by Anna Hallett
This past weekend I had the opportunity to bring a bit of Girls at Play action to the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club (TVCC) for paddle school. For the past two years Girls at Play has sent an instructor to Paddle School to teach a complimentary women’s beginner clinic. I have never been to an event quite like this and was thoroughly impressed. With over 150 students and 50+ instructors, TVCC paddle school gives all types of boaters and skill levels the chance to receive quality instruction. Boaters come from all over for this event; one dude came all the way from New Mexico! TVCC has an amazing sense of community within their organization and as an outsider I instantly felt welcome by all members that I met.
As the Girls at Play instructor for the event I was so excited to meet all the women and get on the water with them. Within our small group there were women who were 1st timers and others with some river experience. The one thing they all had in common was their passion to be better boaters and their excitement to be on the water. I was lucky enough to get to teach on a short section of the Ocoee (take-out to take-out) for the weekend were we worked on fundamental paddling skills. The great thing about any stretch of water no matter the type, calm current or raging rivers, you can always practice and put those fundamental skills to good use. I remember learning to kayak and how difficult, frustrating, and scary it was. I wish I had known about programs such as TVCC and Girls at Play.
As a kayaker, there are very few times that I’m disappointed with the weather but it happens occasionally. Unfortunately classes were canceled on Sunday due to storms and I wasn’t able to get on the Hiawassee with the ladies. I was excited about getting on the Ocoee with friends after several hours of rain. So after my good byes to my new friends from paddle school I headed out to the river. We put on the middle for a carefree lap, dodged a little thunder but no harm done.
As we loaded up the cars for a second lap they increased the release from what I was told it was 5000+ cfs, normal flow is 1600 cfs. Needless to say it was a little bigger. As we drove up to the put-in there were several boaters in random spots on the side of the road who must have been caught in stuff over their head and bailed. So we get up to the put-in and what was a crowded day full of boaters and rafters alike became a deserted river where the few who were putting on received glares from bystanders, whose expressions read “good luck”. Sitting on the ramp I felt a feeling I haven’t felt in a while…FEAR. It was big, brown, and I had no idea what to expect. It was such a humbling feeling after teaching a beginner class the day before and having women express their fears to me. It really put me back in their boat. I think it’s important to be afraid every once in a while. It helps me to realize that we all have our own challenges to overcome but with the support of others it becomes so much easier.
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