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Last year’s birthday in Argentina was hard to top but this year’s celebration went on the entire week that Emily, EJ, Dane, Clay and Andi were in Uganda. EJ, Clay and I had first come to paddle the Nile together in 2003. It was an eye opening experience in so many ways. EJ’s getting malaria was the catalyst for me to start Soft Power Health the following year. Ever since then, all the Jacksons and Clay have been coming back to Uganda almost every year. Selfishly, this has been great for me – I get to paddle with some of my best paddling buddies and do my work at the same time. Its pretty perfect! This year was more special because the Nile had begun to flood, and we all knew that this might be the very last group trip like this in Uganda. The 15 years that we have been paddling here also marked a very unbelievable passage of time – I literally have watched Emily and Dane grow up paddling here on the Nile, so it was really awesome that all of us could be here together.

What made the week extra fun was that we had great paddling in the new boat at a fantastic spot! So far, the hole remains really good despite the flooding that has occurred – I sincerely hope the hole will remain as the flooding continues. The final phase two flooding of the Nile is not over so we have to wait and see. This was my first real experience paddling the new boat and thanks to Emily’s outfitting, it was so comfortable and felt great!! I had the opportunity to work on lots of different tricks day after day – definitely consecutive days in a row of paddling and working on specific things with great coaching helps you get better – no doubt about it! And on top of all that, it was a lot of fun! It was also very inspirational to see everyone working on really hard and impressive moves and getting them. Emily pretty much dialed in clean McNasties both ways – that gives me something to keep working towards that is for sure!!

In addition to the great paddling, it was really fun to share more of Soft Power Health’s work with everyone. One day, everyone attended a family planning outreach. Emily and Andi got to participate in deworming and vitamin A supplementation of kids. Everyone also got to see how busy the clinic is and how its grown. Finally, Emily and Andi supported the ladies cooperative that makes handicrafts to support their livelihoods. These ladies in particular are mothers of children with cerebral palsy and they gather every Saturday to work on their crafts while their children get physical therapy at the clinic. Supporting these ladies through buying their handicrafts really helps them survive – its huge! So thank you Emily and Andi!

Finally, the best birthday present for me was that even after 15 years, EJ, Clay and I are still learning and growing as paddlers (hopefully as humans too!). Many people come and go from the paddling world but thank goodness we are all healthy and enjoying the sport more than ever and still having lots of fun out there! This is a huge reason to be thankful!