunteer came from her grandmother, whom she describes as a strong, caring individual who believed in giving back to the community. What she did not realize at first was how much she would get in return.
“My job is to teach my athlete to become a better skier and achieve her goals,” Sarah said. “In turn, she’s taught me about patience, tolerance and the overall celebration of the human spirit. She is a bright young woman who embraces her individuality.”
Outdoors for All Program Manager, Sara Ramsay’s passion for Outdoors for All was infectious for her mother, Cathy Ramsay. Cathy got involved as a volunteer at a Day Camp a little over half a decade ago, when Sara was a volunteer. Sara had moved here from England to volunteer as a Day Camp Counselor, which she was able to do due to a J-1 Visa. She then fell in love with Outdoors for All Foundation before graduating from college and decided to stay and apply for permanent residency. The rest is history. Now, Cathy has worked at the fall fundraiser, Annual Gala Auction, and several other smaller fundraising events in addition to volunteering regularly at Day Camps.
Having enjoyed sports and the outdoors her entire life, her passion provides a natural link to the people she volunteers alongside and to the participants.
“I LOVE being with the participants, sharing in their joy and fun in the various activities, as well as supporting the Outdoors for All staff in all their efforts,” she says.
A true Outdoors for All enthusiast, Cathy treasures the memories she has collected through the program.
“Pretty much every Day Camp outing is memorable,” Cathy explains, “whether it is seeing a participant jump rope, climb around in the zoo, explore the beach on a super windy day, stop at every pile of snow en route to tubing, go round and round on the spinner at the playground, sit in my lap and read a book in the library, go down the water slide over and over and over [or] exude joy from a 5′ climb of the rock wall…”
For James Christians, appreciation of the outdoors is a belief he’s used to spreading in his day job. He is a sales specialist at REI who has spent 17 years marketing, selling and designing outdoor camping and hiking equipment. Yet he found Outdoors for All participants were the ones spreading passion to him this year.
His most memorable Outdoors for All volunteer day was a hike at Tipsoo Lake, near Mt. Rainier. The views had eluded the group during the hike due to pervasive fog, duly noted James.
Participants’ contentment in the face of this limitation struck Christians as remarkable.
“…It seemed that we were hiking through the clouds,” he explains, adding, “There was no disappointment in our clients that there weren’t views of the mountain. They just loved the misty air and powered through the hike in record time.”
He also remembers, as any true outdoors enthusiast would, that the mountain emerged in “all her glory” once the group returned to the parking lot.
Outdoors for All brings James not only the opportunity to give back to a cause he’s already claimed his own, but also to connect with his wife more deeply, since it provides more common ground between them as she works with people on the autism spectrum in her professional life.
“You see, every time she returns from being with a client, she has a smile and a glow on her face,” he said. “I have a completely new understanding and connection with my wife.”
After his first Outdoors for All hike, his first words to his wife were “I get it!”
Maggie and Brian Richter
Maggie and Brian Richter climb mountains together on multi-day backpacking adventures and generally venture into the outdoors at every opportunity. Sharing this passion is just a small sliver of what they’ve been able to accomplish with Outdoors for All since starting ski instructing at Stevens Pass two years ago.
“The students we have worked with have helped us grow more patient, improve our own skiing ability and let go of caring what others think about us,” Maggie says. “Being out on the snow with our students is a blast, and we are fully immersed in being present with our students with no regard of looking silly or being judged.”
Maggie’s student was a teenager with down syndrome who reveled in the exhilaration of not only skiing but even falling down. He provided “a great reminder to have fun and simply enjoy the snow and our surroundings,” Maggie said.
For her, the most memorable day occurred with that satisfying glimmer of progress: he loved it when she switched him from using the bamboo pole to using tethers. This granted him the independence he needed to build on his skills.
The Richters believe strongly in the power of pushing oneself out of their comfort zone. The impetus for them joining grew out of a desire to partner on something they both love: skiing. Their routines have not changed much since before Outdoors For All, when they were driving up to Stevens Pass to ski every weekend, but their internal abilities have.