Learning to love the great outdoors

Who better to lead students on a 60-mile “bikepacking” trip through the South Carolina Lowcountry than a man who really did hike the Appalachian Trail, the whole thing, in five months?

A native of Atlanta, Blain Foley graduated from Georgia College with a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education. Before joining the University of South Carolina in 2012 as outdoor recreation coordinator, he worked for Challenge Design Innovations Inc., as a builder, trainer and inspector for the company’s challenge courses and zip line canopy tours.

And, he made his trek on the 2,160-mile trail along the East Coast from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

Foley now introduces University of South Carolina students to the great outdoors – many for the first time.

“What we love is when someone who went on one of our trips comes back to work for us because now they are passionate about it,” says Foley.

Andrew Laughlin, a junior from Aiken, S.C., majoring in environmental science with a minor in economics is just such a student.

“I was a cross-country runner growing up and did trail running and that was a big start for me getting out in the woods,” Laughlin says. “My freshman year at Carolina, I began climbing the rock wall a lot and that was when I got drawn to the Outdoor Recreation program here. From there, my interest and the time I spent outdoors grew exponentially.”

Laughlin is one of a team of student leaders taking a group of students on a bike trip through the Francis Marion National Forest to Awendaw near Charleston during fall break. For the trip, students will need to bring just a few specific clothing items and a desire to learn.

“We provide them with everything – bikes, helmets, tents – everything,” Foley says.

Foley says he likes to go on trips that are considered a little more taxing to be sure all goes well, but his student leaders do all the work.

“I like being able to introduce other people to my world and way of life,” says Kyle Donevant, biomedical engineering senior from Peachtree City, Ga., and one of the student leaders. “We have all this beautiful land in South Carolina and it’s so accessible.”

Donevant says he practically grew up outdoors.

“My dad grew up right outside Myrtle Beach and was an outdoorsman his whole life, I was in Boy Scouts and just spent a lot of time outside,” he says. “I’ve always been in the water, on the water, in the woods, at the beach, just constantly out doing stuff. I just fell in love with it from a young age."

Jamie Lawson, a junior nursing major from Cincinnati, credits UofSC’s Outdoor Recreation program with her love of outdoors activities that she expects to continue throughout her life.

“When I came here, climbing our wall is what opened the door to all of the Outdoor Rec programs,” Lawson says. “Everyone here taught me what I know and helped me fall in love with the outdoors. Getting to facilitate those firsts for participants – their first time climbing a real rock, their first time sleeping in a tent – it’s very rewarding.

“People that I taught how to make basic steps are now leading their friends and teaching others.”

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