It’s something I don’t talk about very much on my personal social media accounts, or here on my website, but I should. One of the reasons I’ve been successful in my business is my membership in Elite BNI. At first, to be honest, I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want others to know about this great source of new business! However, over the past few years I’ve come to realize it really is just like the old saying, the more the merrier.

 

I first started in Elite back in 2012. I was invited by one of my paddling buddies who was a broker – Paul Perrett. In the beginning, it freaked me out. Everyone standing up and giving perfect 60-second sales manager moments. Then the passing of names for people to get in touch with (aka referrals). It felt cultish. And, I’m a PR person for the love! But I went back. And, I started to get it – so I joined.

The group changed and morphed and members left – there was drama! (Isn’t there always some drama?) I ended up leaving and going to another group. BNI requires accountability. You have to be there every week, only 3 absences allowed every six-months, but you can have someone sub for you if needed. BNI also tracks referrals, and the business you give to others – that’s right what you give – not get. You are also required to meet with other members of the group outside of the meeting and bring visitors on occasion. While I wasn’t sure I got it the first go around when I went to a group that didn’t require all of that I noticed a difference. No one showed up, not as many referrals were passed, and no one was tracking the amount of business that was passed. Quite simply put, in the absence of accountability – the business group didn’t work. It was then I decided to go back to my BNI Chapter.

Elite didn’t have many members a couple of years ago, but the people I knew from before and respected were still there. My estate attorney, my accountant, my roofer and more were all welcome faces. I rejoined and met more new people and business owners. I even got some new clients. The group continued to grow and I became VP of the chapter. I met Meaghan Chitwood, who is the executive director for the BNI Alabama region. We talked and did some work together. I introduced Lois Weinblatt (vision coach) to BNI and she and Meaghan and countless others ended up working together. Lois, in fact, helped Meaghan envision her way to where she is now, working at the BNI Global office!

It is the one thing I love about BNI – you make meaningful connections. Sure, it’s about business, but for me, it is about so much more. The people in my chapter and now others (I’m a chapter director consultant) are like family. They have helped me more in the past year than I think any of them realize.

If you want to meet my network we meet every Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. at Hoover Tactical Firearms. We provide the coffee and contacts!


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I’ve been kayaking a long time. However, until this past year, I’d plateaued in what I would run. I’d gotten complacent and wasn’t challenging myself. Running bigger and harder stuff is not for everyone and I’m completely cool with anyone who wants to boat at whatever class of river they are comfortable at – it’s just not me. I like pushing myself.

I started the year by challenging myself with a trip to Ecuador (dang I still need to write about it). It was where I found my mojo so to speak. Then I found some people who helped me up my game. Playboating on the Ocoee (thanks Andy Shirey!) Running Upper II on Little River Canyon with Dane (AKA the Dane highway) and Lynn and Andy. All of these new runs uncovered some skills I was lacking or had become lazy in. And, while I’m still working on things (always will be) I feel like the work paid off in running Tallulah this past weekend.

First, I have to say I can’t even believe the words came out of my mouth, “Hey let’s go to Tallulah.” Almost immediately I was like – maybe it won’t work out and I can take it back. It turns out others thought it was a good idea too so we had a small group going. Here are my impressions on the run, but communicated in bullets – because it’s how I think.

1. The stairs. If I had looked at the stairs before I started to venture down them I wouldn’t have done it. Not because of the number, but because of the height. I’m not good with heights and about halfway down started experiencing some dizziness. Then I saw the footbridge I thought holy cow I will never get across that with my boat. Then I was told you don’t cross the footbridge (whew!). We were asked to stop on the steps for like 15 minutes to wait for people to clear out at the put in. It’s a small wooden platform and you need to get into your boat and go. The line of boaters back up the steps grew long and it was crowded – I hate crowds!
2. The Put-in. I felt like a rookie. My skirt was dry and I had problems getting it on. There was a line of boaters behind me – waiting! Then the hardest rapid is right there – like right there. “Did you see the line?” – “Yes, I said.” “No from here, because it looks different.” Crap, I had not looked again and was immediately nervous. Would I be able to pick out the line from water level? Here goes nothing…
3. First rapid. It’s called Last Step and there is apparently a sneak on the right. But I saw the line from the platform and watched a couple of people ahead of me take it. So I was like, I’ve got this. Well I didn’t, and flipped at the bottom and took a couple of roll attempts to get back up. I took my pogies off my paddle. They were just in the way. Pull it together Helen was a reoccurring thought in my head.
4. Second rapid. Tanner’s Launch. Super fun auto-boof into a pool then between 2 rocks. Felt better.
5. Oceana. Yeah, it comes up that quick like within 15 minutes and you are there. Decision time. I almost immediately paddled right for the portage then Andy and Luke yelled for me to come and look at it. So I did. And apparently I watched it too long, I didn’t realize people were waiting on us. All of a sudden the words came out of my mouth and I was like – I’m running it. I watched several people do it successfully. The line was not that difficult, basically you go river left, hit that first boof – (I actually thought to myself -- I can’t turn back now, here goes nothing…) then there is a second boof and that rooster tail (closed my eyes) and it was over. If you watched the video I flipped at the bottom and after a couple of attempts finally rolled up. My best advice – relax, it will be over really, really, quick.
6. Gauntlet was next. We had lost our lead boater, but I was like – what could be worse? Actually Oceana is easy compared to some of the these rapids. I don’t remember much other than some big holes.
7. Bridal Veil. It’s like a small Oceana. I looked at it and thought – whatever, that’s nothing. Perspective is everything.
8. Zoom Flume – super fun rapid after you get over dropping into a little slot and riding it all the way down.
9. After that I remember arriving at Amphitheater. It’s a couple of drops that narrow down quickly into a canyon. It’s noted by the huge rock walls. Andy swam at the top but self-rescued, I remember running it, but looking for his boat the entire time. I quit worrying about it when I realized everyone stops here. It was like a rock concert audience of kayakers on river left. Cool surf holes here and a chance to catch your breath. Unless you were Andy stuck on the other side of the river with three people trying to get him ropes. Where he was it was super slick and every time he tried to grab a rope it would just miss his hands or he would slip and fall. Finally, he caught one and got back over to his boat. [Did I mention how sick he was, and that the seat of his boat came loose and was sliding around -- that's why he couldn't roll.]
10. I don’t remember many of the names or features much after that. I know there is Tom’s Brain Buster, Twisted Sister and then the Powerhouse rapid. (I know I’m missing a few). I couldn’t help but think – who named these? On the Ocoee you have Hell Hole, Diamond Splitter, Table Saw…it was almost as if someone took my suggestion and started naming rapids Pink Fuzzy Bunny Slippers just to make them sound nicer and more friendly.

Bottom line. It’s the real deal. Almost 4 miles of non-stop big creeky rapids. You definitely need to go with someone who knows the lines – thanks to the Lamby’s for letting us hang with them. And, thanks to my Crossfit Coach Kelly Olcott. A) Those 100 plus box jumps the Thursday before helped me prep for the stairs. B) When I asked him about running Oceana. He looked me square in the face and said…if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do – do it.

Also be prepared to walk like a 100-year-old person 2 days after. Those stairs once again are no joke!

Tip: Make sure you call Greg Sluder at Chattooga Sounds Campground for a lake shuttle. He’s the bomb and does them on both the Chattooga and Tallulah when it's running.


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The pastor at our main church campus asked members for letters about what the church meant to them. The following is what I sent back. I've been asked to share in person on Sunday and I'm not sure I'll get through it without a tear or two, but we shall see. Again, another post that has nothing to do with PR or Paddling. I'll get back to those at some point.

"First, Brian, even though I attend the services at the West Homewood campus I enjoy getting and reading your emails. Says something about my vintage I guess. I wanted to write you about the church and what it means to me from a couple of different vantage points. One, as a kid that grew up at Trinity, long ago. And then second, as an adult, going through a divorce, who needed to find their own church home and begin healing. Both perspectives are important to me because I believe the church means different things at different times in our life.

First as a teenager.

My parents couldn’t wait until I could drive so they would not have to drive me to Trinity twice on Sunday. First, for Sunday school and Church and then later in the day for snack supper, choir practice (Emanuel Singers) and then Youth Group and church again! These teen years were important to me, I made friends from other schools, the choir went on tours and the youth pastor shaped me in ways it would take me years to realize (and not in a good way). I remember those days as fun and carefree and still maintain a few friends from that time period. But, as I graduated the relationship with my youth minister took a dark turn. We ended up going on a scuba diving trip. I was a freshman in college and came back home to go, my parents let me go because Peter (the youth minister) was going. I respected Peter, but would soon learn his philosophy and faith was skewed. When we drove to the Atlanta airport he asked if he could smoke. I thought he meant cigarettes, and I said sure just roll down the window. He didn’t mean cigarettes, he started smoking pot. And, he informed that he was going on vacation and what I saw him do that week should not be repeated and didn’t matter because he was on vacation. I was like whoa okay. On the trip he continued to do other drugs and tried to get me to do them. I didn’t but it was weird none the less. When we returned from the trip I never said anything to my parents. I just went back to school. Fast forward about 6 months later and Peter ended up being arrested in a hotel room with another woman and some drugs. I figured God sent him a pretty powerful message. My parents called with the news and asked me if I had any idea – I told them my story. Mom was shocked. Peter had officiated at my sister’s wedding a year or so before. But, we all moved on.

Fast forward a few years from that and one of my high school friends that also a part of the youth group and sang in the choir was involved in a news story. It seemed that Robert Corley, who was a counselor to our youth group and to the scouts, had been sexually abusing young boys for years. My friend, many years later, after some other youth had come forward went to testify in court. I was shocked. How could all of this been going on around me and I never knew it.  I returned home from college and got a job in the news business and I did not return to the church, in fact I left it for a long while. Until one day when I made a promise to my mother. I told her if I got a job out of TV news I would return to the church. Not long after that statement I did get a PR job and made good on the promise, but I didn’t return to Trinity.

Second as an adult.

Fast forward to my return as an adult. My marriage failing. I needed and wanted a church home. I had wanted to attend church for years but my husband did not want to go. He was a Christian, but did not believe in churches or ministers. I needed that. I needed people to help guide me through my study, challenge my beliefs. I did not want to return to the church where my parents were. I didn’t want to attend Trinity because I’m Robert and Brittany’s Aunt. I needed a place where I could be me. Start new. Brittany had mentioned West Homewood, so I decided I would visit. When I drove up to the church there was large banner stand out front that said “Divorce Care”. I was like okay, maybe this church has something for me. I enjoyed the casual nature of the church. It was hard for me to get through my first service and fight back tears. Tears of guilt over a failing marriage, but also tears of happiness because I was finally back in God’s house. It felt good.

I inquired about the Divorce Care group and it was meeting at Trinity. It had already been meeting for about 4 weeks, but I jumped in and joined on Wednesday nights. The group was welcoming and I was amazed at the honesty and pain everyone shared. I was not able to share that first night, but I did on subsequent nights. Little did I know then, that I would sign up for a second round of Divorce Care and that the people in that room would become a part of my support system that I could not do without today.

I called Jack and met with him about joining the church. I shared my story and why I was there. He listened! That is all, not offering any judgement but seemingly understood my pain. I attended another service and did a food packing mission afterwards. I didn’t know anyone but worked along-side another couple. They were very welcoming. It was later I told Jack I was ready to join, and the rest is unfolding as we speak.

I love that our church is open to anyone – even non-believers.

I love that we want people to have a place where they can feel a part first, before committing.

I love that Trinity West Homewood is service oriented. [Personally, I believe the church should serve the community around it before trying to solve the rest of the worlds ills.]

I love that it is my home, and not just on Sundays but during the week for study.

Thank you for leading an amazing team, bringing diversity into our church and helping make the church a loving place for all those that want to learn more about God and Christianity."

 


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The past few weeks have been challenging. However, I’ve been given the gift of perspective and its come in the form of old friends, new friends and quite frankly people I don’t even know. What happened? Here it goes.

First off, I had a packed schedule for the past few weeks. Busy with communications clients and weekends packed with private kayak instruction. My trailer that I pull kayaks with broke its welds and it needed to be fixed for the trip the next weekend. I was also providing all of the food for the kayaking group. There was no wiggle room in my week.

Don’t get me wrong. I like being busy, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for managing surprises. I received a call late on Tuesday from my parents that my 99-year-old aunt Elizabeth has gone into the hospital and was in ICU.  We had plans to visit her in September because she was turning 100 soon. At 99 years, Elizabeth was amazing. She attended church on Sundays, played with her great grandchildren, and was on Facebook! I remembered one of her more recent comments to a picture on my profile – I wish I could see you. My parents were going down the next day – Wednesday and my sister was driving them. Dad said, there is no reason for me to go, he knew I had a busy schedule and couldn’t make it. I was so stressed out that tears were streaming down my face. I have a group from church, and we have a “group me” text chat app. I posted in there my anguish and one of the members posted this back.

“Sit down, take a deep breath, pray about it, ask for help and do what your heart tells you.”

Wow. It took a moment for that to sink in. I immediately texted clients that I would not be making meetings the next day, I got an absence for my business group meeting, and I got up at 5:30 a.m. with my sister to drive my parents to Mobile to see Elizabeth. Hopefully, not for the last time. I asked my friend Bubba for help with the trailer and he even came and picked it up. I asked another friend for help in picking up the boats for the coming weekend (that was another thing that had to be done) and they said sure.  I am so incredibly blessed with the most amazing friends and family.

You know what, it all worked out. Yes, I had some late nights that week, but thanks to my friends and family it all got done. My Mom helped me cook food. The trailer is now even better than before thanks to Bubba, Vander and their welding magic! And, most important we got to see to Elizabeth. Only two of us could go in at a time, but I could swear when my sister and I went in, she smiled. They think she had a mini stroke. She had been combative the night before and needed oxygen. She was in and out, but I got to touch her hand and tell her how much I loved her.

Fast forward to the next week. The news was not so great. Elizabeth didn’t make it. Her funeral was scheduled for Thursday and I was leaving town that evening for another private group over Labor Day weekend. My sister, God bless her, took my father. My Mom and I were really not able to go back, but it was okay.  And, here are the next set of challenges that were presented to me.

I had rushed around to get items ready to go for the second trip and made it to the house to pick up the trailer and boats. I thought I hooked up the trailer securely – but I was wrong. As I pulled out of my sister’s steep driveway the trailer rocked strangely. I was almost to the top of the drive and I had the instinct to stop and look to see what was wrong. The trailer had popped off the hitch and was dangling by the safety chains. I tried to manually lift the trailer up the hill the rest of the way, but could not do it. I made the decision to drag it with the car to the top of the drive and try and reconnect it there. I was lucky – it worked. But there was a moment there looking at this impossible situation that I wanted to cry. Instead, I talked myself into taking a deep breath, keeping a calm head and praying that God did not want my trailer full of boats to end up crashed into the neighbor's trucks, or in the creek at the bottom of my sister’s driveway. He didn’t. I got it reconnected and headed down the road. It was 5 o’clock traffic but I was finally on my way to Tennessee – or so I thought.

As I traveled down the interstate, I noticed my battery light came on. I don’t even know what that means. I called a friend that I was meeting in Gadsden who was going to help me teach that weekend. Their advice was to not shut off the truck (still had to drop off some club boats at a storage location). So, I didn’t. After I dropped off the boats, they checked back in with me, “are your lights on?”  “Yes,” I said. “Cut them off, cut the air conditioning off and the radio,” said my friend. I was like this truly sucks. But, I did it. I made it to the gravel parking area by the Petro and after investigation we decided it was my alternator. I called AAA but all they would do is tow me someplace. And, there was not a repair place open. It was at this moment I believe God sent a man named James. James asked if I needed help. His car looked like it was on the verge of breaking down itself and he looked scruffy and was smoking cigarettes. I said yes. He had tools in his truck and he said for $40 he could fix my alternator. No brainer, I was like okay. With his tools, James and my friend literally disassembled my 4-runner in a gravel parking lot. They got radiator fluid all over them, grease and dirt.  It was dark by the time it was done – like 8:30 p.m. or so. When we finished I gave James more than $40. I still don’t know his full story or name, but he said he moved down here from up North to be with his son and first grandson. He seemed grateful for the extra cash.  And, I was happy to get my car fixed and back on the road. I wouldn’t reach my destination until about 1:30 a.m. in the morning, but that gave me plenty of time to get at least 6 hours of sleep and meet my group at the river in Tennessee.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that at times I wondered if James had an ulterior motive. Was he going to rob me? Abduct me? I think it’s easy these days to think the worst of people. But, in the past couple of weeks I’ve seen the best. I have family in Houston, Texas that are safe, and my brother is in San Antonio with a house in Corpus Christi. The only thing he lost was his dock in Harvey. All in all, we are so very blessed and I am grateful beyond measure.

My purpose in sharing this is to remember the advice of my friend from church. “Stop, take a deep breath, ask for help, pray about it and do what your heart tells you.” You may not get the answer you want – but you will get what you need.


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I Am A Club Boater

  • I am a member of at least three local organizations and pay annual dues of a whopping $20 each.
  • I volunteer my time to those clubs, serving on the board, leading trips and teaching classes.
  • One of those clubs owns take-out property locally and works hard to maintain it and keep it open for recreational use. Despite how people trash it.
  • I have been yelled at as a club board member, by neighbors and other boaters, for either doing too much, or too little when it comes to that property.
  • I earned my ACA certifications and paid for them myself, all so I could follow in the steps of those that taught me. I want to continue the tradition of teaching and bringing more people to the sport.
  • I work all week at my business, load my truck late on Thursday night or early on Friday morning so that when I finish work, I can drive to find water and my friends.
  • I donate to American Whitewater, and the ACA, both for different reasons, but both are equally important to maintaining river access, and safe boating standards.
  • I am passionate about my sport, sharing it with others, and doing so in a safe manner.
  • I support outfitters in state (not many left), and out of state, by buying gear, boats, attending their events and bringing others to their store.

What I am not:

  • I am not sub-standard because I’ve never worked for an outfitter. My certifications to teach came from hard work. And, while I don’t teach every day, I do teach a lot. I’ve maintained my L4 WW kayak certification since 2004, and I’ve volunteered my time to toughen those standards. And I continue to work and build on my skills.
  • I am not a Class V boater (working on Class IV) but neither are a lot of people. And, the majority of people who want to learn to kayak just want a form of recreation to do with friends and family.
  • I am not competition to outfitters and instructors in other states or this state for that matter. In fact, if you were smart you would see that clubs feed people to outfitters for more advanced instruction.
  • I am not giving up. Over the years it has gotten increasingly more difficult for clubs to lead instruction on rivers such as the Hiwassee, Ocoee and we can’t even touch the Nantahala. The forestry service has told us we are either too late, or they don’t return our emails and phone calls when we apply. In Alabama, the majority of our rivers are natural flow. Yes, we teach on local rivers as a club, but our local season comes in the winter – not really a warm environment for a beginner.

Why am I writing this?

I hear the term ‘club boater’ being floated around as if it’s a bad thing. It’s not. At least not in my book. If we didn’t have our clubs here in Alabama we would not have a lot things that we currently enjoy like the Alabama Cup Races or access to the Mulberry. And, the Friends of the Locust Fork are doing an amazing job collaborating and trying to keep access to the Locust Fork River. Think about that when it comes time to pony up that $20 for a membership.


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Back in August 2016 my life was turned upside down (a different post later, much later). At the same time, I joined J-19 Crossfit gym off Lorna Road. The owner Kelly Olcott, had joined my BNI group and thought I would give his 101 course a try. I’m a runner, and not totally out of shape, or so I thought. But, since losing my running partner to a move, I’d lost a lot of my distance in running. And, my upper body was not getting a workout at all. In kayaking, it helps to have a strong upper body and core. It also doesn’t hurt to be in shape for some of the winter time creek put in and take outs. So, I joined.

In our 101 classes we went over terminology, how to lift properly, stretching, etc. But it was at 6 a.m. in the morning. I’m used to being up that early, but retaining acronyms is not something I’m good at. (I don’t know what half of the text messages I get say or mean.) So, once we finished the 101 portion and I went in for my first ‘real’ class I was like, what does that mean? What are we doing? I need what -- a barbell, medicine ball, and a jump rope? The coaches knew I was new and were happy to answer all my questions. In fact, they went out of their way to watch me and provide modifications to what was recommended so I wouldn’t hurt myself.

Other than being called mam. Everyone in the classes I’ve attended are super supportive. When I started, I struggled to finish the workouts that were timed. But, everyone was like, ‘you are here’, ‘you did great’, ‘you are just starting’.

Today, I can tell I’m much stronger (not quite where I want to be yet). I am up to the recommended weight in back squats, but still working on my press weight. I finish the workouts now but am still on the slow side. I never knew I could 100 sit-ups, but I can! And, I’m living for the day when I can do a pull-up without a band. There is still a long way to go.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is how much I enjoy it. I don’t check online to see what the workout is in advance, I just show up and go, okay – that looks interesting. After I feel like a beast! The coaches still watch me as much as when I first started and I think that is a good thing (hopefully not a reflection on my lifting technique, which is lacking).

When I tell people that I’m doing Crossfit they are like whoa, your throwing tires and stuff around? My response is no, not really. In the past 9 months, we’ve taken a sledgehammer to a tire, but that is about the craziest it’s gotten. Okay, there was the time we ran over a mile with a medicine ball. But seriously, other than that it’s been a terrific mix of cardio, weightlifting and other exercises that fit in tandem.

If you want to know more, give me a shout, would love to tell you more. Or you can check out J-19 online at, http://crossfitj19.com/.


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Flying home from Sausalito, CA, I had a few minutes (in fact more than 300 minutes in flight) to reflect on the conference. Let me start by saying how incredibly nervous I was to even go in the first place. Why? Well, I had submitted a presentation and it was accepted, so I was speaking. Normally talking to a group is not a big deal, but for some reason speaking to this group of incredibly experienced and well-known leaders in the paddling community was intimidating. I mean, I am just a club boater from Birmingham, AL. What in the world could I share with folks who have traveled the world teaching all aspects of paddle sports – the answer, how about my 20 something years of experience in communications.

My presentation was on how to use social media to attract customers. And, I was slotted for Sunday morning (the morning after the big ACA dinner and poolside beer reception) Yeah – sleepy, foggy headed boaters! Just kidding. All-in-all I believe my presentation went over well. There are some businesses in the paddling community that have embraced social media for their brands, but there are still smaller outfitters and individuals who are trying to figure out how to make it work. Regardless, I think I gave a few pointers that will help.

My biggest takeaways were related to my anxiety and to the different styles of paddling I was exposed to.

First my anxiety. There was absolutely no reason for me to be so worked up about this conference. Everyone there, regardless of how many credentials they had, what position they held with the ACA or their organization, showed not one iota of pretense. Everyone, of course, had their opinions, but it truly was a group of genuine individuals who respected each other's abilities and the fact that we were all there to learn.

Second, let’s talk coastal kayaking. As a whitewater kayaker, instructor and instructor trainer who has really just done whitewater and swift-water rescue training. I felt like a beginner in a sea kayak! These boats were long and harder to turn, but they went fast. One of the sessions I participated in on Saturday was “Leadership Beyond Group Management” with Michael Gray of Uncommon Adventures. I didn’t know what this was going to be about, but I liked the sound of it. During the session we worked through some rescue scenarios. First on land, then we moved into the bay. On land, I was okay, but once we moved into the bay and started talking rescues, I was immediately nervous. Michael said we were going to do a t-rescue. In my head I’m thinking a whitewater t-rescue where I tap the side of the other person’s boat with my boat, they grab the front of my boat and right themselves. Guess what, I was wrong. In sea kayaking the person comes out of the boat, then there is a way to pull the boat across yours, empty the water, then buddy up next to the boat, and stabilize it while they get back in. Kind of what I would consider a boat-over-boat rescue in whitewater. During these scenarios I did everything I tell my students not to do: I got in the way of the rescue, almost flipped over while getting a swimmer on the back of my boat, and lost my paddle! What the heck! But, as we ran through the progressively more difficult rescues I learned so much about the different techniques. In addition, it reinforced with me the importance of communication in a rescue. And, reminded me that in a training situation with other instructors it’s important to give feedback, then provide an opportunity to repeat the situation and improve on it.

My final takeaway. There is so much more to paddling than just whitewater! Even though I’m longing for rain and local rivers to come up, there was so much peace in paddling that long boat in the bay. In talking to other whitewater enthusiasts there we need to remember that not everyone wants to do Class III, IV whitewater. In fact, most just want to paddle recreationally and have a great time with their family. It’s important that we tap into that and help provide the education for people to do it safely.

Next year’s conference will be at the NOC Oct. 18-21st. I’ve already booked my cabin, and I hope a bunch of my fellow boaters from Alabama will join me!


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