A Different Challenge Than Climbing Mountains
We sat down recently with Outward Bound USA’s newest board member, Rohan Freeman, to talk about his background, how he connected with Outward Bound and his thoughts on joining the organization.
Freeman is the President and CEO of Freeman Companies, LLC, an award-winning, multi-disciplinary site development, engineering design and environmental services enterprise. He’s also an accomplished mountaineer. He founded his company in 2009, shortly after summiting Mount Everest. The promise he made to clients was to “Elevate Your Expectations.”
A popular motivational speaker, Freeman grew up in Jamaica. He’s the first African-American to climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountains in all seven continents. In 2014, he established the University of Connecticut School of Engineering “Freeman Companies BRIDGE Endowed Engineering Scholarship” to support minority students with an interest in civil engineering who have overcome socioeconomic or educational disadvantages.
Freeman joined the Outward Bound USA Board in 2016 and has been in close contact with the Capitol Region Interdistrict Leadership Academy (CRILA), a youth program in the Greater Hartford area that provides a diverse forum whereby students will practice ethical and collaborative leadership through research and community service. Student members of CRILA take an annual trip to Outward Bound in Colorado, and Rohan has given a number of outdoor-focused motivational presentations to the organization and its youth.
We were lucky to get Freeman’s perspective on all things Outward Bound.
OB: How did you first become involved with Outward Bound?
I have heard wonderful things about Outward Bound for many years. By chance of a business meeting, I was connected to another Board member, Catherine Smith, who recognized my interest in the outdoors and saw an opportunity to introduce me to Outward Bound.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve climbed the highest peak in every continent. I also trekked through the North Pole as part of the Explorers Grand Slam. It was cool and very cold! It’s cool to be cold! A very different challenge than climbing mountains.
OB: Have you learned any lessons in leadership through Outward Bound?
I’ve learned a tremendous amount. In June 2016 I attended an Outward Bound Board Invitational down the Green River. Along the Green River course, an idea was reinforced to me that presents itself during my cold-weather expeditions; how vital it is to take direction from the person leading – otherwise you can get lost or hurt – and how important it is for the person in charge of the journey to convey what they need you to do. It’s a practical part of outdoor adventuring that I feel can also be applied to running a company, as I do.
It was a tad less challenging than the North Pole, but a lot of fun.
Through both staff meetings and interactions with some kids who are in the local Hartford leadership program, I’ve learned that Outward Bound is all about breaking down personal and social barriers.
OB: What’s your most vivid memory with Outward Bound?
I went to the Outward Bound NYC Board Retreat back in February. We conducted an exercise in which all the board members were blindfolded and one person led them down the street and across the Brooklyn Bridge. I was selected to lead the blind-folded group and felt a huge sense of responsibility for the safety and success of the group. Everyone who was blindfolded was completely vulnerable and at my mercy. I love the concept of connecting with people through shared adversity. Shared experiences bring people together and build community—and we were doing that right in the middle of New York City. You don’t have to be out in the wilderness to get the Outward Bound experience; at the end of the day, it’s all about how these moments make you grow as an individual, and also as a team.
OB: What’s the biggest misconception about Outward Bound?
People think Outward Bound is just about hardcore wilderness climbers and hikers. When you think about being in the wilderness and off the grid, that’s disconnection. But that’s not what Outward Bound is about at all. Its true mission is to connect people and to get individuals to expand their boundaries.
OB: How has your involvement with Outward Bound affected your life?
I used to look to wilderness activities for solitude, but now I look to them more as a way to connect. Outward Bound has helped me see how important it is to teach kids of be leaders and to discover their strengths through challenging experiences and adversity. In our search for truth, the Outward Bound experience gets you tad bit closer to an answer.
OB: What has surprised you the most about Outward Bound?
You never know what goes on inside of an organization. Now I see the effort that’s being put in. I don’t know if it necessarily surprised me, but I give kudos to the board members, staff and volunteers for their hard work and their deep investment that they contribute to the success of Outward Bound. It’s a true team effort.
OB: Have you had the opportunity to work with any Outward Bound students? What was that experience like?
We have a regional group in Hartford that has several kids in a leadership program. They’re mostly from lower-middle class households, from both inner-cities and suburbia. They start by going on an Outward Bound expedition in Colorado. I was the speaker at one of their meetings and reminded them about the important opportunities they were about to have. I was pretty impressed with the bunch.
We look forward to continuing to work with Rohan to elevate expectations for what Outward Bound can do – in the board room, on courses, and in our schools. Keep up to date with us on our website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn channels to see more of Rohan’s involvement with Outward Bound.
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