From Tokyo, Japan to Ypsilanti, Michigan to Breckenridge, Colorado. This was the journey of former Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) summer intern, Tamiko Kimoto. As one of BOEC’s many international interns over the years she had quite the trek to get here, but it was an experience that she would never forget.
Tamiko’s summer 2009 internship class
The now 40-year-old Kimoto joined BOEC’s summer Internship Program in 2009 after studying outdoor education in Tokyo and spending a year abroad as an international exchange student at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in Ypsilanti. While studying therapeutic recreation (TR) in the Great Lake State, Tamiko happened upon the BOEC when her professor recommended finding an intensive internship program to enhance her already established skills, but in an outdoor setting.
“It was the biggest challenge of my life, even compared to climbing 6000m in the Himalayas” she remembers when thinking back to her internship experience 12 years ago. “But I learned a lot, enjoyed myself and met a lot of people. It made me believe deeply that everyone needs outdoor adventures to enjoy their own lives.”
It is providing those outdoor experiences for individuals with challenges of all kinds, especially those with disabilities and special needs, that the BOEC – and its Internship Program – is all about. This four-month long commitment can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of one’s life that begins with a three week immersive training period to prepare for a busy summer season of day and overnight programs. Tamiko felt that she was at a disadvantage to begin with as her mastery of the English language was still a work in progress – something she points to as right in line with BOEC’s mission.
“I didn’t speak or understand English very well and I wasn’t confident in myself a lot of the time,” she says. “But, just like our participants, I was forced to adapt and overcome the language barrier. It was a good learning experience in a way to see what our participants go through when trying to overcome their own hurdles.”
Tamiko with a canoeing participant
Tamiko overcame the hurdles with flying colors and graduated with the rest of her class before returning to her native Japan with a whole slew of new techniques and information in her therapeutic recreation arsenal. And like many BOEC interns before her, she immediately went to work in the field that she had spent years studying. Tamiko arrived at Monkey Magic, a place where she had volunteered before spending some time in the U.S., and immediately got to work offering climbing opportunities for the visually impaired. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2005, has since expanded to offer experiences for many different types of disabilities and Tamiko has moved on to be the Program Director as well.
“After I returned to Japan, I kept helping Monkey Magic and suggested a bunch of things I learned from the BOEC,” she says. “I have gotten involved deeper and deeper with the organization every year and credit my experience with the BOEC for a lot of my success.”
Besides delving deeper into the programming aspect of the organization, Tamiko became involved on a personal level marrying the founder, Koichiro Kobayashi, who has a progressive eye illness himself. Koba, as she refers to her husband, started free climbing at 16 years old and provided outdoor recreation experiences for 12 years before his degenerative eyesight made it too difficult to continue. He was struggling with poor eyesight and what to do and how to live when a chance encounter with Erik Weihenmayer changed his life forever. Erik is the first blind person ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest and has completed the Seven Summits, reaching the highest point on every continent. Koba was immediately inspired by Erik’s story and the possibilities that lie ahead for blind people. This experience is what ultimately led to the founding of Monkey Magic, a place where Tamiko Kimoto finds extremely fulfilling.
Tamiko with a BOEC participant
“I don’t give up if we meet a new person who is not sure about their ability to climb,” she states. “I think very carefully about how we are going to accomplish this and nine times out of 10 we get them up and climbing. It is quite an amazing experience every time and a lot of this I learned from my experiences at the BOEC.”
Things like programming, management, funding, thinking adaptive and creating fun and enjoyable experiences for everyone is what she points to as skills she has transferred from her time at the BOEC. So much so that it’s almost like having a Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center Japan edition. No, not really, but the BOEC did have such a lasting impact on Tamiko that she still keeps us near and dear to her heart.
“A dream of mine is that one day I take my people with visual impairments to the BOEC and have fun adventures,” she says. “They will have fun but they will also be challenged and learn a lot just like I did during my summer internship of 2009.”
We would welcome you back with open arms, Tamiko, especially as we are now in the middle of welcoming a brand new intern class for the summer of 2021. Best of luck to you all.
The BOEC is grateful to The Moniker Foundation for underwriting our Internship Program for the past two years across Fiscal Year 2019-20 and 2020-21. With their gracious donation they are helping the Program thrive and developing future outdoor leaders.