In my six years as an international student, I learned three main things. The first was how to set an alarm on my phone. The other two were how to take care of my body and mind.
I came out of high school pretty active. I was a member of the school’s soccer team, competed in the occasional swimming meets, and was active in track and field. Although I wasn’t as fit as I was in my earlier teenage years, I was still proud of maintaining my fitness levels while exerting hours into studying.
After moving to the US, my lifestyle changed to the worse. My diet went downhill, my active lifestyle quickly disappeared, and my sleep schedule never recovered. I gained weight and was constantly tired. This also negatively impacted my mental health.
A few years ago I decided enough was enough. I started hitting the gym with the intent of being consistent. The only problem is, I never really enjoyed lifting weights. It gets mundane really quick. To make matters worse, I jumped right in- full throttle- expecting my body to adapt to this new routine. Exasperated by my sore muscles, I stopped going. Besides the occasional soccer game, I had completely given up on any type of sport. That is, until one day, my friend and I decided to try rock climbing at the university wellness center.
I rainbowed a 35-foot wall. My joy from success was quickly overcome by the realization that my knees had been shaking the entire way up. I went home that night exhausted by the 20-minute climbing session I just went through and pretty amused at how much a person’s forearms can hurt. I went back the next day. Outside my injury seasons, I usually climb four to five times a week.
I fell in love with the sport, and more importantly, I fell in love with the people as well. Never in my life had I met a group of adventure-loving people. Regardless of the weather, they would organize their own trips and head out.
Their attitude toward the outdoors inspired me to pursue a similar lifestyle. I learned that our wellness center has an Outdoor Adventure Program. I started participating in the trips and slowly learned the ways of the outdoors. I learned the difference between canoeing and kayaking, how to pitch a tent and start a fire, how to live out of a backpack and that going ten days without a shower is perfectly fine as long as the people you are with are in the same boat (yes, they take pride in being called a dirtbag).
One of the pros of this lifestyle is that it also motivated me to work out again The fact that there are specific muscles and movements I want to improve has helped me gain a sense of purpose when weight lifting. Instead of losing interest in working out, I was more motivated to do just that.
Here are my main tips for getting involved in the outdoors:
Find the right people:
If it weren’t for the people I met, I would have never embarked on this amazing adventure. Find people who are knowledgeable about the outdoors, but more importantly, make sure they are passionate about it. Passion spreads amongst a group. It is the best and probably only motivator you need.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle:
This one is a two-way tip. By challenging yourself to adopt a healthy lifestyle, you not only motivate yourself to be active, but you also make changes that make being active easier. By understanding the amount of energy needed to go on a hiking trip, for example, you start planning your diet a few days before your trip. Soon, these changes turn into a lifestyle.
One of my biggest mistakes, also the reason why I ended up injured half the time, was assuming I can take on the world and win. You look mountaineers and how they can spend a whole week climbing a mountain in the middle of winter and want to be like them. You start doing what they did to get there; until you realize that your body just won’t let you. Some of my friends have been climbing since they were five years old; their bodies are built for climbing. My four years of rock climbing is nothing compared to them. When I pushed myself too hard too quickly, I paid the price. Slow and steady wins the race.
Just remember, the most important thing is finding something you love doing with people you enjoy hanging out with — best of luck.
Karim Abdelazim is currently a graduate student at South Dakota State University.