Select Page

submitted by Susan Curtin

The thrill of rain and checking gauges or looking for dam release levels to pick places to paddle- It’s all part of a bigger story with relationships with our kayaking friends, with ourselves, with the water and natural places that it takes us. It’s all part of being in the kayaking community where we have shared experiences. My experience as part of this community has spanned two decades now, with a long gap and a catastrophic injury that brought me back in a different capacity.

For me in the years right before my injury I had drifted away from kayaking. I was part of the mountain biking community and sometimes enduro and DH racing communities. I got injured mountain biking and became a T12 paraplegic in August 2020. A crash on a familiar line taking me down this unexpected path in my life requiring courage, determination, and redefining myself while still in many ways being the same person. I felt thrust into the spotlight with everyone’s eyes on me- friends, family, strangers while I learned to live again in a body that no longer worked as it used to.

paddling the river
I kayaked a lot for about 10 years before my injury paddling mostly class IV-V creeks. 7 months after my injury I got back in a boat. Kayaking became a big part of my recovery, a sport I loved before I became so dang consumed with mountain biking. Part of my physical recovery in strengthening and engagement of what I can in my legs, but my mental recovery too with building confidence and the connections to nature and people. My way of defining myself, relationships, and life was challenged as I was so suddenly removed from my prior athletic abilities.

kayaking the river
When I got back in a whitewater boat, I struggled to relearn balance and boat control with poor hip strength and get the right boat and outfitting. I kept trying, working hard on my balance with surfing and side surfing, and on my roll. These new efforts are harder in many ways than anything I had ever done before. I now paddle class I-III and surf a lot of small waves with goals to do more, but those goals are loose and flexible.
My inward and external focus and validation have become different, but the focus and clarity that come with being in the moment doing a sport is unchanged and relationships are stronger. Kayaking at a certain level before always required an amount of trust in your parters which is a really cool thing about the sport. It’s even more so for me now. I get carried to put ins, at take outs, and on portages; my roll is weak and I have to think about how a rescue will go, if needed.

Relearning a New Pace and Place with the Best Community
Kayaking has always taken me into rad, remote, otherwise inaccessible places, but now with my new limitations- I value more the places the rivers take me. Watching the wildlife and feeling and seeing the flow of the water and being in these places is a gift.

Relearning a New Pace and Place with the Best Community
Despite my now broken body, I still have a lot to give to give physically and mentally to continue to progress and have fun on the river. But this body is only a vessel for my soul. The rivers feed my soul just like the connections they establish and being part of a community.