WhyChattajackPhoto Credit: Shawna Herring Photography

Written by Leah Seacrest

Being in the industry, I know my place. I’m a SUP Fitness chick. That’s what I do--that’s what I’m good at--it’s my passion--it’s my contribution to a segment of the industry that is growing. Inevitably, when I travel and instruct, the question comes up, “Do you race?” And, my answer is always pretty much the same. “Nope, I’m not a racer. I’m a paddler.”

There have been times that I’ve taken a slight offense to the question. It seems like the inquiry is posed from the standpoint, “Well, if you don’t race, then you aren’t a REAL paddler.” I’ve since come to terms with that sentiment, as the sport alone for me encompasses something else entirely. Simply, I love and hold a passion for it because it feeds my soul. I love being outside. I love being active. I love the water. I love to PADDLE. I love teaching other people to paddle. I love teaching other people how to teach others to paddle. And, well, whether it’s your belief or not, that alone truly makes me as much of a legitimate and authentic paddler as the next guy.

I don’t race and I never have--in anything. Competition is not innately within me. My parents always taught my do my very best--always turn in your greatest work--always over achieve, which to some, can be viewed as competition especially if they themselves are competitive by nature--but there’s a distinct difference in always doing your best and competing with others.

So why the Chattajack as your first race? Why would someone put themselves in a position to complete something so big as their first ever event? The answer is personally complex...therefore if the answer you wanna hear is “why not?” then take that answer and stop reading right here! 🙂

The past couple of years have been really hard--I mean, really hard. This post will not be a laundry list of personal/family issues, however the heaviness of the past couple years, my family and I have encountered haven’t been short of hopelessness, betrayal, loss, health issues, anguish and misery. I’ve felt picked on, let down, and beat up. I’ve shaken my fists at the heavens and asked “why?” And, to compound it all--I’ve carried it all quietly with a smile on my face. From an outsider looking in, I’m a happy-go-luckyshe’s-got-it-together kind of gal. I wouldn’t have it any other way, however living a double life--seemingly happy on the outside yet crumbling on the inside, takes a toll on your soul. I have since learned, we all have our issues. You never know what suffering is going on behind closed doors. (This is your public service announcement to always be KIND).

In the height of my misery, I found myself in the middle of a body of water. Just me, on my board. I brought an anchor and threw it over the side. I quietly laid down with my face towards the sun and placed my palms flat on top of the water. Tears streamed down my face as I lie in solitude. Only a slight breeze brushed my skin. I felt small and helpless with the abyss of water below and the vastness of the heavens above. Perhaps if I allowed my body to melt down into my board, I could be swallowed up by the calm darkness below me. Or perhaps if I allowed myself to feel light enough, I could levitate into the sky. What seemed like eternity as I lie there contemplating the in’s and out’s of life and an escape from it, my board allowed me to do neither. It held me there. And, then a voice inside my head, broke my silence and said, “Get up, Leah. Paddle on. Keep Paddling. Just keep paddling.” I was startled and quite honestly, a little irritated to be summoned out of my pity party. It reminded me of exactly what my mother would say in perilous times as a teenager--"Alright Leah, that’s enough. Get over it. It’s time to move on." (my mom has always been a really strong lady--we were allowed to have our time of grief when issues arose, but then always prompted to fix it, if possible, or forget it and move on!)

Get up, Leah. So, I got up, pulled my anchor, and grabbed my paddle. I stood with a sense of clarity drawing a greater parallel to life and paddling with every stroke. Paddle on. My board represents my foundation of faith, family and true friends. It holds me up. Keep paddling. It allows me to float right above the surface of the abyss below. In times of rough waters, I may get thrown off but I am tethered to it, and I I can always climb back on. And, my paddle? Well, that’s the most powerful weapon in my arsenal. I have a choice how I use it. Do I paddle in circles? Paddle backwards? Or use it to forge ahead to see what’s around the bend? Do I dig in harder when the wind picks up or allow myself to be blown back? Just keep paddling.

When I heard of the Chattajack, I had not one hesitation--For some reason from it’s mention I was drawn to it. Sure, I’ve never come close to doing anything of it’s magnitude, but I had a deep need to do something so much bigger than myself--a need--I HAD to do it. I needed a goal so outside of my realm of comfort, that if I achieved it, maybe I could feel good. For once, I wouldn’t feel beaten up after giving something all I had--perhaps it could somehow heal my broken pieces if I set a huge goal for myself and completed it. I also had a deep desire to pay homage to a sport that has brought me joy, passion, and clarity in how to get through in life. For whatever reason, in my mind, the Chattajack was the answer.

Remember, I’m not a racer. I had nothing but an adjustable paddle for my family to share and a traditional board. I’m also not an endurance athlete. So, the process of getting equipment, learning how to train, and learning nutrition during an epic event began. Surprisingly, there was something very therapeutic about the process. I convinced a friend to endure the race with me--she had actually attended the year before as a spectator and had more knowledge of the event itself. However, several times we both wondered--are we nuts??

Eventually, I was introduced to a group of paddlers preparing for the race--paddlers of every level--and the support and encouragement was truly immense. It’s amazing the friendships and connections that can be forged just by sharing in an event together. Fears and concerns were addressed and eased with each post. I was never alone in my pursuit--I wasn’t the only newbie and I wasn’t the only one scared! My new band of friends supported each other and it gave me a new, fresh appreciation of the paddling community. However, as strong as we supported each other through the whole process (and still do!), strip away everything and when it all comes down to race day, each of us, was to grind it out on our own for 31 miles.

Fast forward and I am at the start. Well, at the back of the start. LOL I didn’t care to get into the chop of the other paddlers as they surged forward upon “GO”. That’s not why I’m here. I’m here just to finish...I said it a thousand times. I’m here for a gut check. I’m here to prove that life can serve up what might seem insurmountable, but I would make it to the finish line. I told my friend, don’t wait on me. Paddle on! GO!

My resolve never, ever waned within those hours of paddling. I was going to make it. I had to make it--if I didn’t, I failed to prove my point I was trying to make to myself all along. I would survive--but not only that, I would emerge stronger and better in the end.

My phone dinged constantly with well wishes throughout the day as I paddled (sorry I didn’t answer...I was just a little busy!). Upon each check point, I couldn’t see him but I’d hear far off in the distance “CooCoo CaChoo” and I knew my husband was there cheering me on to move forward. On long stretches of solitude on the course, a familiar song would play that would remind me of special people in my life--I surged on. I had great conversations with my new fellow paddlers and exchanges of words of encouragement along the journey.

When the boat wake was terrible daring me to fall in and the winds seemed to do nothing but want to push me back, I dug in harder--I refused to adjust my course. I would plow right through. When the weeds popped up, I charted my path and cruised. Nothing was stopping me from getting to the end.

Oh, and the views. The sweeping vistas, rock walls, the beautiful trees. A reminder of all the goodness in this world. A reminder of my blessings. Life ain’t bad. And, the good most definitely outweighs the crappy stuff.

I paddled the Chattajack for the people in my life who lift me up. I paddled for my true friends that would ask “How are you?” and knew when I said, “I’m fine”, that I really wasn’t, and they would offer me a hug or words of encouragement. I paddled for my husband, who is unequivocally my soul mate and my partner through thick and thin. For my children, who I constantly wish I could give them everything they deserve in this life and hope that my love for them is enough. I paddled for those that I teach, that have no clue the love and support they radiate just by being there and letting me do my thing. I paddled for those that I love, that have been handed circumstances they don’t deserve. I paddled because that’s all you really can do in this life...your board will keep you afloat....you just have to keep propelling forward.

I left my disappoints and heartache in that gorge last Saturday. I paddled past them. I rounded the bend as the dilapidated Hales Bar Dam appeared in the distance, and it’s the only time I got choked up--but that elated-with-sheer-joy kinda choked up. I had made it to end--I made it. And in finishing, I found a whole new sense of appreciation for where I’ve been and where I am going and who I am getting there.

The Chattajack for me was a gift of resolve--a gift of strength--a gift that revealed my true grit. To those that helped me prepare beforehand, those that organized the event, those that sat in aid boats, and those that cheered for me at the finish line and from home, I have nothing but gratitude in my heart for making this experience what it was for me. There truly are no words. I have vowed to continually return to the Chattajack because of it’s sheer magnificence. For a repeated gut check. For a chance to prove that yes, indeed, I will paddle through whatever is thrown at me. For a chance to visit with the people that made it beautiful!

So, are you a racer now? Nope, I’m not a racer (although now I do own all the gear so maybe I’ll do some? Right now Im thinking long mileage races...I don’t sprint!).

I AM A PADDLER. I wake up every morning and I just keep paddling....



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