Racing for a Reason
Rehabbing a shoulder & wrist injury I was tired of sitting on the sidelines.
For the past 3 months I have not been racing, rather attending events & taking pictures, cheerleading & the like. For some time that was satisfying, being part of the stoke from the spectator perspective.
But I was growing restless, impatiently waiting to heal & return to the racing action. With Carolina Cup approaching I was experiencing some inner turmoil with what to do – as an elite paddler it didn’t seem right to compete in the recreational race, even if I had to paddle slowly for concern of being viewed a “sandbagger”. Still, it was less smart to participate in the 6mi course & risk further irritating my injury & thereby prolonging the healing process. I called my friend Jeramie Vaine, a seasoned SUP racer, to consult with him.
His advice was exactly what I needed. He said something to the effect of “don’t worry about what other people think & race the 3mi. Do what you always do – encourage & stoke out the paddling community - take photos & cheer on the beginner racers – they need that as many of them have never raced before & can use the motivation.” I felt so relieved with this suggestion, it was the solution I was looking for as I was finally going to be back in the action & I had a purpose.
So I registered for the 3mi & charged up my GoPro. I was already having fun just paddling out to the start line with all the nervous-excited energy of the paddlers around me. I was making friends, taking selfies & wishing everyone luck. The horn sounded & I began my task of documenting the race with photos. I photographed a man paddling his two sons on a SUP & a woman paddling her daughter. I met 2 men who were seasoned racers but participating in the rec course to accompany their teenage kids who were SUP racing for the first time. I paddled up next to a group of woman – all with smiles on their faces as they were completing their first race together. I took pictures with the very young paddlers, with the older paddlers & everyone in between. I met locals & those from near & far.
It was really refreshing to race from this recreational perspective. I was not here to beat my PR, I was not chasing the person in front of me, there was zero pressure of how I was going to place. Instead I was surrounded by the pure excitement of accomplishment – of simply finishing this race. I had time to enjoy the energy of these like-minded people – who love being on the water & paddling. I able to soak in the Wrightsville Beach scenery. I was enjoying the moment – completely present & connecting with it all.
Nearing the end of the course I cheered for paddlers in the tough side-wind section with the finish line in sight. I met two more women – just beaming because they were moments away from finishing their first race. At this point I didn’t want the experience to end, I wanted to keep witnessing this empowering sense of accomplishment & take more photos of competitors in their final stretch. So I paddled off to the side, stationary for a bit, & cheered & photographed. Several times I turned to paddle to the finish but for some reason was drawn to stay put.
The wind began gusting more heavily & pushing people sideways to the north of the finish line. I saw a man fall off his board, his board gliding quickly away from him. I started to paddle over to help but he recovered his board on his own. My attention turned to his wife who was paddling next to him as she had gone to her knees & was quickly getting pushed further away from the finish. I paddled to her to see if I could assist & she verbally expressed she was panicking. Her paddling technique had gone, she was hyperventilating & scared. I began coaching her through her breathing & paddling technique, assuring her I would stay by her side, & that we’d head across the river to the safety of the docks. We made it to the dock, protected from the wind & I began to calm her down through conversation & breath work. I then planned a strategy for directing her into the head wind toward the finish & coached her on how to paddle powerfully into the wind. When she was ready we headed out & she paddled strong toward the finish. We crossed together. In tears, she confessed she entered this race to conquer her fear & was so grateful I was there to help her achieve her goal. Now in tears together, a moment we both will never forget, I knew my purpose was greater than I could’ve foreseen – it’s why I love this sport – bringing community together to truly connect in positive & healthy outdoor activity.
Although I’m still dealing with this chronic injury, I no longer feel like I’m on the sidelines. I’ve been involved in this community for a long time & will continue to be in whatever way my physical ability allows. I’d like to encourage those that are rehabbing to participate in whatever way they can dream up. We live this lifestyle, we are this sport & together we make this community thrive.