The entire journey was filmed as a feature length documentary, but Wellfit Girls Challenge is more than just a movie, it’s a movement. The hope is for the film to have a global impact, sharing the mentality that women and girls can change the world.
These girls have incredible stories to share, stories that will inspire other teens across the country and all over the world. From depression and anxiety to self-harm and abuse, body issues and poverty, the film touches on several key issues facing our youth today.
Jill Wheeler, mentor, guide and producer of the film, attributes her health and strength to her time spent in the outdoors. She founded Wellfit Institute in 2010 to inspire her clients to live more active, healthy, fit and adventurous lives. Wheeler believes that the natural world is our greatest teacher. Wellfit Girls Challenge is based on Adventure Therapy principles.
Adventure Therapy emerged as a type of psychotherapy in the 1960’s. A variety of learning and psychological theories influenced the integrated form of education, counseling and philosophy called Adventure Therapy. The approach is humanistic, existential and ecologically minded. People are encouraged to explore and discover new ways of experiencing their lives in the now. Adventure and challenge are opportunities for expansion, self-discovery and metaphoric learning.
Jill’s Call to Adventure came in 1994 in the wilds of Wyoming. It was a turning point in her life. “Nature and my time spent exploring, climbing, surfing and camping for weeks in the backcountry saved my life”, says Wheeler. “There was a time I was so low I didn’t know where to turn or with whom to connect, so I walked outside for hours and days and days and hours alone.”
“It was bear country and hunting season, but I was determined to face the fear of being alone. Before embarking on my solo backpacking adventure my biggest fear was the men I would encounter out there. Knowing I was undefended, yet not naïve, I guarded myself with unconditional confidence (or sheer determination). I simply convinced myself no one would hurt me. I believed it to the core. I had to do this for my emerging sense of self, for my empowerment; not simply to prove I could do it, but to find a reason to live. I guided myself for days. I slept alone in the dark and cold. I explored the vast landscape, mine and the wild Wind River Mountain range, and for some reason in the smallness of my being among the vastness of my surroundings, I discovered the deepest sense of connection and knowing that I am never truly alone, that I do belong in the Universe of all beings.”
“The day I started believing in myself, there was no going back. I wanted to create a program that would empower teen girls and teach them that they can climb high in all areas of life no matter how low they felt about themselves or life. I had been through a hard time as a teenager and kept it all to myself. I suffered from fear, anxiety and depression and experienced profound relief and comfort from time in nature, playing, exploring and adventuring. After planning and successfully executing this solo backpacking trip in the remote mountains, I knew I had found my calling.”
The program provides an opportunity for girls to experience the real, rawness of nature that is also in them. “I wanted them to experience and trust in the slow rhythm of nature, which is also in them. I want them to live wild and free, to dance in the dark under the stars, to follow trails until they disappear and make their own along the way,” says Wheeler.
Committed to the idea that challenge in nature and healthy peer groups are the greatest influence for building self-esteem, Jill introduced her concept to a group of teen girls. No program has ever been run like this in Florida. Jill had a vision of providing something challenging, a little scary and thought provoking to a community where outdoor adventure doesn’t exist.