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Fun "Traincation" and Deep Reflections from Hawaii 2020

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My "Traincation" video is what people see.. it's the racing, the training, the fun parts. But what about the thoughts that I'm writing down in my training journal every day? Where do those go?

What about the doubts, the times I'm not sure, the lessons I'm learning along the way?

Those are real too, although a lot of times they don't get broadcast out into the world for all to see. We're only supposed to put the best of the best up on social media!! Right??

I whole-heartedly disagree.

During this trip, I was pretty bummed about some of my downwind runs, and started second guessing my abilities. I went home and reflected on the experience in my training journal - which later became part of the inspiration for the Athlete Agenda - and decided instead of it staying there forever, I would share it. I want to share the vulnerable part, the weird thoughts I have after my training session.

On this particular trip, my weird thoughts were about another time where I didn't listen to advice because I thought I knew something already. My ego was getting in the way of my improvement and in the way of being present in the moment.

I went back to my room to reflect and wrote about it extensively. This is what came out:

If you would rather read the reflection instead of watching it, that's OK too.

Here it is:


I woke up to the sounds of violent rain and wind gusts that were making the entire house vibrate. I smiled to myself;

“Yes!” I thought aloud, “This wind is epic!”

If you’re into the small niche sport of downwind paddling, you’d be pretty excited at the sound of that wind too (or you could just take my word for it because I’ve been getting excited about paddling for a while now.) A quick check of the wind app on my phone confirmed those howls were blowing in the perfect direction for my inaugural downwind run from Hawaii Kai in my outrigger canoe. It was still dark when I sat up in bed, barely able to see that my friend and fellow paddler Leanne Stanley was also up across the room checking her phone for wind conditions. The sun was already lighting up our small room cluttered with paddle gear, action cameras, and nutritional supplements. Our late flights the night before had left us exhausted, and we’d collapsed gratefully on our cots instead of organizing our gear. The jet lag may have been strong enough to stop us from sorting our things but it was no match for our building excitement at the sound of the gusts. Very few things would keep us from the water and sleep wasn’t one of them.

Like children in a hurry to open their presents Christmas morning, we scrambled to wake up and assemble our gear. When the wind is up, you go! Although the forecast looked good, it could always change, and we didn’t want to waste any valuable moments of good wind with our limited time on Oahu. For us, this wasn’t a vacation. It was training camp! We were preparing for the infamous Molokai World OC1 Championships, or MoloSolo as it’s called by paddlers, and there was no time to waste. For a successful training camp, we wanted to log as many downwind runs as possible. In a downwind paddle, you go from point A to point B and then drive back to the start if you want to do it again. You could paddle back against the 30 knot gusts if you really wanted to (or didn’t have any friends I suppose), but then you wouldn’t have much energy or time to do the fun, downwind part. It’s a lot easier to do the “car shuffle” with two cars and drive back to the start with a friend.

My first two downwind runs on Oahu were the common 8 mile route from Hawaii Kai Marina to the Outrigger Canoe Club. The wind wasn’t that different from other conditions I’d experienced along the coasts of Puerto Rico, North Carolina, or Oregon. I knew that wind. The water, on the other hand, was a completely new beast. Something felt off! I wasn’t linking the bumps like I had last summer when I won my first Gorge Downwind Championships. It was one of the most well-known downwind events in the United States, my personal favorite, and it meant a lot to me that it was a success. Was it any wonder I was comparing this downwind run to that? I wanted to be in that flow again, and when it wasn’t connecting, I felt crushed. It knocked me off my feet, off my rhythm, and into the depths of despair. My first car shuffle was filled with feelings of frustration and anxiety.

Much like being knocked in the face by a huge swell, it came as a shock to me that it didn’t go well. I expected to be much better at downwinding that run than I was. I mean, I was a champion, right? I struggled to rediscover the mindset I had going into the Gorge Downwind Champs before my win. Suddenly, it was clear to me: I had no expectations then. I hadn’t ever won anything in the outrigger world. I was just happy to be there! I was free to perform or screw up. I was free of expectation and was completely present. I was paddling relaxed, mindful, and whatever I did was a pure expression of being happy and in the moment. These feelings of bliss weren’t present in my first Hawaii Kai runs. I really wanted to be better than I was, and that striving, that feeling of pressure and inability to be present is what felt so off. It was the disappointment of unmet expectations, which I hadn’t had to deal with as a newcomer.

The sheer let down of my perceived abilities in the first few runs brought back a distant memory from my childhood almost instantaneously. It’s funny how our neurons work to connect our feelings in the present to very similar ones in the past.

I was in 3rd grade. The art teacher came to class one day and announced we would be making dreamcatchers. I was very excited! My dad had recently adopted making dreamcatchers as a hobby and I had watched him make dozens. I, however, had never made one of my own. Nonetheless, I was confident that because of my exposure to dreamcatcher making, I would be a natural. The boy next to me admitted he had never seen one so he listened intently to the teacher. Since I was convinced I already knew all there was to possibly know on the subject, I ignored her and started off on my own. Surely I didn’t have anything to learn. I was an expert. As I threaded string in haphazard ways all over my hoop with no direction, the art teacher was explaining the process in such simple terms that any 7 year old could make a beautiful dreamcatcher, and many did. By the end of class, the boy next to me was beaming with pride and he had the most beautiful piece in all the class. I, on the other hand, was left with something that looked less like a dreamcatcher and more like a nightmare. I couldn’t give you the exact details of what it looked like, mind you. I must have blocked it from memory, much like most ordinary nightmares. But what I do remember was the deep feeling of embarrassment and shame. I was supposed to be good at this already, and I literally had the worst abomination in class. It was obvious I didn’t listen past the moment the teacher said “dreamcatcher.” As an adult, I read a tutorial and made a very nice dreamcatcher quickly and easily with an open mind. (I mean, even 7 year olds can do it!) But I was too embarrassed to try again as a kid.

After my first day of down winding in Oahu, I went home and wrote down my memories about the dreamcatcher incident along with the following note to myself in my training journal:

“My expectations and my barrier of ‘prior knowledge’ almost killed my dream… catcher.”

Nerdy, I know. But, after recording this in my journal, I had a completely new outlook the next day in training. My runs instantly started to improve, and I adapted to the conditions more quickly when I adopted a beginners mindset. Once I let go of my old expectations and took the time to be mindful, I was able to adjust and go with the flow (quite literally)! I’m glad I did because it brought big wins in Hawaii that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I have no doubt that my performance in them would have been very poor if I didn’t take the time to journal and self-reflect.

Now when I paddle, I know to be on the lookout for expectations and prior knowledge I think I possess. Mother Nature always has new tricks up her sleeve and isn’t the same from place to place. Every reef and shoreline is different. Like the water, I have to be ready to adapt.

Just as life has taught me about paddling, paddling has taught me about life. The idea of mindfulness, releasing expectations, and adapting with the flow extends to almost everything. Everywhere we go, no matter how accomplished we think we might be, we have to approach new conditions with an open mind and release ourselves from striving in the previous direction. Instead of fighting the current, we need to be free to learn and perform in order to find flow, order to catch our dreams!

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