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Nonprofit helps health care workers heal through power of nature

Movement comes as US suffers from another COVID spike
Posted at 4:40 PM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 16:40:46-05

The great outdoors can be a great escape physically and emotionally.

For a select group of first responders, outdoor adventures can provoke feelings that they desperately need while also providing peace of mind during this pandemic and political season.

“My mind is actually blank and relaxed for once because I don’t think I’ve had this since everything has started,” said a pharmacist attending Hero Recharge, free outdoor adventures provided by the nonprofit group First Descents.

This program started 20 years ago when the group’s founder took his aunt, who was diagnosed with cancer, out kayaking. Her time on the river was an important part on her recovery process.

Since then, First Descents has grown to an international movement with major sponsors such as the Dunkin' Joy in Childhood Foundation, VF Foundation, Basepoint Foundation, and Samberg Family Foundation.

Fist Descents is serving those suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis through activities like surfing, kayaking and rock climbing. This year, they’re now helping health care workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Nurse practitioner Marybeth Spinos has volunteered with the First Descents for the past several years and says the camaraderie outside of the workplace can help health care workers step away from their stresses and fears about being on the front lines.

“What’s so beautiful about these opportunities is that you can be with people who really get it,” Spinos said.

That includes people like emergency room nurse Emily Lanier, who’s disappointed with the handling of the crisis, especially with a recent surge in new COVID cases nationwide.

“We’ve already been through this and now we know a lot more and we’re still going through it,” she said. “We just don’t know when this is going to end and so it’s kind of hard to picture any kind of future.”

Being out of the hospital and in nature does help these health care workers heal physically and emotionally.

“Just being out here, away from it all, just kind of puts everything out of my mind,” said pharmacist Troy Chunkapura.

He says sharing similar environmental experiences with others in the medical community gives him hope.

“We’re in this together,” Chunkapura said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re going to get through this.”