Boils and Whirpools—Challenges and Unexpected Stress


Walt Schafer
Walt Schafer
(photo KM)
Note: Walt Schafer participated in the Paddlehead Club's annual whitewater roundup on Saturday, April 10. The roundup consists of a "slalom" race though gates at the Honey Run Covered Bridge. He reports that he didn't win anything except the distinction of being, at 63, the oldest participant.

Part 1

White water kayaking is both great fun and a rich source of learning about thriving under pressure. Here are key lessons I have learned.

• Like anything else, I can experience the river any way I choose—as a threat or a challenge, a bore or a wonder of beauty, a realm of loneliness or a place to share, a place for full engagement or for detachment.

• Kayaking offers a chance to grow through pushing my limits. Staying within my comfort zone is safe. But sometimes pushing my limits by tackling progressively more difficult rivers takes me to new levels of skill and confidence. This personal growth ripples outward into other parts of my life.

• Equally important is knowing my limits. It is foolhardy to venture into waters that are unknown or beyond my skill level. The same holds in other spheres of challenge as well.

• It is important to balance skill and confidence. If I am over-confident, I can get into dangerous situations that are beyond my skill level. If I am overly timid, I don't realize my potential. The same holds as we move through stages in our careers.

• Kayaking is both solo and social. I am tucked alone in my shell with my paddle. Yet I would never negotiate a river alone or out of reach of a nearby partner, readily available if needed. This essential balance between individuality and interdependence applies in most arenas.

• Like any other demanding skill, there is no short-cut to mastering kayaking. The only path is hard work, repetition, and practice. "Time on the water" is essential to mastery of any skill.

• Having a plan is vital. If the rapid is new and potentially dangerous, I scout it from the bank. If not, I know in advance the line I will follow. Having a plan is key in most challenging circumstances, although sometimes—both on the water and in life—we need to expect the unexpected.

• When approaching a rapid, it is vital that all is in place—helmet is snapped on, life jacket is zipped up, spray skirt is in place, nose plug is on. Attention to detailed preparedness is key to peak performance anywhere.

• Peak performance also depends upon intense focus and concentration when entering a demanding rapid. This holds more generally, whether in public speaking, acting, teaching, decision making, taking an exam, or in a job interview.

To be continued on May 6

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Walt Schafer, adapted from Stress Management for Wellness, 3rd Ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996, p. 434.


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