Author: Jaime Bengston
When I entered the Ladies Offroad Challenge I had no expectations of making it very far, let alone into the Top 10. I kept thinking to myself that if I could get to the Top 10 my goal was to learn as much as I possibly could so I could bring all of the information and experience back to my Ladies Chapter in New Mexico. I kept thinking of all of the different aspects of offroading that Charlene has experience with, and I wanted to capture that and bring it to my Ladies. I really had no idea that a weekend with 11 other amazing women would change me or my path in life.
Now, while you read this, keep in mind we had no idea what was going on the entire weekend. We had been given some clues just to help with packing but other than that there was absolutely no itinerary, plan, or inkling of the details. We were specifically told that we would have a timeline to follow, but nothing other than that. Anyone who knows me, knows, I am the planner. I setup the schedules and plans. I make sure everyone is taken care of, where they need to be, etc. The idea of going in blind to everything was nerve-wracking but I thought it would be a good learning experience to be on the other side of it all. So of course, right out go the gate, my plane had to the one that was the last one to get in, because it was delayed. The idea of making everybody else late and throwing the schedule off threw my stress levels through the ceiling. Then, it was like a whirlwind entering the house, trying to find sleeping spots, set up beds and get settled in. And it felt like the second I started to get some kind of traction and get caught up from being behind, we were moved onto the next task. We had an introduction chat and we set some ground rules, made some pinky promises, and the next thing I knew we were off and running. It all seemed to go by in a blur.
There was a moment during the first night that I laid there, absorbing everything around me. Things were finally quiet and still and it hit me - I was there, one of the Top 10 along with 9 other amazing women, getting to know and learning from Charlene, in Phoenix and about to take on a challenge that I had no clue what it was. It was surreal and humbling... and borderline scary. Could I hang with these amazing women? Who was I, really, to be with them? And could I make my family and friends back home proud? I had my doubts.
So, of course, already doubting myself, Friday started and talk about being out of my realm, my comfort zone, and not anywhere near anything I knew anything about while we were doing Shop Tours. I have absolutely no background or education in buggies, trophy trucks, or racing. And our day was spent within the core of that world and we had to go Facebook Live and talk about it all! It was fascinating to me to see behind the scenes. I truly loved watching the reaction of the girls who did have a background in racing, seeing the awe in their faces as we entered shops, met people, saw builds. But what really had me in awe was the reception that Charlene got whenever we walked into any of these places. There's a genuine relationship that she fosters with these people. You can tell that they respect her, they appreciate her, and they care about her and what she's doing - even if they don't like being on camera with her. We were entering into something that's considered a man's world, but no one treated her or us like we were “just girls”. Everybody we encountered seemed genuinely impressed by Charlene's mission to empower the women in the offroad community and why she brought us all there. She welcomed us into her inner circle and used that to teach us, test us and include us. It was an awesome experience to be accepted and respected into a community that a lot of times will overlook a female just because she's a female. And that acceptance and respect was clearly influenced by Charlene and the work that she's done setting this foundation for us through the Ladies Offroad Network.
I was so excited when we returned to the house Friday night and there was an orange Jeep JKU in the driveway, and we were told to put on clothes that we can go into the garage to get dirty in! I finally felt like I was back in a world I at least knew something about - wrenching! And wow, did it turn out to be a very humbling but empowering process! I walked into the garage extremely confident, thinking that I had a lot of answers to the questions - just to find out a lot of my answers were correct-ish. But it was in those humbling moments that I was so thankful to have somebody in front of me that took the time to learn and experience and wants to share that knowledge not just because she wants to teach people but because she wants women to be safer and she wants women to be able to stand on their own two feet. Learning some of the tricks of the trade, having somebody there to correct me in a way that I still walked away with my confidence and grew my confidence even more, but now I can pick up certain tools and I know for a fact that I'm going to walk away with my hands and my head intact! I know that when I teach my family and my Ladies back home, they are getting the best knowledge and technique I can offer them.
We got into Saturday and we all were pretty sure that we were going to see dirt in some way, shape, or form. And we did! I was beyond thrilled to get behind the wheel of a Jeep and it was much more confident few hours for me than it had been the previous day. It was great to spend time with women who don't have the opportunity to go in their backyard and play on the rocks and dirt. And we got to experience co-driving first hand, and what its supposed to look like and how its supposed to happen. I felt really good! Being in my element (and a bonus of driving a purple jeep)! I knew I was definitely with my tribe of girls when we were asked if we wanted to go to a special lunch or if we wanted to continue wheeling, and pretty much unanimously everybody chose to continue wheeling! We might not of been following the curriculum or a set plan, but I do believe that every woman there, especially myself, walked away with so much more trail experience and knowledge then I had ever planned. It felt incredibly short, but I was totally riding a high after wheeling.
Eventually we moved on and drove back into Phoenix and we were whispering in the back of the van that we thought we would go shooting. I think I had myself convinced that we would do paintball or something that wasn't a shooting range. So, when we pulled up in front of Shooter’s World, I realized that we were actually shooting and thats when the anxiety hit. I will honestly say that it's difficult to be married to a police officer, range master, amazing shooter and not even come close to the type of shooting skills that he has. I definitely have some mental blocks when it comes to shooting. Anytime that I would go to the range back home I struggled mentally with the idea of taking somebody's life, even though I knew it would clearly be in the defense of my family, it never changed the struggle I have with it. I can't even say it’s something that I enjoyed doing. But here I am in Phoenix, with the Top 10. The point of this entire weekend is to be challenged, to learn and to overcome, right? We're also up against a timeline and we need to get this done. We started with large targets but had to transition to traditional small bullseye targets and let me tell you - there’s stress and emotion behind all of this and it finally just overflowed for me. Charlene saw me struggling and pulled me aside. While talking to her, I realized that in this moment I had to let my guard down and decide if I was going to fight or give up. Why was I there? What kind of fight did I actually have in me? I decided in that moment to find out. And I did. I worked with the instructor and my partner, Deanna and I was able to fight through some serious mental demons.
I also had a realization and I figured out why Charlene does things the way that she does. If I had known that we were going shooting that evening, wheeling would not have been the awesome, amazing experience it was for me! By the time we reached Sedona I probably would've been a nervous wreck, I would've worked myself up into a mental frenzy thinking about how awful shooting was going to be. I wouldn't of been able to really experience wheeling with the Top 10 and Charlene. I wouldn't have been able to appreciate every little twist and turn and rock and absorb all of the instructions that Charlene was giving. It went from being a lightbulb moment of that's why she does this to why don’t we live this way? Why don’t we live in the moment, observing, absorbing, really experiencing whats happening right now, in front of me, with the people around me. I find myself constantly looking for the next moment, or thinking about what has to happen next or what I should be doing instead, etc. There’s so little appreciation for the right now. And I think that's a lesson that as a woman, a wife, a mom, I really need to focus on. It’s time to stop and be in the moment.
Sunday was rough. I'm gonna call it like I see it. Sunday was rough. By this time we were functioning on very little sleep, exhaustion had definitely set in and it wasn't just physical but it was also mental and emotional exhaustion. My brain wanted to explode with everything that I had taken in, my emotions were high with so many different things I had faced and overcome the previous days. And then to add fuel to the fire - we were told to put on bathing suit's and pile in the van. Let's just say the idea of putting on a bathing suit is something that will drain my confidence in a heartbeat… We get to the river and find out that were kayaking! Woohoo! I have one previous kayaking experience and that was recently in December when we took the kids kayaking while we were vacationing in Florida. Meaning - calm water, a fun and relaxing experience! Well, let's just say the river in Phoenix is absolutely nothing like the Springs in Florida. We are not even five minutes in the water and there's a small area of fast-moving water with some rapids and I lost control of the kayak and bailed out of it. I then realize that this is not going to be like it was in Florida. Okay, no biggie, just another challenge to take on. So we move along and stopping a few of times to meet up with Charlene and at one point we are advised that we need to pick it up. We're taking too long, we're not pushing hard enough, and no more lolly-gagging. So everybody starts to pile into their kayaks and book it down the river. By the time I got to my kayak, loaded up and into the water everybody was gone.
It was a frustrating experience to go from feeling like we were unified group to not unified. It was definitely a taxing and emotionally draining situation to feel like all of the team building that we have done throughout the weekend was dissolving and breaking down due to a lack of communication And it's also very difficult to pull yourself outside of yourself and your own mental and emotional issues to realize that everybody else in the group is also battling exhaustion and whatever other mental demons that they have to deal with in this process. It took some time but in the long run I think it made us stronger as a team. We all realized that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses, and the only person who can fight their weakness is you. But in the exact same breath, if you can't communicate correctly to your team and explain to them what you need from them, you're doing yourself and the team a complete injustice. And none of it is easy.
See, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that each of us - each one of us who made it into the Top 10 are battling our own inner demons. Heartbreak, loss, struggle, a list of things that no one knows about, and when you're surrounded by these women and you feel the support and strength and unity, I think it says a lot about the caliber of women around you. I think it's human nature to get caught up in ourselves and our own battles and we often forget that some of the most amazing people around us are amazing because they've fought to survive. Sunday evening, as I looked around the room and saw these woman as who they really are - warriors. I realized that after this weekend together, no matter where we are, what we are doing, we are unified. We will fight for each other. We will support the inner fight in each other. We will cheer for each of our successes and we will be there to pick each other up after a disappointment. Charlene may have brought 10 women into her life under the premise of a Challenge and a competition, but the reality of it is, she created a sisterhood that no one can break.
Click here to read more about Jaime.
Photo Credit: Lori Palmer, The Adventure Portal
See all the action from the training weekend:
Day 1 - Welcome to the Van: http://bit.ly/2te8RRE
Day 1 - AZ Science Center: http://bit.ly/2suLkPU
Day 1 - Photos: http://bit.ly/2rT25CV
Day 2 - Jagged X Shop Tour: http://bit.ly/2suvJ2L
Day 2 - Geiser Bros Shop Tour: http://bit.ly/2sgia6z
Day 2 - UTV Inc Tour: http://bit.ly/2suAKbF
Day 2 - SDHQ Shop Tour: http://bit.ly/2rj5cpi
Day 2 - Recovery Training: http://bit.ly/2rT9HW9
Day 2 - Photos: http://bit.ly/2suFRs5
Day 3 - Wheeling in Sedona: http://bit.ly/2sleFMO
Day 3 - Drive-thru: http://bit.ly/2sl0Yxr
Day 3 - Shooter's World: http://bit.ly/2rjvXcY
Day 3 - Photos: http://bit.ly/2rod83J
Day 4 - Kayaking: http://bit.ly/2ro4qmd
Day 4 - Pool Party 1: http://bit.ly/2sUN2at
Day 4 - Pool Party 2: http://bit.ly/2ro6KcD
Day 4 - Pool Party 3: http://bit.ly/2rnCtea
Day 4 - Mannequin Challenge: http://bit.ly/2slpXkb
Wrap-Up - http://bit.ly/2rcmSP6
Author: Jaime Bengston