“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

– Alan Alda

One thing about Wellfit Girls, is that we are resilient, and if we’ve learned anything about 2020, it is that resilience is the primary ingredient that prepares us to adapt to stress and overcome trauma and adversity. I might add, that while no one was “nailing it” during these first few months of the global pandemic, we were pleasantly surprised how seamlessly we transitioned from twice weekly in-person meetings to online zoom groups, individual sessions with the girls and even some online parent workshops. 

We successfully reached our wellness/fitness and leadership curriculum goals throughout the five months; yet worried we wouldn’t be able to offer an impactful culminating experience after travel to Montana was canceled. The leadership team brainstormed every option imaginable, having contingency plans as pandemic dictates and social distance rules changed weekly.  

The easy and reasonable thing to do was quietly close out this year’s program on an extended zoom call. But, Wellfit Girls don’t tend to stop at easy and we prefer audacious over reasonable. 

One powerful Rite of Passage commonly included in wilderness programs is a Solo Experience. We had never offered this element in our expeditions in the past as they are jam-packed with service, trekking and cultural experiences, but this year the “Solo” became be the peak experience of the expedition considering the social distancing guidelines as they were. We realized this could be a win:win. We would be in compliance with CDC recommendations AND offer an impactful, novel experience for the girls.  

The 36-hour Solo is challenging, rewarding and requires planning and proper tone-setting. It’s not just a digital detox or a social “time out.”

A Rite of Passage is a ceremony to mark a celebration or a change in life status. It involves:

  1. A psychospiritual idea of severance: dying to one’s old life
  2. Crossing the threshold and stepping into the unknown
  3. The return to take on a new life

The girls would be prepped and offered specific journal questions to usher themselves through the experience.  

Climbing mountains has been a Rite of Passage for Wellfit Girls during the past six years. We intentionally let go of the past, what’s holding us back and cross over to the other side, ready to assert a new way of being and empowered action in our lives.  The mountains have been the metaphoric backdrop in the Wellfit Girls’ experience, and this year, what better mountains to climb than the ones in our mind? 

Knowing it would take some time and creative energy, we were willing to design an impactful, surprising virtual expedition, if the girls really wanted it. The leadership team offered the girls an opportunity to learn about and practice consensus-decision making. It can be a lengthy process, coming to an agreement in this style of decision-making, but we wanted the girls to decide, to be ALL in for an expedition. We were pleasantly surprised how powerfully the girls showed up to this conversation, asking questions and engaging one another in the consensus process. 

With the girls giving us the green light, our leadership team got to work, passionately and tenaciously creating a unique week of service, surprises, scavenger hunts and meaningful connection.

The intentional use of metaphor woven into the fabric of our teachings throughout our five-month leadership program provides the girls with a feeling that they are on the mountainous trail of life already. A courageous conversation is a mountain. Running the Hop to the Top 5K is a mountain. Fundraising and service are mountains. Putting aside our own personal preferences to take a stand for others is climbing a mountain. Showing up no matter the mood is climbing the mountain. 

We know that life is not about climbing one mountain and being done; but preparing for the ranges of mountains we will face in our lives. Resilience training is a cornerstone of our curriculum, preparing girls to face life’s summits and valleys, to weather the storms, to set a clear path to their goals, but route-find, also, when they lose their way. 

Who can relate to this idea that our minds, like mountains, can be completely challenging and wildly unpredictable? Even more so when you’re a teenager. Remember those days?

This year’s unique virtual expedition was an invitation for the girls to accept the ultimate journey, the invitation to Go Within to go Beyond. To meet the mountains of their mind, the wild weather within, to overcome doubt, defy limiting beliefs and set a new plan of action for life’s inevitable and undulating challenges and opportunities.
Prior to the Solo, our seven-day Virtual Expedition included personal growth workshops, facilitated conversations by our alumnae on race and racial social justice issues, LGTBQIA+, social media for good (and bad) and healthy relationships and boundaries, interactive scavenger hunts and self-discovery games, contemplative coloring, journal prompts, a service project with Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida, physically-distanced beach walks, virtual yoga, dance and fitness, a movie and discussion night of Just Mercy, Taco Tuesday virtual dinner (together, apart) and time for one on one calls with members of the leadership team. We even had a surprise celebrity meet and greet with the Valerie Weiss, the director of Outer Banks and two of the cast members, Madelyn Cline and Madison Bailey.

Every year, the leadership team is inspired by the experiences of the girls. Their journey of personal growth is our social and emotional currency. They keep us wanting to work more and harder for all girls. We hope their words will inspire you, as well: 

“The solo was one of the best experiences of my life.”

“Being able to go out to Labelle, even social distancing, was meaningful to me. I felt connected to the other girls, even on my solo, together, apart.”

“Earth is amazing. I had never spent that much time outside connecting with nature.” “The solo was amazing. I wasn’t expecting that at all.” 

“During the solo I healed my inner child. The person I was before was hurt and broken, scared and fearful of a lot of things. I took a lot of people’s burdens on my shoulders. But being in the tent and forgiving myself for everything, I was able to breathe again and think properly. I felt relief wash over me. For the first time in a long time everything became clear.”

Personally, one of my favorite activities of the week was hearing expedition proposals from each girl that we may consider for future expeditions. The girls took us on a virtual journey all over the wilds of the United States and into Canada’s Rocky Mountains; from Alaska’s Wilderness to New Hampshire’s rugged trails to Tennessee’s Smokey Mountains, California’s Redwoods, North Carolina’s rivers and woods and more.

We are proud to have completed our 7th year of adventure and leadership with our girls. Only in getting comfortable with our inner landscape are we able to powerfully climb in the mountains we will face in life.
I can assure you, we are in good hands with the future leaders of Wellfit Girls.

Thank you for following along our journey! Onward and upward we rise!

By Jill Wheeler