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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fort Thomas Man Takes Guide Skills to Norway

Brian Healy, right, working as a raft guide.

For most people, a day at the office means shuffling between cubicles or meeting rooms. If we're lucky, we get a window with some good light, and if we're really lucky, we get a nice view.

The same can't be said for former Fort Thomas resident Brian Healy. His office consists of the great outdoors. Recently, his "office" views were those of the Norwegian landscape while working as a raft guide in the Noway's Heidal Valley along the Sjoa River.

Healy, a 2003 graduate of Highlands High School, has been a working member of the outdoor industry for years, but the road to Norway began long before Healy even started training as a guide. Healy has always been interested in working in the outdoor industry, but didn't know how to break into the business. It wasn't until a friend working at Glacier National Park helped point him in the right direction that he was able to kick start his own career. 

“Honestly I spent more than a couple years thinking that working outdoors was a pipe dream and I didn't commit to even attempting to train as a guide until 2010. The hardest part of getting involved in the outdoor industry is choosing to give it a shot,” said Healy.

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'Giving it a shot' can have a number of different meanings depending on a person's particular interest in the outdoor industry. For Healy, it meant rotating between working as a raft guide and a ski instructor. “Nearly every river that is commercially guided in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains has a training program through one company or another,” said Healy. 

“Some you have to pay for, but a lot of others will train you for free in order to have enough guides to work during the busiest parts of the season. Since working as a raft guide only covers 6 months out of the year, I began ski instructing in Park City, Utah in the winter and would migrate back and forth across the country."

Healy got his start as a raft guide on the New River in Fayetteville, West Virginia. “It was an awesome opportunity to work on a high volume river in a beautiful and underutilized place. The Fayetteville area also has a fall season where guides come from all over the world to work on the Gauley River. The outdoor industry is a pretty tight knit community and the opportunities to network and find jobs in other places throughout the world opened up pretty quickly after working a couple seasons,” said Healy.

After spending years gaining experience as a guide, one of those opportunities eventually lead Healy to Norway. He first found out about the opportunity in Norway from a former co-worker, who is half-Norwegian and had worked on the Sjoa River in the early 2000's. “She was looking for a female raft guide (there are a lot more males in the industry) and my fiancée, Mattie, and I decided to pursue the opportunity together,” said Healy.

The entire process for moving and working in Norway began in early December 2015. Before moving abroad, Healy and his fiancée had to secure work visas and provide documentation of all the rivers they have guided and boated on over the years. Their visas were approved in March 2016, and began working in Norway in May for Sjoa Raftingsenter.

Norway's natural beauty provided a working environment unlike anything Healy had ever experienced in previous jobs. “Just calling this country beautiful is a disservice to how spectacular this place really is,” said Healy. “There are rugged mountains, waterfalls, fjords, active glaciers, gorgeous coastlines and some stellar rivers scattered across the country. In peak summer there is 20 plus hours of daylight and as early as the end of August you can see the Northern Lights if you travel to the northern most part of the country. There are national parks scattered throughout the country and its a big part of the culture to introduce kids to the wilderness early in their lives so many adults remain active throughout their lives.”

Healy's time in Norway not only provided him with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but also allowed him to check off one of his personal life goals. “It's been a dream of mine to work internationally since before I knew what I wanted to do with my life and while this experience hasn't been perfect, it has been very rewarding and I'm grateful to have taken the opportunity,” said Healy.

The Sjoa River season recently wrapped up September, and Healy is now preparing to tackle another season of guiding for ACE Adventure at the Gauley River in West Virginia. Working at the Gauley has become a highlight for Healy each year. “My favorite job by far has been guiding rafts on the upper section of the Gauley river,” said Healy. “It's 12 miles of the most demanding whitewater available west of the Mississippi and arguably the best single day stretch of river in North America. It seems that no matter where I've gone to work I've always made sure that for the six weekends in the fall I'm in the back of a raft in West Virginia.”

The Sjoa River is approximately 3,999 miles from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Healy's experiences growing up in Fort Thomas and taking advantage of outdoor opportunities had an impact on his career today, and helped bridge that 3,999 mile gap between his hometown and Norway. “Fort Thomas has done an excellent job investing in its park system and making sure that kids have an opportunity to play outside. I joined the Boy Scouts much later than most people because they were camping and backpacking and canoeing and doing all the weekend adventures that might not have been possible for my family to do on their own,” said Healy.

Healy also challenges the community and local youth to get outdoors by creating opportunities to engaging in outdoor activities in the area. “There are lots of trips that are possible to take that are less than an hour away from downtown, and even more opportunities for youth to climb, hike, bike, ski, boat, sail, camp, and explore that are less than a five hour drive. There really is a great opportunity to help give kids a jump start on valuing and appreciating our own back yards if we can help lead them and provide guidance,” said Healy.

Healy certainly isn't alone in his quest for adventure. There are many Fort Thomas residents and Highlands High School alumni, who have pursued careers in the outdoor industry. There's no doubt that the current generation of Fort Thomas youth will have many outdoor enthusiasts as well. Healy provides some solid advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps: 

“It can be intimidating and difficult to get involved in the outdoor industry if you grew up in Fort Thomas. My suggestion for anyone that wants to work in the outdoor industry would be to do some research on where you think you might want to explore, go online to, and see if there are any jobs available in the places you want to be. Outdoor industry jobs are seasonal and customer service driven, so there are always opportunities to work and live at places you would normally only consider a vacation destination. 

If you commit to spending a whole summer in Yosemite National Park and find a group of people that are passionate about climbing, it won't be terribly difficult to transition that experience into a guiding position. The most common attributes in guides for the outdoor industry are a passion for the great outdoors and a willingness to help others get the most out of their vacation experience. I wish that I would have taken the initiative to get a job working as a guide as soon as I turned 18. The only thing stopping people from pursing those jobs are self doubt and a lack of examples of others succeeding in the industry.”  

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