Inspiration from Athletes

In the past year I have had the blessing of being involved with the development of Stand Up Paddle as a sport in the Florida Special Olympics.

The athletes have always inspired me, yet there has been something missing in the Monroe County program. We were offering the sports of Bowling, Biking and Bocce only up until September of 2011. We live on an island and I always wondered why we did not offer swimming. I was a sporadic volunteer and could not raise the passion needed for the commitment it required to give up weekends and countless hours to be fully involved in our Monroe County Special Olympic Program.

As always, my personal growth seems to overflow into my “job”, things I get passionate about seem to become part of the “lesson plan”. There is a lot of truth in the saying, “We teach what we need to learn.” In this case for me it is SUP (Stand Up Paddle) and all the stoke, ohona, spirit and love that goes with it.

It started in Oct. of 2010 when I took a Paddleboard Yoga class from Lazy Dog at Hurricane Hole on Stock Island. From the moment I paddled out into Cow Key Channel I knew that I had found my way back to the surfer girl who grew up on the beach in Jupiter Florida. I reconnected with the Florida water ecosystem, I felt the water rushing under the board, welcoming me home. The water that flows through Cow Key Channel, into the Gulf and Atlantic on it’s ancient pathway through the Everglades, past the Reef, into Hawks Channel, into Lake Okeechobee, through the Kissimmee River, into the Panhandle waterways……the water is what brings life to all of Florida, and in turn brings life to me!

As I stood on that board for the first time, the instinctual knowledge of the Florida Waterway system that I traveled as a young girl with my father, from Jupiter Inlet, to the Bahamas, throughout the locks of the Lake Okeechobee, through the Sea of Grass via airboat….flooded through me! I knew that I could access any of those places again from that board with a paddle in my hand. Never again would I have to depend on a boat, or spend money on maintaining and engine I know nothing about to access the water.

When I started riding motorcycles a good friend once told me ” When you ride in the car, you look at the scenery and when you are riding the motorcycle you ARE IN the scenery!”

And so it is on a board with a paddle. “When I am in a boat, I am looking at and skimming over the water, paddling a board I am PART OF THE WATER and all life in it!”

With this realization and utter freedom from all my self imposed ‘disabilities” and faulty thoughts that creep up to disable my dreams — “you are too fat” ” you are not good enough”

I realized that the people I have dedicated my life and career to CAN enjoy this too. So I started a google search of Special Olympics and Stand Up Paddle. I found a link to a fundraising paddle board race in Collier County, proving to me that this dream was possible!

Then I went to our Monroe County Coordinator and asked her if she thought this would fly here in the Keys…..for goodness sake we live on an island and why not!? was my thought. She was a bit apprehensive at first, and told me that our program had not ever tapped into the water sports areas because we do not have a swimming program….WHAT!??

So jumping in with both feet, I volunteered to start an Aquatics program for Monroe County. William Elkins from Ultimate Athletics has been a God Send! I find myself involved in not only the Special Olympic politics that comes with a huge non profit, but having to learn about competition swimming—- again the young high school girl who is on the swim team comes back to me, starting with the old faulty thinking and tries to derail me with her high school insecurities!

As we identified those athletes that can swim exceptionally well, we introduced paddling to them in a fun event. Michael Westenberg (Westy) a YOLO Board team racer brought boards out and we went for it. Our athletes, coaches, volunteers and families said that day was the most fun they ever had with Special Olympics! That was in August of 2010. We proceeded to have some training’s and SUP fun as part of our Aquatics Program, entering into discussions with the state office to entertain the introduction of SUP to the SO sports line up.

I started a conversation via Facebook with a fellow SUP enthusiast and she introduced me to MJ, the Aquatics coach in Collier County. I began finding out more about the fund raiser they hold each year, I entered a few YOLO sponsored races myself…..again having to deal with those faulty thoughts and personal insecurities that I consider to be my personal disability!

In April of 2011 myself and two other Monroe County Coaches took one of our Athletes to the Collier County SUP race/fundraiser. The vision I held was ignited in the two coaches and we returned to Monroe County ready to do whatever we needed to do to make SUP a reality for our athletes.

The SUP community in Florida started knocking on the state sports directors door asking to help, at first he was resistant, but the SUP community kept knocking and telling him that there is a place in the sport for ALL people. SUP is for everyone! Through Special Olympics these awesome athletes can safely learn the sport, meet mentors and enter races alongside world class competition athletes.

To date two of our Monroe County Athletes have paddled in WPA (World Paddle Association) point races! YOLO Board has stepped up and helped us with equipment, training coaches and mentoring me along the way. Yes, I have been teaching what I need to learn!

Let me win and if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt!

Our oath speaks to me in the fact that bravery is getting out there and doing it, making healthy choices, wearing a bathing suit in public, developing an exercise routine and training when I do not want to……silencing those faulty thoughts that tell me that I should do more, be more and am never good enough.

I am so blessed! Each day I pray that I can keep focused on the visions and dreams of others in order to conquer my disabled thinking!

Check out Florida Special Olympics Monroe County and keep an eye on this SUP group!

Locals Guide coverage of our preparations for the Key West Paddleboard Classic:

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