No matter how slow you are going, you are still lapping everyone on the couch.
You may have encountered the above quote already. Obviously, it’s intended to serve as a spark of consolation when you find yourself trailing at the back of the kayak bunch, or when flubbing rolls, or simply whenever you’ve been comparing your efforts with those of some superhuman who probably only exists in your head. Even although you are a little slow/stiff/out-of-condition, you’re at least not as bad as that pizza-guzzling slob on the couch, also in your head. But there lies a problem with the quote itself – it is once again doing comparing. This time, it’s you and the aforementioned slob. And that’s when things get tricky.
I’m kind of done with dualistic or competitive thinking such as: me versus (insert name of sporting hero here), me versus my 22 year-old self, me versus the imaginary couch-dweller, me versus you. It deals in delusion and doesn’t achieve much. Often only half the facts are available and many assumptions are made. For example, the person on the couch could be injured, or ill. There are many kayakers who have been in that very position and it has perhaps been the primary reason for them abandoning another activity, such as hillwalking, and taking up paddling instead. Alan is one of them.
Injuries can teach you a lot (perhaps that’s why many kayakers are so wise). First of all, they force you to slow down and assess. This in turn breeds acceptance. Then you start to learn, not just about your injury, but how to help it heal and how to prevent it recurring. If it’s beyond that, then the human spirit has a way of finding other life-affirming interests. It can be a real voyage of discovery.
Many people have come to Greenland kayaking as a result of bodily incompatibilities with a Euro paddle. All it takes is a wrenched shoulder to prompt an investigation of more traditional methods of rolling and forward progress. The Inuit did know a thing or two, long before the Europeans. And therein lies a world of opportunity, with all sorts of morale-boosting accomplishments waiting to be attained, as well as a strong connection to the very origins of kayaking.
And where there is life, there is always hope – or rather, possibility. After finally overcoming an old hip problem, and many comeback attempts over the best part of a decade, not to mention the anguish associated with an unrelated but sombre diagnosis, I have unexpectedly returned to running. Of course, this is an activity that has a strong association with injury. It didn’t ever occur to me that this shouldn’t necessarily be the case and that – like yoga, swimming or kayaking – there is a technique to be mastered which can prevent injury (and which I’m learning!), that state-of-the-art shoes might be harmful (heel-strikers beware!), that cross-training is vital, as is yoga plus strength and flexibility exercises generally. I’ve also been learning about the incredible benefits of plant-based whole foods for fuelling and rebuilding the body cell by cell (so many ultra-athletes can’t be wrong), as well as therapies such as Trigger Point and Active Release Technique (a foam roller is your friend). And I used to think I knew about running. Everything in life boils down to – and let’s get dualistic for a moment – awareness versus ignorance.
Most of all, I’ve been learning about the mind’s ability to focus on the positive, or the negative, and to therefore contribute towards a corresponding outcome. Years ago, I talked myself out of running and gave up on it featuring in my life again. It’s come as a real surprise to welcome it back, simply because I opened one more little window of possibility. I’m just working on shorter distances at the moment. Maybe one day they’ll amount to something. Maybe they won’t. Maybe it’ll just be nice to run along the shore road for a bit. Regardless, it’s a treasure. Kayaking has taught me to leave my Type A-ness at home and just try things out, to enjoy the scenery, to see what the sea and the wind bring. It can be applied throughout life.
Of course, when I spoke about making comparisons, I didn’t mean to confuse this with gaining inspiration from others. As I watched Felix Baumgartner fall 128,000 feet to Earth, I was dumbfounded by his bravery. If I were silly enough to make comparisons, let’s just say I was several places behind Felix when they were handing out the awesome – but that doesn’t stop me from being inspired by him. Even so, there is more to that particular story. Falling through space might not have fazed Felix, but wearing a spacesuit did, and the claustrophobia he experienced in practice runs nearly became a showstopper. As I mentioned, sometimes you only know half the story.
For now, I’m thankful to be lapping the couch, whether someone happens to be on it or not. But I’d encourage anyone seated there not to give up, no matter how pointless it all feels. You just never know what windows are going to open and what sea breezes might come rushing in.
Because you are alive, everything is possible.
– Thich Nhat Hahn