Kiko Sweeney: Why This Student-Turned-Instructor Keeps Coming Back

Amanda Fox28 Nov, 2017
Kiko Sweeney Mt Adams Ultimate Northwest 2017
Instructor Kiko Sweeney with her Ultimate Northwest students atop Mt. Adams in 2017.

At Adventure Treks, we pride ourselves on creating long-term relationships with our families and students. Our executive director, John “Dock” Dockendorf, can recall every student we’ve ever taken on a summer adventure. Kiko Sweeney is a phenomenal example of how the Adventure Treks experience stays with our community long after their trips ends: Kiko was a three-year student before returning to become an instructor in 2014, and she’s worked with us every summer since.

After having spent her summer in the Pacific Northwest with students, Kiko is currently working with Patagonia in Salt Lake City, UT. She took a few minutes to sit down with us to talk about how strongly her Adventure Treks trips have influenced her over the years.

Kiko Sweeney mountain biking Ultimate Northwest 2017So, Kiko, where are you from?

I grew up in Southern California, then attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where I double-majored in media studies and the classics. While there, I participated in our Outdoor Education and Leadership program, which set me up wonderfully to jump into my first summer as an AT instructor upon graduating.

How did AT set you up for success in college after your three summers as a student?

I began my freshman year of college less than a month after my Leadership Summit trip, instilled with renewed self-confidence and a positive mental attitude. AT helped me become a student leader in our outdoor club quickly and easily.

Kiko with her students in British Columbia 2016.
Kiko with her students in British Columbia 2016.

During my summer breaks in college, I got the opportunity to work for a small outdoor education program in Alaska, and I was instantly hooked on working outside with amazing humans.

As an AT student, I learned how to have fun in any condition: with 1 a.m. starts on Mt. Shasta, enduring lightning storms on the banks of the Klamath River, being sick on a five-day backpack—you name it. As an AT instructor, I learned how to help other students conjure and maintain that positive mental attitude in challenging situations.

And what keeps you returning year after year?

The people at AT motivate me to practice being my best self, and have oodles of fun while doing so. I laugh more at AT than anywhere else! The activities we do and the places we visit are also exceptionally rad.

Kiko and students at Ross Lake on Pacific Northwest Explorer 2017.
Kiko and students at Ross Lake on Pacific Northwest Explorer 2017.

And we are happy to have you back! What was your favorite Adventure Treks trip?

Wow, hard question! As a student, Peak Leadership was my favorite trip. We climbed six major peaks all over the western US, a highlight being Mt. Olympus (even though I was ill). Our community surpassed any expectation of how close-knit, kind, and fun a group of humans could be. My favorite trip as an instructor, however, is Ultimate Northwest, hands-down. The activities are the best!

How would you say Adventure Treks has helped shaped you as an adult?

I love the AT philosophy of striving to be your best self, even when times get tough: Be your authentic self, while trying to act in the best interest of the place, people, and things around you. My abilities as a leader also originate at AT.

Any favorite moments that stand out?

I have loads of incredible memories from AT, so I’ll choose my first one: We were on the three-day raft of the Klamath River on California Challenge when a thunderstorm rolled right on top of us. We laughed and sang the night away, sleeping under tarps on the banks of the river. My most recent favorite moment happened on the Olympic Peninsula, when we had to quickly move camp at 7 p.m., when we had already already been in camp for hours. My group totally rocked it! We were stoked to hike at sunset and help our friends by walking another mile.


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