2016 Summer Wilderness Trip Story: Who is Mentoring Who?

Sam Gammage joined Explore Austin as a Mentor to help change the lives of underserved youth and specifically the lives of the 2021 Austin Achieve boys. Little did he know he would encounter moments along his Mentor journey where his Explorers would return the favor. In his own words, Sam recounts his Explore Austin Story below:
 
Yesterday we took the Explorers up the side of a mountain in the Wichita Moutain Range. Once we got almost to the top, it was time to climb the 200 foot multi-pitch. Juan, an Explorer, and I decided to pair up and take on the tougher route together as the first team up. Keenan, Explore Austin’s staff member, went up first as the lead and blew us both away with his precision and skill while setting the first anchor. We heard him let out a few huge deep breaths of relief as it was set, from 50 feet away!! Then he proceeded on to the next anchor, locked in, and called us up. Juan flew up the slab, pulled out the first cam and then proceeded on to the end of the first pitch. Next, it was my turn and I just had to beat Juan's pace. This was probably the best decision I made because I flew up that slab so fast that I never even thought to look down. Once I got to the anchor point, I turned around and it hit me. My stomach dropped right out, I lost my breath, and my heart skipped a few beats. After realizing that Keenan and Juan were both looking at me and giggling at my reaction, I gripped my feet in and tried to catch my breath. The next few minutes were where the real magic happened. Keenan proceeded up the slab to set the next anchor. While sitting there waiting, Juan just turned and looked at me. He was calm as could be and his heart rate was not a bit above resting. He then said, "Are you alright mister?" 
 
In that moment I realized he had just completely flipped the script on me and had become my "mentor" for the time being. Just being in his presence calmed me down enough. At 13 years old, this kid was hanging by a thin rope and a small carabiner 100 feet up on a cliff side that hung over about a 400-foot drop,and his only concern was if his Mentor was having a good time and not too scared. 
 
In that moment I was truly impressed and mind blown by his grace under pressure. 
 
We then proceeded to climb the rest of the slab and rappelled back down. He checked on me the whole way and even poked a little fun at me when he noticed my leg trembling uncontrollably at the top.
 
As someone who has spent the majority of my 32 years seeking out adrenaline rushes thrill seeking, I can honestly say that there is no way I could have made the rest of that climb without his encouragement and calming presence.  
 
I joined Explore Austin to try to help get kids outdoors that would otherwise not have the opportunity and hopefully make at least a small difference in their lives along the way. I am not sure he will ever know it, but in that instant Juan made an impact on me that will last a lifetime, and I will never forget it. He showed a kind of leadership, calmness, selflessness and confidence that most people spend their lives working towards but few achieve...all at the age of 13. 
 
-Sam Gammage, 2021 AAPS Boys Mentor