Change of heart, Change of focus

People ask: “So are you done paddling?” It’s a fair question, but I have a tendency to impulsively respond with a quizzical, “no…?” Quizzical, because the idea of ever being “done” with paddling is something I can’t imagine. I’ll never be “done”. I’m not quitting. I’m simply shifting my focus as my goals and priorities change.

For the love of water. Getting back to the basics in Meech lake, Qc.
For the love of water. Getting back to the basics in Meech lake, Qc.

When the 2016 season ended, I felt like I never once performed to the extent of how I believed I could, and I started to believe that I never could. My heart was no longer in practice, my coach could tell and it damaged the training environment for everyone. I avoided questions and I avoided practice. When I didn’t manage to dodge a question, I had two responses: “My results weren’t where I wanted them to be, but I learned lots!” Or, despite my best efforts and all too often, I broke down. I was miserable. I was upset every day at the slightest mishap. Because I wanted to love racing. But somewhere amongst the feeling of self-worthlessness, I realized that this wasn’t what I fell in love with. I had forgotten that I don’t paddle for results, nor do I paddle to get a coach’s approval.
Maybe I didn’t have thick enough skin. Maybe I wasn’t tough enough. But when you’ve been working as hard as you thought you could, and your disappointing results are topped with discouraging comments, that is going to hurt. If I had been in a very healthy place with myself, I might have been fueled by being told that I have no skills, that I can’t overcome my weaknesses. Unfortunately, I was not in a state of mind resilient enough to take those comments in stride.
It was really, really hard for me to not take those comments personally. For a long time, I did take them personally, just as I took my poor results personally. It’s a common saying that your results are directly related to the effort you put in. To me, the thought that people would interpret my poor results as a lack of caring was heartbreaking. Letting down the people who supported me was a terrifying thought. I would walk past my canoe and feel sick to my stomach. I was embarrassed by my results because I felt like my supporters and my team deserved better.

Thankful for supportive friend & teammate for making me smile
Thankful for supportive friend & teammate for making me smile

Like I said in my “Journey of Transformation” blog post, I am still proud of some things. But the truth is, I was having so much trouble focusing on those moments. I forgot about the joy, the satisfaction, the achievements, the growth and the friendships.
I realized I needed to change something. I needed to take a step back, to return to the essence of my passion. To build myself up, to come to my senses, to learn to maturely handle everything and any feedback that might come my way. So, I went from training 11 times a week, to paddling three times a week with the development group of 12-14 year olds. It was weird. I had to swallow my pride a bit. I had fun.

Finding that flying feeling again. Photo by Johno Foster.
Finding that flying feeling again. Photo by Johno Foster.

In November, I took almost a full break from training. I made the solo road trip out to Gaspe to visit one of my favourite people in the world. Turns out, all that jazz about spending time with your own thoughts is pretty true. I went creeking, I started University, worked two part-time jobs, and I kept avoiding questions.

Finding happiness in Gaspé, Qc. with one of my favourite people!

Yesterday, I came home from a gym workout. My mom asked a typical “how was it?” and to my surprise, I answered; “it was fun!”. It was a refreshing reminder of why I love working out, having fun and getting stronger.
Now, I’m giving crossfit a try, looking for a new, engaging way to build strength. I’m gearing up for my first summer challenging myself as a full-time canoe instructor and river trip guide. I’m a little intimidated and so, SO excited to help spread the joy of being on the water.
So, when people ask if I’m “done with paddling” – nope. But right now, I need to find the sport I love again. For now, that means switching things up. In a few months, that might mean returning to slalom training, or it might not. Time will tell. Either way, it means following the feeling of community, empowerment and adventure, wherever I may find it. I need to listen to my own “philosophy”.
I need to listen, to remember that the Song of the Paddle is still there. It hasn’t changed, just my perspective has.

Feeling humbled in Gaspésie. This country is big!

12 thoughts on “Change of heart, Change of focus”

  1. Good decision and good luck. You never disappointed your fans or friends. It’s always a pleasure to paddle with you and your enthusiasm.

    1. Thanks so much Roger! I’m really hoping to be home for nationals, but other than that I have 14 weeks of instructing & guiding lined up :) See you soon!

  2. Love you Willa! What a beautiful story of a hard journey. Glad you’re on this side of it and your students and clients are sooooo lucky to have you.

  3. Sounds like you’ve made some great decisions Willa. How wonderful to be able to share your canoeing talents! Enjoy your summer!
    Thanks for allowing me to follow you as a fan. It’s been fun.

  4. After reading your bog l sat here trying to find the words to express my thoughts, l see these words are and have been noted above. To put it simply and truthfully…….👍👍👍👍

    Your right paddling is to be fun. It can have heart pounding adventure, push us to our limits in many ways both physical and mental. At the end of the day it can take us to a much needed place to offer the soul a place to relax and recharge.

    I look forward to seeing more posts/blogs of you teaching, guiding, creeking, portaging, remote camping and padding at sunset, in your “happy place” ……on the water!

    And even more 👍👍👍👍from Willa Mason!

  5. So nicely written Willa!! You touched on so many good points on how paddling should be fun & why we need to go back to basics sometimes to appreciate our beautiful sport! I hope you find happiness with whichever path you decide to go with :)

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