Taking the time to reflect upon our experiences on the river–whether it be a brief meditation at the end of a day of paddling, or an in-depth reflection on years worth of learning–can be quite rewarding. Oftentimes, the milestones we meet in a given day form mere tiny threads in a larger, intricate weave of personal breakthroughs, transformation and growth. Embracing the ways in which the river helps us to grow tends to foster further growth, not to mention provides excellent opportunities for gratitude. We’ve asked some ladies who have been hanging out on the river with us for awhile to share with us some reflections on how GAP has influenced their personal river journeys. We are excited to present you today with the words of Jill Wrenn. Rock on, Jill, and thanks for sharing!
I’m Jill Wrenn, and I am a part time English instructor, yoga teacher trainee, and occasional kayak instructor. I live in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, and I am so grateful to call the Southeast home. I love my local runs, and I really love sharing them with new paddlers or paddlers from other parts of the country. I’ve even been known to invite perfect strangers to stay at my house (as long as they are kayakers), so if you’re in the area and need gear or guidance, look me up—I’ll be happy to paddle with you.
I first heard about Girls at Play when my husband bought me Anna’s first kayaking DVD, Whitewater Kayaking for Women, for Christmas in 2006. I had only been kayaking for a few months, and I was really struggling with fear and overcoming a bad first experience on the river. The DVD was great, but at the time, I had no idea how nearby Anna and Girls at Play were. I read every interview with Anna and tried to apply her wisdom to my own paddling, but it was nearly five years later before I signed up for my first Girls at Play trip.
My first Girls at Play trip was to Mexico in January 2011. Although I was really excited about the traveling and seeing a new country part, I was really nervous about paddling with an unfamiliar group of people on rivers I knew nothing about. Before this trip, I had really only paddled with my husband, so paddling with a group, much less a group of women, was an entirely new experience for me. However, I met the most amazing, inspiring group of women on my trip. Everyone was so supportive, and it was so refreshing to learn that I am not the only person who gets scared at the top of the rapid or gets annoyed with myself if I am a little off line. The best part of the trip was supporting each other through those experiences, learning that those experiences are ok, and working on not being so hard on ourselves.
Going to Mexico was a truly life-changing experience for me. Before that trip, I was an anxious, overworked perfectionist who had no faith in my kayaking skills and not a lot of confidence in general. Just one week of practicing yoga every morning and pushing my limits in a supportive environment changed everything for me. When I got home, I found my way to my local yoga studio looking for a teacher with a style similar to Anna’s, and I have been practicing there ever since. I’ll complete my 200-hour teacher training this December. Since Mexico, I have also traveled to Costa Rica and Nepal and gotten my ACA certification through Girls at Play. I also found the courage to quit my office job and return to teaching, a job I truly enjoy. I don’t believe any of this would have been possible or have even happened without the support and wisdom of the women I have met through Girls at Play.
I have made too many great memories on Girls at Play trips to recount them all here, but probably my favorite memories from any trip are the riverside dance parties. I remember dancing to Alejandro and Eye of the Tiger next to the van in Mexico, an impromptu dance session to Billie Jean at the take out of the Upper Upper Pacuare in Costa Rica, and dancing next to the put in of the Upper Green this past fall because it was so cold at the Green River Takeover.
I keep coming back to Girls at Play because it is about more than just paddling—it is about community. While I booked my first trip with the hopes of becoming a better paddler, I took away so much more than that. I learn something valuable from every woman I meet every time I attend a Girls at Play event, and the sense of community doesn’t end when the event is over. I have made lifelong friends, both locally and across the country, through Girls at Play. I met my favorite local paddling friend, Kelli, at Ladies on the Ledges three years ago. This summer, I drove all the way across the country to reunite with most of the women from the Girls at Play trip to Nepal, and we spent a week paddling the N. Umpqua and Rogue rivers in Oregon.
I would encourage all female paddlers to check out Girls at Play, whether it is through instruction, international trips, or the Ladies Southeast Paddling Series. You might meet your paddling best friend, and you will gain the confidence to change your life.