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Rutgers Recreation GO Outdoors exposes students to nature

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Students can explore the outdoors while also learning new skills and creating friendships with Rutgers Recreation GO Outdoors. 

Outdoor activity offers students an outlet to explore healthy and exciting interests, meet new people in a positive atmosphere and redefine boundaries of what they believe they can and cannot accomplish, said Jesse Stratowski, the outdoor recreation coordinator. 

Stratowski runs the training and development of the student trip-leader staff of the GO Outdoors program, as well as leads outdoor trips and instructs skills classes. 

He became involved with the program in 2009, and has since become the default photographer for the outdoor engagements and oversees the operations of the indoor climbing wall on the College Avenue campus and the challenge course on Busch campus. 

“Of all the experiences that I have had with this program and the things that I have seen along the way, none of them would be nearly as memorable had it not been for the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with sharing these with people who you know and trust,” he said.

The Rutgers GO Outdoors is currently accepting applications on its website for new student facilitators for the program, Stratowski said.

Anna Yu, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she joined GO Outdoors as a facilitator this past fall. But she has been attending trips since she was a first-year. 

The goal for the club is to get students immersed in the outdoors and provide the resources needed to do so, she said.

“We want to be able to present this amazing opportunity to as many people as possible,” Stratowski said.

Jordon Phillips, a School of Arts and Sciences junior who joined the group after transferring to Rutgers last fall, said he has seen incredible bonds form between students.

“GO has opened so many doors for other aspects of involvement, like working at the Rock Wall and summer employment for Rutgers Recreation,” he said.

His favorite moments from the club come from the reactions of students when they do something they never thought they would or even could (do), he said.

There have been a number of rock climbing trips where students who had never put a harness on and were terrified of heights made it to the top of some challenging routes, Phillips said.

Rutgers GO Outdoors has led kayaking trips where students go from having never sat in a kayak before in their life to paddling (efficiently) efficiency, covering miles at a time, he said.

“It does not matter if it is a week long expedition or a simple day hike, everyone shows positive growth and development (including the facilitators) every time a trip goes out,” he said. “I feel like being outside amongst nature provides a unique experience and unique challenges that are not found anywhere else." 

Allowing students to be involved in outdoor activities and recreation challenges them to find comfort in places they have not been and situations they have not faced, he said. Students can also find their voice outdoors. 

“There is no shyness on these trips, it just does not exist,” Phillips said.

Students share tents, cook on the sides of a mountain and paddle through head winds together.

It is impossible not to be vocal and work together as a team in order to complete activities successfully, he said. 

“That closeness in uncomfortable situations really creates bonds between students that I have never before seen and I really think that kind of development and growth is unique to facing the challenges the outdoors provide,” Phillips said.

Phillips was the trip leader for the Norvin Green State Forest hike, and was responsible for designing and running the trip. This was the first time for GO to run a trip to this park, he said. 

“The trip was awesome, we had varying degrees of hiking experiences, but I feel like at the end everyone was challenged in one way or another including myself and co-facilitators,” he said.

“Getting people outside and actively engaged in outdoor rec sports is one of the most important things to me,” Yu said.

When Yu was a first-year she went on a May trip, which is a five-day, four-night trip that the club embarks on every year after school is over, she said.

The club also went backpacking in Virginia and (saw) several wild ponies, she said.

“Being so close to those wild animals was a humbling experience and reminded (me) that we share this world with some beautiful animals and we have to respect their land while we are traveling through it,” she said.

Being outdoors is the easiest way to find out what you are capable of, learn about the natural world, and build relationships with the people you share these adventures with, she said.

“It is good for the soul and encourages people to get acquainted with nature, and that is awesome," she said.

Yu co-facilitated the Norvin Green State Forest hike. There were great views and approximately 20 vistas overlooking the hills of North Jersey. The club could see New York City skyline from the top of the mountain, Yu said.

During spring break the club had training in North Carolina to become Coastal Kayak Instructors, she said. After the course was over, the group had plans to kayak to an uninhabited island to do some camping and exploring but their destination was also one of the best surfing spots on the east coast with 15 foot crashing waves, she said. 

The group's kayaks would not be able to survive such a threat, she said, and they ended up glamping for the remainder of their time there. 

“There is no better way to make friends than living outside with them for a week,” Yu said. 

Jessica Herring is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in English. She can be found on Twitter @Jesslindsey93.

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