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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Tomorrow I turn 50. I have to admit, it’s something that leaves me kind of dazed. First, there were many times I doubted I would ever see 50. As I told someone earlier this week – I was not a wall-flower in college. I enjoyed my time in school immensely. Then there is the part of me that feels and acts like I’m still 25. I can’t see myself ever not kayaking. I’m not throwing cartwheels or anything down the river, but I’m holding my own.

Someone asked me this week what I had learned by this age. I really had to think about the question and the answer. Certainly I have learned a lot in recent years about owning your own business. In 2013, I finished my Master’s in Information Engineering Management at UAB. I learned a lot in the program about technology, how it works, big data, starting a business, etc. I’ve also learned a lot from all of the jobs I’ve had over the years. TV taught me that I had a soft heart. Economic Development taught me about big business, politics and introduced me to people around the globe. UAB taught me about how to work with the media and that there was more to Public Relations than just working with the media. HealthSouth taught me that some people are not what they seem -- in both a good and bad way. Regions renewed my faith that not all people at the top were bad. Southern Living taught me beauty and the politics of the North and South. However, none of those jobs will be how I am remembered. And, to be honest, I don’t know how I will be remembered. I do know the one thing that matters to me in all of the last 50 years are the friendships and relationships I’ve built along the way.

To be honest, I don’t consider myself to have a lot of friends. I do know a lot of people, but I really think I’m a sucky friend and to have a lot of friends, you have to be a good friend. I am not the type that remembers birthdays or always has a gift to send. I do however give gifts when I believe I have found the perfect one – and I do not wait for an occasion to give it. For my family, I was not the aunt who baby sat a lot. I was the crazy Aunt out having fun (still am). Now, when the nieces and nephews got to a certain age…I could, and did, show them how to have fun. To my Mom and Dad – I am horrible about calling and checking in. It’s not intentional, I’m just moving from one thing to the next. And, to my friends, I hope they know, really know, how much I do care about them. Back in my single days I remember being out one night and a girlfriend called from Tuscaloosa, to say she had broken-up with a guy. I drove there immediately to spend the night and lighten her mood. A year or so ago a dear friend lost her father. I came crying with a casserole (engrained Methodist behavior from childhood). Another friend I had worked with at HealthSouth had her baby prematurely – again I took a casserole. And, even though I hadn’t seen this friend in like 15 years, when she got sick and came home from the hospital I again took food. Not tooting my horn here, but my point is I may not talk to you or see you, but in the end you are important to me and food is my love language.

So what I have I learned by this milestone trip around the sun – It’s what you do for people that matters. At least that is what I hope matters. Your actions, your deeds and your word. It is something I’m going to work harder at in the coming years -- being a better wife, friend, sister, daughter and aunt. To me that is what is important.

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Last year when I got my adaptive paddling endorsement from the ACA and Joe Ray at Adaptive Expeditions. I wasn’t sure how I was going to use it. I had approached the Lakeshore Foundation about a Team River Runner chapter, which I am still to this day trying to get off the ground, but that wasn’t going to work there for a variety of reasons. However, I really liked the people and mission of the Lakeshore foundation. They work with people of all types of injury, illness, age level regardless of whether they are a Veteran or not. And, they already host Wounded Warrior groups from across the country at their facilities. As a part of our discussing the TRR chapter, we agreed to do an intro to kayaking class (another blog post), and, since they knew me, they also contacted me a couple of weeks ago when a wounded warrior named Kathy was going to be in town. Apparently, after her visit to Lakeshore she was headed out West on a kayaking trip and needed to learn to roll. I cleared my calendar for the Thursday afternoon and was stoked for the opportunity.

Kathy Champion, our Veteran, is blind. I don’t know what her story is, I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter. What did matter in our initial conversation was

Kathy on the right, me in the middle and Kim on the left.

Kathy on the right, me in the middle and Kim on the left.

what could she see, and what prior kayaking training had she had. Kathy only sees a little light. She had worked with some folks before I believe as part of a TRR program. In doing so, she realized her lack of vision caused a little sea sickness. Makes sense if you think about it. You can’t see a horizon line, so naturally flipping over and over would make you sea sick. As a result she came with a patch on. She was going to work until she got sick and she wanted that to be a long time.

Kathy has climbed mountains, and numerous other amazing outdoor pursuits and she is in killer shape. I had already talked to myself about removing the visual cues from my roll instruction language. No “look at the paddle blade,” or “look for the top of the water”. And, really when I thought about it – rolling is all about muscle memory.

We started working with the hip snap as usual. Because she was in such good shape, she was a little less flexible. After she got the feel of the hip snap, we started to put the paddle in the equation. At first, like most, she was totally disoriented under water. But, as I worked with her and went over the set-up, sweep, and finish position, she started to get it. Kathy also had a sighted companion, Kim Siewert, that took video so they could go back later on and watch and she could describe to Kathy what was taking place. This was amazing to me. A friend that would travel with you, and help you along every freaking step of the way. Now that is friendship.

I wish I could say that she got her roll this day. She was really close, but it didn’t happen. But, she did work until she said, “Hey, I gotta stop, I’m not feeling so hot.” I then worked with Kim, so she could get a sense of what rolling involved. Before we left the pool, they got video of me doing a roll and Kathy asked what she could do at home (she has a lap pool). I told her to work on her hip snap on the side of the pool. First with two hands, then one. She asked if she could put her hands on top of mine when I did the hip snap. I said sure, but I didn’t really get why. Then I did the hip snaps and she said, “OOOOHHHHhh I get it, when you say no weight on your hands, you mean no weight!” I was dumb founded.

I asked, “How can you tell about the weight/pressure on my hands?” She explained that with her hands on my hands she didn’t feel a muscle move in my hand when I did a hip snap. Then it was my turn….OOOOHHHH I get it. Light bulbs for both of us.

Then our conversation turned to the usual women stuff. Challenges in weight loss, etc. Kathy told me where she was headed and she thanked me for coming out and working with her and that I was now a part of her story. We took the picture at the top of this post. I then confided in her that I would have a milestone birthday this summer. She perked up and said, “What 50?” I replied, “yes.” Then Kathy delivered me the line I will never forget. “Suck it up buttercup! – I’m 52!”

I suddenly felt very small. I’m standing there bitching about my age. I have so much, I mean so freaking much. It was then and there that I decided to take Kathy’s advice. Suck it up and prepare to celebrate my fabulous new decade and work on being the best I can be. I also thanked her for letting me be a part of her story.

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