impossible2Possible (i2P) made its debut in my life during the spring of 2013 when I was selected as a Youth Ambassador for Expedition Utah. This was a dream, challenging but incredible. Since then I have helped out with subsequent expeditions, two of which I contributed as a videographer/photographer/media editor: i2P Expedition Atacama & i2P Expedition Lost Coast.
To summarize my initial and most impactful experience with i2P, namely i2P Expedition Utah, below is a TEDx talk I gave in Park City, UT in November 2013.
More Than You Know
Back in May I decided to go on a run that lasted 8 days and ended up being around 160 miles with some of those days involving a marathon or more in running. There were four others that joined me, three Canadians and another American. Two of them had almost zero running background and only one of us had even run the length of a marathon. What in the world got into us? What was the spark? Back in 2007 an adventurer named Ray Zahab completed running the entire Sahara Desert after 111 40-mile days. His experience achieving this feat and interacting with the desert natives inspired him to found impossible2Possible (i2P), an organization like no other:
i2P sparks change. It pushes our global community, and especially today’s youth, to make a positive difference in the world. And not only does i2P inspire through adventure, but it also places the classroom in the Africa, Peru, the South Pole. At each expedition location there are learning opportunities that are broadcast to classrooms following along for free. In fact, they even bring out this satellite contraption that connects to a computer that allows Youth Ambassadors on expedition to live web chat with students worldwide, but walking in front of it may cause you to turn into a different creature, it’s that powerful of a device…. Essentially, Youth Ambassadors are the eyes and ears of the student followers. So that 8-day run I did in May was i2P’s Expedition Utah in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. This place is a literal hotbed of fossils, so it was fitting that our educational theme was geology and paleontology, the study of rocks and dinosaurs. We were privileged to have experts on the route with us, famous dinosaur researchers like Alan Titus and Scott Sampson who have dinosaurs named after them, who taught us the difference between how fossil of bone and fossil of poop feel on your tongue (bone is more porous and sticks ever so slightly; now don’t go licking rocks), how you can use the distance between dinosaur tracks to estimate its size and mass, and how fossils of shells and marine life inlaid in rock we ran over on Day 1 prove that we were running on an ancient ocean floor. We were running through nature’s classroom!
When I found out about i2P just over a year ago during Expedition Botswana, I thought, “These are insane people. They must be elite athletes, professionals, not even humans, they must be machines!” But then I watched the videos and read the bios and I discovered that these were people like me. Sure, I’m an athlete, but I’m not an Olympian. These people, everyday people, between 17 and 21 years old were running a marathon a day and smiling at the end of it. “Hmmm, maybe I can do this too…” Soon I was working on my application to be a Youth Ambassador for the next expedition, and not long after that I found myself following a training plan of running, strength, and flexibility for an 8-day 160 mile run. Soon after that I was in a tent at our first campsite before the first run day too excited and nervous to sleep. A dream come true.
So far, this all sounds fun and glamorous and exciting, but any Youth Ambassador will readily tell you just how hard it is. I could title each day of our run with its major challenge: Dehydration Day 1, Heat Horror Day 3, Gnarly Knees Day 4, Blister Buster Day 5, Killing Achilles Day 6, tough terrain, no showering for 8 days (eeww), pee pee tee-pee (no toilet). There were training days before the expedition that I had to beat the sun out of bed and head out in bitter cold darkness to run by myself for 3 hours because it was the only time of day I could fit it in. But all this is hard for a reason. Without a challenge, without stepping outside our comfort zones, we wouldn’t discover our new limits, we wouldn’t grow, learn, mature, gain experience and wisdom to share with others. There is danger in comfort if we let it encourage us to become lazy or develop fear of trying new things. Ever try running as fast as you can in water? Imagine the water represents laziness. No matter how hard you try, with laziness or fear in the way you can’t run nearly as fast. It is outside of our comfort zones that we are stretched beyond what we know and there is no room for laziness. And the more we are stretched the more we find what we are capable of, and that is more than you realize. Like a rubber band that you can stretch around a big bundle of stuff. The famous Greek goddess Nike once said “Just Do It”. . . maybe that’s just the slogan of a shoe company. But there’s value in those trademarked words, as simple as they are. You don’t know what you can do until you just do it. YOU ARE CAPABLE OF MORE THAN YOU KNOW. After the first day of running, we had already experienced major trials: dehydration, heat, rough terrain. I asked myself how we were going to complete the rest of this trek. I didn’t have an answer to how but I knew that we would. The most challenging day for me was ironically the day I didn’t experience the physical fatigue or pain of running at all, the day I was rendered unable to run due to severely inflamed Achilles. I was blindsided by this in that 1) I never had Achilles problems in my any of my athletic training throughout all my years of sports, 2) I never expected to have to sit out a day of running, and 3) I never expected the greatest obstacle to be my own pride. I invested too much in the numerical value of completing each mile, not in the mission of the expedition, to educate, inspire, and empower. We had these incredible cowboy cooks that prepared us dinner and breakfast every day. Mel, the senior cowboy, was the quietest, hardly spoke, but his face seemed to tell stories even when he wasn’t voicing them. He was a wise man that knows exactly what to say in the fewest number of words. On the day I couldn’t run I walked past him as he was making dinner and he said, “Where’s that smile?” Overwhelmed by his friendly inquiry, my heart just melted and I pasted a smile back on my face. I was reminded that I had a choice here. I could mope and make sure everyone around me knew I was having a hard time, or I could be positive and cheer on my teammates; in the end be someone that I could look back on and commend for my efforts, not someone I would be disappointed in because of the frown I couldn’t turn upside down. Mel sparked a change in me. So while elevating my feet in the support vehicle mile after mile I tried to follow the example of teammate Steve whose knees caused him similar grief. He had an iron grip on positivity and nothing could shake it. I learned a worthwhile lesson in humility. Invest your efforts in what matters: things like people. Support, inspire, motivate, uplift, sympathize, encourage. People notice you, your attitude, your ambitions, the way you treat other people. Colin, another teammate, came up with the label “everyday superhero” in describing one of our support runners, Ferg Hawke. In large or small ways you can be an everyday superhero. You can spark change in anyone, including yourself. And what you do right now matters. Don’t wait until you grow up, or you finish this or that. I found out about i2P through a teacher from my junior high, Matt Howe, who is also an educational coordinator for i2P. I was the same age as many of you. I2P didn’t exist then, but seven years later Matt still remembered me and brought i2P to my knowledge! These opportunities come out of nowhere, don’t miss them! Don’t be afraid of them! YOU ARE CAPABLE OF MORE THAN YOU KNOW. YOU ARE MORE THAN YOU KNOW