Sunday, September 16, 2012

Women on the Water and Whitewater: WOW!

Rivers, they've always intrigued me. I guess the yearning for rivers runs deep inside me since my parents had me camping on the riverbank at three weeks old and my father's family were all true river rats. They lived to get to the river to paddle, fish and hunt. My grandparents even lived on the river bank for years. Must have been the Upper Creek blood running through their veins that gave them such a love of the rushing waters.

I had been wanting to experience whitewater in a skirted whitewater kayak for a long time, but had been patiently waiting and waiting...I read and see the "carnage" of what happens to the extreme whitewater paddlers and I have a family to come home to, it's not worth the risk to me to die out there and leave a young son at home. I wanted to experience whitewater safely and at a slow pace, not just jumping into it.  So, I waited some more. For about three years I followed Anna Levesque at GIRLS AT PLAY and admired what she was doing. She brings women to the rushing river in a supportive, encouraging manner, I knew she was the one I wanted to take me to the river for the first time on whitewater.  I had gone through "ripples" on the Dan, and the first couple of times it was scary and exciting, by the third trip though, it was just plain FUN. No skills needed really except the mantra: KEEP PADDLING, DON'T STOP PADDLING. I like the way Anna put it, "if you stop paddling, the river will have her way with you."

So, at 42 yrs. old, with a wonderful group of 7 total from GO WOW, we headed for our adventure in Asheville with none other than Anna and the ladies at GAP. It was a dream come true, to finally get to learn whitewater and experience the thrill while learning specific SKILLS needed to navigate in a skirted whitewater boat from someone I trusted explicitly and admired a great deal.

Our whitewater adventure changed us, it certainly changed me and after talking to the women who experienced it with me, I know it changed them too. How did it change us? I'll speak for myself when I say, it WOKE ME UP. You can't lie back, relax and just have to be aggressive and in my view, "attack" the next rapid. You have to plan a strategy, use the knowledge you have just gained by reading the river and the best "line" or path to get through. Then you have to put in immediate action the strokes you've learned and JUST DO IT. And oh the feeling after you've gone through the's PRICELESS. But don't celebrate too soon LOL! Wait until you are in the eddy completely or a nice rock just under the surface may just give you a surprise! The feeling one of utter joy, energy, excitement, accomplishment.

We went through A LOT of rapids over the two days. Day one was the French Broad and there we experienced our first 2+ rapid, rather long and ongoing, under a bridge, with a turn to implement. WOWSER. Not every rapid was met with excitement and thrill. Fatigue sets in after the 20th one and the fear, not so much fear of the rapid itself, but fear of not being able to muster the mental focus and physical energy to "attack" the next rapid set in for me. Thankfully, we had placed ourselves in great hands and Anna's guides/instructors Em and Mary Frances knew just how to patiently get us through those harder moments.

Have you ever had those moments when trying to finish something? Your last exam that is dangling your degree in front of your face, the one that  determines whether you will graduate now or later...perhaps ever? That interview for the career of your dreams? The 5K or marathon that you want to quit, that last 10 pds. that don't want to budge? If you've EVER taken on a challenge, something that really stretched you, you know what I mean. That dark little secret corner of your mind that says; "I don't HAVE to do this, I don't HAVE to finish now, I don't HAVE to go down this next rapid...." I hope you have someone in your life who can "talk you off the ledge" of quitting and get you through it. I am not saying we should ignore all intuition and fears and plunge ahead to our deaths! You know what I mean here. It's a pivotal moment where if we push through, the rewards are MONUMENTAL. Well, Em helped me push through one of those moments, and it was more than a moment!

I believe 100% in the style of teaching that Anna has adopted, she did a lot of research into women's psyche and she knows how women operate. When we are following someone we TRUST and when we are in a supportive and encouraging environment (not bullied, not threatened, not ridiculed), we will FLOURISH and follow that leader to the end. And that's what we did, we got through all TWENTY? TWENTY FIVE? who knows, I wish I had counted how many rapids we went through between the FB and the Lower Green Rivers. And we were triumphant with joy and accomplishment at the end.

I believe people who are miserable in their lives have not been challenged in a positive way lately. I know; I was stuck in a place like that a few years ago. Then I discovered kayaking. Kayaking brought me back to that place. That place of joy and excitement and accomplishment that sometimes gets lost in the fray of marriage, careers, raising children.....

I believe they have forgotten how STRONG and CONFIDENT making it through a challenge makes you. I am so grateful that we had this opprotunity to challenge ourselves and we not only SURVIVED, we THRIVED. And for the ladies whom whitewater holds no interest for you, that is SO OK, when I tried flat water kayaking for the first time, I had the exact same feeling of accomplishment and joy that I am feeling now and I still feel it every time I slide my boat into flat water. Because you have tried something NEW and different, and stretched yourselves, and that is what matters! You can continue to stretch yourself in flat water too, as I will continue to do. Maybe your next step will be working on distance for fitness, or the best part, make it a goal to paddle every lake in Guilford County, then Forsythe and on and of the best benefits of paddling I've found is discovering NEW PLACES. How exciting every time we discover a new place! I am so proud of all my GO WOW'ERS, whether you aspire to expand to whitewater or not. Way to go GO WOW.



  1. Very inspiring, Jo. Your words expose your soul - awesome! Thanks for sharing your whitewater experiences!
    Lynne Little -
    Fan & "Memeber" of Go WOW

  2. Jo, this really spoke to me. I can't wait to experience whitewater myself. Thanks for the blog and for GO:WOW for giving me the opportunity to try something new. BTW, I took my husband out in a kayak on Lake Mackintosh yesterday. Best date "day" ever!

    Paula Patch

  3. Thanks Paula and that is wonderful (your date!), I hope he enjoyed it!