Lees-McRae student Walter Ford was recently chosen as a finalist in ASU's Appalachian Adventure Achievement Award (A4) for the 17-23 year old division. Appalachian State University's Outdoor Programs began the award in 2011 and continued the tradition by awarding one of three finalists in each of their two divisions with recognition and prizes onstage at this year's showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
The award is given to identify and celebrate young people who are actively involved - and thriving - in mountain sports of some kind, and who are giving back to their sport and/or the community in some way. The Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour took place in Boone, NC on March 30-31 in Farthing Auditorium on ASU's campus.
On Saturday night, March 31, Walter took the stage for the award ceremony and prize giveaway in front of a crowded Farthing Auditorium. Ten of his fellow Lees-McRae students were present at the event, along with Dee Thomas, the director of Outdoor Programs at Lees-McRae College. Each spring Dee takes her most dedicated and outstanding Outdoor Programs student leaders to the Banff Mountain Film Festival for either one or both nights as a way to say 'thank you' for the rock climbing, hiking, and backpacking trips that they have led and the outdoor activities and events that they have hosted throughout the year.
Dee said, "By treating LMC student leaders to the event the students have the opportunity to enjoy fantastic outdoor films as well as to meet other ASU students and local adults who are also passionate about outdoor adventures. There are also lots of booths set up by local organizations so that the students can meet the people who make and sell the equipment we use all the time in the Outdoor Programs."
For Walter, the Banff Festival this year provided an exciting, and perhaps slightly nerve-wracking experience. "Truthfully, I was completely horrified about getting on stage. There were over seventeen hundred people in Farthing Auditorium, and being in front of all those onlookers was quite intimidating," said Walter. "But once my name was called and I got up there, I somehow managed to relax. I realized that though there were many, the people in the audience really were just people, and that I shouldn't feel nervous but excited and privileged for making it as far as to become a finalist.
"It's such a compliment because you don't apply for the A4, you are nominated. Then you are reviewed by a whole group of people and if they feel you meet the standard, you become a finalist. I was one of three chosen for my age group, and so for their committee to look at all the things that I've done during my time here at Lees-McRae and think me worthy is an awesome feeling," he continued.
Walter, a dedicated rock climber, knows the feeling of being anxious very well. "What I felt at Banff before I got onstage is also how I feel before competitions. I am fine until the moment I see the wall in front of me, and then those nerves start to kick in. But once I start climbing and interacting with my teammates, the nerves relax and it turns to focus." Although Walter did not receive the main prize, he learned that he was the first African American male to be selected as a finalist for the A4 Award. Walter said, "That was an honor in and of itself."
Dee Thomas, who nominated Walter for the A4 award, said that she was proud to nominate Walter because he truly represents a student deserving of this award. Dee stated, "I have seen Walter take on personal challenges and grow so much in his technical skills and leadership ability since becoming involved with Outdoor Programs clubs and academic classes. I knew he might be nervous on stage, but this was a wonderful opportunity for him to be recognized for all of his achievements."
And there is no shortage of achievements for Walter, who was not only a co-captain of the LMC Competition Rock Climbing Team, but now the sole captain. He is also a member of Order of the Tower, he is an LMC Climbing Wall Instructor and Manager, and he is also the co-coach of the LMC Kids Climbing Team, which is a completely voluntary project that works with local kids. With this busy of a schedule, it might be surprising to learn that Walter still climbs four to five times a week.
"Now that I've gotten into rock climbing," Walter says "it's something I can't imagine myself not doing. Wherever I end up settling down is definitely going to have to be near climbing areas, whether indoor or outside."
And he does it quite well, according to Dee. "Walter is a natural athlete, so he picked up climbing his freshman year quickly, and hasn't stopped since." This love of climbing has helped develop his love of the outdoors, which is a key factor in his nomination for the Appalachian Adventure Achievement Award. Dee added, "The selection committee looks for young people who are committed not only to an adventure sport, but for those students who are also committed to helping others to develop their skills and strive to maintain and protect the beautiful mountains that provide the rock climbers with these challenges."
Walter has had quite the school year, and if the A4 wasn't enough, he picked up six awards at the Outdoor Programs Award Banquet which took place on April 26. One of the honors that he received was an award in his name to be given out annually.
"The name of my award is the 'Walter Ford Above and Beyond Leadership Service Award.' It will be given out to deserving students even after I'm gone, and I have no words to describe how that feels. For someone to feel that you've done enough of a job to deserve this type of recognition and that you have set a standard is touching. It lets you know that all the time and effort that you have put in hasn't gone unnoticed or under-appreciated, and that means a lot to me."
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