Taking the Plunge with the Tashiros

Exploring the heart-centered intersection of cold plunging, outdoor education, and life on the edge at Strathcona Park Lodge.

Words by Freya Wasteneys

In the late afternoon light, Julia Tashiro approaches a small pond, tucked near her home at Strathcona Park Lodge. Dappled mountain views peek through the tall evergreens. She hesitates, but an intention is set. Dipping toes into the icy pool, she slowly eases herself into the water – feet, calves, then hips. Legs protest. The muscle in her chest thumps loudly, preparing her for submersion. It’s here that she pauses and finds her breath. Silence descends. By the tenth breath, her body eases slightly. She begins to notice the ice that still clings to the edges of the pool, the boughs that brush the surface. She stays here and lets the sensations flow. This is a moment she gives to herself.

Originally from Germany, it was a series of synchronicities that brought Julia and her partner Sebastian Tashiro to the Lodge in 2010. Shortly after graduating from the same Outdoor Education Masters program, the two began to look for work abroad. Julia remembers being drawn to Canada by what she now recognizes as a Lake Louise advertisement. “You know, the classic Rocky Mountain shot with a green lake and a red canoe,” she laughs. The two had visions of travel, but shared the dream of finding work in Western Canada. “After a bit of travel, we started to apply to different places. We were both offered positions at Simon Fraser University. On paper, it seemed like a dream opportunity, but we took some time to think it over, and in the meantime went to explore Vancouver Island.” she shares. 

The Lodge was one of the places Sebastian had applied that Julia had not, but he had managed to line up an interview while the two were visiting the island. Both remember struggling to find the lodge because of a P.O. Box address, but stumbled upon the property on their way to hike in Strathcona Provincial Park. In a moment of inspiration, the two stopped in, and Sebastian was offered an interview and a job in short succession. It just so happened that they were looking to hire two instructors at the time, and Julia was offered a position the very same day. 

Faced with a crossroad, they took some time to hike in Strathcona Park and consider their options. “We would be silly to pass this up,” Julia remembers saying in a moment of clarity, gazing over Bedwell. That was that. They took the plunge. 

Something happens when you fully submerge yourself. Sebastian explains that this stripping of certainty and comfort can allow us to be more present in our lives. “It’s in those moments that all your senses are alive. Sometimes you don’t know the joy of warmth until after you’ve been cold.” This idea of “living on the edge” of comfort, as a way of connecting to the natural world and self, is one of the six core values that the Lodge was founded upon. It is yet another way the two aligned with SPL’s vision. 

Today, 14 years after their fateful decision, the Tashiros have built a beautiful life at SPL, along with their young son. As co-directors of the Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training (COLT) program, both bring unique skills and passions, but share the joy of spending time outside with their students. “That’s really where the juice lies, you know?” says Julia. “Like, wow, this is why we’re here. Feet on the earth.” 

While COLT students leave the program with many certificates, it’s ultimately a sense of self-trust and knowledge that the Tashiros feel is their students biggest take away. “I love seeing the confidence students gain as they tackle challenges, and discover a sense of self,” shares Julia. 

“Every step you go further away from civilization and the things you know can really help clarify things. It really breaks life down to its essence. It shows you what matters,” says Sebastian.

And with practice comes trust.  “Sometimes it’s hard to force yourself to take the plunge, but I have never once regretted it. Each time it’s a little easier” says Sebastian. “It loves you right back.”