When Doug Worful called Endless River Adv and introduced himself with the statement “you have not met me yet, but I am giving you one day to teach me this blasted roll or I am selling my kayak and taking up golf,” we were not surprised. Not the first time we had heard such a threat. Learning to kayak can be a challenge for an adult. Not because of age. But because learning to kayak necessitates checking your ego at the front door (or at riverside in kayak terms).
Adults tend to stick with things they are good at– often “good at things” that have been done for a long time. Adults are used to being in control of themselves and their situation—whether in a work or a play situation. Learning to kayak has challenges for such folks: the need to think left and right with hands, feet, hips, and head; the work to get well-trained muscles to coordinate with brain—especially when having to override intuitive rational assumptions for the counter-intuitive; a willingness to make mistakes in order to learn; and the ability to maintain a sense of humor about it all. The challenges to learn to kayak are soon exceeded by the joy of paddling. And that joy of paddling is the motivation behind our friend Doug coming to gripes with having to learn to kayak not once–but twice.
At the young age of 53 Doug did in fact learn to roll. And over ten years we watched him improve from being a Nantahala boater to the Ocoee to Section IV Chattooga to the Cheoah. He worked himself up to being a Class IV boater. And then one day towards the end of 2009 he went over the handle bars of his bike and landed wrong. And that landed him in a wheel chair.
What is remarkable about this story is that Doug is committed to learning to kayak again. This will not be an overnight success story. It is not as much learning to kayak, but learning how to get from his chair to his kayak. And how to get his kayak down to the put-in. He must learn a new sense of balance since he is paralyzed from his chest down. He has to figure out whether it is better to hand paddle or use adaptive techniques to handle a paddle. And whether a beach ball in his lap is better than an adaptation to his kayak to provide support……there is a lot to learn.
From the start of this new learning experience, Doug has had the incredible support of theShepherd Center in Atlanta; and an amazing network of kayaking friends. Added to the support he is receiving from others is his own stubborn streak that shows through when he talks of his goal of being back on the Nantahala next year. Doug will be back on the river. In the meantime, he has already provided those who spend time with him such inspiration as to the magic of kayaking as a source of healing the mind, body and soul; and a reminder that kayaking is there to help us focus on what we will do–not what we cannot. Your friends will be waiting for you at the river Doug!!