Feature Stories

Luke McLaughlin, '10

Luke McLaughlin, '10

The only people more bold than the people who came up with the idea for The Discovery Channel’s hit series Naked and Afraid are probably those who choose to participate in the show.

And then there is Luke McLaughlin, ’10, the guy who came back for more.

McLaughlin survived 21 consecutive days in the Kalahari Basin of Namibia without even the clothes on his back. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he signed up for 40 days in the Colombian wilderness for Naked and Afraid XL, a Naked and Afraid spin off that currently airs Sunday nights.

As outlandish as these challenges sound, McLaughlin wasn’t exactly unprepared. As the founder of Holistic Survival School in Grand Rapids and a self-proclaimed wilderness mentor, McLaughlin has always been most content outdoors.

He majored in Biology and was pursuing his masters at Grand Valley when he felt his heart calling him to move out west. He packed up his Saturn and moved, leaving graduate school behind; it was the first thing he had ever quit in his life.

“I loved biology…however my heart never felt content. I always wanted to live a physical life outdoors,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin discovered the power of nature while he worked in wilderness therapy as a wilderness field guide. He would lead at-risk youth through the physical and emotional challenges of surviving in the West Desert of Utah for a week at a time. He learned primitive survival skills on those journeys that got him ready for his appearances on Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid XL.

After a year in the wilderness, McLaughlin returned to Michigan with the knowledge he needed to start his holistic survival school.

“My goal is to help people reclaim their wild ancestral roots in order to help achieve wholeness,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin believes humans have lost connection to the natural world. During his time as a teacher and mentor, McLaughlin was frustrated by the fact he had to teach state-required lessons instead of what his students really needed: reconnecting to the basics.

Learning the basics (such as the difference between needs and wants, reclaiming health and vitality by living in alignment with nature, gaining insight on human and personal interaction, and reestablishing lost connections to the natural world) McLaughlin believes would allow his troubled students to learn how to take care of their body and mind. It would teach them to accept that they were going through hardships and encourage them to find healthy, proactive ways to deal with their trials.

His studies in biology and physics at Grand Valley shaped McLaughlin’s current world view. 

“Biology helped me realize the interconnectedness of all things,” said McLaughlin. “Physics provided me with my spiritual connection to the universe.”

He spends his days working towards the school he envisioned. He teaches people how to make fire with sticks, how to walk mindfully in the wilderness, how to identify edible and medicinal plants of Michigan, all so people can live more harmoniously. He runs barefoot, immerses himself in the world and teaches constantly. He said he lives his dream every moment of every day.

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Page last modified August 18, 2015