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Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions

Interview with Jake Quigley and Kyle Martin

02.13.19

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Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions

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  • A meet up photo capture after a cross country skiing meet up. Photo provided courtesy of Outdoor Mindset.- Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions
  • A fishing meet up. Photo provided courtesy of Outdoor Mindset.- Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions
  • Photo provided courtesy of Outdoor Mindset.- Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions
  • Slack lining at an Outdoor Mindset meet up. Photo provided courtesy of Outdoor Mindset.- Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions
  • Yoga meet up. Photo provided courtesy of Outdoor Mindset.- Outdoor Mindset: A Community for People with Neurological Conditions
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When I received Jake Quigley's email introducing Outdoor Mindset to us at Outdoor Project, I was thrilled to find out such an organization exists. Outdoor Mindset is an outdoor recreation community specifically for people experiencing neurological conditions such as brain tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and traumatic brain injuries. I have family members and friends who love the outdoors and live with these conditions, so it was exciting to learn that there is an organization they could get involved in to find a community of people facing similar challenges.

Outdoor Mindset was founded in 2011 by Kyle Martin, and Jake became the organization's Executive Director a few years later. I had a chance to interview Jake and Kyle, an edited version of which follows.

Jared: Kyle, can you share your personal experience on why you started Outdoor Mindset?

Kyle: In 2010, I was enjoying everything Colorado had to offer. Mountain biking, snowboarding, fly fishing, hiking, adventure races, and more were a huge part of my life, just as they continue to be. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor after a series of symptoms and subsequent medical tests. The impact of that diagnosis, and the concern around my future quality of life was immense. Quality of life was so intertwined with my outdoor passions. I really leaned into two things that I knew would bring optimism, comfort and a positive impact to this challenging diagnosis: community and the outdoors.  While I was experiencing the benefits of these areas in my life, it became very apparent how many people are diagnosed with a neurological challenge every day. This was such a sobering realization. I reached out to some of my closest friends that shared similar experiences. What surprised us was that an outdoors-focused support network didn't already exist, which was confirmed by our doctors. We created Outdoor Mindset as a way to ensure a sense of community and the outdoors are available to anyone that may be diagnosed now or in the future, and our doctors concurred that many patients who wouldn't be inclined to take advantage of traditional support group models would likely gravitate to Outdoor Mindset.

Jared: Jake, how did you get connected to Kyle and involved in Outdoor Mindset?

Jake: Kyle and I were friends and colleagues who met in Breckenridge. We both shared a passion for skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. When Kyle was diagnosed with a brain tumor he found that there were few support resources that resonated with him and his intention to maintain an outdoor lifestyle, despite his diagnosis. Kyle reached out to me given my background with non profit management. It was at that time that I too was dealing with complications with my epilepsy that were nearing surgery as a last option. It wasn’t until then that we realized our common experience with facing neurological challenges and that we even saw the same doctors.

Jared: What are some of the activities you do in your meet ups, and where do they happen?

Jake: Our meet ups are led by Meet Up Ambassadors. We encourage them to diversify their offerings. Members come with various outdoor skills and levels of ability, and we want to create a space for everyone. The most common activities are hiking, outdoor events including music festivals and seasonal celebrations, canoeing, kayaking, outdoor yoga, cabin trips, nordic skiing, and rock climbing, both indoor and outdoor. What’s most powerful is that some activities are a stretch for some, but the support from the rest of the group helps them step out of their comfort zone. Nobody feels they are ‘slowing folks down’ from what we’ve seen.

Kyle: We started in Colorado hosting meet-ups in Denver, Summit County and Ouray/Montrose. New chapters have sprouted up organically in Vermont, New Hampshire, Findlay, Ohio and San Diego, California.

Jared: Are you hoping to expand to more locations?

Jake: Yes, and sharing our story through platforms like Outdoor Project are a major way to get this to happen. Our goal is that our outreach strategy will help us to identify new regional member clusters to meet new ambassadors and host meet ups in more cities across the United States. Anyone interested in joining us, seeking a meet up or hoping to get involved as an ambassador should reach out to us on our website or at [email protected]. We currently have seven volunteer ambassadors who connect with regional members, set up the meet ups, and manage the regional stipend accounts to support their activities.

Jared: You have mentioned that having fun together is a big part of building camaraderie for Outdoor Mindset's members. Tell us more about how why creating joy and humor is so important to your meet ups.

Kyle: A typical response to learning you have a neurological diagnosis is how it will impose "limits" on your lifestyle. Many traditional support models focus on this and provide resources to "cope" with a person's new reality. We appreciate the importance of this approach and its benefit to patients. But with that in mind, Outdoor Mindset has set out to change a person's perception from knowing their limitations to seeing new opportunities. Our meet ups provide a fun environment for our members to experience adventurous activities in a supportive environment with people who have common experience in facing neurological challenges, or support someone who does. And the research continues to show the physiological and neurological benefits of exercise for people experiencing degenerative diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s.

Jared: Tell us more in layman terms about the research into the benefits of outdoor recreation for people with neurological challenges?

Jake: Outdoor exercise demands a lot from your cognitive brain functions. As many neurological disorders attack the brain in many ways, cognitive ability is often impacted. Being active and mobile helps maintain strong cognitive function. We simply take it outside, rather than in a physical therapy or occupational therapy office. There are also neuropsychological components such as neuroplasticity. Research also shows that the more people can share their experience with others who can relate relieves stress, frustration, and depressive thoughts. And again, by being outdoors and keeping the environment fun, members feel a sense of accomplishment.

Jared: Can people without neurological challenges also participate in Outdoor Mindset's meet ups?

Jake: Yes. The organization serves both diagnosed folks, as well as those who support them. Often times, it is just as challenging to those who are close to people with a neurological diagnosis. We quickly realized the value that Outdoor Mindset provides to those people as well.

Jared: It's so clear in talking Outdoor Mindset why someone with a neurological condition who loves the outdoors would want to get connected with you. Who else are you looking to connect with, or said slightly differently, how can all of our readers become part of the Outdoor Mindset story?

Jake: Almost everyone knows someone who has dealt with a neurological diagnosis. Simply reaching a broader audience helps expose the opportunity to get involved and get people passing word on to those they know. We also need to reach more neurology physicians, occupational therapists, and physical therapists, so they are aware of our group and can recommend their patients reach out to us. While Outdoor Mindset does not meet every patient's needs, physicians and practitioners know which of their patients would best benefit from Outdoor Mindset’s mission and programs. Working with the medical community will allow us to find new ambassadors and build meets ups in more areas around the U.S. And, like all non profit organizations, donations and outdoor brand sponsorships are always appreciated.

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