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A Standup Paddleboard, a Paddle and Me ... in the Race from Hell ...

In June 2009, a friend of mine introduced me to standup paddleboarding. The sport was still relatively new everywhere. I had paddled maybe 3 or 4 times, about an hour each over a 2-week period. I could stand, paddle for about 20 minutes, rest, and paddle back. In early July, I signed up for my first standup paddleboard race on Lake Tahoe, "The Jam," a 6-mile race from the North Shore to Tahoe City. I thought it would be FUN.

Fran-Start of 2009 Race

I showed up at the race start site early that Saturday morning. The winds were howling and had been blowing during the night. The Coast Guard reported three to four foot waves out on the lake. It was cold. I heard chatter among those in charge that the race should be cancelled. Then I heard that a Sheriff’s patrol boat would join the Coast Guard boat and with two support boats, the race could go on. We were given orange rash guards to wear. I saw most participants put theirs on. I put on my orange rash guard.

I was one of them. I was a racer!

The race started. I couldn’t get my 12’ heavy standup board to the water because the wind kept blowing the board in the wrong direction. A friend standing by helped me get the board to the water. I pushed off and started paddling on my knees. I stood up. The wind knocked me down and I went into the frigid water (about 55 degrees). I swam for my board – because I had no leash. I didn’t even have a personal flotation device. IT WAS JUST THE BOARD, A PADDLE AND ME. When I got back on the board and looked up, I saw a sea of orange far ahead of me … FAR ahead of me. I stood up. The wind knocked me back into the water. I swam for my board again. I stood again. The wind knocked me back into the water. I decided that perhaps standing was not the way to get through this race.

After the third water entry and return to the board, I looked around and saw some paddlers going the wrong way. I couldn’t be bothered with people going the wrong way. I started paddling on my knees. The waves crashed into my board from what seemed like every direction. I had to paddle on my right side 15-20 times and paddle on the left maybe 1 or 2. Otherwise, the wind and waves would push me toward the shore and against the direction I needed to go. I kept looking forward and the sea of orange began to disappear.

I switched back and forth from seated to kneeling to give my body breaks. I paddled with a choke hold on the paddle. I put my head down and just kept paddling. I’d look to my right at the shore and swear I had made no progress. But I just kept paddling.

What I didn’t know was that about a quarter of the people who started had turned back to shore (the ones paddling the wrong way). What I didn’t know was that the Coast Guard and Sheriff boats were pulling another quarter or more of the racers out of the water and delivering them to a pier near the end of the race. I just knew I had a long ways to go, I wasn’t moving very fast and, by this time, I was alone. My body was hurting and my knees were bleeding.

A good two hours into the race, the Coast Guard boat came up next me. They kept asking me if I was ok. Through tears, I sobbed, “yes, I’m ok.” They told me I could get a ride if I wanted to. I kept responding, “I’m ok.” Nearly 3 ½ hours into the race and alone in the wind and counter-flows, the Coast Guard won the argument. I wasn’t going to make it. They ferried me the 6th mile to where conditions would let me paddle into the beach. The post-race festivities were underway beyond the trees. The rocky beach was completely deserted except for my husband pacing and panicked as I came in crying. I couldn't walk. I cut my feet on the jagged rocks near the beach and now my feet were bleeding too. This was NOT fun at all.


I can retell the story of this race today, laughing at how ridiculous it was and pretending it was just “silly.” But on that day, as inexperienced as I was on ocean-like water, I was scared. I had no idea how violent Lake Tahoe could be. The only thing that kept me on the water was a misplaced stubbornness not to quit and some rule in my head that once I started, I just couldn’t quit.

It may have been that as I grew up in my less than ideal world and with perhaps my exaggerated aloneness, that I developed a measure of internal petulant stubbornness that hasn’t always served me well. (OK, so a great deal more than just “a measure of.”)

Fran at 2009 Jam Race

Fran at 2014 Jam Race finish

Today, even as an accomplished paddler, I probably would pass on that race altogether. I think there was little chance in 2009 of my passing on the race. “I was one of them. I was a racer.” I was completely unrealistic – this time dangerously so.

As I recount this, I return to my April 6, 2016 blog post (turning negatives into positives) and my current belief that our greatest strengths ARE our greatest weaknesses – and vice versa. I know that I am fortunate enough to have a certain amount of TENACITY. I know and must keep constant guard on my wired-in STUBBORNNESS.

How do you tell the difference? I don’t know.

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