A header photo showing several small boats floating near the shoreline

Encouraging Adventure, Supporting Dreams

Updated August 5, 2018 . AmFam Team

Embracing the American Family values pushed employee Walker Richardson to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Learn how he found the courage to sail the Indian Ocean on a hollowed-out mango tree, and become inspired to pursue your most ambitious dreams.

When it comes to pursuing a dream, your workplace may not be the first place you look for inspiration. But for American Family Product Results Advisor, Walker Richardson, embracing our culture and aspirational values was just the push he needed to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

In the spring 2016, American Family made some positive adjustments to employee time off and bonus benefits. Around the same time we also launched a series of videos featuring remarkable, every-day dreamers pursuing their passions, spreading inspiration to our customers and employees alike. This combination of events encouraged Walker to say ‘yes’ to a dream that was merely a far-fetched idea weeks before.

“A friend asked if I wanted to sail a mango tree in the Indian Ocean,” says Walker. “With my bonus funds and time off in their respective banks, and all the feels from recent engagements with leadership at work, I told my manager that I would spend most of July in Tanzania. She replied with, ‘that sounds amazing. I’m excited for you!’”

And just like that, with the support of his friends, family and colleagues, he was on a plane on his way to a remote, seaside village in Africa to learn sailing and maritime navigation theories — all in preparation for the Ngalwa Cup, a 280-mile race down the Zanzibar archipelago.

“They place people in remote locations with inappropriate transportation,” explains Walker. “Ours was the Ngalawa, an ancient fishing vessel used by locals in sheltered bays. It leaks and is held together by nails and string.”

It goes without question that this mission would be challenging for even the most daring of dreamers. But for Walker, it was the ultimate adventure, full of ups, downs and teaching moments.

“For eight days, we sailed the summer trade winds through the Tanzanian archipelago, anchoring at different blue-watered islands each night,” says Walker. “Due to large swells, we capsized four times during the race. That meant bailing with five-gallon buckets while water poured over the gunwales. It also meant losing water, clothes, tools and food. When we were just off the continental shelf, a swell knocked us over and, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t recover. Defeated, we hit our SOS button, effectively disqualifying us.”

While waiting for help, Walker and his partners were marooned on a small island for two nights, leaving plenty of time for reflection. And while they could’ve given up, they decided to press on.

“While we were marooned, we reflected on our failure. It was a pivotal moment, but we decided to continue,” shares Walker. “In the middle of the night, we boarded a small cargo dhow headed for mainland Africa. During the next four days, we made our way by land and sea to the finish line at the northern tip of Zanzibar, where only five teams finished under sail. Everyone shared stories of their journey over cheeseburgers and cold beer, and we received the Indomitable Spirit award,” — a well-deserved honor.

While the race conditions were strenuous and the challenge mentally and physically exhausting, Walker wouldn’t change a thing about his experience. In fact, it’s proved to be one of the most meaningful of his life. And he credits American Family for awakening his inner adventurer and encouraging him to pursue his most ambitious of dreams.

“When I reflect on the events that led to my adventure, I can’t help but credit the people I’ve met here who influenced me and the ideas they shared,” expresses Walker. “Had I not been exposed to both, I never would have met some amazing people and made once-in-a-lifetime memories in a leaky boat made from a mango tree.”

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