Discover Your Stability within the Nice Outdoor

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On the weekends, when Jerrick McLendon can take his bass boat out on one of the area lakes, he knows he’s doing something good for himself. Often accompanied by his wife, Chastity, a program coordinator at Duke Anesthesiology, McLendon searches for his favorite fish, crappie.

Often only a few inches in length and with a mild flavor that makes them a popular panfish, crappies are difficult to catch due to the large and often unpredictable variety of underwater environments they frequently visit. So McLendon spends his days at Jordan Lake, Falls Lake and Harris Reservoir outsmarting the fish and enjoying the stillness of nature.

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“It’s totally rejuvenating and very peaceful,” said McLendon, a facilities management financial analyst who has worked at Duke since 2018. “It’s a stress reliever. When I’m outside, I listen to the calls of the birds, I look out for eagles, blue herons or other birds. I just absorb everything and just enjoy life, enjoy nature. I’m not worried about anything except what the crappies are doing.”

While walking or running have long been known to benefit physical health, being in nature has rewards for mental well-being. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research shows that just 20 minutes outdoors can improve life satisfaction.

“It’s amazing what being outdoors can do for your mood,” said Felicia Tittle, Executive Director of Recreation & Physical Education at Duke, co-organizer of the Physical Activity & Movement division of the employee wellness initiative Healthy Duke. “For me, nature really increases my life satisfaction. I feel like I have a completely different mentality.”

And for McLendon, the joy of fishing goes beyond time on the water.

Instead of buying small, brightly colored lures — commonly called jigs — to attract crappie, McLendon makes his own at home. Using tiny weights, hooks, brightly colored chenille yarn, thread and feathers, he carefully constructs the small, lightweight jigs that resemble the small beetles or baitfish they feed on.

“I can make any color combination I want,” said McLendon, who often consults with Chastity on good color schemes. “I can put together some combinations that a fish may not have seen before. It’s just as fun as the actual fishing, and there’s great satisfaction in catching a fish with something you’ve made yourself. It has become a hobby of my own.”

Meet a few colleagues for whom outdoor activities are central to their well-being.

Steps towards wellness

Ada Gregory, associate director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, has always enjoyed being outdoors. As a Duke student, she competed on the Blue Devils rowing team. And she’s still rowing with a championship-level team from Chapel Hill.

She also experienced her love of camping and hiking while traveling in Australia and New Zealand in her twenties. As she got older and became a mother, Gregory, now 51, had to adapt her camping and hiking habits to her life. Longer multi-day hikes have been replaced by shorter trips, often with her family, to nearby locations like Grandfather Mountain or William B. Umstead State Park.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gregory, like many others, felt restless and saw outdoor adventures as a safe and fulfilling option.

“I felt like the only place I could go was outside,” said Gregory, who has hiked to places like Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

Whether she’s enjoying quiet time with her thoughts on solo hikes or enjoying uninterrupted time with family and friends on group hikes, Gregory has always included the opportunity to exercise in nature as part of her wellness routine.

“The feeling you get when you’re outside and making an effort, there’s nothing quite like it,” Gregory said. “It helps you sleep well, it lifts your spirits. And you can spend time with people without sitting in front of screens because half the time your phone won’t work.”

family on the water

Kayak on the water. For Dustin Austin, a health center manager at Duke Primary Care Riverview, the most recent fun memories his family has made are of their five colorful kayaks.

“When we’re home, the kids go to their own rooms,” Austin said. “When we play sports, like baseball and softball, the kids all play on different teams, but kayaking is one thing we can all do together.”

Austin first got his hands on serious kayaking when he was 19, paddling with a friend down the Cape Fear River from Jordan Lake to Wilmington. As the years went by and he became a father to three children, he didn’t kayak as much.

But about three years ago, Austin pulled his old kayak — a 9-foot Perception — out of storage and began buying used ones on Craigs List and Facebook Marketplace to build a fleet for his family.

Now when the weather is warm, the Austins load their kayaks into the back of a truck and make the short drive from their home outside of Siler City to Jordan Lake, where they enjoy spending days on the water, paddling, and swimming.

“It’s relatively cheap aside from the initial cost of the kayak, but after that the water is free,” Austin said. “We make memories every time we do it. It’s nice to detach and not think about anything else.”

A hammock tent escape

JamieRoberts Because her role as Research Practice Manager for Duke Cancer Institute is mostly based out of her home, Jamie Roberts has to work hard to get away from work when she’s free.

Here, camping and hiking have become a much-needed getaway.

“It’s become really important to me,” said Roberts, who has worked at Duke since 2015. “I call it healing my natural deficiency disorder. It’s less about the physical benefits and more about the mental health benefits.”

Growing up in Southern California, Roberts often spent time hiking, camping, and skiing. And when she became a mother to two now grown children, her family enjoyed kayaking and backpacking together. In recent years, however, she has found particular joy in camping, whether in her hammock tent or her 20-foot RV.

TJ Beezley, Duke Rec’s outdoor adventure coordinator, said participants on camping and hiking trips reported reduced stress and anxiety, as well as increased confidence and strong connections with other adventurers.

“I think people appreciate the opportunity to detach from technology and get out of their bubble,” Beezley said.

The separation of work and life responsibilities speaks for Roberts, who recently went on a three-week hiking trip through Portugal and Spain and regularly camps in the Fall Lake State Recreation Area and at several locations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“I can completely detach myself from thoughts about work and what I should be doing or what needs to be done,” Roberts said, “and focus on being present for where I am, rooted in the joys of the moment , whether it be around a campfire or on top of a mountain I just climbed.”

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