By Casi Rynkowski
Fifteen years ago, I left the corporate world to become a stay-at-home mom. My friends who’d made the same choice seemed content with the daily activities of raising a family, but I craved more. I felt like I'd lost a piece of myself somewhere, somehow.
So I reinvented myself as a personal trainer with a focus on cross-training outdoors and soon fell in love with both paddling and surfing during an adventure trip. My newfound passion became a big part of my business and I became a certified paddleboard instructor and guide.
I was gung-ho. My children, less so. When they were young, there were plenty of times when Chase, now 16, Sky, 12 and Gray, nine, watched from the sidelines as I came and went, unhappy that I was off to get on the water again. I felt guilty as I made my way out the door, but it wasn't just my kids' disappointment that left me feeling that way. The "it-must-be-nice" comments from friends and other moms stung, but the mental clearing and physical high I got from paddling or surfing was intoxicating. It was exactly what I needed to revive my sense of self.
Now 48, I'm still trying to answer the question of how to make it all work, being a mother and a businesswoman, all while pursuing my passion on the water. Over the years, I've drawn strength and advice from the amazing mothers I've met in the paddling community. I've assembled a few of their stories here with the hope that they'll do the same for you.
Elite Canadian SUP racer Lina Augaitis, mom to four-month-old daughter Aiste and two-year-old son Tavas, is in the throes of all things parental, including diaper changing and potty training. Coming from an adventure racing and kayaking background, pursuing a livelihood as a professional paddleboard racer was a natural progression, but becoming successful required her to give up a full-time high school teaching career for the unknown. And that was before she had kids.
Brazilian Andrea Moller, mother to Keala, 14, pursues life at a speed not understood by most moms on the laid-back island of Maui, where their family lives. Her passion for downwind racing is balanced with a high-stress career as a paramedic. Her dedication to racing means a big commitment to training, while learning to balance life, work, motherhood and her passion in new ways.
Single mom and ER nurse Bronwyn Comer, mom to Marek, 13, and Esme, 10, began her paddling career after borrowing her mother's sea kayak. She transitioned to whitewater SUP a few years later, and paddling became a way for Bronwyn to cope with depression brought on by an abusive relationship. Running rapids down the James River in Virginia on the weekends after a twelve-hour shift in the hospital was certainly not your typical mom's hobby, but it was a welcome sanctuary that helped restore Bronwyn's happiness.
"You have to marry a great guy to make it work," Lina says. She often borrows time from her husband so she can train. Lina overcame the inevitable physical sacrifice of recovering from pregnancy, while planning a comeback to racing. "Nothing prepares you for your post-pregnancy body, accepting what that looks like, and rebuilding what it can do. You have to redefine your beauty and strength in your head."
Andrea, who is trying to be present during her daughter's teenage years, recognizes that, "the sacrifice goes both ways." Finding time to connect with Keala often means missed training opportunities. "Not being consistent with training makes it hard to compete with the big dogs." And mom duties and household responsibilities add layers of complexity to her already demanding paramedic work schedule. "Something has to give to make paddling happen," she says.
It's all about time, and sleep deprivation is Bronwyn's personal sacrifice to pursue her passion. "I want to experience whitewater so badly, I'm willing to deny my body sleep to make it happen." She reserves her weekdays solely for her kids, so weekends are packed with three 12-hour ER shifts, followed by hours of paddling.
It's all about balance. Finding equilibrium between family and paddling, figuring out ways to combine fitness and quality time, that's what keeps us moms going. "There are not that many moms out there that get to spend time on the water with their kids," says Lina, who shares paddling time with her kids whenever she can.
"Keala knows how to listen to her heart and pursue her dreams," explains Andrea, who feels her daughter has learned this from watching her travel, train, compete and work.
For Bronwyn, the paddling community has provided a reward beyond expectation. "When my kids go down to the river, everyone knows their names, jokes with them and looks out for them. They treat us like we're family. The paddling community has helped create my extended family."
For me, the rewards are becoming more and more visible. When my kids were young, I worried about my passion damaging them, or our family, in some way. Instead, I now see my children growing into independent, confident adventure-seekers who I believe are starting to realize that happiness is not something that is bought, sold or acquired by happenstance, but something that we each create for ourselves.
1. Be creative and flexible. Cross-training is an all-inclusive activity for Lina. Cross-country skiing, biking or running while pulling a "land chariot" filled with kids is her new normal. In warmer months, she strolls to the beach while pulling the chariot with one hand and carrying an inflatable SUP in the other.
2. Communicate. Andrea says, "Nothing is worse than blindsiding a spouse or kids with unexpected paddling, especially when they might have their own plans. Communication helps prevent frustration." Considering everybody's schedules, priorities or commitments may not be easy, but it can help avoid bigger problems.
3. Be ready. Because opportunities to paddle often come spontaneously, I keep a box of gear in my car at all times. When I find an unexpected gap in my schedule, I hit the water. It also helps to have a bag packed with workout or water clothes, a warm layer, and something you can put on after a paddle to run into the grocery store without looking like a complete wild woman.
4. Take time, give time. Invite your kids along on paddling adventures with you. Weekdays are kid's days for Bronwyn. If she is able to make it onto the water, she makes sure they are out there too.
5. Block out the negative chatter. Not everyone will view your paddling passion in a positive light. There will always be those who make quick judgments without seeing the positive benefits.
Last but not least, remember: there are only so many hours in a day, and grasping a few of them to paddle or train may be the goal right now, but days and years fly by. Suddenly, our children will be grown and striking out on their own paths, so make the most of every moment with them now. Find your personal balance, guide them well, give them the tools they need to learn how to paddle their own boards and enjoy the glide together!