Kia ora koutou.
My name is Sophie Aitken and I’m an outdoor lover from Central Otago. My main passions are based around anything outdoors; tramping, rock climbing, mountaineering, slacklining, sea kayaking and much more. I’m sure you're getting the point, if it involves being in the backcountry, even better with a bit of adrenaline then I’ll be keen to give it a try. Currently, I’m serving in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a Helicopter Loadmaster – under training.
When I first applied for the Pinnacle Programme my main motivation was attending Spirit of Adventure and Outward Bound. Little did I know these and many other experiences would only be a facilitator for the real learning and benefits that the programme offers.
In 2016 I attended a 10-day voyage with Spirit of New Zealand. This happened at the perfect time for me. I had just moved from small-town life to chase my sporting dreams at boarding school in Auckland. It gave me a much-needed confidence boost, especially with my social skills. This was also where my Air Force dream started when one of the crew was an NH90 pilot from the RNZAF.
Next came Outward Bound in 2018. Outward Bound was everything I had dreamed of and more. I was super excited to spend 21 days doing many outdoor pursuits though, I quickly realised the real value was in the lessons I was learning. Again, confidence was a big thing for me. Prior to attending, I had wanted to join LandSAR but was too nervous being the youngest in the group that I may not be able to effectively get my voice heard in high-risk situations. I joined LandSAR the week I got home and have been volunteering ever since. Nowadays I’m a Field Team Leader. One of the best things is that the experience keeps giving, even years later with reflection and more maturity I am constantly picking up lessons that I didn’t during my course.
Finally, in 2019 I attended Kai Waho. It is hard to put this experience into words. It was a week that forces us to stop, reflect on where we have come from, write goals and align our values. They really helped me dig down to who I am as a person and gave me more clarity in moving forward with my goals.
I think the Pinnacle Programme is best summed up by this quote, “We are like dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants… we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.” The team that runs the programme are a never-ending pool of wisdom and advice, who are all passionate about what they do. There is also the amazing opportunity to connect and learn from the other students in the programme who never cease to amaze and inspire me. The entire Pinnacle family has lifted me to greater heights than I thought were possible and for this, I’ll always be grateful.