The SHIFT conference was an exciting part of the start of my fellowship. This conference was based in Fort Collins, Colorado in mid-October, focusing on the positive preventative effects of equitable access to nature. As a recent public health graduate working in the Office of Outdoor Recreation, I was thrilled to participate in an event where scholars, researchers and members of the wellness and recreation space come together to discuss developments in health. The entire week-long conference was very insightful, but there are a couple of moments that stood out to me that I want to share.
My introduction to the conference started off with an ‘experience’, where participants explored the Fort Collins region and connected with nature in various ways. My experience was centered around forest bathing, which is the practice of soaking in the forest through all of one’s senses. This can be as simple as a mindful walk through nature, where you immerse yourself in the sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch of the environment. Since Fort Collins was in peak fall season, it was easy to immerse myself in the yellow, red and orange hues of the leaves that surrounded me. The experience was guided with prompts where we thought of childhood experiences in nature and shared gifts that were offered back to the land to show gratitude. This was a lovely opportunity to connect with myself and my environment.
Another event that truly stayed with me was a panel that brought together emerging leaders in the beginning of their professional careers and seasoned professionals with inspirational life experiences. At the beginning of the session, panel members were asked to share how their personal experiences brought them to the outdoor recreation space in their careers. These stories were incredibly moving, with the first person to share being a young professional that described their hunting experience as a chance to connect with their body after having a difficult relationship with oneself. Their relationship with hunting reshaped my perspective on this form of outdoor recreation and gave me a deeper understanding of the almost meditative state one must reach to hunt. Another panel member, an indigenous woman who had a long, incredible career, shared how her childhood trauma empowered her to build homes for indigenous communities, despite significant barriers. Ultimately, these stories have encouraged me to invite vulnerability into my own life. How will I use my past experiences to make a change in the world? I admire the strength and courage of those that shared, and I strive to find that in myself. Those that have the ability to turn their obstacles into their driving force are powerful people.
The conference also allowed me to connect with my boss. After a couple months of working with her virtually, SHIFT was a great chance for me to meet my boss in person and understand how her public health education plays into outdoor recreation and community planning. I learned about her involvement in the trails health calculator, which is a tool being developed that would estimate the potential public health financial benefits that arise from building a trail. If a trail is created, how are health outcomes improved in a community? How much money is being saved that would have been spent on healthcare? How does the creation of a trail impact chronic disease rates? In a community of practice, we dissected the many variables to consider when creating this tool, like the impact of one trail vs. a system of trails, using trails to create safer routes to school, and determining who would use the trails.
All in all, the SHIFT conference was an amazing experience, where I got to meet so many dedicated professionals in the health and outdoor recreation space. Not only did I learn about exciting new programs and research, I also got the chance to learn more about myself. I hope to take the stories shared and the lessons learned and use it to guide my career path, from this fellowship onwards.