• Ronnie Pettit

Veronica Judson receives Wall Scholarship

Reflection on NOLS Wilderness First Responder Course

Course Dates: December 14th- 22nd at Landmark Learning, Cullowhee NC

Instructors: Justin Padgett, Jason Carter, Adam Davies, Rob and Brian

Veronica Judson

As a math major, many of my classmates at UNCA were surprised to hear that I dedicated 80 hours to learning backwoods medicine with Landmark Learning in Cullowhee, NC during my winter break. Some did not know that I am currently working as a trip leader for the University’s Outdoor Program department, but I already know the benefits of this course reach far beyond my current job into my relationships with other people, my interaction with the community I live in, and toward the opportunities that will open up because of this course.

I have always loved the outdoors but have had a healthy respect for nature. This reverence was compounded when an experience in middle school left me on the shore of a river at high water, helping friends return to land by extending a large branch out over the river to pull them back to safety. I was frustrated with my friends for being in an unsafe situation but was even more concerned that I wouldn’t have the skill to rescue them. As the most prepared person in most environments, people have turned to me often and I like knowing that I will be able to lend aid.

Since entering college, I have participated with the University’s Outdoor Programs. With them, I learned valuable skills for backpacking, rock climbing, and kayaking, and how to be an outdoor leader. Through conversations with one of my leaders, Leah Belt, I learned the benefits of acquiring certification as a Wilderness First Responder. One of the most important lessons we learn in Outdoor Programs is the importance of being prepared and planning ahead. Often, the very act of preparing for emergencies can prevent them from occurring. It was my hope in taking this course that I would be better able to facilitate safe trips for others. After taking this course, I was able to be promoted to a higher leadership role in Outdoor Programs, but the benefits of this class are far greater than a promotion. I also feel more confident in my ability to contribute and enjoy taking others into the wilderness even more than I did before. Leading trips can be stressful, but I know that I was trained by experienced and knowledgeable medical professionals, who taught me the skills I need in case of a medical emergency in the backcountry.

Outside my job, I also feel more prepared and comfortable on my own personal trips. As an active young adult, my peers and I plan biking, backpacking, and other backcountry trips together. With the knowledge that I have gained through the NOLS curriculum, I know that I have the training in my backcountry arsenal which will work to prevent accidents or illnesses. If they do occur, I can take care of myself and aid the people around me. Again, the confidence and reassurance that this gives me cannot be understated. As a young woman who loves the outdoors, knowing that I can help prevent and manage illness and injury gives me greater independence and allows me a tremendous amount of freedom. This extends to the way I help my ultimate frisbee deal with self-care during a long tournament day or the support I give my roommate when she suffers from food poisoning.

Going through this curriculum this past December, I also realized that I can connect more with the community of people I live near. While taking the course, I was reminded of volunteering in a classroom for individuals with disabilities. The instructors in the classroom were outstanding, dealing with seizures and various illnesses on a daily basis. I received information on dealing with seizures and stomach ailments, but I realized that the instructors were also providing preventative care. Taking care of students who had difficulty verbalizing whether they were dehydrated or not, the instructors were often using the technique “I gotta, they gotta.” This technique refers to the idea that if you realize you’re cold, hungry, or thirsty, the person that you are taking care of probably is experiencing these sensations, too. The awareness needed in that classroom or in the backcountry can be applied to the empathy and compassion that is needed in all interactions.

Although I realized throughout the WFR course, that I am more likely to see an incident occur in the front country than when I am in the middle of the wood’s hours away from definitive care, I have a different outlook on my role in providing support. While medical professionals with training far beyond mine might arrive on the scene within just a few minutes, I realize that as a WFR, I will be able to support these professionals and those in need. Much of WFR is understanding the time and place for your training. Although not trained to respond to front country emergencies, I feel prepared to provide psychological first aid, to take charge in an emergency to get other support on the scene swiftly and to assist as a calming presence in any way I am needed. This NOLS course taught me a great deal beyond how to safely deal with medical emergencies in the backcountry and also made me into a more responsible steward in the Outdoor Community. I have been trained to be more prepared, remain calm, and have been taught many different techniques for dealing with medical situations.

This course helped me with professional development as a leader, with my comfort in organizing my own personal trips, and in making me a more responsible and aware member of the community I live in. While I hope that I never have to use my training, I have already used the leadership skills developed more times than I can count. I know the instructors in my course taught me well, they were hardworking and excelled in their fields. I look up to all of the instructors in my course as mentors, as they provided me with examples, stories, and information that made me into a better person. They provided me with the courage and confidence to continue as an outdoor leader, both professionally and personally. The ability to think critically in stressful situations, to take a step back and see the bigger picture, the practice of being prepared for all contingencies and the confidence I have gained will even translate to my math career. This was the first step for me of many into the backcountry and into servant leadership in the outdoors. I look forward to all of the NOLS classes I will take in the future, and I greatly appreciate everyone who made this opportunity possible for me, it was a profound experience.

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