Kay Mayne
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Kay Mayne - Rhowniar, Wales, 1975

I attended Outward Bound at Rhowniar in, I think, 1975. I still have my course report but our belongings are in store as my husband and I are overseas so I can't check on the date.

I was 17 when I completed the old 28 day classic course at Rhowniar in North Wales. I came from the London suburbs and attended a very large comprehensive school. I was the games captain and was lucky enough to be selected by the PE teacher for a local authority sponsored place on the course. My parents would never have been able to afford it but in any event I did not know about it. I had not participated in any outdoor pursuits activities only the usual school sports.

Most of the other girls on the course were police cadets. I remember the dorm, the bells, the full days, the kitchen, the food, the clothes I was given, especially the orange canvas jacket. I remember the rain, the mountains, especially Cader Idris, the climbing and the kayaking in particular. I remember hearing John Denver songs for the very first time; providing themes for morning meetings. I remember my instructor, Vera, she was amazing. Most of all I remember meeting, probably for the first time really, myself.

I had never been to Wales before, I had never climbed a mountain before, I had never camped before, I had never been in a kayak before, I had never shared a dorm before. I had never been tested before, not really. I left OB older by a month, wiser by many years, grateful beyond measure for the opportunity of the experience and unquestionably changed forever. It may be a hackneyed phrase but that doesn't mean it can't be true, I really had discovered that my boundaries both physical and mental were beyond where I had thought they were. I was not good at climbing and I was scared of the kayaking. I remember clinging to the rock face crying pathetically that I was stuck while Vera patiently waited at the top, but I made it to the top, I did it. Having had a bad experience in a swimming pool once I was terrified of being upside down in the kayak with the spray deck on, but I did it. I had an amazing month, I was tested and found wanting, but I learned so much about myself and my world, more than I have learned in any single month since.

The experience has never left me. I joined the RAF at 19 as a "normal"� job was no longer what I wanted. I completed nearly 20 years service, the last 16 years being a full service commission having been promoted from the ranks. Then at the age of 38 I decided I wanted to go to university. I had only one A level but undaunted and feeling the OB spirit, I decided to apply to Oxford. I wanted to study law and wanted to prove that I could study at the highest, most challenging level. I applied to the mature student college and was accepted after tests and interview. I completed my degree in 1998. I have never practised law professionally, but I aimed high and I achieved something that no one can take away from me. My graduation was one of the proudest days of my life.

Three years ago my husband (Les) and I decided to make a change in our lives. We put our "stuff"� into store and went to Tanzania to work as volunteers in a project that trains and employs disabled people to make crafts. In the end we stayed for over two years. At the end of our time there we decided not to return to UK. We wanted to go to New Zealand so I started to research volunteer opportunities. I found the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre.

The Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (thankfully shortened to OPC) is located near Mount Tongariro in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand. It is similar to OB but also very different. It's core clientele is school children usually in the age range 14-17 and they come in school groups and have a 5 day experience. Les and I volunteered at OPC for 6 months from Nov 08 to May 09. Five months at the mountain centre at Tongariro and one month at the marine centre on Great Barrier Island. We did a variety of behind the scenes tasks but principally les did some driving and I ran the gear store. We had a wonderful time and I really felt that at last I was able to "give something back"� to an organisation similar to OB.

It was a difficult time for OPC. In April 08 there had been a terrible tragedy when 6 young participants, all aged 16 and their teacher, had died in an accident in a gorge. Many of the instructors were still feeling very raw. Some were wondering why they were doing the job with such responsibility. One day the whole staff had a team building day. We were offered the chance to speak. I told the instructors that they should never underestimate the value of what they do. That their students might not say much at the end of their course but that the experience will stay with them forever. I told them that I had done OB 35 years ago and that it was the sole reason I was volunteering at OPC. That I could remember my instructors name, but not most of my school teachers with whom I had been for 7 years, and that the experience had been truly life changing for me.

Les and I are now back in Tanzania. But next year we will go back to NZ to volunteer again. We may even go back to OPC (OB does not seem to take volunteers). Although I am now 52 years old I still have much left to give, both in terms of time and energy. I am still Serving, more so now than ever and plan to continue doing so. I am still Striving to be the best that I can be, although often still falling short. I am trying not to Yield to the temptation to take the easier route, so often available but ultimately not so rewarding or fulfilling. The Outward Bound experience burns on deep inside.