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Facing Challenge and Adversity


Life is full of challenge but 2020 managed to dish out an extra helping of adversity for just about everyone. The following is a collection of essays written by some of the Cali Collective Ambassadors on how they dealt with fear, anxiety and disappointments throughout this tumultuous year. The authors come from different backgrounds and a wide range of life experience for a bit of insight on how resiliency can come at any age.

Teaching in a Pandemic: A COVID Story | Kate O’Brien, age 29

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It’s March 14th 2020, I’m hanging out in the lodge of Sun Valley Ski Resort with a group of sugared-up SheJumps Junior Ski Patrollers who are stoked on the day we just had and anxiously awaiting the upcoming raffle drawing. My phone starts to buzz as texts pour in, “Did you see the e-mail?!” “Extended spring break!” and suddenly the whole room is a-buzz as parents begin to receive the school district’s automated calls. It had felt like only a matter of time.  Schools around the country had already begun to close their doors and start the transition to online learning. But I live in Idaho, and things happen a little more slowly around here. Just the day before I’d read an e-mail that assured me we would be staying in-person until so many of our staff were home sick they didn’t have enough guest teachers to keep things running. Now, a sudden change of heart. We would close for an extended spring break.  Three weeks total, to deep clean the schools and put procedures in place.  Great!

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Spring break plans were cancelled and reality began to set in… there was no way we were going back to school.  Information dripped out but teachers were left mostly in the dark wondering what in the world the rest of our school year would look like. Time to get creative.  I went on a lot of long walks and did a lot of pondering about how to teach art without any art supplies.  My solution: A Dinosaur Costume. It started with a friend asking for a drawing prompt, I suggested he draw a Dinosaur having tea. We decided to spread it, challenging friends to draw and share on instagram.  And just like that, an idea was born.  I realized that we needed something to bring us together during this time when a virus was forcing us to be apart.  I teamed up with teachers at other schools and the #DailyDino Drawing Challenge became my first remote art assignment.  It was the spark of creativity I needed to get inspired to create virtual lessons and content for my middle school artists. As an added bonus, the dinosaur costume came in handy when recording awkward videos of myself too.

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Facing the Music | Daisy Kerr, age 15


Quarantine has been, and still is, a huge struggle for me as a musician. Kayaking has helped me cope with the challenges. Before the pandemic, I would travel to play gigs, go to music camps, and collaborate with other musicians every other weekend during the school year and the entire summer. Quarantine put a stop to all of that. It wasn’t so difficult in the beginning. There were the obvious bumps everyone had — being socially isolated, getting sick of your family, adapting to doing school online — but I had plenty to keep me busy. I was practicing the material I would be recording on my first solo album around four hours a day, doing homework, and paddling more than I ever had before. However, once I got into the studio and recorded the material, I came to a standstill.


I don’t play music for myself. Sitting in my bedroom practicing music, while being an integral part of improving as a musician, isn’t the reason I spend so much of my life making music. Music is meant to be shared. What would the point of sitting by myself practicing be if I couldn’t play for people at a concert or with people in a jam? There is no point, and that is what I have been struggling with. As a musician, I am completely isolated because the the pandemic. I can’t play music for people or with people. Nobody can travel, and my music community lives in the Bay Area, Oregon, Nashville, or the East Coast. There are no venues open for me to share my music. What is the point of me continuing to practice in my bedroom and improve, if it can’t be shared?

I can’t say I have overcome the challenge. I still find myself in the deepest rut I can remember myself being in playing music, but I have learned to accept that it is a challenge and do my best. I have learned to appreciate the opportunities the pandemic has opened up to me that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Having more time to kayak was one of those opportunities. Paddling has brought me happiness and helped me through this time without musical interaction. Getting on the river with friends and working hard to get stronger and nail hard moves has helped keep me stay sane and fill the space not playing music with people leaves. I wouldn’t have gotten passionate about paddling if I was traveling to play music all the time. They say when one door closes, another one opens. I fully appreciate the open door, it has helped me when the other one closed, but I do hope that the closed door is still open a crack.

A New Life | Chelsea Morgan, age 36

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That first contraction came on a hot August afternoon while relaxing in the pool this summer. This should not have been a surprise the day before my due date, but I found myself skimming  the chapter about contractions and wondering how to manage the increasing pain. It was time to have a pain management plan. With no idea what my pain tolerance would be for an expanding cervix, I was open to all options. Most of my past experience with pain and endurance had been self inflicted through athletic pursuits climbing up rock, kayaking down rivers, and hiking up mountains. Was this pain comparable? Was I going to be a total wus when it came to labor pain and endurance? Was it going to be terrifying? Labor proved unique to anything experienced prior, but the focus used to overcome the pain and fear felt familiar. .

The pain increased, but it did not last long. If I focused on counting my breaths it would subside after 15. Thus it was that familiar focus that came with a crux move climbing or entering a rapid that got me through labor 15 breaths every 2 minutes. With focus on one handhold or paddle stroke,  I had learned to manage the pain and fear of climbing higher or dropping steeper. The surrounding world shrinks to one task which in the case of birth became counting then pushing through a contraction. There was room for fear as I lost control of trembling legs upon entering the hospital, nurses rushing to put in IV and heart monitors, and the doctor calling for additional tools. There was no time for drugs to dull the pain. Then the nurse looked at me straight on, “You have to push with everything you got next contraction. If she does not come out you are going to the operating room.” I knew this pressure, it was nothing new, and without fear I pushed through and past that next contraction until my baby girl came out.

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Chelsea and baby Flora

Seperation | Maya Musgrove, age 11


Ever since COVID-19 came to the United States I began to feel separated from my friends. At first, we had seven months without school and had to do distance learning. Most of my friends from my school were put in separate online classes, but that didn’t even matter because I rarely got to talk to my friends who were in my class anyway. My friends found this cool google app called Hangouts and that became our main way of contact. Unfortunately that was shut down due to bullying.

I needed to be with friends. So, we invited friends on socially distanced dog walks after our zoom calls, and we kayaked with our kayaking friends on weekends. I helped my friends set up Google Meets, and eventually we came back to hybrid school. Almost none of my friends were in my class. So I made new friends, and now I have amazing friends!


Making the Move | Jana Johnston, age 26


What a wild year it has been! The biggest challenge I faced this year was relocating and finding a new job amidst the pandemic and horrible fires. I have spent my entire life in CA but then married a kiwi and got the traveling bug. We spent a few years based in Lotus on the beautiful American River which allowed us the flexibility to travel in winter. A few years ago on a roadtrip through OR and WA we fell in love and decided this is where we wanted to eventually move and buy land. We had a few international trips planned and some other things holding us back so we decided to shoot for 2020. Little did we know what 2020 would bring… Our plan was to buy/build some sort of moving home and travel around Oregon for a while until we found some property to settle down on. In December 2019 we found a great deal on a travel trailer and got to work! We began renovating and applied to become State Park Hosts all over Oregon. About halfway through our process the shut downs began. The entire state parks system closed down, no one knew when they would be opening back up, and no applications were being processed. Here we were with our almost finished trailer, a dream to explore Oregon, and our lease ending in 2 months.

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We began to feel very discouraged and were considering staying put. We lived in a great community, have great friends close by and not to mention the super accessible kayaking runs. We had several friends offer to let us park the trailer at their place but I was determined. When I decide I’m doing something, I will find a way to make it happen. Plus we’d been telling everyone we were moving to Oregon for the past two years. I went down some rabbit holes on the internet from craigslist and WWOOF to sustainable living communities and farming internships. Seeing as we were in the midst of a global pandemic most places were not accepting new guests.

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After hours upon hours of googling, and countless emails and phone calls, I finally got a positive response. A man from Lebanon, OR was looking for tenants to help maintain his 80 acre homestead! We made a few trips up to visit before we committed and had until October 1 to move. We had the trailer parked at my parents house and just needed to complete a few finishing touches. About a month before we were set to move the trailer, there was a fire on my parents’ road. They safely evacuated with their pets but we did not have time to go back for the trailer before the fire department closed the road. Thankfully everything was fine but we decided we should move the trailer up to Oregon a month early to be on the safe side. So on Labor day weekend we moved our little home up to Oregon and came back to Lotus to finish work and clean out our house. About a week later, fires started all over Oregon. The land our trailer was parked on was between two of the biggest fires and the property owner evacuated for 2 weeks. He kept us updated but we didn’t have the time and resources to move it back to CA so we just hoped for the best. Again, thankfully everything and everyone was safe but we were starting to feel like trying to move in 2020 was the worst idea ever. We waited it out for a few weeks since the air quality was awful and finally moved into our trailer in early October. Needless to say it was a very stressful summer.

Things did not really turn out how we planned but we are alive and healthy and are parked on 80 magical acres with access to a beautiful creek and endless trails for our dog to run! We feel pretty lucky to have such a beautiful place to wait out this pandemic. All the obstacles this year only solidified the reasons we choose to live minimalistically and have a home on wheels. Be it a pandemic, fires or anything else we will always have the ability to adapt quickly and go wherever we choose. Things are replaceable, life is unpredictable and all you can do is keep swimming and enjoy the ride.

Trusting Your Gut | Hannah Musgrove, age 13

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A constant and long-term struggle that I’ve had this year is overthinking. It is the ever-present battle that I have with myself. It has been more pressing this year because I have been stepping out of my comfort zone to do some harder rapids. It affects my daily life from small to big decisions. I can be about to do a move in gymnastics and suddenly decide not to go for it even if my coach is right there. The way I’m learning to overcome the overthinking is to just go for it. Trusting your gut when you know that you can do it and surrounding yourself with people that know your skill level also helps. If you know already that it’s the right decision, sometimes you just have to go before you can think about it too much.

Change of Plans | Chloe Tippett, Age 14

Being a teenager during this pandemic has been full of challenges – from zoom-schooling, to being isolated from friends and relatives, to having everything cancelled.


For me, the adversity started at the outset of the pandemic. On March 12 around 2:00 am, while I was in France with Team Canada’s NextGen slalom kayak training program, my cell phone started ringing and ringing and ringing. It was my mother: “Chloe, wake up. This is a global emergency. The US is instituting a European Travel Ban. You must come home immediately.” So, I packed up all my stuff in the dark, woke up my coach to drive me to the airport, and left without even getting to say good-bye to the athletes I was living with. Unfortunately, I have not been able to return to France or Canada since, despite having both nationalities.

This has been quite a disruption for me, as for my whole life I have spent many months a year in France and in Canada. To overcome this, I have focused on enjoying where I live. For the past 8 months, I have become closer friends with local teens who love kayaking as much as I do. Together we have been running nearby rivers like the Truckee, the South Fork, the Yuba, the Tuolumne, the North Fork American, the North Stan, the Pit, the Rogue, etc. And while it’s obviously not the same as training and being coached, we have been having a lot of fun and our kayaking has kept progressing.

I hope to someday be able to travel again and rejoin the camps I love so much. But for now, I will continue to boat here through the winter and am already looking forward to what will hopefully be a high water spring season.

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Many thanks to Kate, Jana, Daisy, Maya, Chelsea, Chloe and Hannah for sharing their stories and for being such a vital part of our community.

All words and images copyright California Watersport Collective 2020. All rights reserved.