The secret lives of student adventurers

Have you ever wanted to skydive, summit a mountain, or discover your mental and physical limits?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider consulting numerous Westminster students that have seized the opportunity to take risks in activities ranging from skydiving to mountain climbing. Students concur that taking on a new, challenging task was both powerful and breathtaking. Many conquered fears include losing oxygen and falling to death via a leap of faith. Nevertheless, armed with faith, appropriate training, and a thirst for thrill, these students qualified themselves as accomplished in nature, and learned many lessons along the way.

Senior Mary Lawson Burrows went skydiving just an hour and a half outside the city.

“I went skydiving at Skydive Atlanta with my dad for my 18th birthday,” said Burrows.  “We went about two weeks after I turned 18, and my mom was so angry at us because the idea of it freaked her out. You show up at the place, they weigh you, and then you have a tutorial where you learn what to do in emergencies. Then, we strapped in and went on a tiny little plane, which was being flown by a 15-year-old boy. Once we reached 12,000 feet in the air, my instructor and I hobbled over to the open door. We squatted down and rocked back and forth three times. The third time, we jumped out and it was all so fast I barely even remember.”

Although Burrows has never been very afraid of heights, trusting a stranger to such an extreme degree proved more of a challenge than anything else.

“It was most hard to accept the reality that I was actually putting my life in a stranger’s hands and jumping out of a plane,” said Burrows.

Fortunately for Burrows, the instructor did allow her some control over the flight, which she enjoyed.

“After freefalling for about 3 minutes, my instructor pulled the parachute, which causes a huge upward jerk, then you begin drifting to the ground,” said Burrows. “He let me grab handles under the parachute and steer, which was fun and took so much muscle power.”

While skydiving, the surrealism of the event overtakes the very common terror of losing control and plummeting downward. Burrows did not register the fear of falling, and mostly struggled with the intake of oxygen.

“Mostly I was focused on breathing, since it is hard to get much oxygen so high up. It is also sort of painful since there is so much pressure coming up at you from below, but none of that outweighs how awesome it feels to be doing something so cool.”

On the other end of the adventure spectrum, both sophomore Betsy Blitch and senior Katie McGahan also found excitement by embarking upon the strenuous journey of mountain climbing.

“My family and I hiked for four days on an Inca trail in Peru to Machu Picchu last summer,” said Blitch. “One day we hiked only uphill for eight hours straight, and the higher we got the less oxygen there was. We even had to get out a tank of oxygen at one point.”

As a more experienced climber, McGahan found her latest climb less challenging but was still captivated by the sheer beauty of the environment surrounding her.

“I climbed Mount Rainier this summer…I have also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and Carson’s Pyramid,” said McGahan. “I loved climbing Rainier. We knew the guides, and it was a shorter, chill climb.”

Despite the breathtaking views and the feeling of success, each student took something from the experience that they will never be able to recreate.

“After climbing for four days, we saw the sunset on the top of Machu Picchu. It was so pretty and we had a wonderful feeling after finally getting there,” said Blitch. “In the whole journey, I learned that things add up. Step after step felt like you were going nowhere, but after a few minutes you could look back and realize that you went pretty far.”

“I learned that you just have to prepare yourself the best you can. Some things will be out of your control, but you can’t really worry about that,” said McGahan.

Burrows agreed that there were many lessons to be learned from an experience like climbing a mountain or skydiving.

“I never thought that I’d be able to do something like this because it just seemed to be so far in my future, so once I finally did I think that I proved to myself how much I’m capable of,” said Burrows. “I plan to do it again after I graduate.”

For Burrows, McGahan, and Blitch, these physically taxing adventures had always been a goal to complete.

“My sister and my dad started climbing when I was in fifth grade,” said Blitch. They took me when they went to climb, and that’s when I really fell in love with it.”

After taking on one mountain, McGahan did not stop. For her, climbing is not about being at a large mountain, but about living in nature and testing oneself. She plans to continue climbing and enjoying every moment of it.

“I will keep climbing because I think that it is the best way to train both physically and mentally for other sports and for life,” said McGahan.

Other notable adventurers include sophomore Caterina Prestia, who paraglided through the Swiss Alps, as well as junior Michael McGovern, who got to go on an African safari.

For all of these student adventurers, it appeared that their adventure would not be their last, and all plan on sustaining their love for adrenaline throughout the rest of their lives.