There are very few things as refreshing to the human spirit as a quiet paddle down a favorite river. The sights, sounds, and smells are familiar comforts in our tumultuous world. We are the lucky ones, those who get the opportunity to seek and find adventure whenever the need arises.
Not all folks have that luxury, so in steps a group known as Paddle4Tomorrow. They are a band of like-minded and like-hearted men and women who have common goals; clean water, safe places to paddle, and the belief that anyone can do what we do. When they say anyone, they mean anyone. My first experience paddling with the group was with the Comets, a visually-impaired sports team from Chicago. I had no idea what to expect when my son and I drove to the river that day. We helped folks to and from the water, paddling beside them as seeing guides. I quickly learned that these folks were fearless. One young man felt the breeze blowing across his face and used it to orient himself. Another heard the traffic from a nearby bridge and did the same. Soon these new-to-kayaking paddlers were hard to keep up with! We had such an awesome day that the next time I begged my bride to come along with us. It was such an incredible feeling to be able to share that day with my whole crew.
My next trip with P4T came several hours from home at a camp for people with physical and mental disabilities and I did not have a clue what I was getting into. When I saw our guests heading toward the water I was terrified. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get them from their chairs to the water, and some even had to be held in place in the boats once we got them there. We transitioned the first young man from his wheelchair into the kayak, then carried the whole craft into the water. As soon as the boat hit the water the biggest smile came across the man’s face, and my fear disappeared.
Next was a young lady with Down’s syndrome. As soon as we got her in a kayak, I jumped in my boat to be her guide. As we headed out, I told her where we would be paddling and she said, “Sounds good to me”. We paddled a little bit, and as I turned to check on her she had the most beautiful smile. I learned later that her mother was on shore watching, and that they had never been very far apart before. It was quite a privilege to paddle with her.
Throughout the day there were cheers from onlookers and family members, and the sense of pride was clearly evident. We had some that could be helped into boats, and some more that were carried to the water like the first young man. Whatever it took, the group was willing to make the effort - and it was worth it. The memories made that day will last forever, as will the friendships forged on the fires of adventure. Let me encourage every reader to set aside a few days to share our sport with those who are physically or mentally challenged, or those who don’t have the financial means to get on the water.
Paddle4Tomorrow has a phrase that I love; “Using our silly plastic boats to inspire awesomeness.” I have seen that “awesomeness” come to life on the water. It makes me think that no matter what a person is going through, a few dedicated individuals can make a difference. That led to my view of P4T as “a lifejacket for the human spirit.”
About the Author:Chris Funk lives in Phenix City Alabama and paddles all over the Southeast. His bride and son regularly accompany him on his adventures. He tells people his life revolves around 6 "F"s, his Faith, his Family then Fur ,Fins ,Feathers and Fotography. He had to tweak that last one but he spends so much time behind a camera it was necessary.