Just Keep Paddling
Honorable Mention, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Essay Contest
I wonder how many people have died out here.
This thought raced through my mind as I peered out at the rapidly moving water—white with foam and heading to the seemingly endless drop below.
I sat—with eight other kids—in a red kayak, bobbing gently against the rocks along the edge of the river. It was the ultimate picture of man against nature. However, a twelve year old girl could hardly be considered an appropriate match against raging Class III rapids. Several scenarios replayed in my head—one being the image of my kayak flipping over, causing me to crack my head against a rock and drown. It would be quite an unfortunate end to my first time at summer camp.
I looked over at the camp instructor, Jim. I hoped he realized that maybe taking a bunch of kids down some white water rapids (when they’ve only had four days to learn how to kayak), isn’t such a good idea after all. However his expression said otherwise. For the record, Jim was a tough, outdoorsy type of guy. He was the type of person who had climbed Mount Everest, and treated it as a small feat. He sat in his own kayak, facing us, and waiting for one of us to volunteer. No one seemed too inclined, as we all wanted to be safely on the buses that afternoon. Jim had mentioned earlier that only one kid from camp had died, (answering my previous internal inquiry), but “he had completely disregarded any of the rules…”
So that was comforting.
I really don’t remember why I raised my hand. Maybe I was feeling really bold at that moment. Or maybe I was trying to impress the boy next to me. Whatever it was, I could hear myself say,
“I’ll go first!”
Immediately, I wished I had kept quiet.
Jim grinned at me.
At this point, all eyes were on me.
Well, here goes nothing.
I edged my kayak into the middle of the swirling water, entering at an angle like he had taught us. As the water began to turn my kayak forward, I could feel myself frantically paddling. Jim had said that as long as we kept paddling, we had a pretty good chance of not flipping over. I felt the river’s current practically pull my kayak downstream, as I paddled for dear life.
Spoiler alert: I survived.
By the end of that week, I had returned home safely on the bus, covered in bug bites, sun burnt, and smelling like the one-and-only Potomac River. I had never been happier.
As cliché as it sounds, that experience changed me.
Surprisingly, for an often shy and reserved person, I have learned that being bold and speaking out have helped me overcome my fears. This experience produced a drive in me that I carry to this day—where I have learned that in order to succeed, you can’t give up. You just keep paddling.