In order for me to be a safe active blind person, I choose to surround myself with like-minded people who love to do and believe in the possibilities. Life comes with risk, every time we get up. No-one gets away scot-free. I accept that my life, now almost blind, has more risk than it did 5 years ago, 10 years ago and for that matter 20 years ago when my vision was less impaired. The biggest risk of withdrawing from an active lifestyle is the presence of irrational fear and the loss of confidence in myself. I believe this is the same for us all. Only when we are challenged are we inspired to become our greatest selves.
Blind paddleboarding is a great example of the teamwork, nuances and pieces of the puzzle that must fit together to enable a blind or severely visually impaired person to be out there.
In the summer of 2014 I arrived with 7 girlfriends to take a paddleboard lesson from Bodie Shandro, owner/operator of Paddle Surfit (www.paddlesurfit.com). We booked a sunset paddle and were all excited to get on the water. It was the first time for all of us to try paddleboarding and we decided to do it together. I realized, standing at the lakeside, that the day had got away from me. I did not make the time to call ahead as I usually do. I consider it a courtesy and an opportunity to get a feel for how it may go. Professionally, I assessed patients and families in positions of shock, trauma, fear and uncertainty and can readily assess the tone of a voice, pregnant pauses, use of language, and ease with my disclosure and the person’s comfort with integrating me into their program. Sometimes it’s best to do a private lesson before joining a group. But not this time — Bodie rocked. He was my kind of person from the moment I heard his strong voice and shook his welcoming confident hand.
We arrived for an ‘evening paddle’. We gathered around the dry land training spot. I stood, with my white cane, alongside 6 girlfriends all wanting to try this sport. Bodie gave us waiver forms. When he came to me he addressed me directly, “Hi, I’ll give your waiver to your friend so she can read it to you”. How refreshing. I felt respected and acknowledged for my abilities. Even today, 2015, many people ask “what would she like’ instead of talking to me directly.
The next step after waivers was to understand and experience the paddleboard as a recreational or competitive piece of equipment. His teaching style was verbal and he used descriptive language. “Your feet are on the pad of the board, equal distances from the depressed handle in the middle of the board”. He could have said, “You put your feet here for best balance”. I would have had no idea what that referred to. His first description gave me a visual pictures of the board before I got to touch it. On my turn, he never missed a beat. My friend Liz guided me forward and Bodie took my hand. “What can you see?” Most people feel bad asking this but it is an essential piece of information to share before moving ahead. It’s not a judgement question but rather a fact finding mission. “I see the shiny white”, and I point to the area. “That’s the board.” “Good”. “Give me your hand and let’s kneel down. This is the handle and the area you stand on.” With his explanation Bodie moved my hands as he spoke. At this point, I’m pretty sure he has done this before. Very comfortable with touching and explaining with visual language. It feels good and fuels the ever so important confidence. “Okay, now put a knee on either side of the handle and balance. Then when you are comfortable, do a downward dog. Do you do yoga?” “Yes”. “Go for it.” I find my balance, do a downward dog and walk my feet towards my hands as I had heard my group-mates do before me. “Here is your paddle,” and just like that I was standing and balancing on a paddleboard.
I introduced my 78 year old mom to Bodie and she was up right away gliding across the lake beside me.
Last summer I introduced my daughter and her 2 friends to SUP.
Once on the lake, with all of us launched, Bodie came up alongside me. “What do you see here?” “The shiny of the lake, the inky black mountain outline if I look down here.” “So you have a little vision.” “Yes, when you are close I can see your outline. I wouldn’t know who you were until you spoke but I would know someone was there. You must have taught blind people before, you are terrific and so encouraging”. “No but I love people. My business is to observe and assess.” “That was my work as well, as a social worker. But I observed voices, large gestures, energy-that sort of thing.” He stayed at my side on his paddleboard until I was up and comfortable. Then a couple of friends and I paddled together. All I really need out in the lake is a voice close enough to communicate with. We went into a bay and Bodie gathered us around. He walked us through doing yoga on the board. This was fabulous. One of the girls apparently mastered shavasana. “Lisa” Bodie said, “We are heading back across the lake. How will you be here?” I look around and can see the bright path of the setting sun. “I can see the brightness of that path. Can I just paddle into it all by myself?” “Sure, I’ll call out if there is anything you need to be aware of.” And just like that, I experienced the true freedom of stand up paddleboarding. I couldn’t believe it, I was out there on my own, knowing eyes were watching, but for me it was just an incredible time of being present and experiencing the beauty of life and health.
So much of my life is being attached: a person’s arm, my guide dog and a white cane. This is true for most environments other than my own home. So paddling off into the sunset on my own was magic. Absolute magic. And this happened because of my desire to do and Bodie’s ‘can-do’ attitude. This is the special type of teamwork I talk about.
My last paddleboard morning it rained. Not just a little sprinkle but a monsoon. Some of our group retreated but some of us remained out. The sounds were something out of this world. Raindrops bouncing off the board and dancing in the lake. The loons, I noticed, sang a different song. The fragrance of a fresh-washed environment filled my senses. What a gift to have been part of that experience; and I got to share it with my brother, sister-in-law and 5 year old niece.
Try stand up paddleboarding if you have not. Challenge yourself to try something new. The worst that can happen is you stay seated on your board and enjoy a couple of hours on Heffley Lake listening to the lapping of the water under your board and the songs of the loons in their natural habitat.