Category: Leadership

4In addition to the amazing seasonal staff members I work with every year at Adventure Links, I also have the pleasure to work with an incredibly talented team of year-round administrative staff that often go overlooked as they work behind the scenes. Each of them is far too modest to boast about all of their accomplishments in our brief biographies or on our Facebook page, so let me take a moment to tell you just how awesome they all are.

Ashley Suntheimer is our Group Program Manager, and works with school, community, and corporate  groups to arrange their programs. For three years Ashley was an outstanding Instructor with Adventure Links, and it has truly been fascinating to see her grow from a recent college graduate to a seasoned professional. No one brings more enthusiasm and optimism to work every day than Ashley.

Adam Trautenberg was also an outstanding Instructor with Adventure Links before becoming our Marketing Director. In just a few short years, Adam has changed the entire look of Adventure Links. The website, our vehicles, all of our brochures and pamphlets look better than ever. On top of that, Adam still finds time to lead Sailing activities for our campers!

Kyle Halstead is our Program Coordinator and was also a fantastic Instructor for Adventure Links in 2012. When Kyle finished his first Instructor training and took our Instructor Skills Test, it was so flawless I used it as the answer key for all the other tests. By the end of 2012 we knew that we wanted Kyle to be a part of our year-round team because of his natural leadership, love of working with participants, and superior technical knowledge. After just one year as Program Coordinator Kyle has had an enormous impact on Adventure Links.

Danny Stevens is our Facilities and Fleet Director, and all around handy-man. When I met Danny I knew he was a jack of all trades, but I never really knew just how skilled he was until he and Kyle constructed our new paddling shed over the winter. In a matter of days, this new shed just appeared where before there was nothing. Some people will talk about a project for weeks or months, but Danny just gets the job done. Danny is a big reason why our site at Hemlock Overlook is looking better than ever.

Rachel Doody is one of the most dedicated outdoor education professionals I have ever met in my 12 years in the field, and I am so proud to be her Co-Director. After 18 years of running programs at Hemlock Overlook and over 5 years with Adventure Links, Rachel is still innovating, learning, and growing. I don’t have to ask what keeps her motivated after all this time, it is clear that her unwavering mission is to share her love for the natural environment with as many people as she possibly can.

Our owners, Anna and Austin Birch, provide the best possible situation for our team to succeed. I have always appreciated the way they provide mentoring and guidance to our team, but also allow for freedom and autonomy to make decisions and move the company forward. This entrepreneurial spirit empowers our leadership team to be creative, take chances, and make Adventure Links the best it can be.


mark-headshot-Mark Diedering | Summer Camp Director

Back in 2004 I was lucky enough to be in a position to be invited to attend a three day training workshop with my co-workers lead by Tom Leahy, president of Leahy & Associates out of Boulder, Colorado. The workshop was titled the Innovative Team and focused on facilitation of team building and teaching tools for group problem solving. I gleaned a lot of new information and techniques from Tom, I was impressed by his facilitation style as one that would allow for the group to take charge of how we were going about completing the task but he also knew when to step in and re direct us. He also taught us some tools that helped to move the process forward while still allowing everyone to have their say in decisions and be heard when needed.

At the time of the training, I was still young and had recently been promoted into a leadership position focused on staff management. I had been working on developing my own leadership style and especially how to manage employees who were older than me; many of which were also in this training. It was a struggle to work with them sometimes, either because of the age difference or maybe it was just a difference in personality types, whatever it was my frustration level was pushed to a breaking point during the workshop. We got trapped in “Analysis Paralysis” over and over again; talking, questioning, re-questioning, and afraid to try anything, then questioning our fears and why we couldn’t move forward. Ugh!

I found myself holding back in the beginning because I felt unsure of my role in the group which was a combination of administration and corporate facilitators and I was one of the youngest in the room. I guess I must have been muttering to myself about how I thought we should solve the problem and Tom overheard, because at the end of the second day he encouraged me to speak up more. So on the last day of our training I stood up and made my voice heard and it went great. I feel like in some ways that day was a turning point for my relationship with many of the corporate facilitators. With Tom’s help I was able to show them why I had earned my new position in the company and I felt a new level of respect from them from then on. At the end of the workshop Tom pulled me aside to congratulate me on stepping up and told me to keep it up because this team needed a good leader. That meant so much coming from him and has stayed with me all these years since.

ACCT conference in beautiful Palm Springs, CA.
ACCT conference in beautiful Palm Springs, CA.

At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to travel to sunny California for the 25th annual International Association of Challenge Course Technology conference. So many crazy outdoor educators all in one place! The conference is jam packed with workshops about every aspect of our profession from facilitation to operations and management of challenge courses and zip line tours. I was so happy to see that Tom Leahy was leading multiple workshops over the next couple of days because of the experience that I had with him ten years ago, but with all the workshops to choose from I questioned if his would be the most beneficial for me since I had already been though one of his trainings. Luckily as I was debating which workshops to attend I ran into Tom and asked him what he would suggest. His answer was simple, after ten years there is a lot that he has continued to learn and improve about his facilitation and trainings. And he was right; the two workshops of his that I attended were both very informative and inspirational. It reminded me of the importance of not becoming complacent with how I have always done things, but to constantly seek out new perspectives. Also I have been very appreciative of the reflection that this experience has lead me to about where I have come from, where I am now as a leader/trainer and the growth that I still have in front of me.

Giant domino activity in a corperate leadership workshop.
Giant domino activity in a corperate leadership workshop.
Debriefing activity using random objects and toys.
Debriefing activity using random objects and toys.


Rachel Doody-Rachel Doody | Program Director

Keeping the Road-Rage Out of Corporate Team Building

One of the best parts of my job is when I get to lead a group of adults on our team building course. Whether it’s a local company, a government department or group of teachers they are always in for an exciting and educational day out with their co-workers. Often in the morning when the group arrives, I can tell that there is a mixed bag of emotions due to whatever it is they think they are about to get into, but usually after the first couple of activities the group’s buy-in is at 100%.

I find that most people who have not yet experienced a program like ours have a variety of different ideas of what will happen; i.e. a crazy challenge course where they may not be physically able to keep up or the other end of the spectrum of holding hands around the campfire with a chorus of Kumbaya being sung. In reality though, most of my days with adult groups are full of laughs, many high-fives, some hugs, maybe a couple of tears, but my favorite is the moment when somebody inevitably shouts out “this is exactly what happens to us at work!”. The point is to make the connection, find the patterns and make plans for needed behavior changes to help strengthen the team back at work; a positive shared experience.

Now it’s rare for me to get to ever participate in anything like our team building course because I am usually the one leading it, so when I went to a grand prix indoor race track and saw that they do “Corporate Events” I was very excited. Maybe this could be something that I could bring the rest of the Adventure Links team out to do for some fun and bonding; but now that I’ve experienced it I don’t think I will ever offer that idea to our team, I like them too much.DSC02198

Don’t get me wrong, the race track was super fun. I got to wear a racing onesie and helmet, my race name was Pickled Ginga and those little cars go way faster than I thought they would, but I found myself with a little road-rage trying to get around people or when someone would pass me. The worst was when on the last lap I was clipped by another car, rammed into the wall and was disqualified. I got angry! If that would have been one of my co-workers… well, let’s just say us redheads are known for our ability to hold a grudge for unreasonable amount of time. So I guess this means no corporate event paint-balling or laser tag for me, maybe just a day at the place with the room full of trampolines.


DSC02204– Rachel”Pickled Ginga” Doody | Program Director



Sometimes it takes a dramatic or painful event to have realizations that pierce the veil of limited understanding.  Here was one of mine…

It was a beautiful June day and our facility was bustling with the return of staff and the arrival of brand new team members for another summer season.  I was finalizing my plan for their intensive weeks of training with us while balancing meet and greet time with office time.

The phone rang, my life changed. It was my big sister letting me know our dad had taken his own life.  Sound stopped, movement stalled, and the world and all that was happening around me fell away for a immeasurable moment in time. Once I regained a little composure, I began to wonder how I would face the staff, how I could possibly navigate the next three weeks that required me to be emotionally and physically accessible to so many, and when I would have the time to grieve.

I couldn’t help but collapse in tears in front of the staff as I tried to explain.  They silently acknowledged that it was their turn to be strong. What emerged from that silence was the most profound, meaningful, and connective training in our company’s history. What I viewed as an inconvenient, incomprehensible, and inescapable time of vulnerability as a leader was actually a gift to us all.

Do you ever catch yourself assuming the wrong things?

“Leadership is not about giving it all you’ve got. It’s about giving it WHAT IT TAKES.”

During a presentation to a group of business leaders, Gina Mollicone-Long said this and
I’ve allowed it to permeate the many layers of assumptions with many more layers to
navigate to arrive at the core.

First, I assume I know what “IT” is! The critical importance of IT may supersede
Leadership in that phrase. What is the pursuit? Where are we going? How do we
know when we’ve arrived at ‘IT’?

And secondly, the illusive journey of assuming, correcting, and deciphering what skills,
flexibility, emotions, and mental models I must acquire to achieve ‘what it takes.’

More exertion and more time are not a guarantee of more results.

“You’re not alone, you have yourself.”

In truth, I can recall the moment, but I didn’t specifically recall saying the above
statement. However, nearly a year after the experience, the woman let me know the
impact it had upon her past, present, and future.

It was a beautiful day and she had brought an International Leadership Institute group
to our ropes course to have an experiential and fun day learning about leadership. One
of the activities was our high ropes course and she, of course, willingly participated. As
she approached the tree where I was stationed, I saw on her face what she had been
masking from the rest of the group. She was scared and when she caught my eye, her
guard dropped and she said “Anna, I can’t do this alone…anymore.”

I replied “You’re not alone, you have yourself.”

The following year, she reached out to thank me for changing her life. I was confused.
She then told me what I had said to her and that because of that statement, she
returned to her life being re-introduced to her own courage. She immediately changed
her outlook on personal challenges and then applied for a notable position she had
always been “afraid” to attempt. She had called to let me know her email address had
changed… AND her future had changed because of that day…

I had one of those grins on my face that would make strangers wonder if:

A) I’d just done something incredibly mischievous;

B) I was just plain weird; or

C) I was actually as happy on the inside as I was showing on the outside.

It was C.  I had just delivered an executive training session that was a huge win. The impact in the room was palpable, audible, and visible. As I was later trying to process the experience and describe to a colleague why it was so successful, what came out of my mouth has since left an indelible mark. I said:

“I am quite certain it would not have happened WITHOUT me BUT it was not ABOUT me.”

It has changed how I SHOW UP as a parent, facilitator, entrepreneur, and friend. The untouchable contentment of being a part of something larger than yourself and the motivation of impacting from that place. And… the journey has really only just begun in what I will discover with this attitude.