Suck It Up Buttercup or What An Afternoon Working With a Wounded Veteran Taught Me

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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