LFHS grad builds leadership skills atop mountains, at sea

Lake Bluff’s Kaitlyn Sapp heads to Boston University to start her freshman year with 16 college credits on her transcript earned through a semester-long wilderness expedition this spring.

The 18-year-old graduated in January from Lake Forest High School and spent the rest of the school year learning leadership skills she said will serve her well in the next four years.

Sapp honed her new skills backpacking in New Mexico, rock climbing in California, sea-kayaking in the Pacific northwest and sailing in British Columbia through the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Semester on the Borders course from March 3 to May 28.

Amidst packing up for her move to Boston, Sapp took time to speak with The Lake Forester about her outdoor wilderness experience. The following is an edited version of that interview:

Q: How did you find out about the National Outdoor Leadership School?

A: We have family friends who did NOLS in the 1980s and they were very complimentary about it. I knew I wanted to graduate high school early and learn to be self sufficient. I was looking at different semester options and the Outdoor Education PE program I was in in high school sings its praises. I love being outdoors, so it was a natural fit.

Q: Which segment of your trip was most challenging — backpacking, rock climbing, sea-kayaking or sailing?

A: Surprisingly, the one I had the most experience in: sea-kayaking. I grew up kayaking on lakes and rivers, but I’d never been in the ocean. On one day, when I was in charge of making sure we got to our next campsite, we were paddling in 12-knot winds. There were white caps and probably three- to four-foot swells. It was kind of scary and nerve-racking. I was in the bow with other leader of the day. I kept turning around to look back to make sure everyone was okay while paddling. I’m very motherly and was trying to make sure all the ducklings were in line, but it was like trying to paddle a snake. The goal that day was 10 miles, but we only ended up going four and it took us about three-and-a-half hours. I learned a great deal about myself on that trip — self-motivation, patience and to be more accepting of situations.

Q: Which segment offered the most personal growth?

A: I had the most growth in rock climbing, which was also the most awe-inspiring section. I had a past experience of being dropped 10 feet from an auto belay system. I was fine, but I had preconceived nerves even before going into the rock climbing section. It was a trust issue. My group helped me get over that. I got comfortable and was not afraid to go over the crux — the most difficult part — of the climb and I began trusting people to carry me and to catch me. That was very rewarding to me.

Q: How has this experience changed you?

A: This trip really taught me to be more self-sufficient and appreciate the simple things in life and stand up for what I believe in. I wasn’t exactly shy, but I was a lot more reserved before this trip. I wouldn’t firmly put my foot down. Now I’ve become much more mature in my conflict resolution and interpersonal skills. It was a confidence-builder.

Q: How will you use this experience as you begin college?

A: It really taught me to rely on myself to handle situations and be more independent and less reliant on my parents, make more mature decision that affect other people and to be a leader in situations and a follower when I need to be. It’s given me a new skill set.

For more information about the National Outdoor Leadership School, go to www.nols.edu.

By The Numbers Days kayaking: 19 Days backpacking: 21 Days sailing: 21 Miles hiked: 96 Miles kayaked: 110 Miles sailed: 393 Photos taken: 3,000

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