Whether you are getting ready for World Finals or simply planning to renew your membership, spring is an important time to remember that all of the work done over the year has been valuable. Being involved in OotM leaves a lasting impact as evidenced by the many inspiring stories we have received over the years.

  Below is one of these instances. It is a college application essay written by Zach Ford of Springdale, Arizona. He wrote his essay about his time as an OotM participant. Zach was accepted by Duke University and was awarded the AGATE Youth Challenger Award.

  Good luck to Zach and all participants that are starting a new journey in the coming months. Remember: you are a winner just by solving an Odyssey of the Mind problem. The lessons you learn and the friendships you form during your Odyssey years will stay with you throughout your life.

   Fifteen Grams -- How much can a fifteen gram balsa wood structure hold? If you asked me that question prior to Odyssey of the Mind, I would have said ten pounds, maximum. Today my guess would be 1,000 pounds or more! This is because of an academic competition called Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem solving competition. Our problem required a team to create a fifteen gram balsa wood structure that held weights. Little did I know that this competition would lead to the development of the leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills I have today.

   Building my first structure was laughable. Imagine a clumsy elevenyear- old attempting to put together flimsy pieces of wood with super adhesive glue and accidentally gluing his fingers together instead.

   As the weeks passed, I became the lead builder and the captain of our team. My first competition arrived and I expected the structure to fall flat after ten pounds. My teammates began placing forty-fivepound weights on the structure and, to my surprise, it held.

   How that structure could hold 720 pounds, or 20,000 times its weight, was baffling, but it opened up my eyes to how great things can be accomplished with so little. As I saw these fifteen gram structures defy expectations, I began to see what endless opportunities I had in life.

   Two years later my team qualified for World Finals. I learned keeping a structure under fifteen grams is difficult when you want to make sure the structure has the greatest potential. I blow-dried the structure to take all the moisture out of the wood, but I could not manage to get enough weight out of the structure.

   I normally thrive under pressure, but for the first time in Odyssey of the Mind, I doubted. I lost all hope that we would be able to compete and looked at the worst in the situation. Eventually, I ended up getting the structure underweight and we placed sixth in the world that year. Since that day I have looked at stressful situations as a chance to be a leader.

   Where many people perceive an insurmountable problem placed before them, I now see an opportunity. I have learned innovative approaches lead to innovative solutions. There was never a structure that looked exactly like mine, but there were some that held as much or even more than mine. Life, like OotM, has no perfect answer.

   I never broke any OotM records or became World Champion, but I took away a greater prize than a trophy. I became a thinker. Using knowledge in unconventional ways is the key to solving difficult problems in life. Odyssey of the Mind taught me this with fifteen grams.