Insight through Poetry | How ARC Creates Leaders

Courtesy Adventure Risk Challenge

Just days into her first backpacking expedition through the snowy Lost Sierra, Daisy Sanchez was almost ready to give up.

“There was so much weight on me,” she says. “It felt as if all my problems and struggles at home, all that weight was in my backpack. But I didn’t want to give up because it wouldn’t have been fair to everyone else. I wanted to get to our destination. I didn’t want to feel like I couldn’t do things. Making it and not giving up made me feel like I could do so much more than backpack.”

Daisy Sanchez | Courtesy Adventure Risk Challenge

Sanchez had signed up for a 40-day summer course with Adventure Risk Challenge, a locally based literacy and leadership program that empowers youth through a combination of outdoor expeditions and reflective writing. The 16-year-old North Tahoe High School junior has a genetic hearing deficiency that makes communicating with strangers a challenge.

I am a honey bee. One day, I’ll be queen of my own hive. I’ll have to show everything that I’ve learned to those that come after me. – Gisselle Ruiz from her poem “I am a Bee.”

“It takes me time to understand, especially when I am surrounded by new people,” she explains. “I felt uncomfortable, not the kind of person I usually am at home. I was slowly working to be a part of the group, but I knew that I was going to make it because I had their support.”

READ MORE: Read Daisy’s poem 

Although her audiologist has encouraged her to get hearing implants, Sanchez has been resistant. Instead, she is working to embrace her true self.

“I’ve learned that I can actually do things when I put my mind to it,” she says. “Before, I felt like I couldn’t do very much because of my hearing. But here I receive so much support from everyone. If other people believe I can do it, then I believe I can do it.”

Sanchez chronicled her journey toward acceptance in a poem entitled, “Frog Morph,” through which she compares herself to an insecure tadpole emerging into a confident frog with the support of her peers.

“If you were to write a story about it and people read it, they wouldn’t fully understand the meaning,” she says. “Poetry is more expressive of your true voice.”

Gisselle Ruiz | Courtesy Adventure Risk Challenge

Back at home, 15-year-old North Tahoe sophomore Gisselle Ruiz balances school and home where she is expected to look after her four younger siblings. She saw herself as a naïve teen, who regularly doubted her own intelligence and ability to succeed in school. Partway through the first backpacking expedition, that perspective already had begun to change.

“Coming in the first place and leaving my family was the most challenging part because it’s 40 days without the people that I’m closest to,” she says. “It was scary to be away from them for so long. While we were hiking, I was thinking about all I have at home and how grateful we should be. I now feel independent. I know I have to figure things out on my own and work hard to get the things I want.”

READ MORE: Read Gisselle’s poem 

Ruiz’s poem “I Am a Bee” deals with her maternal instincts and overwhelming desire to be everything to everyone all the time. Her breakthrough came during the a two-day solo beneath the towering summit of Needle Peak in a seldom-traversed wilderness southwest of Olympic Valley.

“I had a lot of time to think and process why I was here,” she says. “I was meant to be here to change. I have it in me to do my best even when I’m not feeling it.”

Writing poetry has helped both students to process the intense emotions that came up through this life-changing experience.

“Poetry allows you to express things you can’t otherwise express,” Ruiz says. “It’s giving a strong message to the readers, telling them how you feel. It helps you to be open and vulnerable.”

At the end of the course students celebrated their growth at a public poetry reading at Cedar House Sport Hotel in Truckee.

“I had so many people looking straight at me. I was just trying to calm myself,” says Sanchez. “By the time I got to the middle of my poem, I felt like people were really listening. They were really alert and attentive to what I was saying and that helped me to relax. Afterwards, so many people were clapping and telling me I did a really good job. People were crying because of my story. An audience member told me that she could be there for me when I have my next audiology appointment.”

Adventure Risk Challenge is a donor-supported nonprofit. For more information or to invest in the mission and programs of ARC, visit

Frog Morph
By Daisy Sanchez

I am a tadpole.
A small translucent creature living underwater, that grows up into a frog.
In my pond, I was born as a hearing tadpole.
That’s how I know the way things work now.
Although I am 16 years old today …. I’ve struggled for 8 years.
I’m the kind of species who now hears differently.

8 years ago, I began losing my hearing.
My mother, my grandmother and great-grandmother, were all born deaf.
This is a thread, a club, of women in my family who have all helped each other adapt.
As my hearing worsened, I was able to feel the vibration of bubbles and the movements of the species among me.
This pond is like my town.
I swam here and there,
Curious about the people I was surrounded by.
Every year, I struggled a lot understanding new teachers, students, and the way things worked.
The more I learned academically,
And the more familiar I got with the way people talked,
I started to grow up.
My hands and feet were starting to emerge from my translucent skin.
I was adapting to my pond.

I am now an emerging frog.
I still continue to struggle.
I struggle at school, home, and the new places I swim to.
It’s difficult for me to understand those I continue to meet in and outside of my pond.
The voices of the people I’m used to, are easier to understand
Because being so used to their voice makes me feel like I was never hard of hearing.
My personal and school audiologists make me feel bad about myself.
Instead of looking on the bright side,
I feel forced to look at the downside of my hearing loss.
I sometimes ask myself,
>>“How can I accept myself if others are trying to change me?”<<
>>It’s a gift that isn’t meant to be changed forcefully.<<
At home, I feel calm
Due to the fact that I have my mother and sister who understand what I feel.
They know I feel lonely,
And a whole mix of emotions.
I feel comfortable because I don’t have to deny, or hide
The way I am, or how I feel.
When I’m around new people who keep exploring the pond,
I feel uncomfortable that I won’t be able to fit in.
I don’t want to have to feel that I’m different
Or I have to be treated differently.
I want to learn what it’s like being part of the hearing world again.
I’m just tired of adapting my life every time my hearing worsens.
But I just keep swimming.
I have to keep moving forward to accomplish things I want in my future.

I will be a frog.
My future is going to be different.
Throughout all the struggles I had as a tadpole and as an emerging frog,
I’m going to make my future better.
My job as a frog will be to stop depending on my family and friends.
I will strive to become a great frog.
I want to go to college.
After graduating from college,
I want to go to culinary school or beauty school so that in the future,
I can open up my own bakery or be a cosmetologist.
I’m going to be a frog that will inspire others to just keep going
And strive for the best opportunities there is in life.
I want my experiences to relate to others.
I want them to see…
That not giving up, will lead them to a great future.
People don’t have to feel like their differences are disabilities
But rather a gift.
I will continue to face challenges like understanding new voices in my two environments.
I will grow up eventually
I’ll have to reckon,
That I will jump to places,
Where I won’t have anyone to depend on.
Fulfilling my career is a big challenge for me.
I’m willing to take a leap of faith
Taking risks
to achieve the future I want for myself.

I am a Bee
By Gisselle Ruiz

I am a honey bee. Since I was little I’ve been working hard in my hive. I’ve gone place to place trying to get all my jobs done before the day was over; trying to keep everyone in my hive happy. Since I was tiny bee I’ve been the one learning everything there is to know on how to be a good bee. So that one day I’d be the one teaching other little larvae to be find their place and do well in the hive.

But I’m also a human being. Since I was little I’ve had to work hard and live up to my place as the eldest. I’ve been learning how to be caring and companionate with others. How to be responsible and trustworthy. I carry the responsibility of looking after my younger siblings like a bee carrying the weight of the whole hive on its wings. But like a bee I can’t stop I have to keep going, because I work better when I’m part of a team.

I am a honey bee. I have to keep buzzing along. I have to keep up with the rest of the hive. Because time doesn’t stop for me. It keeps going. I can’t fall behind when everyone expects me to be the one that’s so far ahead. I have to buzz around making sure that everything is running smoothly.

Now I’m a teen. I have to balance school with what goes on at home. I’m learning how to work at home while I’m getting my education so that one day I won’t have to depend on anyone at all. Because I have to prove to everyone that I’m strong and intelligent even when I don’t believe I truly am. So I won’t bring shame to the family of mine that has tried so hard to get to where they are now.

I am a honey bee. One day, I’ll be queen of my own hive. I’ll have to show everything that I’ve learned to those that come after me. I’m still unaware of the things that lie ahead. How will I deal with all the responsibility and become a good leader?

I’m still a naïve teen. I’m still struggling with things not going my way. I still have all this responsibility that follows me around. I’m still the eldest. But I can hope for the best. I can plan for a better future. I can set a good example for my younger siblings. Responsibility isn’t a bad thing. It’s something that should be used wisely. It’s something that I can used to benefit myself. Not just for now but for in the future as well.