November 14, 2016

Quality over quantity.

A few days ago, I received an award from Canoe Kayak BC for being the top para canoe/kayak athlete in the province for 2016. It feels pretty good. Really good, actually. 

The plaque says: "success is not limited by one's abilities."
As mentioned before on this blog, I’m not much one to receive accolades. I do what I do because I love to participate. I do not do it for reward. This is generally true of any pursuit of happiness in my life. And, in the specific case of para canoe/kayak, I do it to try and bring some awareness to what is a relatively new discipline. When an award becomes a bi-product of my involvement and engagement with a particular activity, that’s awesome.

I digress. So, the other night after winning my award I posted a picture of me with the plaque I won. I got great response from it—more than I expected I would, actually. Thanks for that, gentle readers!

I also got some side comments, as I have before about this discipline within this sport, and it’s high time I get something off my chest. It shouldn’t bug me, because as I said, I do what I do because I love doing it, and that’s enough. But I’m only human, and if I hear enough of one thing, it’s sure to bug the ever-lovin’ crap out of me.

The comments come out in different ways, but always carry the same meaning: you’re being rewarded because there’s no one to compete against.

Let’s educate the masses, shall we?

I got my name on something!! 
High performance sport is, in general, a lonely world. Whereas you can find a decent chunk of the population participating in sport generally, only a small percentage of those folks are engaged at a high level (by high level/ high performance, I mean ‘requiring highly-specialized coaching, facilities, athlete services and direct financial support’, such as amateur national-level or Olympics-bound competitors, for example). Thus, the percentage of people in all of Canada engaged in high performance sport, as a percentage of the population, is small (thank you, captain obvious).

NOW, for perspective on the para sport world: in Canada, an estimated 3.8 million adult Canadians (This study relates 'adult' as age 15 or older) reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2012. This represents 13.7% of the adult population. (source, stats Canada)

Here’s the math. If that 13.7 per cent chunk of Canada’s population is 100 per cent of the nation’s population living with a disability, and only a small per cent of THAT chunk of the population engaging in high-performance sport, you’re looking at a VERY small pool of disabled people either willing or even able to come out and participate. It is a minuscule fraction of the population. Based on all that, I don’t disagree with people who recognize that when I race para canoe/kayak,  I race fewer people. it's just a statistical reality that this will be the case, and you cannot get blood from a teeny, tiny stone.

Do I like it that way? Of course I would prefer it if there were throngs of competitors. And, as you move up the food chain, there are more and more people to race against. National and international pools are respectively larger. But locally/provincially, no, there aren’t many people to compete against. It varies from province to province and sport to sport, but overall, competitor numbers are fewer in para-sport compared to able-bodied sport.

Back to the question of ‘yeah, but do you have anyone to compete against?’ Part of my answer to this is all that stuff as stated above, and of course I would prefer a deep pool of competitors.

But here's the thrust of it:  I don’t require a deep pool of competitors to push MYSELF as hard as I can. Sure, we all like drinking the sweet champagne of victory from the skulls of defeated foes, but it's really not a driving factor for me.  

There are time standards to measure performance, whether there are one, two, three, 18 or 27 people on the race card. No one is handing me cheques if I come first, if I don’t make a certain time standard to go with it. If I go to national team trials (as I have) and if there’s only a few people vying for a team spot (as has been the case), and if I win the race (as has happened) BUT I don’t make a time standard (as has also happened), guess what? I’m not representing Canada. It’s not as though someone says ‘You won! Go represent us!’ You still have to measure up, as is only right.

And in the last year, I. Measured. Up. And for that, my provincial sport organization recognized me. 

The next time someone wants to ask ‘yeah, congrats, but who are you competing against’, I may smirk at you because I have nothing clever or concise to say in the moment, but know that my answer is this:
Congratulate me for why I am competing, not for whom I am doing so against.  
Congratulate me for being representative of others who currently face too many barriers to sport.
Congratulate me for bringing awareness, and hopefully encouraging others to try it out. 

Most of all, when it comes down to me and my paddling: ask yourself, is this a question I would ask of an able-bodied athlete? Then, do as you would for said able bodied athlete: congratulate me for the length of the course, not the width of the lake on which I race.

November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016 is in the bag

A firefighter and a zebra. Respectable, if I do say so myself. 
Halloween has come and gone, and predictably, many posts on my Facebook page are from parents, resigning themselves with an eyeroll to the days of sugar highs and lows that now await them.

Not so in our house.

We adopted a practice from some friends a few years back that has worked out well for us.
For the last few years, the ‘Halloween fairy’ has been coming to the house, to exchange candy for some sort of toy or art supply. This year, the kids are old enough to have us just tell them that we’d be exchanging their candy for some sort of pens-and-colouring-book set. And they’re cool with it.

The concept, for anyone who wants to try it next year, is simple. 
  • The kids get to go trick-or-treating to their heart’s content. 
  • Come back with as much as you can carry. Dump it all on the table, with no separation of ‘whose is whose’. 
  • Sort out the razor blades, syringes and fentanyl pills, and then let the kids gorge. In our experience, it only takes 15 minutes of straight candy eating before the kids are tired of it. 
  • As they eat, they get to choose a handful of treats to stash away—we say 10 pieces. 
  • And then, the rest goes into the candy bowl to be handed back out to other trick-or-treaters who come to our door.
  • In exchange, the kids get (Insert material object here).

The sugar high from all that gorging is basically offset by the exhaustion of a late night running around the neighbourhood (bedtime was no problem!), and from there, the kids can choose a treat for their dessert each night until the candy is gone.

The usual Trick-or-treating mayhem
Now, I get it. It was fun to have all that candy as a kid. But the stash in a house with siblings was a difficult asset to protect, for one thing (JAMIE, I am looking at YOU… thieving older brother), and really, eating mini chocolate bars by the time Christmas rolled around was pointless, since the fresh Christmas goodies were on their way into rotation.

What do you think? Are we terrible parents for using this system on our kids? Or are we the BEST MOST AMAZING PARENTS EVER?!*

We've figured out how to cut down on the candy.
Now if we could just get our son to stop doing the 'Dab' dance move. 
Give it a try next year, and see how it works out for you!

And, for a lil’ video of the Halloween experience at our house, have a looky-loo. All the fun, with 95 per cent less candy! 

Ooh, also, I had a haunted house for work, a couple days before halloween. If you're still feeling spooky, that video is here: 

ps - lots of video on my youtube channel since my last post. head over to my channel for various and sundry items! 

*does not denote personal bias. That’s all in your head. 

October 7, 2016

Oh thank heaven for age 37!

A birthday post a few days late, and/or a Thanksgiving post, a few days early.
Back on my birthday, I said on my Facebook page that I may be closer to 40 now than I am to 30, but that’s just fine with me. In many ways, I feel like I’ve just had my best year ever. Here's a few reasons why:

  1. The kids are growing and becoming real human beings with every passing day (the boy loves math… I can’t figure that one out, but I’ll just go with it), and the interactions just get more interesting every day.
  2. Paddling, need I say it, was a major highlight in the past year. Training was fun, racing was even better. And, as a real “adult”, I’m involved with the sport on much deeper levels. I’m an athlete representative to the board for our provincial sport organization, and I’m an athlete representative on the Cane Kayak Canada’s Paracanoe committee, newly formed in this past year (think of it like the old Hair Club for Men ads… not only am I a client…). After 26 years of paddling, It’s great to have some expertise and experience to be to give to the sport beyond being able to line up properly on the starting gates.  
  3. I’m married to a business owner. That seems like something a legitimate 37-year-old can say. Kate’s non-profit therapy clinic for kids with complex special needs has been up and running for a while now, and they are expanding into a larger space right now to meet client demand. How cool is that?
  4. And the work? Oh, the work is so good! I’m now a year into my move over to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and it’s been such a pleasure. We recently had a fundraising weekend in the Sunny Okanagan—AKA Wine Country—and I was on my own for this one. Kate couldn’t come along due to forementioned office move. But as you’ll see from the video I’ve linked here, I had a fun weekend of it (this video is all the stuff I did outside of the work duties, FYI).
  5. Finally, the thing I like about getting older is wanting for not in the ‘material things’ category. Do you know what I asked for, for my birthday this year? A metal milk steamer jug for my coffee machine. That’s it. Steamed milk, made in a good metal container, is all I need.

So in summary, life is good. Very good. If this is what getting closer to 40 looks like, I say let’s have more of it. There is much to give thanks for! Speaking of which, enjoy your thanksgiving! 

BIRTHDAY PIE!! Apple, homemade. Delicious. (Pro-tip: do not put beeswax candles into a hot pie fresh from the oven. You end up with just wicks, and a slightly waxy interior to your pie). 

September 20, 2016

Top 8 things I hate about 'back to class’: elementary school edition

Alright, so we’re a few weeks back into the school year here, and I’ve caught my breath long enough to think about all the things I hate about sending the kids back to school


1. People who act like the "fresh start" of the school year... is any different than summer.

As far as I can tell, the summer is exactly like the school year. It's the same lunch-making-what-the-fuck-do-we-feed-you-tomorrow bullshit, the same mad morning rush to get the kids ready for their next day camp, the same routine of kids waking up earlier than necessary, the same walking the dog in the dark of the early morning before work, the same kid pick-up schedules at the end of day… the only difference was forking over thousands of dollars in summer camp fees.

to boot, around here at least, the weather was 85 per cent spring-like, too, so not only did the daily schedule look the same, the daily weather felt the same as the school year.

2. Feigning enthusiasm for the start of the school year.

This is just me, and it’s a good starting point for understanding the colour of the rest of this blog entry. I didn’t love going back to school as a kid at the end of the summer. I generally hated school from day one until grade 12 graduation. From having to “learn stuff” to being bullied, to having some terrible, terrible teachers along the way, I really didn’t dig on school. I get that I needed education, so I persevered, but… oh, those back to school blues… *smile for the kids, Stu, tell them how awesome it will be!* Genuinely, I don't feel excitiement for the start of the school year. I feel anxiety. 

3. Gradual Entry

“Back in my day”, we used to rock up to the school a week before it started, read the list of who’s class we were going to be in, and who our classmates were going to be, and THAT. WAS. IT. Day one, aaaaand go.

Nowadays, we have to get the goddamn Harry Potter sorting hat out, and it takes at least a week before kids are actually settled into their classroom routines. I get that the social-emotional learning environment means teachers and staff actually take the time to consider the balance of personalities and independent learning needs, and that is AWESOME. I retain the right to be grumpy about the process.

I admit, this year, I didn’t do any of the gradual entry days. It was my wife’s turn this year. I did it last year. God willing, next year neither of us will have to partake in this madness and the kids will essentially get straight to full days of class.


4. The "first day of grade XYZ” pictures at the front door.

You know what? You parents that had your shit together enough to even DO this? I love you all and respect you, but… just, f*ck you. That is all.


5. A professional development day within the first 2-4 weeks of school. 

Love and respect teachers for all they do, and the extra hours they work, blah blah blah. A DAY WITHOUT KIDS, WHEN SCHOOL JUST STARTED?! Are you KIDDING ME? Did you read #3?! For all the parents that manipulated their working schedules to deal with the first two weeks of school, and now have to do it again, this pro-D day is Just MEAN!

6. The “Art” 

Oh god, the artwork. Parents, I know you feel me on this. Piles and piles of it, at the end of each day, on the countertops. Schoolbags get dragged in the door, and all of a sudden, it’s a spontaneous vomiting of scribbly crumpled papers, all over the place. There are the gems within there, of course, and those are worth weeding out for the memory books, as well as other valuable items such as field trip forms, class photo day notices, teachers’ letters, etc… which leads me to…

7. Paperwork

Holy mother of permission slips, batman. WHY SO MANY THINGS TO SIGN? The worst has to be our after-school care arrangement for our kids. Some elements were required not just in duplicate, or triplicate, but the exact same information had to be printed out EIGHT FUCKING TIMES. What? What? I can’t even. Here, take our money and all these dead trees you made us fill out. The irony is, we do the paperwork for the safety of the children and the total indemnification of the program from any legal harm (Jimmy broke his arm falling off the monkey bars? Yo fault. Emma got into a pencil crayon shiv fight with Sofia? Not our problem!), and THEN, the program feeds our kids chocolate frosted sugar bombs for their afternoon snacks… Jimmy’s arm is broken AND he developed diabetes? Still not our fault! Wait, is this still about paperwork? Whatever.

8. Two weeks of spring break

OK, this is actually super awesome for the kids. I’m just 100 per cent bitter that I didn’t get this when I was in school.


So that’s enough piss and vinegar for one posting. Just had to get all that off my chest! At the heart of it, obviously, nothing is more important to me than seeing my kids get a great education, and we will jump through whatever hoops we have to, to make sure our kids earn their smarts, forge some great friendships and hopefully don’t get beat up along the way.

If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen cutting sandwiches into little flower shapes and carving smiley faces into fruit slices. NOT. 

September 6, 2016

This little piece of metal

It's small enough to sink into the palm of my prosthetic-clad hand. Large enough to fill me with great satisfaction.

What you see here is a single medal from the Canadian Canoe Association sprint national championships, a competition held annually near the end of August.

For some paddlers, their collection of these little medallions boggles the mind. They count them, literally, in the dozens.

For me, this is the only one I have.

In 26 years of paddling—hell, in a lifetime of multiple sports—I’ve never held a top award in my hands outside of my own province. This week, that all changed, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ll even go ahead and say this: I am proud.

I won this at the ‘CCA’s’ on Lake Banook, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  Lake Banook may be insignificant as a geographic detail perhaps, but it’s significant to me in personal history. I first raced here 20 years ago, my very first time at a CCA sprint national championship, as a wide-eyed, vaguely out of control, in-it-for-the-fun 16 year-old.

I raced at a couple of successive CCAs after that, finding my way into various finals in singles and team races.

But I never found my way on to the podium.

In 1999, the sport changed for me—life changed—completely, when I had an industrial accident that left me without most of the fingers on my left hand.

Did you know it’s hard to hold on to a kayak paddle without fingers?

But, I was determined to try—you can never run out of try—and so, by 2001, following rehab, etc.  I was back at it with a pathetically ill-fitting, rudimentary prosthetic, racing against able-bodied paddlers with a sore hand and a technique that was forever changed. 

There was no para circuit back then. By 2004, I started to fade away from the sport for a while, frustrated by the change in my ability and feeling unsupported by the sport—I even had competitors tell me they didn’t think I should be able to participate, perceiving my use of a prosthetic as some sort of advantage.

School, marriage, work, kids… these things were paid more due than my love of being in boat. I hadn’t run out of ‘try’, but it was a fine time to shift my focus. Today I have a family, a house, a job, all of which I love and am blessed to have, and owe much to that break I took.

Eventually, I started to hear that there was in fact a para circuit, and that I would likely qualify, on assessment in a particular class. That was late in 2012. Little did I know that the para class had actually been gaining steam for a few years at that point. I made a slow re-entry to the sport. Inquiries before action. Tons of them. Looking into rules, and classifications, and equipment, and qualifications processes, and potential time commitments, and ultimately, discussions with family about what it could all mean.

Finally, though, the clincher: the para class was going to be debuting in Rio at the 2016 Paralympics. Time for action.

With my family’s blessing, I jumped back in. I was full of try again. I bought the appropriate Para class boat—the first flatwater sprint boat I have ever called my own, this in itself a dream fulfilled since I first sat in a boat as a kid in Kamloops. I started training again. Even went to my first Florida training camp (after 20 years of hearing people talk about the camps down there, what with all the dolphins and manatees and warm waters, it was my turn!).

Then, a little roadblock: The International Canoe Federation reconsidered the classifications for para kayak. My amputation no longer qualified to shoot for international competition…never mind that a dude can barely hold on to a paddle without a prosthetic. In the wake of the classifications change, numerous paddlers around the globe were declassified. Disappointing, to be sure, what with the Rio Paralympics a goal for many people at that point.

I wasn’t going to run out of try this time.

I jumped right into the V-1 class outrigger (or Va'a, if you prefer) sanctioned alongside the para kayaks as a para sprint discipline, though not to be included in Rio. It is totally new to me in the last year and a half, but I love it. I’m still classified internationally, and I’ve kept training at it. I basically reduced my sights to the CCAs for 2015.

But I didn’t get to nationals in 2015.Never mind why. It was work related and that’s how life goes.

Never run out of try.

I set sights on 2016, and here I am today.

I have a picture in my mind of me as a rake-thin 10 year-old, trying a sprint kayak for the first time.

I have this ACTUAL picture of me as a (still) rake thin 12 year-old (now with a mullet) and now totally into this sport.
I picture my progress as a kid through provincial championships, BC Games, Western Canadian Championships, and Canada Games and past CCAs, all full of their own successes and disappointments.
I have a picture of all those other sports I was doing at the same time, with paddling always seeming to come out at the top of list of interests.
And I picture the 23 year-old amputee ready to step back for a while.
And I see my adult life, mixing marriage and kids and work with this life-long love affair with the water, and the paddle and the boat.

Here's the real point of all this: Until today, paddling has never come with any particular accolades, but the love was always there. Paddling has always been one of my churches.

Today, I look down again at this little piece of metal pressed to my palm. And I think about the last 20 years since my first CCA,
Maybe love has been enough to motivate me.
Maybe, maybe I KNEW that I would one day have a moment like this and that kept me coming back. With or without fingers.
With or without years of delay. Always knowing I loved this sport and wanting to keep trying for… something.
I am glad, today, that I have a family who puts up with this little obsession, employers who are flexible with my vacation days, and above all, despite delays and times on the sidelines, that I made it to today… I never ran out of try.
How did I know I would get here?
Did I know?
I don’t know.
But I must have known.
Because I wrote this entire post last February.
Not knowing, but believing, a day like this might finally be coming.

I am excited for the future of para paddling in Canada. There's building to be done, but I'm going to work hard to make sure others might be able to find a passion for this sport like the one I have had for all this time.
Alright, that’s enough chatter. If you need me, I’ll be on the water.