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William Pike: inspiring a generation of explorers

University of Auckland Young Alumnus of the Year William Pike is on a mission to build resilience and curiosity in young Kiwis.

Becoming a teacher was never on William Pike’s to do list. The inspirational educator, adventurer and 2019 University of Auckland Young Alumnus of Year says that aside from sports, he “didn’t go well at school” and didn’t imagine himself at university.

After leaving school he worked in retail, but his job wasn’t engaging him enough so he ended up going with a friend to an open day at the Faculty of Education and Social Work’s Epsom Campus.

“I could see the potential for career advancement, travel overseas, and making a difference in people’s lives.”
He started a Bachelor of Education (Primary) in 2004, really enjoyed his classes and started to believe he could succeed.

He remembers the Faculty as having “small classes, a great vibe and inspirational teachers;” in particular outdoor education teacher Dr Maureen Legge, who still teaches in the Faculty.
He completed his Bachelor of Education with first class honours in 2006 and in 2007, started teaching at Clevedon School and doing his honours degree part time; specialising in gifted and talented learners, children’s literature and technology.

But in September that year, during a weekend climb up Mt Ruapehu with friend James Christie, his whole world changed. At 8.30pm the mountain violently erupted, sending a deluge of rocks, mud, water and debris pounding straight into the climbers’ hut, crushing William against the far wall and almost drowning him.
Incredibly, James escaped the crush and after the water had subsided and he’d tried unsuccessfully to free his friend, he headed off down the mountain in icy, treacherous conditions to get help.
Waking up from a coma in hospital a day later and discovering his right leg had been amputated below the knee, William says he was “gutted” to have lost a leg but overjoyed to be alive after resigning himself to dying on the mountain at only 22.

“In hospital I started thinking about the future and one of my goals was to get back in the classroom, another was to finish the last assignment for my honours degree!”
Life since then has been a series of small steps leading to big things. After going back to teaching wearing a prosthetic leg and receiving “heaps of support” from teachers and students at Murray’s Bay School on Auckland's North Shore, another school approached him about establishing an outdoor education programme.
It sounded like a great idea and the rest is history: the William Pike Challenge Award youth development programme is now active in 97 schools, has 3000 participating students nationwide and employs a team of people.

“What I eventually learned from my Ruapehu experience was when big challenges and changes come at you from out of the blue, succeeding or failing is down to one thing; whether you’re already used to stepping out of your comfort zone or not,” he says.
“I wanted to create a programme that would prepare young people to step outside their comfort zone and be ready for a rapidly changing 21st century world; providing opportunities to develop skills to overcome challenge, change and achieve their personal best.”

Aimed at Year 7, 8 and 9 students, the William Pike Challenge Award is a year-long programme and involves completing five outdoor activities, 20 hours of community service and 20 hours of ‘passion projects’ – which have to be something totally new to the student, from cross-stitch to rugby.
Resilience and an adventurous spirit are qualities William would eventually love to promote at every school in New Zealand.

“My vision is a world full of explorers, not only in the outdoors, but in everything they do.”
He says that while he’s no longer a school teacher, his university experience was a crucial step towards self-belief, setting him up for his current entrepreneurial role as an educator beyond the classroom.
“University gave me a strong foundation from which I could spring forward. It made me feel I could succeed and that if worked hard, I would get results; it was a game changer.”

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