Paddling My Way To Redemption

I can’t remember if I read The Kite Runner in high school or college, but the quote from the book “There is a way to be good again” struck me at the time and has stuck with me since. This morning as I posted a picture of a friend and I after kayaking the main of the Payette River for the first time yesterday, both of us with big smiles on our faces, proud and happy at our courage and accomplishment, a dark memory emerged in my mind, reminding me of this quote. 




I had wanted to get into kayaking since the summer after Freshman year of college when I would watch kayakers from near and far paddling down the Lochsa river as I sunbathed on a sandy beach upriver from my hometown. I wanted to be fearless like them. But I was afraid.

I took kayak rolling classes and kayaked down some very tame rivers with our outdoor program my junior and senior years in college, but I never felt comfortable or confident enough to delve into the world that is whitewater kayaking. I didn’t trust myself or the water and I didn’t want to ask to tag along with more experienced kayakers and risk looking like a helpless idiot flailing around in the water. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

Fast forward a few years to my late twenties, I was dating a guy that I was crazy about, who would later hurt me deeply and who I came to understand, after our relationship was over, was emotionally abusive and manipulative. At this point in my life I had become a little more fearless and had begun my foray into hiking, backpacking and snowboarding. This boyfriend and I met in the winter and immediately bonded over our mutual love of snow sports. He was an excellent skier and a long distance runner. Of course he was better than me at everything athletic (most people are, it’s just not in my DNA). We spent most weekends at his family’s cabin 3 hours from where we lived, skiing or hiking, drinking wine and relaxing.

A large chunk of the 3-hour drive to his family’s cabin wound next to the main Payette River and a portion of it next to the North Fork of the Payette River. Both sections are renowned for their world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking. 

On one particular drive home from the cabin in the late spring I noted several groups of kayakers in the river and mentioned to him how I had always wanted to get into kayaking and thought out loud this may be the year I try. Generally excited by the prospect of a new activity, I was surprised and disappointed by his negative response to my interest. He began to explain how he was not interested in the sport, that it seemed incredibly dangerous and reckless and he would never try it. He went on to remind me of how uncoordinated I am and explain that I probably wouldn’t be able to handle it. I responded by telling him that I had always been comfortable in water and had been pretty good at rolling when I was in college. He was dismissive and more or less told me that it would be different in whitewater and it would be an irresponsible choice.

It was a small exchange, not a heated debate or argument. But it left me feeling bad. Bad about myself, irritated that he had basically told me it was stupid of me to want to try a sport I was interested in and it left me questioning my choices. He had a way of getting to me like that. Looking back at our relationship, I felt bad about myself much of the time I was with him. I questioned myself and my choices too much. I let him tell me what was right and what was wrong for me. I let him tell me that I had personality flaws, that I thought about things incorrectly and that I had the wrong motives in life. Even worse than letting him tell me those things, I believed him. Though, like that discussion about kayaking, it was always subtle and disguised with concern about my safety or some other manipulative nonsense.

After we broke up, or more accurately after he dumped me and immediately started dating someone else, I threw myself into every activity I could, taking on challenges and pushing myself. I climbed, I backpacked, I hiked, I summited, I ran, I paddled, I surfed, I biked, I rafted; I did everything I had been wanting to do but had let self-doubt keep me from. There wasn’t room in my head anymore for two doubtful voices saying I couldn’t do it, that it was dangerous, that I was out of shape or I would look like a fool; there wasn’t space for that kind of negativity anymore. I needed to prove to myself that I was good enough. I had to change what I told myself and make it louder than the memory of his words in my head.

As I tried new things and saw small victories my confidence grew. I made new friends who did the same kind of activities I was interested in. I joined groups and went on trips with strangers. I put myself out there. I went on adventures alone. I stopped thinking about why I couldn’t do something and just did it.




Fast forward two years.  I just paddled my first river. When my new friend Lindsey asked if I wanted to go with her I didn’t even hesitate, I just said “heck yeah!” I should have been scared but I wasn’t. And you know what? I’m a damn good paddler as it turns out. I’m strong, I paddle hard, I have good core strength (good for balancing a kayak through waves) and I’m not too bad at navigating whitewater either. But most importantly I trust myself to know what I am capable of.

I am still uncoordinated; I don’t think that will ever change. I wouldn’t say I’m athletic, but I’m strong and I don’t take things too seriously. If I suck at something at first, I know that I will generally get better the more I do it but until then I can laugh at myself. But more importantly I’m not afraid to try anymore.

So back to that quote from The Kite Runner: “There is a way to be good again”.

In the book the quote is in reference to redemption after one of the characters acted like a coward and didn’t step in to help his friend who was being brutally gang raped. But when I think of this quote there are so many different ways to interpret it.

Redemption can take so many forms. No matter how you have failed, how you have let yourself down, how you have messed up, how far in the deep dark hole you are, there is always a way to be good again. There is always a way to redeem yourself. It may not be a quick or easy road, but there is always a way.

In my case, there was a way to redeem myself from the shell of a person that I had let myself become. I had allowed him to cut me down, to diminish me, to belittle me until I felt that I was nothing, worthy of nothing. I didn’t know who I was or what I stood for. I had to recreate myself using broken pieces that were badly eroded. But you know what they say, sometimes the scar tissue helps it heal stronger than it was before. I found myself again, I built myself into the person I want to be. I became good again. It was a slow, painful process, but I did it.

However you are struggling, whatever it is you are facing that you think you can’t handle, know that there is always a way. If you think it is too late to start something, to try new things or to face a challenge, it is not. It is never too late to become the person you want to be. You just can’t be afraid to try.