The training has begun!

Alzar School | 04.03.15

This week, I have been working to make the logistics happen so our students can have amazing experiences in some of Chile’s most spectacular places.  Lately, that has meant dealing with changing out car tires, getting engines repaired, and securing access to the river we are looking to explore.  There have been several long days, but it has been incredibly rewarding to see our students embark on weeks backpacking in Cochamó and paddling on the Rio Petrohue.  Even now, I am writing this post late into the night, connected to the power outlet of the bathroom at our campground.  I love my job because it is constantly challenging me, and when I am successful, our students have transformative experiences.

During my time here in Chile, I have begun training for a feat I will take on May 7th, 2015.  I hope that if I continue to challenge myself, with an eye towards future generations of Alzar School teens, others will join me.

Challenge is a constant theme here at the school.  The Alzar School asks our students to challenge themselves…  There are long days on the trail, backpacking through the Owyhee Canyonlands.  There are epic study sessions as they engage in rigorous courses that equip them with critical thinking skills to be thoughtful leaders.  And there are the meaningful culminating leadership projects students plan for implementation in their communities.  In their career as leaders, joining the Alzar School for a semester is just the launching point for a life long journey towards being community leaders who work to make the world around them a better place.

Back in 2004, when Kristin and I started the Alzar School, we anticipated the journey ahead would challenge us.  From running the entire school out of their living room, to the school’s newly purchased van breaking down on our first summer expedition, to starting our Semester 1 with no complete buildings… creating this one-of-a-kind school has been a feat of endurance, a demonstration of persistence in the face of many obstacles.  This year, we are launching an annual effort to support the school’s ability to make the Alzar School experience accessible for as many great teenagers as possible.  “Paddle for Leaders” will enable supporters of the school to get in on the challenge and adventure of developing the next generation of leaders.  We are committed to making this experience possible for years to come.

Paddle-for-Leaders-2015-AerialAnd, we’re pushing ourselves to make sure the Alzar School continues to offer its semester programs to students with leadership potential from all socioeconomic backgrounds.  In one day, (May 7th, 2015) I will paddle from Payette Lake, high in the river’s watershed, down the upper North Fork of the Payette River, across Cascade Reservoir, and back onto the river, passing the Alzar School’s campus, before finishing the journey in Smith’s Ferry.  In total, I will travel just over 60 miles, taking more than 24,000 strokes in over 19 hours of continuous paddling.  I will launch at midnight, paddle a variety of crafts, and will be joined for different legs of the trip by stakeholders in the school.  Please see for more information about the journey.

Additionally, alumni from around the country will also complete their own “Paddle for Leaders” challenges, raising funds to give the Alzar School experience to future teenagers.  Supporters will have the opportunity to empower the school through online donations, pledging support by stroke, mile, or lump sum, choosing to sponsor Sean’s journey in the Payette watershed, or an alumni’s “Paddle for Leaders” challenge on their waterway around the country.

This effort will finish the school’s annual goal of raising $100,000 to supply student scholarships.  We need your support to reach that goal.

You are probably asking yourself… why is paddling important?  What does paddling teach you about leadership?  For me, paddling changed my world.  I moved to Idaho when I was 18 on a whim (an uncle told me that raft guiding could be a fun summer job).  As I started as a paddle raft guide, I began by thinking of paddling as a team sport.  You didn’t make progress unless everyone was pitching in.  When I started kayaking, I learned a great deal of confidence from testing myself and learning my limits.  Paddling rafts and kayaks allowed me to travel and see the world in a unique way.   Now, I am lucky to be a part of a fun, responsible team that paddles some of the world’s best rivers.

Since arriving here in Chile in early February, I have been taking every opportunity to train for my 60-mile paddle on May 7th.  I’ve also been putting in runs to build my cardio endurance and researching the best crafts to use for the day.  Tonight, after spending all day dealing with cars and flat tires, I was able to squeeze in a quick 30-minute sprint on Lago Llanquihue, in the shadow of Volcan Osorno.  The sun was setting and an almost-full moon rising as I worked out my stress on this beautiful Andean Lake.  When I turned to head in, and saw my students completing their homework on the beach of this lake by headlamp, I was reminded of what a special school I get to work for.  I’m a little nervous about completing the 19.5 hours of paddling, but know that if I can, and if we can raise the targeted amount, it will be an effort well worth it.

Once we created the Paddle for Leaders program, we immediately began reaching out to supporters to see who would help us make this project a success.  I am so humbled and appreciative of the various sponsors who are either pledging money already, donating items for our raffle/auction, or otherwise providing logistical support.  My Paddle for Leaders 2015 event will be a great kickstarter to an annual program that ensures scholarships for deserving teenagers.

Already, we are seeing companies such as NRS, Snapdragon, Shore Lodge, Lakeview Chevron, ProBuild, May’s Hardware, Harlows, Gravity Sports, and more jump behind this effort.

There are a couple of KEY ways you can get involved:

  1. Go online and pledge your donation now.
  2. Consider joining the school as a major supporter on our select trip down the Main Salmon River.  See more here: Paddle for Leaders – Salmon River Trip Invitation.
  3. Join us on May 6th, when we will have a launch event at the Shore Lodge in McCall before I start my marathon paddling journey.
  4. Join us on May 7th, by completing the last leg of the journey (down the Cabarton Section of the NF Payette).  Your trip comes with a $100 or more donation.
  5. Follow my training and epic paddle on social media and spread the word by posting our custom hashtag — #ipaddle4 — and shouting out to an aspect of our school you support (e.g. “#ipaddle4 #communityservice” or “#ipaddle4 #rivers).

Thank you for supporting the Paddle for Leaders 2015 effort.