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Life & Rebirth in an Unexpected Way

I was stoked. Strong. Confident. Happy. I finally felt recovered from a very difficult period- tragic accidents which had taken a few close friends from this world, injury and heartbreak had left an empty space in my life. But now things were again on the upswing. I had a lovely husband, had rehabbed my shoulder, practiced yoga and kayaked daily and owned a successful photography business. Feeling on my game and like myself again, I returned to Chile to paddle, visit friends and show Hubs around a place on this Earth that I adored. Once again I had life by the short and curlies.

Then it happened. On the third lap down the Rio Palguin that day, I landed funky off a 20-footer and felt an electric shock surge through my shoulder, one that I unfortunately had an intimate relationship with. With the help of a little adrenaline, I paddled the next drop and the remaining rapids to the takeout. I went to pick up my boat but couldn’t due to the fact my right arm wasn’t working properly. So I carried my kayak up the steep hill on my left shoulder. Unmistakably, I had dislocated my shoulder. Again.

Back home in California, I tried to stay positive and aggressively got back on my rehab program- acupuncture, elastic band exercises, yoga, chiropractor and massage. But something was wrong. I seemed to have hit a plateau and just wasn’t getting better. So I saw the doctors, physical therapist and got an MRI, which all confirmed my fear- I needed surgery. The part that held the joint together was no longer there.

I felt my world fade away from me- my livelihood and my passion depended on two fully-functioning shoulders. My friends were all kayakers and athletes so I began to feel out of the loop and lonely. It was a hell of a blow to someone who had wrapped their identity and ego around being strong and fit. I spent a lot of time just feeling lost.

Then one day I came across an expression, “If you feel bad about yourself, do something for someone else.” Slowly that phrase crept it’s way into my psyche and unknowingly had sparked something.

I had reveled in all my years of adventuring- riding horses through Zapatista territory, spending months in Africa, rafting and kayaking my way from Norway to New Zealand to the Himalayas. I was living the dream and loving every minute of it.

But I had also begun to want something more, something deeper. Who knew that an injury and one little quote would be the catalyst? California Women’s Watersport Collective was born out of that desire for more. With the help of a few close friends, I began to build a community of women through a passion for the water. The idea was to make it a totally inclusive organization with every woman in mind, regardless of age or physical ability. Together we could enjoy all aspects of being on the water- from mountain rivers to the sea and surf. It didn’t matter if you love paddling glassy calm lakes or steep creeks- what matters most is the time spent with the people that make you feel good about yourself, bringing in a sweet mixture of confidence, happiness and fun.

I still have a long road of shoulder recovery ahead, but the quote I stumbled across that day was dead on and it is exactly what this project has done for me. I went from solely focusing on building my own skill set, paddling career and number of stamps in my passport to the bigger picture- of building a community able to give back, care for one another and have fun. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that no matter how strong, smart and independent we are, we weren’t meant to walk this path alone.

So thank you to everyone who has participated in this endeavor- it would not be happening without you. And to those who would like to become a part of our Collective- come join the party!

There’s room for everyone and this movement is only just beginning.

Much Love- Melissa

All words and images copyright California Women’s Watersport Collective 2016. All rights reserved.

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