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This January marked the 14-year anniversary of my first trip to Uganda – wow has time flown by! Never in a million years would I have imagined how that trip would have changed my life. Today, 14 years later, I am still paddling as much as I can on the Nile which turns out to be about 6 days a week, still learning new tricks and working to be a better paddler. Though the river has changed with the construction on the Bujagali dam, there is still so much incredible whitewater that it is truly mind blowing! Doing some coaching sessions with Sam Ward at Kayak the Nile has been great. Sam is a sensational teacher and coach – one of the best I have worked with and he really enjoys his teaching and coaching which is very evident when you do any instruction with him.

The medical work side of my life has gotten a lot busier in the last 14 years with Soft Power Health, and I find paddling has an even more important role for me than ever. It is the thing that keeps me sane when everything else is too busy or crazy. It’s the best escape and its still so much fun! Because the Soft Power Health Clinic and outreach programs are always bustling, I consciously need to carve out the time to get on the river. The end of the day paddle is always a great finish to a hectic day allowing me to totally unplug and use a completely different part of my brain. Even getting to paddle right from my banda in flat water is wonderful and can be great for training and working on moves in flat water! The scenery isn’t too bad either!

More than ever because the Nile will be changing significantly with the completion of the Isimba dam (as of now the largest dam option is being built which means that the Hairy Lemon and Nile Special will be flooded as will the rapids above Nile Special up to the bottom of Itanda), I am enjoying all my time on the river – trying to drink in every moment of every paddling session on the river. Though there are still options to pursue to encourage both the World Bank and the government of Uganda to uphold and protect the Kalagala Offset Agreement, the construction of Isimba dam is going quickly and if on schedule, the river would be flooded by May of 2018 – that is really soon!

So with all of that in mind, I think I enjoyed the Nile River Festival more than ever this year. Honestly, I had not been feeling super psyched, ready or prepared for participating in the festival – I felt completely out of paddling shape as I had been recently in Switzerland and fully immersed in cold weather sports like ski touring! But, when I finally got my act together and got out there to help and participate – it was a blast, definitely the best festival yet. Emily and Sam Ward did a spectacular job putting the festival together and making everything run like clockwork – even for Uganda! Megan Flowers’ organizational and megaphone skills were prefect for the event as well and thanks to many volunteers who stayed sober and really helped – the festival was the best ever! Additionally, there was the largest turnout of participants ever too! More women in the women’s Freestyle class than ever – 14 paddlers! And more men than ever too!
Once again the entire experience was a great lesson in how getting out there to participate and beating your demons back always leads to a positive outcome! The ”I am too old, too slow, too out of shape, or whatever” is more than made up for by getting to surf Nile Special and have fun!