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Bethany Wesley, Forum News Service, Published May 12 2013

Minnesota challenge course visitors take 'Leap of Faith'

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. – You could hear Cassy Tomoson shriek as her feet left the platform, propelling her forward on a 370-foot zipline.

About 25 yards away, Craig Campbell leapt from atop a 25-foot pole, reaching out to grab a trapeze bar 5 feet away.

“It was thrilling,” he said afterward, disconnecting himself from a safety harness.

The two were among 27 seniors from Brandon/Evansville who concluded their three-day class trip to the Bemidji area last week at the Character Challenge Course outside of Park Rapids.

“It was fun,” said David Lysfjord after completing a four-stage ropes course that included an “Indiana Jones”-esque walking bridge, featuring planks spread nearly a foot apart. “The bridge was a bit shaky.”

Travis Guida and his wife, Sarah Coumbe-Guida, founded the Character Challenge Course Co. in 2010.

Both have teaching backgrounds with special needs students. Coumbe-Guida resigned last fall after 13 years with the Cass Lake-Bena district and Guida is in his ninth year with the Bemidji School District – his fifth at Bemidji High School – but took an extended leave this year to focus on the challenge course.

The business, known as C4, focuses on team-building as groups of people from corporations, schools and athletics learn to rely on and trust in one another.

But it also draws a good number of thrill-seekers, as well.

For team-building visits, the course is tweaked to meet the specific goals and needs of each group, Guida noted.

Generally speaking, groups start with low-ropes activities, low-impact, hands-on activities aimed to promote cooperation and teamwork. Later, they advance to the high-ropes course, where they have opportunities to take part in more adrenaline-pumping activities, such as the Leap of Faith – the jumping-for-the-trapeze station – and the Flying Squirrel, where one team member is lifted 40 feet in the air by his or her teammates.

Metaphors are often used. For instance, as participants prepare for the Leap of Faith, they are asked to verbalize a life goal, picture that goal and commit to reaching that goal before they make the jump for the trapeze.

The course name itself is a metaphor. Not only does C4 represent the four Cs in Character Challenge Course Co., but C4 also is used in reference to plastic explosives.

“What is C4 used for? It’s used to change the shape of a building by imploding that building or used to change the shape of a rock structure to create a tunnel,” Guida said. “We want this experience to change the shape of their character, to enhance their communication skills, to improve their ability to overcome fears or learn to develop problem-solving and develop leadership skills.

“Whether you’re a corporate group or a family, all of those things are important.”

He recalled a father-and-son duo who completed the course a couple of years ago. The dad, standing atop the Leap of Faith, proclaimed that his life goal was to be a better father.

“He’s up there bawling, his (adult) son is down here crying, and the dad looks down and says, ‘Son, I love you so much,’?” Guida said. “It was a really powerful moment. Those are the kind of moments that you know you’re impacting someone’s life in a powerful, meaningful way.”