An introspective and shy bookworm growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, Wenda Li hadn’t slept a night in a tent when she embarked on her 24-day canoeing expedition with Outward Bound Canada in 1983. At 17 years old, she convinced her parents to let her attend the course after seeing a TV commercial and been gripped by the potential for adventure and self-discovery.
Wenda spent the month canoeing and portaging for over eight hours a day in Northern Ontario, developing her navigation skills and learning about the nature in which she was immersed. Although at times painful and exhausting, this experience not only fuelled her love for the outdoors and her connection with nature, but it also had a significant impact on her subsequent education and professional career.
“It completely revealed another side of me. My whole being changed. It affected my career path and the physicality of what I was going to do because I got to connect with my body," said Wenda of her expedition. "I fell in love with the North, and when I came back from it, I decided I wanted a career that connected me with trees. I applied the skills that I had learned when I went to study forestry. I spent months in the summer as a student surveying crown land and we had to know how to read a map to identify the sites. I also did a lot of canoeing - the mode of transportation to get to remote areas.”
Mid-way through her studies at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and five years after her first Outward Bound experience, Wenda went on another course, this time in Australia. She sought out this 24-day hiking expedition in Canberra as a release from the pressures of university and to re-center herself both emotionally and physically.
“I needed to get back into that Outward Bound environment because I hated university so much. I was a naive teenager when I first went, immature in my approach to the self-reflective aspects of the experience, both emotionally and mentally," she said. "Taking a second course, I knew what to expect; it wasn’t so much a physical trial, I knew that Outward Bound courses are 80% a mental challenge.”
Currently working at Elite Tree Care, she has held roles as a climbing arborist, job estimator, a consulting arborist, and has worked as an instructor and technician at Humber College School of Arboriculture. In 2011 and 2015 she trained and taught in Hong Kong. She has been the Ontario Women’s Tree Climbing Champion for 6 years and in 2002 was crowned the women’s champion at the International Tree Climbing Championships.
Most recently, Wenda was awarded the Special Achievement Award which recognizes her contribution to arboriculture within the Ontario Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. She believes that her Outward Bound experiences helped her achieve these successes by developing her resilience and connection to self.
“Being a woman and a visible minority, I don’t conform to the typical stereotype of what an Asian woman is supposed to do, how to act and behave. I have a wicked fierceness that I didn’t have before Outward Bound. Outward Bound taught me about perseverance, endurance and stamina. That is certainly required in my line of work as an arborist. Climbing trees at height for a living takes a certain level of physicality and fearlessness. I attribute all of my accolades and successes in my career to my experiences at Outward Bound as a teenager.”
It was through fate that Wenda re-connected with OBC after more than 30 years of being disconnected, when someone interested in writing about her life connected with OBC through LinkedIn. Since then, Wenda has joined the 2018 Everest Base Camp Reach Beyond Team on a pre-course training hike and is looking forward to continuing her Outward Bound Canada journey.