It's a highly valued personal development and leadership course and, as the name suggests, is definitely a challenge. What if you could overcome your debilitating fears that create havoc in your everyday life, successfully lead your CFA team or be a world leader?
Forty CFA members from as young as 16 years old to 50 plus learned what life could be like when you can. For many the perception of CFA Challenge is a week spent in the bush with Outward Bound enjoying exciting adventures, such as rafting, caving and hiking. This is partly true, but the truth is even more exciting and demanding.
CFA Challenge takes volunteers on an 11-day journey of emotional and physical challenges that quite simply transform lives and futures, both personally and within CFA. I had the privilege of being a participant in Challenge 2012.
Arriving at Fiskville training college, I don’t think anyone had any concept of the true nature of the challenges ahead, even those among us with outdoor adventure experience, and were looking forward to the Outward Bound expedition. The first three days were spent at Fiskville, challenging our minds, emotions and perceptions during an intense personal development course run by Life Performance.
Here, during a series of inspiring lectures and hands on exercises we were given an extraordinary understanding of ourselves, a tool box of skills to begin to overcome our limiting self-beliefs and fears, as well as tools to manage, understand and inspire people. We all began to realise we’re capable of so much more than we ever imagined.
Three days at Fiskville felt like a month, and was the perfect preparation for our expedition with Outward Bound Australia. With our back packs stripped down to the bare minimum, to make room for gear and food supplied by Outward Bound that would allow us to be self-sufficient for a week in the Snowy River National Park, we enjoyed one last feast, one last shower, and one last sleep in a comfortable bed.
What followed was a week of adventure and challenge − rafting, caving, rock climbing, abseiling and hiking. A week of warming up by blazing campfires each night, sleeping under only a plastic tarp, battling rain and wind, being immersed in the sublime beauty of nature, and continuing to grow as individuals, a group and as leaders.
Outward Bound cemented the classroom work. It was an invaluable chance to use the tools we’d learned. The Snowy River, which is arguably one of the world’s great remote places and on the list of special rivers to raft or kayak down, became our classroom for the next few days. Rain, wind, low river level, and learning to negotiate rafts around rocks meant the days were long.
Each day it took teamwork to break camp, securely load rafts, then set up camp again on the riverbank, cook, dig a toilet, and sit around the fire to debrief and reflect.
After four and a half days, paddling into a headwind for 66km, we emerged from the water to hike 8km through stunning forest to do some challenging caving. Many people have experienced ‘show caves’, guided tours through caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, in the safety of reasonably open spaces and easy access. We were to experience a show cave, but a very wild and challenging one. And we were to do it at night.
The entrance was a tiny gap between rocks in a paddock. The only light was from our head torches. This was no easy walk through a cave. It was wet, muddy and very, very narrow in places. But it was beautiful, with classic stalactite and stalagmite formations.
A number of options were presented to us, allowing us to push ourselves as far as we wished. This is where I learned I can achieve the seemingly impossible. Being stuck, in a passageway no wider than my hips was terrifying until I decided I would find a way. I focused, relaxed, and wormed my body imperceptibly 1mm at a time, to freedom. I still get goose bumps reliving the moment.
The following days were spent challenging ourselves to time overnight alone in the bush, abseiling and rock climbing. By the time we all returned to Fiskville, while looking forward to a bed, we were already missing the magic of sleeping out under the stars, the camaraderie, and beauty of the river and bush.
Chief Officer Euan Ferguson reminded us that positions of leadership require people who can dream, who can believe in the possibilities of their dreams, who know anything is possible. CFA Challenge draws out the dreamers in us all. And CFA not only needs leaders, but also people at all levels of the organisation that are able to face challenges, both emotional and physical, and work to create a successful team. This is the philosophy behind CFA Challenge, and it succeeds.
For me CFA Challenge is a privilege and a gift. I have found answers to questions I have searched all my life for. And I have found those answers myself as a result of the course, I was not handed them. I overcame debilitating fears, and gained a whole new confidence in myself. I realised the many excuses I’ve clung to for years have no foundation or relevance. I proved to myself that if something is humanly possible, then I too can do it. And in the future even if no one has done it, if in my mind I decide it’s possible, I will do it. There are no problems only solutions.
CFA Challenge provides a safe place to fail, and a brilliant, supportive place to succeed. That my future now looks so different, in 11 days, is simply remarkable.
Challenge 2013 is from 5-16 January 2013. To apply you need to obtain a copy of the Application Guidelines and relevant application form from your regional training department or from the Challenge page on Brigades Online. Applications must be completed and submitted to your brigade Captain by Friday 27th July 2012.
Photos: Sarah Black