South Charlotte

Outward Bound changed her life

She was 16 years old, getting by with reasonable grades, coasting on the track team and spending a lot of time talking to and about boys. Typical teenage stuff, but Amanda Sturner's parents thought she could do better.

They were an active family, so they suggested she take a trip to reassess her priorities. Only this time she would be setting out with a group of 11 strangers about her age, on a 16-day Outward Bound course that included rock climbing, whitewater canoeing, backpacking, a service project, a 12-mile run and more.

The trip not only changed her direction, it shaped her future.

"It was one of the most intense experiences of my life, but also one of the best," said Sturner, now 38 and living in Willowmere with her husband, Harold, and their four sons.

Outward Bound is a nonprofit organization formed in Europe in 1941 as a way to educate young sailors and provide them survival skills. The name comes from the nautical term for a ship's departure from the harbor, and the organization uses that metaphor as it takes people of all walks of life out of their comfort zones and into challenges that teach them a lot about themselves.

For Sturner, facing those obstacles as an impressionable teen had an immediate, transforming and permanent impact.

When she returned home to Louisville, Ky., it was with a redefined sense of self and motivation that had been missing before. Sturner's new perspective led her to Colorado College, which encourages experiential learning much like Outward Bound.

After graduating in 1995, Sturner spent the next few years working for Outward Bound. Meanwhile she pursued a graduate degree in education from the University of Kentucky, with hopes of expanding Outward Bound's reach.

Following a couple years teaching at West Mecklenburg High, Sturner received a phone call from a friend who encouraged her to look for jobs with Outward Bound.

Outward Bound hired Sturner as a program director in 2007.

Under her guidance, local Outward Bound initiatives have grown exponentially.

When donations to support scholarships fell during the recession, Sturner and the local advisory board established the River Bound Trail Race Series to benefit the program's scholarships.