The other morning, I had a once in a lifetime experience. I dragged my aching body out of bed at 4:25am, grabed the pain killers, packed up and hit the road.
It was still dark as I approached the beach, bleary eyed and clutching my paddle, searching through the grey, gloomy, Cornish mizzle for the rest of my wesup tribe. Gradually sleepy silhouettes appeared before me, in various states of dress, all with one common goal- get on the water as soon as possible and reach our target.
At 10pm the night before, a call to arms rang out around our club; five ladies had spent the previous 48 days rowing across the Atlantic; New York to Falmouth. That’s 3000 nautical miles, sleeping shifts and constantly rowing, to make them the fastest all female team to EVER complete such a challenge. The honour of paddling them in the last couple of miles to Falmouth was an opportunity not to be missed for any of us.
We hit the water fast and furious as we spotted our mark out at sea, red lights flashing- someone pointed out a huge starfish loitering in the shallows, my first wild starfish, but there was no time to stop and snap on this adventure. We paddled hard and strong to Pendennis point, hoping to intercept the high tech but tiny row boat as it entered the Fal esturary. As a team of ten we paddled to an average speed: gender is irrelevant, ability is irrelevant. No man gets left behind.
As we rounded the corner into the wind, we took a moment to regroup and remove layers, as the day started to break and warm our skin. We saw the flotilla of three boats to our right heading straight for a perfect intercept point at Falmouth docks and picked up the pace, in the blissful rythym of paddling now, as our bodies awoke.
We moved as one across the water, a fleet of souls, excited to meet out mark. As we rounded the longest pier of the docks, we took up position in a line, still; floating in the morning sun, watching and waiting as our arm hairs began to stand on end. The women then saw us and started to whoop and cheer, as we howled messages of joy and support at them for the last few minutes of their journey. Shivers ran down our spines; the womens’ euphoria at seeing us, the first human beings in such a long journey, contagious.
I looked across at our merry fleet of men and women and saw tears gleaming in the eyes of so many. We shared a once in a lifetime moment, one that we will all treasure until the day we are no longer able to live on the sea as we do now. I found myself in a dreamlike state; it was almost surreal, watching them as flares went off and the small crowd cheered at 6:45am. I never dreamt I could be here. That I could experience this.
At the age of 14 I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk by 21. At 32 I was told I would only have a few years to live, if my life didn’t change, meaning giving up the medication that enabled me to do the job I loved. I am now 38; I left behind the world of academia and focused on making my body as strong as I could. I chose life. I chose my children. I chose to fight. I battled with my mental and physical health, struggling to find that one thing that made me feel free and normal, after grieving for the life I once had.
Then paddle boarding arrived in my life and like a Phoenix from the ashes I arose, liberated to have finally found a sport my body could handle, one that gave me so much more that the best shot at life.
It gave me quality of life.
Even on my worst, most immobile days, I could sit and float on a buoy meditating or doing yoga; the sense of space and freedom those moments give me is invaluable. My mental health and the capacity to fight for my life and health has escalated beyond anything I could have imagined. I want to live despite the pain and prognosis, not just for my children, but for me.
Through this sport I have been humbled by the people I have met and their own personal journeys. I’ve found myself on adventures I never dreamt possible, gliding through the darkness, chasing the sunrise and sunsets; travelling along the coast and up rivers, pondering the meaning of life with my kindred spirits ; racing with my friends, blood pounding in my ears as I begin to feel truly alive.
I met my tribe. This nurturing, supportive tribe of brothers and sisters that challenged me to fulfil my potential. They didn’t see a disabled mother of four. They just saw me. Paddleboarding saved me.
Words : Kirstie Edwards