Sophie Land lives and works at Mangaone Station, a busy sheep and cattle farm in rural Whangara, a 30-minute drive from Gisborne.

During Cyclone Gabrielle last year, Mangaone Station's river banks burst, and the farm was under siege from floodwaters and slash. Dressed only in her night dress, Sophie and her husband Nick undertook a frantic mission to rescue 200 of the farm's 5000 cattle and sheep, relocating the young cattle to higher ground.

She says while the animals were saved, she and her family are still repairing damage to their land and property today.

In March, Sophie joined eight East Coast farmers also profoundly affected by Cyclone Gabrielle on an Outward Bound course in Anakiwa in Queen Charlotte Sound. As recipients of generous Tairāwhiti Rural Support Trust scholarships, the farmers were challenged to eight days of outdoor experiences designed to unlock their inner potential.

Vicki Crosswell is the Tairāwhiti coordinator of the Rural Support Trust and said the nine farmers who successfully applied to attend the Outward Bound course had faced many challenges in the wake of the cyclone, and all hoped to gain much-needed reset time for themselves.

“Gabrielle was a tragic event that left a lasting impact on many lives and Tairāwhiti farmers are facing a recovery for a few more years yet. But amidst all the destruction, we also witnessed many farmers overcome immense challenges and emerged stronger than before.

“The self-awareness and growth to be gained by attending OB while being amongst others dealing with the same issues in recovery mode, is hugely beneficial. We hoped we could provide these farmers the time to reflect and become grounded in their own strength to adapt, no matter the situation.”

A mother of four, Sophie's pilgrimage from Whangara to Marlborough was the first time she had spent time away from her children, aged 16 to nine.

At Outward Bound, Sophie forged new relationships and found strength from eight strangers, now friends.

"None of us knew each other before Outward Bound. It was cool having people from the same region come together, all of us with the same farming background and similar Cyclone experiences. For me, it was an incredible eight days of sharing and learning.

"Post course, one of our watch mates hurt his leg and could not work. Living nearby, we could head over to his place and help with drenching."

She says her Outward Bound course was much more than the physical challenge she expected.

"The biggest learning I have taken away from Anakiwa is never to give up. Now I'm back working on the farm, and the learnings are being put into practice."

The course has inspired her to pass the baton, to help more farmers in need. Sophie has set herself the lofty goal of traversing on foot a loop around the East Coast, setting off on 7 September.

"Some of my Outward Bound watchmates and I will be walking and jogging the loop of the East Coast starting in Gizzy and on to Toko, to Te Araroa, Waihau Bay, then Opotiki, Matawai and back to Gizzy! It will be a massive 475 kilometres.

"Rural Support Trust has helped many people in our communities throughout Tairāwhiti. We would love to ensure the Trust can offer other people the chance to go to Outward Bound for the same once-in-a-lifetime experience. We aim to finish the loop under six days, as much as we’re hoping for good weather and that our fundraising will enable more farmers to experience Outward Bound."

She says passing the baton to others in the farming industry struggling mentally with the workload feels like the right thing to do - and is the motivation she needs to keep up the "PT" gained at Outward Bound.

"I’m pleased I’ve continued my PT or physical training sessions. The fitness will come in handy in September."

Sophie said an Outward Bound highlight was being able to laugh with like-minded people about the silliest of things and having the opportunity to chat about their shared experiences.

"It was so good talking about the Cyclone aftermath to people outside of my family and listening to their stories with my fresh ears. We all had different ideas and solutions and could learn from each other. It didn't feel overwhelming listening to it all - we struck a good balance of talking about cyclone stuff mixed in with other, lighter conversations."

Recalling other course highlights, Sophie says, “I think spending two nights in the bush on my own was a challenge and a highlight at the same time. Not knowing the time of the day and using the sun to tell the time, I have a deeper appreciation of the many things at my fingertips - hot water, flushing toilet, lights, warm meals, cars and planes to move comfortably from A to B and having access to technology to message my daughter and ask how her football trials went.

“But going without them made me slow down and smell the roses. I’ve been thinking about what are the important things in life instead of rushing around, probably because all of those things have been at my fingertips. It’s also made me really appreciate them too!”

Since returning to work, Sophie recognises a change in herself. "When I become aware that I am overworking myself, I know to stop and rest. I can come back tomorrow to finish the job, and I will be better off not working myself into the ground. The jobs can wait. The other thing is, you don't have to be a hero and do it all by yourself.

"I've also brought home a new way of thinking about failure. A note on our fridge door says FAIL - First Attempt In Learning. It reminds us to try new things and go for it. There's nothing wrong with failure because we are learning at the same time."

Vicki has witnessed a difference in Sophie since her return to farm life.

“I've seen a huge shift in Sophie. She has become more open and independent, confident and spritely. Her whole wellbeing has changed. She is back doing what she loves and she has adapted her abilities and skills gained from OB to face her challenges head on. It's a pleasure to see her confidence blooming once again.”

Sophie has sage advice for farmers grappling with mental health issues in the aftermath of the cyclone damage.

"As farmers, we can always find an excuse not to leave our farms. I found a few excuses, but I am so pleased I ignored them and took the opportunity to go to OB. I realise the importance of being around like-minded people. If you can build a bond with others, there is strength in feeling supported and offering your support to others."

To find out more about Sophie's fundraising mission for the Tairāwhiti Rural Support Trust, visit https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/east-coast-loop-in-boots