19 Sep 2023

Cutter crop Glorias travels

Gloria Cumming believes her life has been changed by her experiences on the Outward Bound course.

The Southland District Council graphics designer dug deep physically and mentally alongside 11 other team members on a demanding eight-day “discovery” course that tested her courage, determination and awareness of others.

“People say it changes your life and I thought that was kind of corny when I went into it. But the people that you meet and the stuff you learn from them definitely is life changing, if you’re willing to be open to it and accept that there are lessons to be learned.”

Outward Bound New Zealand has run courses at Anakiwa, in the Marlborough Sounds, since 1962, with more than 50,000 New Zealanders taking part. A wide range of outdoor programmes is offered, with the aim of helping to create better people, better communities, and a better world.
Activities are designed around the surrounding environment, with bush, water and height challenges pushing participants beyond their self-perceived limits.

Gloria says around 140 people were based at the Outward Bound complex during her stay, divided into teams, or watches. Each watch and its watch-house is named after an inspirational New Zealander. Gloria’s was Sheppard 647, named after suffragist Kate Sheppard.

Each watch had to decide on its values on the first day. These were the rules the group would live by for the duration of their course. Among Sheppard 647’s values were non-judgement, understanding, empathy, encouragement, positivity and grit.

“That’s a thing they tell you,’’ Gloria says. “If your thoughts or behaviour start to shift away from your values then you need to check yourself.’’
The values became set in concrete after her watch’s first activity, a night out in the Marlborough Sounds sailing a cutter and a strenuous six-hour row to get it back to Anakiwa in time for lunch. The value of teamwork really hit home as the watch members pulled on their heavy oars to make it to shore before the deadline.

“We really established a bond. Everyone tried their hardest and it was hot. There was no conflict or friction. Once we got a schedule we understood that we needed the strongest at the front of the boat and those that were struggling a bit at the back.”

Gloria says the course is designed in a way that participants learn more about themselves from the other members of their watch than they do from the instructors or the challenges that push them well outside their comfort zones.

“You feel for them wholeheartedly. You don’t realise the struggles that people have until you’ve lived with them for eight days.”
Empathy quickly develops into trust during some of the challenges. “Having trust in your partner is really crucial, because if don’t trust them you can’t focus on what you’re trying to do.’’

Even in adversity, Gloria found humour in her situation. She recalls standing exhausted in torrential rain after running and swimming, laughing to herself about that morning’s inspirational quote: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

Gloria was able to take part thanks to a Southland District Council Eric Hawkes Outward Bound Scholarship.

“I was amazed the whole time I was there. I pinched myself a few times, especially sailing around Queen Charlotte Sound, seeing all that stuff and thinking if it wasn’t for SDC I wouldn’t be here.

“I feel really grateful and really lucky that I could do something like this through a work scholarship.”

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