One of these 'forged-in-uncertainty' situations has been my getting back out on the water, in a kayak. This summer, two good friends, I’ll call them Kathy and Peter, asked me if I would be interested in paddling on a lagoon. Of course, I was, despite not knowing how I would handle the instability of the water but thinking that, worst-case, and with a small float, I could swim. So, last month we started with tandem sit-down paddle-boarding which worked well, thanks to Kathy’s efforts to stabilize the board. Sitting on a ‘stadium seat’ that offered me some back support, with my legs over the sides and my left hand strapped onto the paddle (my right hand, I’m happy to say, was strong enough to grasp the handle), we pushed away from the dock. I figured that while I could connect the pushing with the paddle through my arm and shoulder, I was not quite strong enough through my core to stay steadily on the board. The length of my torso was evidently not yet connected enough for me to give a strong paddle-stroke and avoid falling in – I came close many times. If I did lighter pulls, my postural muscles could handle the shift in balance, but it was clear I had to get stronger.
Besides the neuromuscularly therapeutic part, it felt terrific simply to be out on the water. It’s no secret that there is something supremely centering about being on, in, above or near that element. For myself, to know that I could handle being out on water that was not in a pool was greatly empowering. I gave a thumb-up (my left hand was still strapped in, remember) to those watching, including my mother who was paddling nearby in a kayak and, seeing her in that craft, I knew what was next for me...
Over the next few weeks, I tried managing alone in a kayak and after figuring out how best to situate my back support and legs, I was finally able to take more powerful strokes without fear of rolling in. Part of it was that paddling to both sides is inherently more stable, and I could augment the motion by leaning or turning my body – in itself a good exercise – to each side. I also found that I could lean forward to stretch out my back and hamstrings, and when I sat up I was able to use a brief spasm in my legs to push off the foot-plates for my next few strokes. Growing more comfortable, I decided to leave my foam float on the dock, and I have been able to paddle over three miles at a time, which was made more exciting by a couple recent stormy, blustery days. Each time, my support crew on the water has been my mother, Kathy, and Peter who have all been nearby on paddleboards or in kayaks, cheering my increased muscle-connection while enjoying the natural environs with me.
One of the best parts about kayaking is that I get to exercise outside. Several times this summer friends helped me do core-work or crawl on a mat or grass, but at present the vast majority of my therapy time is spent inside. This is in contrast to my high-school experience of swimming daily in outdoor pools, my preference to do homework under a tree instead of at a desk, and my desire to spend many days each year hiking far away in the backcountry. This outdoors-connection is important to me, and I am happy to make a return to it. It’s also thrilling to be able to test myself in an entirely different way, and for that changed environment to again illustrate to me that my ability is not yet where I want it.
Peter and me on the lagoon on a glorious late-summer day. Photo taken by Susan from her kayak.