How the outdoors and recreation saved my life

Columnist recalls nature and sports helping her through difficult times

By Fawn Logan-Young

Illustrations by Briana Corr Scott

That headline might be a little dramatic, but it’s true.The outdoors, in combination with recreation and sports, truly saved me time after time. 

Let’s go back to some of my first memories, when I was around five. I was living in downtown Toronto but had my own piece of paradise in my backyard. I called it Kid Zone. My father used the front half of the yard for his garden, while the back half was — to my young mind — like a jungle. Looking back now, it was just a jumble of blackberries and overgrown bushes. 

I would spend hours digging, finding interesting items like animal bones and old spoons in the dirt. I would try and mimic my father’s garden with dandelions and anything else lush I could get my muddy hands on. I would climb my favourite tree because it had perfect step-like branches. I collected pieces of wood from around the neighbourhood and installed it onto the branches so I could get higher and higher. I would spend hours up there eating blackberries. My mother would get mad at me because she would find trailing berry shoe prints from the back door straight to the culprit: me. 

When I got a bit older, our family dynamic changed. My parents divorced and my father experienced addiction. This led to my mom, brother and I moving to her home province of Nova Scotia when I was 11. 

Before the move, during the family conflict that was happening around me, I spent all my time in Kid Zone. When everything was unfolding inside the house, I was outside. I was creating a new world. I turned Kid Zone into my imaginative “dream home.” 

In warm weather, I had a sink made from a plastic-wrapped hole in the ground. I would have the house special, blackberries, for a snack and do my homework. In the winter, I had a similar set-up, but with snow and wearing a lot more layers. If it wasn’t for being able to escape the madness by going to Kid Zone, I don’t know who I’d have become. 

Fast forward to junior high and high school in rural Nova Scotia.

I tried almost every recreational activity I possibly could. I played flute in the band. I joined planning committees. I tried table tennis, track and field, soccer and volleyball. Basketball appealed to me the most. 

It was during my basketball years that my community came into play. It truly does take a village to raise a child. The amount of financial and attentive support I received from coaches and parents blows my mind when I reflect on it as an adult. I don’t know if I would have graduated high school if it wasn’t for basketball. It motivated me to get out of bed and to keep my grades up so I could keep playing. 

In high school, we had tournaments almost every weekend. This meant hotels, dinners and travel. During this time, I was working two jobs and my mother could only pitch in so much. Anything basketball-related, like shoes and fees, I was paying on my own. Even then, I could not afford the weekend tournaments.

Although I’ve never confirmed it, I’m pretty sure my basketball coach used to pay for my hotel fees out of his own pocket. I remember him sliding me a $20 once, right before we sat down to have a team dinner at a nicer restaurant, versus our usual fast-food runs. I cannot explain the relief I felt, knowing full well I had $15 in my account to get me through the weekend. 

In high school I had a runaway spot, which offered me the same solace as Kid Zone. It was the Gibraltar Rock Loop, a beautiful 3-km hiking loop, with a 1-km steep incline near Meaghers Grant. I would sit at the top peak and read, write, take photos and sometimes, just cry. Not only was this my spot as a youth, but I still go there today. 

I’ve hiked this loop hundreds of times. One fall, after moving home from Montreal, and recovering from a breakup, I vowed I would run or hike the loop every day to get over my blues. I did, and it helped.

This trail is the place I go to ground myself. It’s where I reflect on who I was and who I have become. Considering the instability in my early life, this is the place I truly call home. 

Recreation and taking time outside will always remain on my agenda. There is always time to smell the flowers or slip in a 10-minute run (or whatever gets your blood flowing). Although I appreciate the benefit to my physical health, it’s the mental health benefits that have kept me going.  

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