Leadership camp like an ‘amazing reality show’

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Clutha Leader reporter Jack Conroy had the opportunity to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) camp for 2020 in Queenstown last month. Here he shares his experience.

I wish everybody could have the opportunity to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards(RYLA) camp.

Winston Churchill once said: ‘‘Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.’’
To have come out of the 2020 RYLA camp alive, with only some bruises and a broken toe, feels much the same.
What a ride. It was like some strange, amazing reality show.

“Join us next as we take 28 strangers from across the South Island, split them into teams and have them face off in tests of their mental and physical strength to find out who really has what it takes to be a leader.”

Who would put themselves forward for such a task?

I have almost no experience in any leadership role.
I turned down the opportunity to attend a leadership camp during high school, probably because I was scared. I regretted that.

So when the Balclutha Rotary Club prompted me last year, repeatedly, to put my name forward for this experience, it felt like an opportunity to overwrite the past.

And to balance my many flaws I also had a high tolerance for embarrassment, so why not?

Russian powerlifters have a term for those moments when they push past a personal best, lifting more than they ever have before, and in the process reshaping their view of their own abilities and what is possible.

They call them “white moments”.

RYLA was full of these, for me and the others who took part.

Early morning exercise, public speaking, debating, team sports, obstacle courses, presentations, acting, all performed under ever­increasing sleep deprivation.

No expense was spared in making us feel uncomfortable and embarrassed.
And it was brilliant. I wanted it to last forever.

I watched people conquer their fear of heights, delivering presentations, and getting up early.

I derailed a debate with a well­timed one-liner, losing it for my brilliant teammates, scoring horribly, but winning the approval of the crowd.

I fell off an obstacle course and then broke my toe playing football. I had the best food I’ve had in a long time.

I met some of the strangest and best characters I’ve ever come across.

Divesh Singh, who occupied the bed beneath mine, refused to let me (or the neighbouring rooms) sleep without divulging my entire life story.

Jared Paterson, my other long-­suffering roommate, his dry sense of humour the perfect foil for Divesh.

Bryce Jeffery, who became the deranged, swearing younger brother from Mosgiel I never asked for.

My amazing, tireless, Yellow teammates.

The winning Blue team, who everyone loved to hate.

Our counsellors Eden Skipper and Simone Mackenzie, who refused to tell us what the next challenge would be, but made sure we got through mostly unharmed.

And Lee-Ann Lines, the saint who made it all happen.

Thank you.

It was stressed at the beginning of the camp the likelihood that we would make friends we would remain in contact with for life.

I had my doubts.

But I hope I was wrong.

It was a privilege.