The first day that we arrived, my 11-year-old son, Logan, took one look at the lake and said, “I’m not getting in there!” I was too busy at that moment to pick him up and throw him in the lake, so I said, “Okay.” I may have a missed a golden teaching opportunity, but I was redeemed a few days later during the Friday afternoon games at the lake.
On Fridays we have a tradition at camp that has existed for more than 60 years called the Battle of Maple Dell. It was during this huge canoe swamping war that the dreaded Pirate Ship sailed out and entered the fray of the battle. My son took one look at that ship and said, “How do I get on that?!” Our wise aquatics director explained, “You have to pass the swim test and be selected by the Ship’s Captain.” The next Monday, Logan was the Scout in the lake, doing his swim test.
There are three aims of Scouting: character development, citizenship training, and mental & physical fitness. Every activity, every outing, every advancement is designed to help the Scout grow in at least one, if not all, of these ways. There are eight methods that Scouting uses to achieve this growth, and two of these methods are personal growth and the outdoors. Another one that factors into this story is leadership development, which you’ll see at the end of this story.
Logan overcame his fear of swimming in that lake because he had the opportunity to be there, in the great outdoors, and was enticed by the exciting activities that Scouting provides. If he had stayed at home that summer, he would have watched T.V., hung out with his friends, and probably gone to the sterile city pool where he could have seen right through the water to the bottom. He would have thought nothing of these activities, and probably would not remember anything special about them today.
The next year we started the high adventure activities at camp. One of the brand new activities was the climbing merit badge. Logan has a fear of heights and edges, and the camp’s new climbing wall had plenty of both. He was not going to climb up that wall for all the merit badges in the world, but a patient climbing director coaxed him to try on the climbing harness, and then magically convinced him to climb 4 inches off of the ground by standing on the bottom rock toe hold and holding on to hand holds overhead.
Once Logan learned what it felt like to “hang on” to a piece of rock in his hand, the director encouraged him to move his left foot over to a higher toe hold, reach his hand up to the next hand hold, and push up. Logan did it, then got scared and dropped back down to the ground. Now, however, Logan was an “experienced” climber, who had discovered the process of how to climb, and found that he wasn’t dead yet. The director kept working with him, and a little while later I got a call on the radio that I needed to quickly head over to the climbing wall. I got there and was privileged to watch Logan make his last few moves to touch the top of the wall.
It would be cool to be able to say that Logan is now a world-class climber, but the honest truth is that he never climbed the wall again. But the reason he never climbed the wall again was because he’d conquered that wall and the fears associated with it. He didn’t like climbing, but he could say that it hadn’t beaten him. He was stronger now, at least in that part of his life. He learned he didn’t have to be afraid of an obstacle; he had started to learn how to do hard things. Logan has gone on to make good friends with the other camp counselors and has started new hobbies like blacksmithing because of his association with these new friends.
What about that lake? The first of several major accomplishments and obstacles he overcame while living at Maple Dell made a lasting impression on him. The Maple Dell Scout Camp promotional image above shows Logan in the front of the pirate ship at age 11. This photo is of Logan, now a lifeguard at Maple Dell’s lake at age 16. This year, as a lifeguard, Logan taught other kids how to swim, boat and play in that same lake he was afraid to get in. He’s now entered that leadership phase where he gives back, teaching other young men how to learn to do hard things. Where will his legacy end? Will it?
Author: Dave Johnson | Camping Director, Utah National Parks Council