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Extreme sports help teens overcome obstacles

Gabriel Hamilton takes a breather while snowboarding in a Sound Mental Health group therapy session for extreme sports. - Submitted
Gabriel Hamilton takes a breather while snowboarding in a Sound Mental Health group therapy session for extreme sports.
— image credit: Submitted

Teens Mikayala Cheney, of Renton, and Gabriel Hamilton, of Kent, weren’t participants in typical teenage activities and socializing before three years ago. Both came from troubled pasts and had issues they were trying to overcome.

Now, after three years participating in extreme sports activities through Sound Mental Health’s group-therapy programs, Cheney and Hamilton are socially active and engaged in the world around them.

“I’ve found myself more open to things, more open to being social because I know that if I hold myself back, I’m not going to get anywhere,” said Cheney. “If I keep isolating myself, I’m not going to be able to do the fun things that I do.”

The fun Cheney has participated in is snowboarding and indoor skydiving at iFly in Tukwila with Sound Mental Health. Extreme sports activities at the agency have also included motocross, long-boarding, mountain-bike riding, skateboarding, and standup paddle-boarding. All have been developed under the direction of Brandon Stogsdill, a Sound Mental Health therapist.

Cheney grew up without a father, no male role models and lost her brother to suicide when she was 7 years old. Her family life affected her and made her shy, not wanting to socialize much.

Hamilton was challenged by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. He had problems controlling his anger, he said.

Hamilton and Cheney both recounted how snowboarding trips with the agency and Chill, snowboard company Burton’s foundation, helped turn their lives around.

“When I was up there, I was free,” said Hamilton. “I cleared my mind of all the anger, stuff like that. And then, when I learned these lessons, it helped me pick up on that and get rid of that anger, using what I’ve learned.”

Life lessons were taught to the group by Stogsdill. He had his own rough road to navigate as a youth. The therapist was once incarcerated at 19 and spent time in prison.

Stogsdill turned it around in jail, saying, “God got ahold of my heart and changed it and gave me a crystal clear purpose to work with kids and prevent them from standing in the very same prison cell I stood.”

He went to college, the first of his family, got his master’s degree and became a child mental-health specialist and chemical- dependency professional. Stogsdill has worked with Sound Mental Health for three years, developing this unique approach to therapy.

“(There was) no research,” he said of extreme sports and therapy. “The only thing I found is that kids who do extreme sports are pot smokers and bad for the community, and I scoured for years,” Stogsdill said of the relentless research he did to support his group therapy idea.

Stogsdill is currently working to get this extension of his group therapy at Sound Mental Health recognized legitimately in textbooks for its benefits to mental health therapy. Most kids have a predisposition to risk-taking behavior that lets the brain take chances and make mistakes, he said.

Some choose to take those chances with drugs, but people can get a natural and organic high with extreme sports activities, Stogsdill said.

“This is a novel idea; it’s very cutting-edge,” he said. “It’s very extreme and it gets people into therapy, who normally wouldn’t do it. Counseling’s not what it used to be.”

For more information on the type of voluntary group therapy options at Sound Mental Health, visit the organization’s website, http://www.smh.org/.

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