Prelude: The following story is from our fellow paddler, Jill M. She would never have volunteered this story to share with our paddling community, but we asked her to do it for us. We think it is so important for us to support each other in our achievements and this is a big one. Let us know if you can relate to this story by leaving a comment below! Enjoy!!
I was not an athletic kid really. Played soccer for a minute, dance team in high school. Tried tennis and golf, flag football-not good. Do NOT throw me a ball (or anything really) because I most likely will not catch it or hit it or kick it where it needs to go. As an adult I have been talked into trying other athletic activities (with no balls!) by my friends. Let’s train for a marathon-in the Texas heat. It’ll be fun they said. Loved the comradery of being with my best friends for several hours a week while training and going to brunch after because we EARNED it-but running 26.2 miles on black asphalt in 96 degrees is not that fun really.
Also I have never been a morning person. I get this from my Dad. We are super productive after the sun has been up for a couple of hours and we have had coffee. So when a couple of my good friends wanted me to try outrigger paddling which had practice before the sun comes up, I said nope, no way. But they kept asking and talking about how much fun they were having, so I agreed to try it one time. One. And then I went back. And then I went again. And I kept going and found that I loved the days that I got up early and was on the water at sunrise with this special group of people. It really was so much fun! And nothing for me to catch except water (still working on that…).
I did not realize when I started how technical of a sport paddling is, and how competitive it can be. As a Novice B, I went to practices and tried to apply what the coaches were teaching us. I really enjoyed learning and trying to get better. I think I was in one official race that season, maybe two. The races were a lot of fun, but we also started to see how competitive the sport is. The next season I was a Novice A and we had a pretty large group of Novices. I did not race in any official races that season. I was going to all of the practices and going into the tank to practice, but I just wasn’t making the boat. I felt pretty defeated because I felt like I was working so hard, but that it wasn’t helping. There were many times that I thought maybe I should quit-I mean I have never been super athletic so maybe this isn’t my sport either. But you guys, I have really wonderful friends who told me to keep trying, keep practicing, that they could see changes in my paddling. And I had other crewmates who also kept showing up and working at it, and were a big support system. So we all kept going and kept practicing and doing our best each time we went out on the water.
At the end of the regular season, the coaches started putting together crews for States. The 40s crew had qualified for States, but one of the crew members wouldn’t be able to compete in the race. So the coaches were looking at a couple of other ladies to try out for the open seat. I was not one of the ones they were looking at, but I was at practice that morning and ended up being in the support canoe for their time trials. Our support canoe would race against the group that was doing time trials, and we would switch out paddlers for the next time trial. They did a few trials with the ladies who had been practicing with the 40s crew and on one of the switches, the head coach happened to look over at me and said “oh let’s have Jill try.” I was like “Umm what?!!! Me?? But OK, I’ll give it a go.” I had not been training with them so I felt really unprepared and nervous. I thought to myself, just do the best you can do today. So I just did what I could do and the coach called out a time. My best friends who was in the seat in front of me whispered “fastest time so far.” I couldn’t believe it. But just because you get one fast time doesn’t mean you win the seat so I knew not to get too excited. They then ran the same lineup with the ho'okele of the 40s crew (who is the absolute BEST). Coach called out the time and then they switched me out so the other ladies could do time trials with her as well. After the trials, we went back to the beach and started putting canoes away while the coaches made their decision. They called us over and said that I had the fastest times and would get to race at States. I couldn’t believe it! The other girls hugged me and congratulated me and told me how proud of me they were. And they really meant it. The girl who didn’t race in ANY official races all season just made the States boat-I was so honored. And also terrified. This crew had been killing it all season and were expected to do well at States. And now they have me. Eek. We had less than 2 weeks until States. I had a lot to learn (still do!) and the coaches did their very best to help me improve as much as possible in the short time we had. Our race was the last or next to last race of the day. We got in the Koa canoe and paddled out to the line. Our ho'okele has one of the most calming voices and knows exactly how to put us at ease while also pumping us up. She said all the right things as we lined up and waited for the flags. Then it was go time! When we finished, our boat holders said they thought we came in 3rd or maybe 4th. It was too close for them to call. We went back to the beach and the coaches said it looked like we came in 4th which meant we wouldn’t medal. We packed up our things and I started heading back to the house. The other girls in the crew were racing in a long distance race the next day so they went to get their boat set up for that race. I was walking back to the house and off in the distance I hear some cheering and then my phone starts ringing, but I didn’t get to it in time. About a minute later, a truck with several of our club members pulls up and yells “You guys got 3rd! We have to go back to get your medals! Jump in!” Whaaaat?!! Oh my goodness. What a season.
So many lessons for me that season, but the biggest was to keep going, keep working and most importantly keep friends around that lift you up and push you along when you need it most. You never know what can happen. Life is unpredictable, just like the ocean we paddlers love so much.