It’s often been said that the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) is a close-knit family from top to bottom, including its staff, participants and volunteers. This family tradition has transpired exactly how the founders imagined it would when they started the organization 45 years ago and the BOEC Internship Program is no different. Meet Ben Cole, part of the 2020-2021 BOEC Winter Internship family, who hails from a family lineage that has a long and fascinating history with the BOEC.
Ben’s mother, Cathy Greer-Cole (top left), with a group of BOEC participants
It all started in the fall of 1985 when Ben’s mom, Cathy Greer-Cole, joined the BOEC as a staff instructor, unknowingly starting a familial tradition that includes Ben 30 years later, and cousin, Mark Greer, a long time BOEC staff member since his internship days in 2015. It was the influence of both Cathy and Mark that played a huge role in the 22-year-old Cole starting his own legacy with the BOEC. A legacy that, growing up, he always knew he wanted to be a part of.
Cathy with an adaptive ski participant
“Growing up I had heard all about what an amazing experience my mom had with the BOEC,” says Ben. “And I saw the many lifelong connections and friends she had made from it. The same is true for once I got older and Mark was here. Through both of them I saw how valuable of a program the BOEC was and how it could be a life changing experience in so many ways. By the time I graduated [Michigan State University] I was pretty sure this was where I wanted to be.”
Beautiful Marquette, Michigan
Ben was actually born in Leadville, CO, not too far from the mountains of Breckenridge and the BOEC. But when he was very young his family moved to Marquette, MI, a place he credits for instilling in him a passion for the outdoors and making him the person that he is today. He spent a great deal of time growing up in the vast wilderness, on countless rivers and streams, and on the shore of the “world’s greatest lake,” Lake Superior, creating some of his fondest memories of camping, canoeing, climbing, skiing and simply exploring the great outdoors. With the outdoors being such a large part of his life, Ben started to ask himself “how can I make sure everyone has access to these types of experiences?” That’s when he thought back to his mother’s journey 30 years ago.
“I recognize how lucky I am to have grown up this way, and that many people don’t have the same access to the outdoors for many different reasons,” says Cole. “I have seen how formative and therapeutic outdoor lifestyles can be and think everyone should at least have an equal opportunity to experience that.”
Ben belays cousin Mark (upside down)
That ultimately is what pulled Ben to the BOEC like some sort of Greek mythology siren song was calling his name, just like his mother and cousin before him. And speaking of his family and the BOEC tradition, it’s not lost on him that there are a lot of funny similarities between his experiences and that of his mother’s. For example, he’s living in the same house – the BOEC Internship Cabin- and sits around the same table that his mother did 30 years ago. However she likes to remind her son that he has it easy, comparatively, to when she was roughing it at the Intern cabin with no running water or electricity in the mid-1980’s.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot in how both the Adaptive Ski & Snowboard and Winter Internship Programs have run this year, there are naturally some correlations to Cathy and Mark’s days.
Ben and his sister, possible future BOEC Intern, Amelia
“There are less interns in my group than my mom or cousin had while they were here, and generally a lot less lessons going out,” says Ben. “However, teaching-wise there are still a lot of similarities to what my mom was doing when she was here. I think the world of adaptive sports was still developing back then, but otherwise we seem to have taught in very similar ways. It’s cool because I grew up hearing so many stories about her time here and now I feel that I’m going through very similar experiences and creating stories and memories of my own.”
Now that Ben is two-thirds of the way into his internship, there’s no shortage of memories and experiences being stockpiled in the back of his mind. While nothing in particular surfaces when asked about a favorite memory thus far, the Michigan State grad instead chooses to take a 30,000 foot view of the entire journey so far.
Rafting with the BOEC
“I feel that I am constantly learning something new and expanding my boundaries,” he says. “I look back so fondly on all of my time here so far because every day is a new adventure with some of the most inspiring and amazing people I’ve ever met, while living in, what I think is one of the most beautiful places in the country.”
Ben came into the program with very little experience working in the adaptive world and admits that he has worked hard to get where he is today within the program. He arrived with a pretty blank slate and had to get up to speed real fast, including the intensive 4-week training program where interns are fully immersed into the adaptive ski and snowboard world. But Ben learned on his feet (or skis) and tackled the challenge head-on, something not lost on BOEC Intern Manager Kat Booth.
“Ben had a strong ski ability arriving at the BOEC,” she says. “But the biggest learning curve, as is typical for most interns, was the introduction into the adaptive world, and he has persevered quite well.”
In his outdoor climbing element
Ben describes his experience first hand. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect and was apprehensive and nervous just to apply in the first place,” he remembers. “But I am so glad I did. It’s pretty rare to come across a program that offers so much and goes out of its way to make it possible for young people to do this sort of work. I believe this program definitely changes you for the better in so many ways, it’s been incredibly rewarding, and I have made friendships that I know will last for life.”
We have heard much of the same from the 1,000+ interns that have graduated from the program over the years, including Ben’s mom and cousin. Additionally, a lot of these individuals have gone on to work in the field throughout the U.S. and worldwide, and used their BOEC experience as a model for their new homes. In fact, former BOEC intern Tim McGough (2004) is the Program Director with the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, Hannah Lang (2010) is the Logistics Manager at The Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Alex Ristorcelli (2010) is Program Director at Common Ground in Utah, and Tamiko Kimoto (2009) even went on to work for Monkey Magic, a program for visually impaired climbers in Tokyo, Japan. BOEC’s current Wilderness Director, Jaime Overmyer, Admissions Director Claire DiCola, and Internship Manager, Kat Booth are all also previous BOEC interns in the classes 2002, 2003 and 2015 respectively. This is all something Ben Cole contributes to the meaningful quality of the BOEC Intern Program.
Ben in his happy place, the great outdoors
“I think that shows a lot about how life changing and inspirational even a short time with this program can be,” he says. “The fact that many of those 1,000+ interns have gone on to pursue successful careers in this field shows just how impactful our work can be. Not only for participants/students, but for everyone who is lucky enough to be involved with this type of work.”
Spoken like a seasoned veteran, Cole graduated MSU with an odd mix of dual degrees in Comparative Culture and Politics and Film and Documentary Production. Ideally he would like to combine the two interests and get into documentary film work in the future, specifically within the outdoors realm, going back to his inspiration to share the outdoors with others, just through a different lens. For now though, he sees himself staying in Colorado for the foreseeable future and continuing his BOEC journey as a staff member for as long as he can.
Taking it all in
“I just want to thank everyone at the BOEC for the work that they do,” he states. “Everyone tied to this program works so hard to make this all possible, especially in the uncertain times of the past year. On all levels, this program has some of the most hardworking, caring, and inspirational people I have ever met, and I am extremely grateful to be a part of it all.”
And, we here at the BOEC, are proud to have you, Ben, not only as a part of our internship family, but the BOEC family overall. Keep on doing what you’re doing and make us all proud.