By Drew Hulsey
Growing up in Alabama, it was nearly impossible to not be exposed to the outdoors. Spending time fishing and trips to the river were just a part of normal life, which made it seem so common that I never saw myself as someone who enjoyed nature. It wasn’t until I was 23 and working at a summer camp that I felt a connection to the outdoors. I never went to summer camp growing up. It probably had something to do with how anxious I was as a child. And maybe it just didn't seem like a fit for a little round kid at the time. Deep down, I always wanted to be a camp counselor though. It seemed like the dream job. I could get away for the summer and go live in a cabin setting. I could be outside more than I normally would be and sort of force nature upon myself. Get out of my comfort zone. Which is what happened in the summer of 2013 - I became a camp counselor!!
I found myself entranced with the outdoor world. We earned a laughable stipend for our time. I promptly spent my first paycheck on two items - one half on a hammock and the second half on some Chacos. The $140 was well spent. I was in it. I never felt alone as a bigger guy at camp. There were some other bigger counselors so I never felt out of place. Everyone loved one another and everyone was accepted. Summer camp vibes are definitely a thing.
“I never felt alone as a bigger guy at camp. There were some other bigger counselors so I never felt out of place. Everyone loved one another and everyone was accepted. Summer camp vibes are definitely a thing.”
After camp that summer, college took priority and I lost focus on the outdoors. Camp friends lost touch and I focused on becoming a social worker. I didn't continue going outdoors like I hoped I would. Five years into my social work career, I felt the need to find some healthy self-care outlets. Burnout was finding its way into my life and I needed something to do to continue on in my career. I believe the universe works in weird ways sometimes and throws you what you need in those moments. I took my wife to see the movie “Free Solo” for a date night. We had been toying around with the idea of spending more time in nature and the movie was getting some Oscar buzz. I wanted to spend the time to see the film on the big screen like it was intended. I was amazed at the beauty of Yosemite as much as I was by the story of a climber living in his van in the pursuit of rocks. To say the least, I was inspired. I had missed the outdoors. The beauty and joy that it brings. I missed the camp counselor version of Drew that smelled like bug spray and loved the peace that the trees brought. After seeing “Free Solo” I got home and immediately started googling “Can fat people climb?” Historically, I had never really let my size get in the way of at least trying things. That's something I can say about myself - if there is a chance I’m going to take it. When my friends were skating, I was, too. When they took their shirts off in the pool, I followed suit. I just saw myself as another person but I was bigger. It wasn't as much confidence or body acceptance as it was that I was just going to be me.
“After seeing “Free Solo” I got home and immediately started googling “Can fat people climb?” Historically, I had never really let my size get in the way of at least trying things. That's something I can say about myself - if there is a chance I’m going to take it.”
Climbing seemed so interesting to me. Something I hadn't thought that I could do. The only people I saw in climbing media were skinny dudes dangling from their fingertips. It seemed sort of too extreme as well for bigger bodied folks. What if bigger guys like me could climb, be extreme and be all the above? So I started googling and found no answers. Feeling unsatisfied, I went and found answers myself. My wife and I went on a Valentine's date to see if we could climb about two weeks later. We learned in fact that we could climb. Yay! It was exciting! A new thing I enjoyed! A new form of self care! I was hooked. I found myself really going after it, hitting the gym two to three times a week. The idea was to get comfortable in the gym and then go outside. Six months later I found myself climbing outside. I eventually worked my way up to now.
“Climbing was just the gateway to get myself outside and also become who I am today. It was also the foundation for me to get out of my comfort zone.”
After 3 years of work and lots of therapy, I find myself outside now more than ever. And I feel more confident than ever. I even have a van now. Things escalate quickly when you fall in love with something. Climbing was just the gateway to get myself outside and also become who I am today. It was also the foundation for me to get out of my comfort zone. Now, having climbed several hundred feet of rock, I can say that is what happened. What I love the most about the outdoors is that it doesn't care what you look like. What size you were or what size you are. It doesn’t judge. It has nothing to say about what you are wearing. It has nothing to say about what you ate for lunch. The rocks don't care. The outdoors just exists. We get to exist in it. We get to enjoy it as well…in whatever version of you that you currently are. Camp counselor Drew enjoyed nature almost 10 years ago. Climber Drew is just now getting started.