Watching the Olympics this summer has been a great reminder and impetus for me to continue pushing my limits in boating skills. Rowing a dory and/or raft all whitewater season long is always a joy, not only for the thrill it provides, but also the opportunity to strive for even more perfection.  While dory boats require a higher skill level and more diligence to cleanly ply difficult rapids than pushing rubber,  I always pretend my raft  is a dory boat all the same.

Though trying to fine tune my boating skills each and every time I run a whitewater rapids, having the Olympics to watch (when not actually out on the water myself)  has been an additional inspiration to continuously improve my skill level this summer.  Even though I have nearly 40 years of experience, I always push my personal envelope for expanding abilities and capabilities each time the oars are in my hands. Having participated in sports when in highschool and college, further enhances my love of competition and excellence as exemplified by the Olympics.

Watching expert kayakers negotiate gates with ultimate precision at such a consummate level, and the agony of rowers plying the waters with oars in racing shells, hits home to me.  I feel their pain and understand the rigors of strenuous training that goes into becoming highly skilled at any sport or endeavor. Though I fail in comparison to acquiring the level of achievement of these Olympians (in all sports), it is still a thrill to watch them  and is of tremendous inspiration to continue down the road (river) like they do, in the pursuit of such excellence.  Ever striving for perfection is the name of the game, and there is always something greater to shoot for. Limits are made to be broken and is the carrot to constant improvement.

It has also been very rewarding to watch our newly recruited river guide (Misty) this season, blossom back into a great river professional again. She also seems to have that same love and desire to become a highly skilled boater.  I first met her years ago, when she was an  apprentice for another river company in our little  “river town” (Riggins, Idaho – known as the Whitewater Capital of Idaho).  Though we did not work together, we bantered back and forth when our paths crossed on the Salmon River.

However, at that time, while I was a career guide, she was only a temporary, and eventually found employment in the banking world. By chance, we met again during a local Big Water Blowout event our community has been holding for the past several springs. She told me she retired from her job and was ready to get back on the river again, and if I had any openings to let her know. By luck, I did, and thus she began helping me on trips this past summer.

Aside from her charming personality, and contagious enthusiasm that all guests also easily catch, she is serious about developing her boating skills.  She likes to go for the gusto any time she can when serious rapids appear, but also wants to be right side up (as do we all) at the bottom of each run. The beauty of this attitude is that it is a critical ingredient (in my opinion) in the recipe for becoming a consummate boater, in the skills department. Developing technical skills in big water helps immensely in over all performance levels, and is critically important for having the  proper skill set that is required when things may go sour at some point on the river, as all guides will eventually face at one time or another.

Of course, it is also very important to pay attention to detail, and the small things.  Such things as not going for the big stuff when guests are intimidated by such or have some sort of challenging situation.  Recognizing age, or poor health, and subtle ways of gauging guests abilities is a very big priority for any  river guide worth their salt.

A sure sign of a  rookie guide is the number of eddy monsters that they get  caught up by.  Negotiating through  troubled waters, filled with whirlpools, boils, and crazy water, is no easy feat. Practice, practice, and more practice is the bottom line.  Even veteran pro’s with tons of experience can get pulled in now and then. The “River” is the true master.

Anyone can become a guide, but not all guides are equal. Not all of guiding is about running whitewater either, as there are so many other things involved, too. But, foundationally, having high skills required by the river profession is as essential as in any other kind of work.  More importantly, to maintain that high level of technical expertise requires constant vigilance and a mind frame aimed to that end.

She has many of these attributes  and has been performing very well this season. I have watched her nail runs, while other guides ahead and behind her miss the mark. Of course, most guides make successful runs, and guests often don’t recognize the difference between a good run and a great run. But those riding in boats which make the harder runs look easy, and recognize the subtle differences and nuances in challenging currents and waves, may enjoy a greater appreciation and pleasure. Not to mention, an additional level of security, when it comes to feeling safe when their destiny is in the hands of someone else.

It also makes me feel appreciated that she chose to seek my advice and counsel about improving her boating skills, during her drive back into the guiding world. Even though running rapids is a little like riding a bicycle, where it does come back to you, how good a rider you become is all about training. Though I might like to take some credit for the great runs she has been having,  in reality the river is the real teacher, and she has been earning good marks in her learning.  It is a bit of twisted fate that the Olympics happened during the same time frame that  she decided to return to guiding,  as it reminds us all how important it is to constantly strive for perfection. Going for the gold is more than just an Olympic goal, it is a way of life and an inspirational pursuit to bring out the very best we can in ourselves.

While the races and games are awesome to watch in and of itself, the life stories of many of the athletes is truly amazing. To see and hear the tribulations and hardships many of them were able to pull themselves out of, to get to the Olympics are heart wrenching, tear pulling, and testimony to the powers of the human spirit when sparked into a positive direction. It ignites an enlivened hope to us all for expanding our personal growth and pushing for the stars.  Perhaps there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

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