The courage to find home: NOLS student embarks on new life. - Lander

Feb 1, 2012

My hometown of West Chester, Pa., is about 45 minutes west of Philadelphia. I’m a diehard Philly sports fan, who had everything I wanted at 30 years old; except for a job that I loved.

So much about me has changed over the past 16 months, and I’m not sure where to begin. Should I start with what brought me to Wyoming or with what has made me to decide to stay?

            The simple answer to both is NOLS.

            The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) has changed my life, and it took less than six months. I came to Wyoming in August of 2010 to attend Central Wyoming College because of its partnership with NOLS. I think about that decision every day, and it’s by far the best I’ve ever made. After five years of waking up and heading to a job that drove me crazy, I had to find something new. I never really put any serious thought into shifting careers; in fact I didn’t think a career change would even be possible at this point in my life. What specifically happened to make me finally commit to change I don’t even remember, but with a little help from a friend, I decided working in the outdoors would be a perfect fit for me. So in the span of about a month, I left my job, moved out of my apartment, and drove to Wyoming. That was the easy part. The hard part was leaving my family and friends Back East, but I needed a change, and I think they all knew that.

            Just over a year later, I was on a NOLS semester in the Wind River Mountains. Every day was incredible! I was surrounded by sharp mountain peaks covered by yellow and orange aspens. I saw herds of elk running across valleys at 10,000 feet and took advantage of world-class fly fishing. Becoming a master chef on a small propane stove was tricky, but I can make a pretty sweet pizza now. I also became quite skilled in bouncing from boulder to boulder, and by using that skill I found myself standing on top of Atlantic Peak at 12,490 feet. It was windy as hell that day. I stared out on the horizon and thought back over the past five years of my life, wasted on an abhorrent job. From that point on, I savored every minute of my semester with NOLS and was in complete denial when it came to an end 90 days later.

            It seems most students who complete NOLS semesters go home with a desire for one thing: to come back and work for the school. I found myself heading home with the same idea, and three weeks later, I was on the road back to Wyoming. I had found an internship at NOLS Headquarters in Lander, Wyo., and couldn’t have been more excited. Well, I was probably a little more nervous than excited. Having just learned about the outdoor education industry 16 months prior, I was about to be working with the best in the business. The first few days were kind of a blur. I battled with my computer, found out how much coffee is consumed at HQ, and was introduced to the most affable group of people—people who are committed to making NOLS the best. Since then, I’ve been getting involved in projects that seem almost unreal. It keeps getting more interesting every day, and I can only imagine it getting better.

            I never would have thought that I’d be living in Wyoming. Two years ago I’m not sure I knew where Wyoming was or what NOLS was. Everything that has happened since I came west has been positive, and that’s remarkable, given that for a while everything in my life seemed to be negative. I can say for sure that being here now and being a part of NOLS is where I would love to stay.

About NOLS

Founded in 1965 by legendary mountaineer Paul Petzoldt, NOLS is the leader in wilderness education, providing awe-inspiring, transformative experiences to more than 15,000 students each year. These students, ages 14 to 70, learn in the wildest and most remote classrooms worldwide—from the Amazon rain forest, to rugged peaks in the Himalaya, to Alaskan glaciers and Arctic tundra. Graduates are active leaders with lifelong environmental ethics and outdoor skills. NOLS also offers customized courses through NOLS Professional Training, and the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS is the leading teacher of wilderness medicine worldwide. For more information, call (800) 710-NOLS (6657) or visit