By Emily Shanblatt
Written for Real Girl Magazine, April 2012 – www.realgirlmag.com
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a professional soccer player. I remember watching the 1999 World Cup when the US women’s team beat China, and Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt and fell to her knees crying out a scream of glory, creating one of the most iconic moments in women’s sports history. It put chills down my spine, and reminded me that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Social pressures of middle and high school drove me towards this goal as well. I had to play soccer, not just because I wanted to become a pro, but more so because that’s what all my friends did. Soccer was just as much a social time as it was training for my wishful future career.
Middle and high school sports can create intense and strong social networks. Social status is often even categorized by weather you’re a cheerleader or in the band, or on a varsity team versus JV. But when I got to college, I realized there was much more to who I was than my teenage soccer dreams and social status.
I was always drawn to the outdoors, and when I moved down south to North Carolina for college, it was natural that I became active in the outdoor program. Every day I walked past a big wooden shed, filled with plastic boats. I inquired about this mysterious spot on campus, and discovered there was an active group of student kayakers. After some detective work figuring out who these “kayakers” were, I got to know them, and one day, asked to go out kayaking with them.
From my first day on the river, I knew I was hooked. I felt like I was a natural, my boat and I were one, like the river and I moved in sync, and let me pass safely that day because this was something I was meant to do. I began kayaking all the time. I’d practice in the swimming pool, in the pond, even in my sleep. My learning curve was steep, and I wanted to get really good at this new endeavor, not only because it was one of the most fun activities I’d ever taken part in, but being on the river gave me a sense of fulfillment I’d never experienced before. I wished I had discovered this magical sport sooner.
That first season I spent on the river was nearly 5 years ago, and kayaking has now an important and crucial aspect of my life. It’s how I spend my free time, why I live where I do, and teaching kayaking is now what I do for a living. When I look back onto my teenage soccer dreams, I can’t help but think, if only I had been a kayaker back then. My dreams would have been different, but equally as ambitious. My friends might have been different, but equally as loving. My character would have developed differently, but with the same moral outcomes.
Kayaking provides not only adrenaline filled excitement but also that internal rush of pure joy and of feeling alive. Being in the outdoors offers peace and tranquility, and while kayaking, I’m also able to take in the beautiful scenery and appreciate the natural world around me. The river is a powerful place, and moving with and through the current and rapids feels like a finely coordinated dance. Developing the skills to feel this flow in more challenging and technical rapids is what makes kayaking so addictive and challenging. The sport is always pushing me to improve my skills, my confidence, and my values like perseverance, determination, and attentiveness.
What I’m getting at here, is that it’s easy to stay “in the box” and partake in the traditional activities and sports our schools and towns provide. Social pressures of fitting in and being in the right crowd sway our decisions to participate in certain activities as well. But not every girl is meant to stay in those boxes. Every girl is unique, and there is an activity out there which will call to you the way kayaking has called to me.
Trying new things is how we learn about ourselves best, and how we open new horizons and opportunities. Something strange and different like kayaking can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. To get involved in the sport, look into pool sessions nearby at a local YMCA or community pool. Search the internet for a local paddling club, or group of people who paddle the river together. The most important part of kayaking is safety, so always go with someone else, and always wear the proper safety gear.
Girls at Play is a small company based in western North Carolina. We teach kayaking clinics and provide private instruction specifically designed for women. While we teach mostly in the southeast US, we also run trips to Costa Rica and Idaho throughout the year. Becoming involved with Girls at Play is a fabulous way to get introduced to the sport! No matter your age, experience, or level of athleticism, Girls at Play will teach you everything you need to know to get started, and will provide a safe, fun, and empowering day on the river!
So get out there and try something new! Experience the joy of kayaking and satisfaction of spending time on a river! To learn more about Girls at Play, check out our website at www.watergirlsatplay.com and “like” us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/girlsatplay .