Give it a go
Teen Spirit – Give It A Go
School House, Autumn/Winter 2015 p50
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Louisa Carter, a sixth-former from Dauntsey’s in Wiltshire, describes how overcoming her fears to face physical challenges taught her to understand what can be achieved with a bit of hard work and tenacity.
One of my earliest memories is being on a boat with my grandfather. He was a keen sailor and insisted on taking us out whenever the opportunity arose. Although I loved these trips, every time the waves got a little too big or the outboard motor failed to start when the wind died, I would silently promise myself never to stray too far from land. I was always very relieved when I was finally back on terra firma.
I am now in my last year of school and quite a bit has changed since then. In 2014 my parents announced that my father’s new job would relocate us from rural Wiltshire to Pennsylvania, USA. I was a day pupil at Dauntsey’s School with two of my sisters and another sister already at university. We were given the choice of moving with them to the USA or boarding in the UK.
This was a potentially life-changing decision for me but - no doubt much to my mother’s disappointment - it wasn’t a tough one. Leaving Dauntsey’s would mean no more sailing on the school’s tall ship, the Jolie Brise, and that was unthinkable.
Let me rewind a few years. I started school as a bit of a tomboy, not overly confident, pretty cautious and not from an especially sporty family. I enjoyed the outdoors but was not the bravest of sorts and certainly loved home life. However, as I progressed through school, I discovered I was quite good at team sports and began to realise that I was pretty competitive. I worked hard at hockey and ended up in the first team. I think this was the moment when I understood I could influence what happened to me if I really put my mind to it.
For a school located in a landlocked county, it is something of an anomaly that Dauntsey’s has its own tall ship but pupils have been sailing this 56' gaff-rigged pilot cutter since 1977 and everyone is encouraged to have a go. I was very nervous on my first Jolie Brise outing and memories of those sailing trips with my grandfather came flooding back as I watched dry land fade into the distance. I soon realised that sailing a tall ship is all about teamwork and having confidence in yourself and in each other. Having completed my first excursion, I had caught the sailing bug and couldn’t wait to get out again.
It was on one of those sailing trips that someone suggested I had a go at the Devizes to Westminster canoe race – otherwise known ominously as “The Canoeists’ Everest”. My first reaction was that it wasn’t for me – too risky, too hard, too grubby, too daunting altogether. But, thinking it over, I realised that I had overcome my reservations about sailing and discovered something I loved. Perhaps taking on this paddling challenge might turn out to be a great experience.
Fast forward a few months and I found myself with my team mate in a two-man canoe, freezing cold, cursing the teacher who was training us for the race and bitterly regretting my decision to sign up for this challenge. On day three of the actual race, when thunder and lightning circled around us and we were struggling to keep afloat on a choppy river, I did hit something of a wall. But all the discomfort and regrets fell away when we headed down the Thames, passing all the familiar central London landmarks. As we paddled hard, I realised that the more you work for something, the better the feeling when you finally achieve your goal. I am now so grateful for the opportunity to have taken part. Success is not always about having fun.
It’s true to say that the confidence I have gained from sailing and doing the canoe race has helped me mentally with preparation for my exams too. With the right planning, attitude and a sprinkling of confidence, I now know that I can achieve a lot.
The experiences I have had outside the classroom - on the Jolie Brise and elsewhere – have made me the person I am today. On leaving Dauntsey’s I want to pursue a career in adventure education or water sports. I would like to be able to follow my dreams through my work like Emily Penn, an inspirational yachtswoman and the youngest and only female recipient of Yachtmaster of the Year. She has managed to follow her dreams through her work. I would love to be able to do that too.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit to wondering sometimes what life would have been like if I had opted to move to the sunnier climes of the USA. Different places, different people no doubt but I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities as I have had staying here. And I hope my grandfather is very proud of me.