Keep Calm and Paddle On
The Altruistic Tale of Chad Guenter
By Tracy Guenard/Searching For Sero
We’d been in touch with Chad Guenter since the beginning of the project. Common friends had mentioned him and his rad mental health awareness fundraising SUP event, knowing it’d make a great story for our blog, Searching For Sero. Then, along the journey, many more brought up his name and suggested we meet. I was excited to meet him and filled with anticipation. I wanted to know more about his project and his motivations but more than anything, my curiosity was through the roof because so many pointed in his direction. Why such a consensus?
It didn't take me long to find out. Behind this tattooed giant lies one of the most genuinely caring human beings I’ve had the pleasure to meet. A big heart on two feet, one that is beating for others but also bleeding with them sometimes. What started for him as a personal quest for happiness ended up being an altruistic journey to help others that need it the most with this one motto: Keep Calm and Paddle On.
Love for the water came late in his life. After spending two years working all over the USA as an iron worker to pay for student debts, he decided to invest time and energy into something he loved instead of work.
Chad enrolled in the Whitewater Intensive Leadership Development program and over the course of three months got all his guide and SWIFT water rescue certifications and started guiding, first on the Ottawa River and then on the Kananaskis.
Things weren't working the way he wanted. Crushed by debts and feeling like there was no way out, Guenter had to file for bankruptcy and move back to his hometown of Saskatoon. Times were hard and all those stresses added up and sent him into a downward spiral.
Thankfully, he got out of that and slowly got his life back on track both emotionally and financially, but he wanted to get back to doing what he loved. His friends, owners of Escape Sports, had been trying to get him into standup paddling for a while, so he decided to give it a go.
That was the start of KCPO – Keep Calm and Paddle On – and without knowing it, a new start for Guenter. For the first edition in 2012, he paddled 300 km on Diefenbaker Lake and onto the South Saskatchewan River all the way to Saskatoon, followed by a friend in a support boat. His goal, to raise money and foster open discussion about mental health, a subject close to his heart. His own experience with depression and having seen his brother and mother battle with mental health made it an obvious choice. Would he make that goal of raising at least the amount the board cost him to help those in need?
Over $5,000 were raised with that first trip which has become an annual expedition. Every year, an ever increasing number of people have joined Guenter on his journey which has never raised below the first year's mark. Guenter's quest to find his happiness back on the water has become an event around which the community rallies to not only raise funds but also to heal. Personal wounds left by their own mental health struggles or the ones left by a loved one that has lost their battle. The water heals.
Guenter needs its healing powers too. By taking on this project, he uncovered a task bigger than himself. The ever-growing number of sad stories and pain he has to deal with in order to help others is taking it's toll on this giant's heart. Even so, his altruism prevails.
I am convinced the last word anyone would come up with when meeting Guenter is selfish. If anything, selfless would be more it. He is the kind of person that makes you want to be a better human being, the kind of person we need more of in this world.
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