Sophomore John Rusyniak uses rock climbing to challenge himself and others

Confronted with two major, back-to-back injuries in high school, Indiana University Bloomington sophomore John Rusyniak knew it was time to move on from football. Exploring new options led him -- literally and figuratively -- on a path to exploring the outdoors, and sharing that passion with others.

"I've always enjoyed hanging out outside," Rusyniak said. "I've always had that as part of my life. But in high school, I went on a road trip with my friends to Yellowstone, and we did some backpacking out there. Everything went totally wrong, and it was awesome. It was great looking back on it, realizing that there's always that risk, that uncertainty, which is really exciting for me."

Rusyniak climbing the Eigenmann Bouldering Wall. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Rusyniak started pursuing rock climbing as a way to relive this "type two" fun, meaning that it is difficult while happening but very enjoyable in retrospect. And when he came to IU, Rusyniak was instantly attracted to Outdoor Adventures and its inclusive subculture.

"I am passionate about the outdoors," Rusyniak said. "Everything I do revolves around it. It creates a foundation for my life and builds from there. My friends come from it, and my music as well. Outdoor Adventures is a platform for me to do all of that."

Rusyniak relates his economic consulting and sustainable business major to his Outdoor Adventures work: both involve problem-solving and gray areas with no right answers.

He works at the Eigenmann Bouldering Wall as a trip leader and setter. Any student can learn setting, which involves creating patterns by screwing in rocks on the rock wall.

"Students have access to setting if they go through one to two training sessions," Rusyniak said. "Anyone can set. It's a creative outlet for you to express yourself through climbing and physical activity."

Rusyniak works with the organization 5 to 15 hours a week, conducting climbing and backpacking trips, creating routes on the rock wall and even teaching courses.

Rusyniak with his group on an Outdoor Adventures trip. Photo courtesy of John Rusyniak

He received training to do this work, including becoming a certified first responder. His other responsibilities include teaching workshops and clinics, planning meals, prepping gear and cleaning up after a trip. And he said all the time and preparation are worth it for one main reason.

"All of the best times I've ever had have been outside, and I can attribute that to the people," Rusyniak said. "It's all about the people. If you experience a place and you love it because of the people, you're still going to enjoy those places when you're alone."

Rusyniak appreciates the company of others, and Brian Croft, Outdoor Programs Coordinator of Indiana University Outdoor Adventures, believes this is an inherent characteristic of who Rusyniak is.

"John has a great mix of interpersonal and technical skills," said Croft. "It’s so apparent that he really believes in what we do at Outdoor Adventures. His passion for bringing people into the outdoors is evident in all of his interactions, whether they be with students or his fellow trip leaders. He has a maturity beyond his years, but he also has an engaging personality that draws others to him."

Rusyniak's innate ability in connecting with others is especially prevalent in his love for music. After his injuries in high school, Rusyniak briefly pursued show choir, a big shift for him as he began reevaluating what he wanted to do.

But piano has always been at the core of his musical interests, playing for seven years. He also practices guitar, focusing primarily on blues rock.

Rusyniak consulting a manual on an Outdoor Adventures trip. Photo courtesy of John Rusyniak

"A lot of people in the outdoor community are musicians, too," Rusyniak said. "So being able to collaborate, get together and play is awesome."

With students primarily leading trips and classes, IU's Outdoor Adventures program is different from many universities, which Rusyniak appreciates.

"IU has taught me so much," he said. "Outdoor Adventures has taught me about leadership, people, decision-making and technical skills. There's a definite mentorship aspect to it. There's a lot of reaching out and teaching."

Rusyniak understands the power of each experience to teach something different.

"Take advantage of every opportunity you have, even bad things," he said. "Take advantage of them to learn more about yourself, improve on something or to take some time to reflect."

On Tuesday, April 23, join us as we follow John Rusyniak through his day as an IU student as part of our One Day/One Hoosier series. Look for his story through @IUBloomington on Twitter, @iubloomington on Instagram and iu_bloomington on Snapchat as it happens live starting around 10 a.m. EDT.