Isaac Kenyon

Business Performance & Strategy
Extreme Challenges
Mental Health

Learning how to make an impact through adventure

February 15, 2022

“The definition of inspiration is to help someone who may not believe in themselves, to then believe in themselves.”

My name is Isaac Kenyon. I am a geologist, a trustee for the charity ‘Mind’ and have spent many years committed to raising awareness of different climate projects, through the mode of adventure. 

I was raised in Luton, attending a very underfunded school but I believed in my success. My family were very protective, due to the unpleasant activities that often occurred in Luton, especially due to gang issues. Therefore growing up I didn’t engage much with the outdoors, so my mum sent me to the swimming pool to expel some of my energy. 

As a child, my dream was to become a palaeontologist after watching Jurassic park at a young age. In school I focussed heavily on science and developed a passion for natural history. My teachers were impressed with my ability to teach myself and urged me to pursue the sciences academically. Therefore after sixth form I continued my education at Royal Holloway University, studying Geology. 

Not only did my studies develop my understanding of the natural world but I also became heavily involved with discussions surrounding climate change and the use of fossil fuels. This sparked a deeper interest in the natural world and I became preoccupied with exploring the realm of possibilities of sustainable living. 

I was shocked at the amount of screen time a university education requires. I found myself, ironically whilst studying nature, becoming more and more disengaged with the world around me. I was also trapped in the dichotomy of attempting to create more sources of affordable and accessible sustainable energy but as a consequence increasing screen time.

I found the new online world of social media very overwhelming and began to develop anxiety and panic disorder. I was never taught about mental health at school but I wish I was as I think I would have found it very helpful. My family dismissed my mental health problems as simply stress from working too hard, but I knew it ran deeper than that.  

I wanted to feel better and I realised to do so I needed to reconnect with nature. I was exercising through my swimming but that was indoors and artificially created, I wasn’t getting the fresh air or sunlight my mind and body needed. Therefore I started outdoor swimming and then went on to open water swimming. It pushed me firmly out of my comfort zone and that’s what I really needed.

Open water swimming was very different to swimming in the pool, you encountered a lot more challenges, including rocks, debris and currents. I wanted to push myself even further and set myself the challenges of swimming the 22 miles of the English Channel. My training was rough, including jumping into freezing cold lakes without a wetsuit to get used to the tough temperatures of the water. I completed the challenge in a relay but I wasn’t fully satisfied, wanting to push myself even further. 

I decided to attempt something entirely different from swimming and began by climbing the summit of Kilimanjaro. It took 4 days to complete and was a real eye opener, having never done anything like it before. 

After that expedition I was captivated by endurance sports, especially cycling. A friend of mine suggested rowing across the Atlantic Ocean and I thought it was something I would enjoy. Neither of us had ever rowed before so the entire experience was completely novel. The first few days were particularly hard and it was scary when we could no longer catch sight of the shore. 

However I was spurred on, particularly by my interest in immersing myself in a technology free existence for 40 days. It was difficult, as we were rowing in a team of 4 (2 rowing and 2 navigating for 24 hours a day), so there was no time for rest. My main observation was that life became very slow, even simple things like getting a drink of water were very difficult and required a complex process. 

About halfway through the experience I started to love life with an exhilaration I’d never experienced before. I felt better away from society and social media, realising how much my mental health had been affected by both in the past.

This led me to a further interest in the way physical activity can help mental health and I embarked on a challenge to row for days, and days, in a row. I ended up rowing for 83 hours straight and it really opened my eyes to the highs and lows of mental health. 

I have also recently created a project to cycle from the Orkney Islands to the Isles of Scilly, cycling over both sea and land, with the aim of highlighting climate solutions and uniting humans with the natural world rather than exploiting it. We wanted to incorporate lots of different projects that have the potential to aid climate change, interviewing 26 different organisations. 

We presented this as a film project at the United Nations COP26 and received really positive feedback. They asked if we would complete a similar project in Egypt, to find sustainable projects with potential for large investments. 

This inspired me to create the community interest company ‘Climate Explorers’, focusing on improving people’s mental and physical health, whilst highlighting climate solutions. We aim to explore climate solutions by exploring the great outdoors.

Overall, I would say I now feel very fulfilled both physically and mentally. I feel as though my work with nature has taught me a lot about myself. I am happiest when on adventures. I would like to emphasise the importance of reconnecting with nature and the importance of adventure, whether it be big or small. 

This blog was written by Elena John based on the interview with Tales to Inspire.

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