Winger: Enjoyment of public lands strengthens family bond

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Before choosing to focus on javelin and realizing my goal of competing in the Rio Olympics, I played a lot of sports. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in national parks with my family.

My brother was engaged in both athletics and theater, Mom served actively at church, and Dad traveled a lot for work, so camping was the basis for quiet, shared family time. To this day, my favorite aspect of public lands is the stillness that always comes with spending time in protected landscapes. The world stops for a minute and lets me enjoy the people I’m with and the beauty around me.

America’s public lands are so important to me as an athlete and a person. Access to lands has to be protected. Enjoying our public lands is one of the last ways we have to remind ourselves to slow down. I think it is vitally important that people see these places. It gives Americans a way to treasure our shared history and wilderness. The potential that protected lands have to teach awareness, introspection, and respect is huge.

My parents liked to take us camping growing up, and we spent a lot of our time outdoors on federal lands. Now my parents ride their horses on the public lands in Washington, and I’ve been exposed to the vast opportunities available in the rest of the country by my awesome husband, Russ.

There are two major things that experiences in the outdoors have taught me.

The first was, I could be more than just one thing. My dad was a dedicated civil engineer who constantly pursued intellectual skills but would get equally excited about planning a camping trip. The attention he put into planning trips for the family was, and remains, equal to the care he puts into making sure the bridges he builds are safe. I loved watching him pursue his enthusiasm for multiple things growing up. He taught me to pursue multiple horizons at the same time.

The second lesson that exposure to nature taught me was that there is always time for family. On top of that, spending time with people I love outside makes me feel that much closer to them; there are no distractions from bonding with each other. Now, enjoying public lands and experiencing nature helps me manage the pressure from competing at an elite level and provides me with ways to cross-train for javelin.

National park visits a priority

My husband, who is an elite discus thrower, makes traveling to new places, especially national parks, during our off-season a priority for us. I always come home feeling rejuvenated mentally and strong physically.

In 2013, Russ and I took a backpacking trip in Olympic National Park, and during the trip we could escape the stress of our athletic careers and were just two people sharing this amazing experience in the wilderness of our country. In fact, he proposed to me in the park! Whenever I take my paddleboard out or go for a hike on an off-weekend from training, I always return to training feeling restored.

Public land is necessary.

Exploring public land is a huge part of the lives my husband and I lead.

I have watched the enjoyment of public lands bring friends and family together in ways that nothing else could have. I have traveled the world throwing the javelin and have had the opportunity to see some incredible sights, but the unspoiled wilderness of many American public lands remains my favorite.

I’ll keep coming back as long as they are there.


Kara (Patterson) Winger is a Skyview High School graduate and a three-time Olympian. She wrote this to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.