It was a dense fog, and 5:30 in the morning but I was determined. I had my 40 miles in mind, my map in a waterproof bag, a good bout of water and my favorite homemade energy bites, and a stealth-bomber of a SUP board – everything I needed to complete the honorable task at hand of paddling for my friend, Robyn. If she could battle breast cancer twice, at 34 years of age, then I could paddle 40 miles. I knew it. Unable to see more than 10 feet in front me, I started out. My first support boat of several would soon be beside me and I started out. I felt charged, alive, yet somewhat spooked by the blank-ness of the fog. As I stroked the silky, still waters of my local lake I wondered, “Is this what Robyn felt like when she first was diagnosed? Did a dense fog cover her, full of questions, fears, faith, decisions, and the unknown?” I felt her frustration. I kept pushing through, just like she did.
As my support boat crept up alongside me, I felt a calm wash over me. My strokes increased, and the fog started to lift. I could see where I was and where I was going. As the sun touched my skin for the first time, I wondered, “Is this what Robyn felt like when her whole world changed? Perhaps even though her diagnosis was grim, all the love and support that came alongside her, she knew she wouldn’t be battling this disease alone? Did the love of those around her help her mental fog lift and be able to see the bigger picture? I kept paddling, I kept pushing through, just like she did.
For hours I paddled picture-perfect waters, with a vast blue sky overhead and plenty of energy. Even a tailwind or two helped as I rounded certain bends. Yet, at the same time, around mile 15 my back started to fatigue, and twinge of pain of showing up in my neck. I pondered silently, “I wonder if Robyn had days where she forgot about the cancer, where she felt so alive, and endless, happy and healthy. I only ever remember seeing her smiling and telling people that she was going to beat this. I wonder, did she really see life as beautiful, but still feel the pain and the fear on the inside?” I kept on. I kept pushing through, just like she did.
Around mile 20 I began paddling through some of the busiest waters on our lake. On any given weekend, you could easily find 15-20 boats zooming all around you. I was in a liquid rodeo and I was the small, feeble mouse surrounding by big bulls and crazy clowns in a wide open arena. The waves and chop made it difficult to keep a cadence with my stroke, yet by this time I had my second support boat making me laugh and tossing me a pickle or two every now and then. They stayed close and played some killer tunes to keep me pumped. It inspired me. Instead of being afraid to fall on the chop and the swells from 60foot cabin cruisers passing by, I began to play!
I rode the waves like a bucking bronco, and actually started looking forward to riding the bumps. You know the old saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join em.” Instead of getting frustrated on chop and waves coming at me from every direction, I just made it a game and kept paddling as I used my SUP to leap over each one. I wondered as I played, “Was Robyn able to find joy in the midst of cancer? Was she able to take something aweful and make it have moments of fun? Was she inspired to make good out of something determined by society to be dreadful? I remember how she told her friends and family not to coddle her or cry when they saw her, after her first diagnosis and how she wanted everyone be upbeat and believe alongside her.” I kept playing. I kept pushing through, just like she did.
I turned a corner at mile 25 and a head wind hit me hard. Yet, instead of getting tired, it made me push harder. I was determined to not go backwards. I had made good time and good progress and I was not about to stop now. By this time, Robyn and her family were now my support boat. The kids on board, blew bubbles for me. Robyn herself, cheered, and yelled my name and flashed her big, beautiful smile at me each time I looked her way. Her contagious happiness, made the headwind, and the sidewind that hit me next seem trivial. As I stayed my course, I thought, “Did the second round of breast cancer only increase her strength? Did her first bout with it give her so much confidence that this second round seemed trivial in comparison? No matter what way the winds of change were blowing in her life, she seemed so determined to fight and to stay strong, and I want to be like that too.” I kept strong, I kept pushing through, just like she did.
By mile 35, my legs were wobbly. And things were about to go from bad to worse. A 20mph head wind combined with boat traffic I had never seen before plunged me into the water. I got back up but this time only to my knees. I had to stay low to keep moving. I ripped my earbuds out and keep my head down and focused. I let my breath be my mantra of movement. This was the hardest paddle I had ever done, just trying to stay on board and keep moving. In my haze of adrenaline and cortisol, I had somehow forgotten about all the support around me. I had two support boats on either side of me and somehow, I boat parade of unknown-boats-to-me had formed behind me.
People I didn’t even know were trailing me and cheering me on. Despite how hard it was to paddle, and how I took some hard falls, I knew the people cheering me, some I didn’t even know, wouldn’t let me quit and gave me the push to keep pushing. I thought, “This is how Robyn must have endured a grim diagnosis. People she didn’t even know were praying for her, cheering her on, keeping her spirits high, and letting her know she mattered. This is what life and love is all about.” And of course, I kept pushing through, just like she did.
After 11 hours and 20 minutes I pulled into my destination with a slew of boats behind me. As soon as I got off my board onto land, I ran to hug Robyn. My physical strength was zapped but my spiritual strength and my outlook on life was strengthened because of her. She may think I did this for her, but little did she know how much she has done for me. I kept pushing through, just like she did, and wouldn’t have missed it for the world now.
This paddle was a true life lesson in action for me. And I wanted to share this lesson with others.
We expect life to work out. We expect things to go our way. We have an idea of what our life should be and when it doesn’t work out that way, we fuss, moan, self-medicate, give up, and become hardened by life’s trials. But the crooked roads are just as beautiful as the straight roads. I remember at one point, I prayed and ask God to shift the headwind I had to a different direction. Then I felt foolish. Isn’t that cheating? Something frustrating happens in our life and we just expect our Creator to change it and make it better, like waving a magic wand. Yet how would we experience the rainbow without the rain? How would we see the beauty in the newborn baby without the struggle of labor? Asking our Creator to take everything dreadful in our lives and make it go away is cheating at the game of life.
This is kinda like doing your child’s homework because they don’t want to. How will they learn if they don’t have to do some challenging exercises once in a while? Life is about learning, growing stronger amidst key life lessons, and sharing your inspirations of those lessons with others to help them and build your community with love and support. The winds of change have to happen in order to change, grow, flourish, and thrive in this life. You can ride the bumps that come along and make life interesting or you can moan and groan about the way your life should be. You can say all the “why me’s?” in the world, or you can turn your why into a “what”, as in “What am I going to do to use this to help the world?”
It doesn’t matter what you are going through, how big or small. There is no doubt it is hard for you and painful. But it can still be beautiful and powerful in how it changes you for the better. Instead of wishing for it to go away or change, look for ways of how it’s going to help you grow, ways to make it your own, and ways to use it to inspire others.
For instance, you are stuck in a dead-end job you dread going to day and day out. Accept that you might not be able to get out of it or change what you do, but you can choose to bring a smile to those you interact with at your job, thereby giving each day purpose and meaning. Perhaps you have been diagnosed with a debilitating disease. Instead of spending all your time wishing it away, write a blog about what gets you through your day, and so as to perhaps inspire others dealing with the same disease.
Perhaps life throws you one curveball after another and you can’t seem to have that peaceful, easy life so many others seem to have. Instead of focusing all your attention on what’s wrong, and the “why me’s”, say, “Why Not? Life is adventure and I’m going to play a game of ‘Finding the Fun’ and making time for fun!
It’s time to look at life as “How May I serve?” rather than “How can I get out of this?” It’s easy to numb out life’s frustrations with drugs, alcohol, tv, internet, etc. The hard thing to do is face the winds of change, feel the pain, and find the beauty within it all, accepting the crooked ways of life, just as much as the easy straight stretches, accepting the choppy, wavy, busy waterways, just as much as the glassy, still, calm waterways of life. And appreciating the support around you at all times. We are all on this planet, paddling through life’s challenges together, getting stronger, and finding greatness. May you be blessed as you journey on. May you keep on, keep pushing through, just like Robyn did.