Outward Bound Instructor Lauren ‘Ren’ Ledford of the Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS), is not eager to broadcast her list of accomplishments, though it is lengthy and impressive. She also doesn’t brag about her qualifications, another long, hard-earned list. She doesn’t talk about her Masters degree in Outdoor Education. Instead, she remains quiet; perceptive; modest and humble. But a look at her resume reveals that Ren was once a competitive wildwater kayaker; that she volunteers in international disaster areas and developing countries; that she teaches Tactical Casualty Care classes to police and firefighters – all in addition to the high-quality instruction she provides to Outward Bound students each summer. Ren Ledford is, in every sense of the phrase, at the top of her field.
While we have to nearly pry out the details of her professional history and achievements, when we ask Ren Ledford about the students she leads – that’s when she starts talking.
“As an Instructor I get to see many students experience true wilderness for the first time – no cell phones, cars, busy schedules, or distractions. For many, it’s the first time that they have sat in utter silence watching the sun rise over a mountain skyline, simply sat by a river’s edge mesmerized by the movement of the ripples and waves, or laid on their back on a canyon rim discovering the Milky Way or constellations that they have never witnessed from their city sky. I get to see students “live in the moment” and experience a type of peace that only the wilderness creates.”
In her six years as an Outward Bound Instructor, Ledford has interacted with hundreds of students of all ages, life circumstances, and dispositions. It can be challenging, Ledford admits, to try to convince a student to push through an unfamiliar, difficult, or sometimes uncomfortable experience that pushes their comfort zone. But for Ledford, the payoff is well worth it. The opportunity to form relationships with each participant – through thick and thin – through tears and laughter – is the highlight of her role. “Students often share their difficult experiences or struggles at home, but then I get to see students discover who they are outside of the influence and pressure of school, family, work, or future. Especially on long courses, I see students develop an incredible sense of self-confidence, communication skills that surpass many adults, a deep compassion for others and the environment, and the ability to fearlessly lead. Students can recognize the change within themselves and typically have a desire to return home and enact change for themselves or others. I attempt to help students translate their experience from the expedition into opportunities and success in their lives back home.” Ledford often remains in touch with students, and is able to see them grow and change and flourish through the years. The long-term impact, Ledford says, is the best part of it all.
“Working for Outward Bound is an incredible opportunity to not only work expeditions in wilderness, but more importantly – to impact the lives of young adults. We’re helping students gain life-changing confidence while building relationships that will have lasting impacts on communities and the environment” Ledford reflects.
But it’s not just about the students for Ledford, as she claims that Outward Bound has had a profound impact on who she is today. Ledford started out working at summer camps in North Carolina before gravitating toward an undergraduate degree in Parks and Recreation Management, and then going on to earn a Masters in Outdoor Education. She describes Outward Bound as both “foundational and fundamental” in the experiential education movement; and she knew early on that she wanted to get involved with the industry’s original forefather – Outward Bound.
“Working within the Outward Bound framework has impacted my own life as well. I now have a skill set that not only allows me to confidently teach and lead students in the wilderness, but has impacted the way I relate to others – and how others relate to me in the work that I do at home. I’ve gained a greater understanding of how to communicate effectively and how to demonstrate true compassion for others.”
Although Ledford has instructed for several other experiential outdoor learning schools, she says that the bonds that bind the Outward Bound community are unlike any other organization she’s been a part of. “This is a community of people you work with, but also a space where you build lasting relationships and friendships,” Ledford points out. “Instructors are hired for full seasons instead of individual contracts – so we are all able to really invest in each other and in that community.” Ledford, who currently lives with one other COBS Instructor and two logistics coordinators, admits that some of her most challenging moments have been times when she was not surrounded by the Outward Bound community.
When Ledford is not leading students through vivid Utah canyons or along Colorado river rapids, she is back in Denver, working for COBS as a Special Projects Coordinator. She currently is working on a new program that will provide a special course offering to Outward Bound Schools across the U.S. – the first of its kind at Outward Bound. Ledford seems to thrive on the challenge of being a trailblazer; of starting from scratch; of creating something that will likely leave a legacy for decades to come – all in the context of the Outward Bound expeditionary learning approach.
But Ledford’s skills don’t just stop at education and the outdoors. Ledford is also an emergency medical technician (paramedic) in training – and she instructs public safety officers (police, firefighters, etc.) in basic trauma care interventions.
For the past four years Ledford also served as the co-leader of a 90-day medical immersion semester for pre-med students in a remote indigenous region of Nicaragua. Her group has provided medical clinics in remote villages, worked in community hospitals and volunteered with EMS/firefighters in the capital city of Managua.
Ledford also volunteers with Team Rubicon, a veterans disaster response organization, in Colorado several times a month. In 2013, as part of Team Rubicon’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team, Ledford served after Hurricane Haiyan in the Philippines, where she worked in a storm-damaged hospital that was not only missing parts of the building itself; it also lacked electricity and running water.
Ledford’s peers describe her as “an extraordinarily well rounded Instructor with incredible technical skills, especially in wilderness medicine.” They add that “with a Masters degree in Outdoor Education, she is a thoughtful and engaging teacher. And she has added a lot to our Denver community because of her sense of fun and energy.”
Although you’ll sometimes find Ledford climbing, kayaking, mountain biking or hiking, the most likely place she’ll be is surrounded by the Outward Bound community – be it students, logistics coordinators or fellow Instructors. Outward Bound is fortunate to have such a qualified, dynamic, and committed Instructor – and we look forward to hearing about her future adventures with Outward Bound.
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