"My Dad always used to say that life went by in the blink of an eye, one day you are 16 and the next you wake up and you are 60. “It will all be over before you know it, so make sure you are having fun!” he would say. It took me a long time to figure that out - I am a little bit of a slow learner, but eventually I got it! And he was a big believer in following your dreams, passions and interests too. He lived that way and set a wonderful example for many people he came in contact with – myself included. Now that I am in the interval between 16 and 60, I feel the impact of his words even more. For most of my life, I have been lucky enough to follow my dreams and passions. This year, I turned 47 – I am not sure what those numbers mean or what they are supposed to feel like, but overall, I feel really good and am so happy to still be able to play outside as much as I do and do work that I really love. (Recess was clearly never long enough for me as a kid.) My dad died in December 8 years ago. He was a big supporter of everything I did, and I have always tried to keep his words close – they seem to be really good words to live by for me, and they give me pause to think about how things are going, especially at this time of the year.
"One thing at 47 that I am really grateful for is feeling good and healthy. More than ever - I don’t take those things for granted, and I am so happy to be able to do all the things I love to do. Living through injury and coming out the other side to see that you can actually come back to a higher level in your performance and in your mental preparation is a huge boost. It opens your mind up to so many possibilities that perhaps you had never thought of before. And living through injury also makes you realize what a gift it is to be healthy. Injury can definitely be a gift, even if it doesn't seem that way at the moment it happens. Every time I get in my boat, I sincerely appreciate that experience of paddling – no matter what I am doing, whether its running a river, parking and playing, or even doing a flat water workout!
"For many years, I have wondered why people “retire” from paddling and if I would feel like there is a time to retire. Unless someone has a physical reason for not paddling, I have never understood “retirement”, and I keep wondering as time goes by whether one day, I am going to wake up and want to stop paddling. Well, after many years of living with myself and getting to know myself better and better, I am finally realizing that if you are lucky enough to find something that you love to do and there is no reason you have to stop doing it, why stop? Sure your body and your mind will change and what you enjoy doing in your kayak may also change in time but that does not mean these are changes for the worse – often they are for the better.
"Today, I still have the same love and obsession with paddling that I had 20 years ago. On a freezing day recently, I found myself sitting in my car, all my paddling gear on, strategizing about how to keep myself nice and warm until I got to the water to start my on water warm up. This is exactly what I did 20 or 15 or 10 years ago. Does it sound weird? Maybe a little, but there is so much joy in the experience for me that it would be hard to replace it with doing something else. Part of what makes this joy so great is sharing it with other people – sharing your fun, your adventure, that’s one of the greatest gifts of all. I still try to have some adventure and challenge in every day and I try to share that as much as possible. Today, that can manifest itself in many different ways – either with kayaking and/or with Soft Power Health or just getting out with friends or family. Whatever the experience is, it's a wonderful affirmation of being alive. Eleanor Roosevelt was so right!
"Paddling has given me a gift that I am not a good enough writer to explain adequately, but it has opened up vast worlds that I never would have known existed and it has allowed me access. Some very generous and wonderful people along the way took me in and helped nurture this passion. Without them, none of what’s happened since then would have occurred. For the people along the way who have encouraged me and who continue to encourage me, I am so grateful. Thank you for believing in me even when I did not necessarily know what was/is possible. From all that positive feedback, I see clearly how powerful the value of You can and I can is. Just believing that something is possible is more than half the challenge of achieving it. All of us are capable of so much more than we think – the hard part is remembering that on a regular basis especially when life might throw some curve balls your way, and life is guaranteed to do that!
"When I started the Inner City Kids Kayaking Camp in 2002, I felt first and foremost that I wanted to share the joy that paddling had given me with kids who would never otherwise have access to that experience – today, I still feel the same way and I still love doing the camps as much as when it all started. The experience has changed over time but it’s only gotten better. One thing that's clear is that those camps are so great because many people come together to give their time, energy, and expertize to make them happen. Without that, none of it would be possible! During this end of year reflection period, I am thinking about all the ups and downs that have come this year – most of them ups!
"2014 will be remembered for a number of amazing things: an awesome wheelchair distribution to people in need in Uganda thanks to the help of the Jackson family, the Walkabout Foundation, and Soft Power Health volunteers, amazing surfing of Club Wave and Nile Special especially on EJ’s 50th birthday, Wave O Saurus in April, the Tariffville Triple Crown, Soft Power Health’s new physical therapist Stephen Kato, A great Inner City Kids Kayaking Camp – the 10th year, Thun’s new world class wave, and Winter paddling at the Housatonic with lots of water! Most of all, I am thankful for all the friends and family that have been there for me. Nothing would be possible without that. Here is to looking to an even more wonderful in 2015. As my dad would say, “The best is yet to come!”"
The Aquapac Outdoor Champion 2015 is Deena Hoagland of Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, Florida. We'll be bringing you occasional blogs from Deena during the year.