This story is a long time coming. It spent a few weeks as a mere idea, until a few isolated events really helped propel the idea into an intelligible concept.
This story (and most likely this whole post) is kind of long, a little involved, and a little “far out”. So, please, hang in there. Because this story is about a light bulb over my head that recently went off.
A few weeks ago I got the pleasure of being part of a First Descents program at NOC. First Descents runs outdoor programs for young adults with cancer. I got to spend a whole day with these individuals on the Nantahala River. Seeing how much the experience meant to them started me thinking about the nature of kayaking. Kayaking can change lives. I say this a lot, and it has so many different meanings because kayaking can change lives in so many different ways. The First Descents program allowed me to see a way of life changing I had never experience before. People who believed they were frail and sickly were able to overcome huge emotional and physical issues through the process of kayaking.
There has to be more to a career in whitewater than simply teaching others how to kayak. I want to change people’s lives.
The past week I’ve spent teaching kids how to kayak. This experience is totally out of my comfort zone and totally amazing. Kids are fearless. They learn quickly, they say the most hilarious things, and they have so much wonder for life.
I was sitting on the lake with one girl; she was maybe twelve. She was sitting in this giant Rockstar with a giant paddle. Somehow we started talking about binge foods. You know, like how if a 5 lb bag of peanuts is in front of me I’ll eat the whole thing.
This little girl, this little twelve-year girl, says,
“I totally know what you mean. When I’m stressed I eat my emotions. Every time I’m stressed I probably gain like 7 pounds I then have to lose.”
I just kind of looked at her and my heart just broke. I mean, she’s twelve. She shouldn’t even know what the phrase “eating my emotions” means. She shouldn’t be worried about gaining seven pounds. All I thought was, You need to keep kayaking because kayaking is the most empowering thing I’ve ever done and you need to feel it also.
I’m not exempt from the issues most women have their self image. I’m active, I have a nice body, and I still struggle with the way I feel about it. I’ve been larger and smaller. I’ve been on diets, I’ve eaten whatever I want, I’ve worked out obsessively, and I’ve found balance. I’ll never fully accept my body, and I realize that.
The most empowered I’ve ever felt, the most comfortable in my own skin I’ve ever been is a result of kayaking. Even if its not a hard run, feeling the strength in my core and my shoulders makes me feel more badass and beautiful than any work out or sexy bra has ever done.
These thoughts have been on my mind a lot lately. And I always watch other people, like the people who run First Descents, and think, “I wish I could change people’s lives like them.”
Today my dear friend in Asheville listened to these stories. We sat at her wooden dining room table with the windows and doors flung wide open, with world class acro yogis bending in the living room, with fresh, dark, strong coffee and locally grown potatoes in bowls with fresh basil in front of us. Her arms were entwined with mine and I poured this out to her, this longing in my heart to empower women and girls through kayaking. The longing to help women and girls be so empowered through kayaking that they don’t worry about eating emotions. I told her about my experience with First Descents and how much I wished I could change lives like them.
And I started realizing I’ve been trying to do that for a year now with the Wednesday night women’s paddling groups I lead with the woman who changed my life. Because kayaking empowers me.
I can change lives. Because why not me?