Lilly Sanchez was first introduced to Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) in the spring of 2016 when she attended two ARC weekend retreats: camping in Yosemite Valley and hiking in Big Sur. On these trips, she crafted personal, reflective poetry, visited waterfalls, hiked through Redwood forests, and more. Lilly realized that she enjoyed being in the outdoors and making friends from other schools, so she decided to apply for ARC’s 40-day summer course in Yosemite. The course combines academic instruction with outdoor adventure and, for the first time in 2016, Sanger High School students were invited to apply.
For Lilly, she feared that her academic struggles might force her to go to summer school and miss the opportunity to spend the summer in Yosemite. There were two classes that Lilly had fallen behind on. , but she was determined to not let her grades prevent her from living and exploring Yosemite. She took the initiative to make up the work, get help during lunch, and study after school. She wasn’t sure if or how she might change during the summer, but it was already apparent that Lilly began her transformation well before the course. Lilly remarks, “In the past, I had many experiences where I actually did try, but never made it. So I eventually quit and didn’t want to try anymore; I got tired of failing at things in life that mattered to me.” This, we learned, would no longer be the case – Lilly would learn the depth of her determination.
Upon arrival for the summer program, Lilly faced her first big challenge: the first backcountry expedition, which spans eight days. She recalls, “[We] had to keep [hiking] even though I really wanted to stop… I told myself I couldn’t do it…” On the hike, Lilly learned camping and backpacking skills, including how to use a compass and how to read a topographical map, how to cook in the backcountry, how to set up a tent, and much more. Lilly celebrated her birthday during this first expedition and her new teammates’ support and compassion for her helped her persevere through the difficult hikes.
The turning point for Lilly was when she completed her metaphorical poem during the second week of the summer course. Once the final edits were made, Lilly was asked to read over her work. Next to ARC’s Summer English Instructor, Michael Dominquez, she slowly and quietly mouthed the words, tearing up as she reached the end. “Before ARC when I had a difficult task in my way I wouldn’t try my absolute best just because I thought I couldn’t… I told myself I couldn’t do it but really I could, I was just too afraid to admit it because the thought of actually trying then failing scared me.”
After seeing what she could accomplish while hiking and in the classroom, Lilly tackled each challenge with more and more confidence. She overcame her fear of heights during rock climbing, she became more comfortable with being open and vulnerable with her cohort, she successfully completed two essays, and she became a leader among her peers.
Currently, Lilly is a junior at Sanger High and she has plans to join the Navy after she graduates. She says that, on the ARC summer course, she learned that “I am greater and better than what I thought myself to be.”