Adventure Risk Challenge | Dahlia Santiuste discovers friends, sanctuary |

Adventure Risk Challenge | Dahlia Santiuste discovers friends, sanctuary

Special to the Sun

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dahlia Santiuste was at a crossroads when she arrived to the Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) summer program.

She had just completed her senior year of high school in Atwater, Calif. and was unsure of her future.

She had turned down an offer to play softball at a distant east coast college. The local colleges weren’t attractive to her and she felt family pressure to stay close to home. She described herself as feeling “confined” and “trapped” and overwhelmed by the sense that she might fail.

“Throughout my life, I’ve struggled to accept failure … I am the type of person who is unwilling to tolerate any sort of disappointment,” Dahlia writes. “Many thoughts and negative judgments would flow from one side of my head to the other. Failure was always in the back of my mind.”

Negative thinking and self-judgment kept Dahlia from making the leap into her post-high-school future. She felt paralyzed by the enormity of deciding “What’s next?”

The ARC summer course offered Dahlia an opportunity to break free from her fear of failure and indecision.

She was in a completely foreign environment with new faces and new challenges. As Dahlia describes, “One day I was in the warmth of my bed, and the next day, I was sleeping on a foam mat in a sleeping bag with the protection of a tent hanging over me. On top of that, I was surrounded by people I had never met before.”

Soon, the unfamiliar faces became her closest friends and the wilderness became a peaceful sanctuary and place of beauty.

Dahlia had never visited Yosemite National Park and she was awed by its large granite rock faces and spiraling waterfalls. By being in this naturally beautiful place with new friends, she realized she could live independently and she could accomplish things she didn’t thing she was previously capable of.

She hiked over 60 miles during the course and went rock climbing, rafting and kayaking.

Her ARC teammates saw her as a leader, and by the end of the course, she came to see herself as a strong, self-sufficient woman.

Dahlia writes, “ARC has taught me to be more independent. I feel comfortable continuing on with my life because I no longer need to rely on anyone else. I can do things on my own. I was lost before I came here … Now I know who I want to be. I am no longer lost. I have been found.” Dahlia is now on the path to becoming a Health Service Technician in the U.S. Coast Guard.

The following is an excerpt from a metaphorical poem Dahlia wrote during her summer with ARC:


I am a snow plant

Fragile and weak

Constantly learning from my surroundings

Collecting fungi for its nutrition

Curiously spreading my roots

Until my roots reached unknown territory

Wrapping me with a relentless grip

My parents expected me to be a typical woman

To stay home in the kitchen

Because that’s where I belonged

I cleaned, I cooked, I washed, I swept

I mopped, I wiped, I dusted, and I vacuumed

There had to be more than exhausting work in the confinement of four mind-numbing white walls

Walls that closed in on me when I had my back turned

Walls that trapped my solitude so I could perceive the reality that I lived in

Walls that I wanted to demolish to let my roots grow

Dreary lifeless white walls that suffocated me

Suppressing me ‘til I renounced my defeat

Giving up was not an option

I always knew I was different

It was difficult to confuse me with other plants

My bright luminescent color standing out in the piles of pine needles,


And forest litter,

Growing as the snow melts

I am a plant with no chlorophyll

I am a plant that does not photosynthesize

I am different

I will always be different

I am a Snow Plant


Adventure Risk Challenge’s mission is to improve literacy and life skills, expose youth to a range of natural environments and wilderness experiences, and inspire the confidence they need to envision and accomplish goals, succeed in high school, and become engaged, empowered citizens.

In addition to weekly programming within the high schools, ARC offers outdoor adventures at least once each month. ARC has a two-day video storytelling and rock-climbing adventure in partnership with Sierra Nevada College scheduled on May 31 and June 1 for local youth. Contact Sean McAlindin for more information at or 510-460-8542.

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