For better and (only sometimes) worse, elite athletes are our role models. We admire their discipline and commitment; their strength and skill inspire us to reach higher in our own lives. When I talked to alpinist Hilaree O'Neill last month by cell phone from Everest Base Camp, I was blown away by her dedication to the mountains. Would I or could I spend 10 weeks hunkered down on the frozen flanks of the highest peak in the world? Probably not. But I can, would, and did spend 10 days finding my own edge in France, and whenever my conviction wavered, I thought of Hilaree. Badass.
But you don’t have to be pro to make a difference. Last week, outdoor gear giant The North Face launched a new Facebook app called Role Models, which encourages everyday adventurers to become outdoor mentors. The idea is simple: Make an online pledge to get outside this summer, and take someone with you.
Inspired in part by the company’s athlete mentorship program, in which pro athletes like alpinists Conrad Anker and O’Neill partner up with fellow athletes to guide them on adventures, Role Models is designed to create a new generation of explorers and conservationists. "If you've never had anyone show you how to tie a safe figure-eight knot for climbing, set up a tent, or even understand how much water you need for an overnight trip, getting outside for the first time can be daunting," says Ann Krcik, director of outdoor exploration for The North Face. “Think about who taught you an appreciation for the outdoors, then pay it forward." (Thanks Dad.)
Little feet, Lake Peak, 2011. Photo: Katie Arnold
TNF outdoor ambassador Juan Martinez knows a thing or two about stoking the adventure fires. He grew up in an at-risk neighborhood in south-central Los Angeles, where many days his goal was simply to survive, nevermind riding his bike on the trails. When he was a freshman, he joined his school’s eco club and won a scholarship to the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming. A decade later, he’s an impassioned outdoor youth leader and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who mentors his peers to make the world a better place through the simple act of getting outside.
Whether you have kids of your own or want to share your love of adventure with your best friend or niece or next door neighbor, taking The North Face’s online pledge is a no brainer. I just vowed to hike a peak with my daughter this summer. We’d probably do it anyway, but knowing I just committed to it publicly, online, gives a deeper purpose to our day trip. This Sunday we’ll head out early and high, aiming for 12,000-foot Lake Peak above Santa Fe. We may or may not make it. If we don’t, we’ll try again. There’s no limit to how many adventures you take or pledges you make. Anything outside—teaching your nephew to walk a slack line or row a skiff around an island or rip some singletrack—is fair game.
The North Face will donate $1 per pledge (up to $10,000) to the Children & Nature Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting Nature Deficit Disorder. Once you take the pledge, you can post photos of your adventures online, and—bonus!—you’ll be entered to win TNF gear.
"We teach our kids manners, to be kind to others—always leading by example. We have a responsibility to be Role Models for them in the outdoors as well, because if they don't learn a passion for exploration or an appreciation for the world's wild places from us, who will they learn it from?" says Kit DesLauriers, world-renowned skier and mother of two, who will travel to The North Face and REI stores across the country this summer and fall as part of the Role Models Clinic Tour, offering advice and inspiration on how to get outside as a family.