Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Additional Detail for C&K Female Kayaker of the Year

Weighing in Again! I can’t help it. The ladies included in Canoe and Kayak’s top female kayakers of the year absolutely blew me away. Please click here for the full list. It’s an incredible selection of amazing paddlers. And although many people poo-poo this as a popularity contest, I totally disagree. A single vote for any of these ladies is a vote for all female kayakers trying to better this grand sport.

I feel bad though, I do have some comments to make…

Nicole Mansfield’s description was pathetic. To simply list this lady’s expeditions is so far off the mark of who Nicole is and her contributions to this sport.  

Let me start right off with a quote from Nouria Newman, the lady I’ve already defined as the most accomplished male or female kayaker ever (please click here for that post):

“Nicole isn't just one of the very best paddler I know, she is an amazing person. I feel incredibly lucky to be her friend because she is always there for her friends. When things get sketchy, she is right there to grab your lifejacket before you have time to yell help. When you're having a bad day, she will always find a way to cheer you up and make you laugh. 
On the river she has a steezy style and she can go very fast, but she is too humble to even realize it. She values adventures with friends, quality whitewater and overnight missions over any competition. She loves kayaking and she is always willing to share her passion for the sport and take people down the river. 
I believe that being a great kayaker isn't just about winning races and running the gnarliest rapids. It's also about having a positive attitude on the river, making safe decisions for you and your team, watching out for others, having the most fun...Nicole's got it all!”

Let me grab onto one of the main comments Nouria made, “She is always willing to share her passion for the sport and take people down the river.” I don’t know Nicole super well. I float on the skirts of this elite group of White Salmon boaters, but when I find myself standing next to her, she makes me want to train for the Little White race. And let me clarify something—I have absolutely no desire to run the Little White. But Nicole’s love for the river, her ability to guide people through rapids, and her incredible attitude makes this old washed up slalom racer want to get back on the river every day and start getting better again. Nicole clearly believes this is not an exclusive sport for only an elite few. She makes every person she paddles with believe they can one day be as good as the best in the sport. She is not only going big and often, she is inspiring and helping others do the same. And as Nouria has so often and so beautifully pointed out, inspiring and encouraging others is also true greatness.

And it’s not just Nouria and I that feel this way about Nicole. To find more proof I went to Jo Kemper, another elite female boater, and asked her a few random questions. Please note Jo had no idea I was writing this piece or even asking about Nicole.

Sarah’s Question: “Who is responsible for teaching you the lines on the Little White? And really helping you become confident on that run?” 
Jo’s Answer: “Nicole definitely took me down and gave me the beta several times. I’ve only gone a few times without her.”
Sarah’s Follow-up Question: “How many people do you think say the same about her on both the Truss and the Little White?” 
Jo’s Answer: “A lot, she’s so rad about taking people down!”

Enough with the fluff, not only is Nicole fostering other boaters, she is also a technician with beautiful lines and perfect strokes. However I will say that if she made a training plan now and worked on finding more power in her forward stroke, she might be able to take Nouria down at the Little White Race. Come on Nicole, you can’t let a little French girl beat you;)

Need proof on Nicole—click here for an awesome clip on her and her buddies doing what they do best. Charging the Little White, making it look easy, and most importantly, making everyone want to go paddle (at 3 mins you can see those perfect strokes I'm talking about).

Now I should close out this post, but I can’t. There is another female kayaker on this list that I want to talk about, Ashley Nee. And let me be clear, with this one I’m a 100% bias. My earliest memories of Ashley is her paddling up the feeder canal on the Potomac River barely able to see over her cockpit rim, but already this little punk charging and training as hard as the boys. Every time I think about her going to the Olympics, I get all teary eyed. Ashley has pushed through so many injuries, so much political garbage, and so so so many workouts. Finally this incredible athlete will be walking in the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympic Games. But like Nicole, Ashley is so much more than just an athlete. She has been a camp counselor, an instructor and a motivational figure for so many girls in the sport of kayaking. Ashley is now a woman and married, but to me, she will always be that little punk kid that paddled so hard she’d turn beat red at the end of every full length. I truly hope that every boater in this country will join me in cheering for her at the Olympics because I promise you, she’s just like all of us—a kid who loves the river.

Bottom line: Voting ends tomorrow for Canoe and Kayak’s Female Boater of the Year. Vote for one of these amazing women on this incredible list, as a vote for one of them is a vote for all female kayakers. Click here to be taken to Canoe and Kayak’s female kayaker of the year vote.

Bahn Camper Works

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Epic First Kindergarten Day

It started off the same as it does for new kindergartners, pictures in front of the house. However Wyatt insisted it be in front of Ryan’s huge truck. 

Bahns have a weird truck/engine obsession that I will never understand. Next stop school!

Ryan and I decided the night before that Ryan should drop Wyatt off without me. As I would most likely sob at the doorway of his classroom and make a scene. Wyatt did great. After one big hug from Ryan, he marched into his classroom.

2 o’clock rolls around. Schools out, but Wyatt won’t be getting off the bus till 2:30. The bus stop is literally a three minute walk to the top of my dead end street, but I get there 10 minutes early, paranoid I’ll be late. I’m the first parent standing on the corner. I even have time to take a selfie with my dog.

Other parents slowly start showing up. The bus finally pulls up and all the adults have their phones out to take a picture of their kid getting off. I already have tears in my eyes thinking about my precious 5-year-old on his first bus ride! I’m scanning the windows hoping I can spot him. One by one each kid gets off, no Wyatt. The bus driver is about to close the door and drive off. “Wait, my son’s supposed to be on this bus!” I said. Bus driver looks at me, “Sorry, I don’t have a Wyatt,” she said and drove off.

I’m left childless and surrounded by other parents hugging their kids while I envision my tiny blond boy, lost and alone in a bathroom stall in his new huge school or worse kidnapped!

I race back to my house, grab my sleeping Finnegan, drive up to the school and practically run up to the secretary’s desk. A nice woman, who is not the secretary, is answering phones. I let her know what’s happened. She calls the bus barn—I don’t even know what a bus barn is—but they don’t pick up! She tries again, still busy. She says we will have to wait until she can get through to them. But I’m a mom with a lost child! Waiting is not in my genes. I’m the type of person that when I miss a connection flying, while “waiting” in line to talk to the flight officials at the desk to get re-booked, I’m on the phone working my way through automatic answering service hoping to speak to an airline representative before I even get up to the desk while giving my husband the stink-eye for not doing the same. Point is, I don’t wait well. I ask the lady, “Can I start looking for my son? Can I go look around where he was supposed to get on?”

I think my frantic questions alert the Principal whose office is right there. He comes out and calls the bus barn himself—still busy. Wyatt’s teacher comes around the corner now and swears she personally put Wyatt on the bus. I swear he’s not on it! Teacher repeats, “I know he’s on bus 22. I put him on it myself.”

Wait, “22” I say, “He’s supposed to be on 3.” 
Teacher goes white. “You live on Prospect, right. I checked his bus route. Prospect kids get on 22.”
“We live on West Prospect. It’s this little dead end street that has nothing to do with Prospect.”

The teacher feels awful and to her credit, on Wyatt’s file his street is only labeled as W Prospect in very small letters. The Principal tries the bus barn again—still busy. Principal says, “I’m going to go find him.” I have no idea what he means by that, but I see him reach for his keys and motion me to follow him. “Let’s go drive after bus 22,” he says.

So the Principal and Wyatt’s teacher take off in their cars in different directions hunting down bus 22! I’m following the principal in my own car. We drive up and down neighborhoods, no bus. Finally he gives me a thumbs-up from out his window, but I still see no bus and no Wyatt.

We turn the corner and on the side of the road I see Wyatt standing there with his teacher. His teacher had caught up to him first.

I scooped up my precious 5-year-old and gave him a huge hug. And I’ll have you know—I didn’t cry!!! I can’t believe it! The mom who cries at the Anheuser-Busch beer commercials when the Clydesdale horse is looking for the dog—didn’t cry! I think I was just too relieved to find Wyatt, but I also didn’t want to freak him out. Wyatt seemed to think he was on his normal bus route—probably a good thing he’s going to school to get a little smarter. Principal reassured him that bus routes shouldn’t be over an hour. Teacher gave Wyatt a pat on the back and we drove home.

I have to say, my kid might have been put on the wrong bus—innocent mistake that anyone could make—but how many principals and teachers go driving off after one of their students! Oregon might be suffering with low funded schools, huge classes (Wyatt’s class had 30 kids until his school petition to get a 4th teacher), but after my first experience with my Oregon school there is no doubt Wyatt is extremely cared for at his school. Thank you to Wyatt’s Principal, Teacher, School Secretary and Bus Driver who were very calm, prompt and patient with a frantic Mama!

Whew! Glad that epic first day is behind us. Only wait, Wyatt’s got to figure out how to get on the right bus tomorrow… I think I'll write "Bus 3" on his forehead, he won't get teased for that, right?

Oh and in case you're wondering how Finnegan's first pre-school day went--here's the only picture I could capture of him which is just his preschool teacher fist pumping the air as he sprinted past her into school. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Canoe and Kayak Female Paddler Of The Year: Nouria Newman. But Why Was Jessica Fox Not Included?

Okay, it’s that time of year when Canoe and Kayak asks the public to pick who’s the best female and male paddler. But honestly, this vote is like comparing apples to oranges or in this case rodeo to extreme racers to slalom racers to ambassadors—extremely different categories that are incomparable. Regardless Canoe and Kayak wants us to, so let’s do this!

Who will I vote for? Simple. Nouria Newman. Why? Simple answer again. She is the most diverse and accomplished female paddler this world has ever seen.

Okay let’s start with possibly her most famous extreme achievement: Site Zed. Her line through this famous and terrifying rapid should be a Visa commercial—the inspirational kind you see before the Olympics. So few women have ever done something this extreme in any sport with such incredible talent, grace, and perfect technique. Whitewater kayaking rarely gets the spotlight, but regardless of the lack of hype around this moment, history was made on the day Nouria ran Site Zed.

Let me take you to the Stikine, a river that should give even the best paddlers in the world nightmares. You enter a canyon so remote and so desolate. If some one dies in there, their buddies will have to hike the body out if they can find it—no one is coming for you. And I’m not trying to be dramatic, it’s the truth. And then enter Site Zed. Halfway into the trip you come across a rapid that very few paddlers, all male, have ever paddled. This is not a waterfall anyone can huck their meat off and hope for the best. It's a rapid that can only be paddle by the absolute best technical paddlers in the world. And Nouria not only paddled it—she styled it. Case closed—she’s the best female kayaker in the world.

Oh but wait there’s more: Nouria is also a member of the French National Women’s Slalom Team. The dedication, the intense mental and physical training it takes to make the French Women’s Slalom Team is possibly one of the single hardest things for a female kayaker to achieve in the grand sport of kayaking. The French slalom women are the absolute best of the best. Absolutely no one can doubt their technical perfection on the river. If you find yourself on a podium surrounded by French women you have achieved greatness in the sport, and Nouria is a member of this elite group. Again, case closed—Nouria’s the best kayaker in the world.

Oh—I can’t believe it—there is still more. Nouria has won two Slalom World Championship medals. Now we can say Nouria is the most accomplished paddler in the world—male or female. I believe the only two men that have as diverse of a resume are Mike Dawson and Vavra Hradilek. And yes, any video (click here for an awesome one) of these boys makes my heart flutter at how incredibly amazing and hot these two are, but sorry boys Nouria’s cuter and I’m pretty sure at least one of you has not run Site Zed and the other has no World Championship medals;)

Wait again, there is still more—Nouria placed 8th in the North Fork Payette race, yes the race that takes a boater through Jacob’s Ladder and Golf Course—rapids that make most boaters look for the nearest bathroom after they scout them because they literally scare the poop out of you. She beat famous paddlers like Nick Troutman and Rush Sturges. Let me repeat myself—she beat Rush Sturges one of the most accomplished boaters in the world for the past decade. Again, case closed—she's the best.

However, before I close out this post, I would like to call out a serious misstep in this list. The fact that Jessica Fox was not included means that whoever created this list should pack up and go home.

It kills me, but I wasn’t there when Jessica Fox became the first person—male or female—to win both C-1 and K-1 at a single World Championships, but don’t fret. Kara Weld, my hero and role model in the sport when I was growing was there and can tell the story.

Last September, I got to witness Jessica Fox make slalom history by winning the 2014 World Championships in both C-1 and K-1 in Deep Creek, MD, USA. This was not only remarkable in her skills and fitness in both disciplines, but in her ability to handle the tremendous amount of pressure as the last K-1 run of the day. Adding to the intensity, 25 years earlier, her mother and father had both won gold medals in the last World Championships held in the US on the nearby Savage River.   
All eyes were on Jessica and she stomped out a flawless run to take the win. I'll never forget watching her finesse and determination as she seemed to be building momentum for the win gate after gate. I knew she was going to nail it, without a single doubt. You could just sense it. I've stood by the side of a slalom course a huge portion of my life. I've seen a lot of spectacular runs and a lot of ruined dreams. I'll never forget that day, that run and what the air felt like while witnessing excellence to that extreme.

In my opinion, Jessica Fox's performance at the 2014 World Championships was arguably one of the greatest achievements in the sport of kayaking. She should have been included on this list. Please click here and here (scroll down past Formula 1 Driver) to see some quick clips of Jessica. I love her quote, “You can get carried away with the thought of winning. Sometimes you want it so much you can be blinded.”  

But even if she was included on this list would I have voted for her over Nouria? I asked Kara Weld the same question and here is her response:

Given that, Nouria would still get my vote this year. She is pushing the boundaries of women in the sport more so than any other female paddler. Running Site Zed and her performance in the NFC to me are unparalleled.

For me, it would have been a really hard decision between Nouria and Jessica. Comparing Nouria’s Site Zed and NFC to Jessica’s K-1 and C-1 victories is like comparing a NASCAR driver to a Formula 1 driver. With that said, Nouria gets my vote because of her vast spectrum of accomplishments in both extreme and slalom kayaking. But hopefully we get to see both Nouria and Jessica racing at the 2016 Olympic Games and let the clock decide.

It’s interesting to note that the World Paddle Awards, an organization that also recognizes the greatest male and female athletes in paddlesports, nominated both Nouria and Jessica (only overlap in Canoe and Kayak’s and World Paddle Award’s lists was Nouria). But Nouria didn’t even make the finale and Jessica, although a finalist, didn’t win. Please click here to see the World Paddle Awards winners.

Both the World Paddle and Canoe and Kayak Awards are great because they honor many talented athletes in this great sport, but no one person, no one organization is the authority on who’s the best. In my cheesy opinion it’s only the rivers that truly know and no one is getting them to reveal their secrets. 

Please join me in honoring the women nominated by Canoe and Kayak by voting here.

Additional Video Clips:
Nouria Newman’s Site Zed run can be viewed here. And just to add a quick note. Videos always make the river look smaller. This rapid is huge and scarier than meeting a great white shark up close. I can’t find video coverage of her silver Slalom World Championship run, but here is an interview of her after. For another great video of why Nouria kayaks please click here.

PS: I haven't seen Jessica Fox since she was three and I've never met Nouria before. Please just give these ladies a huge hug and high five for me and thank them for being such an inspiration.  

ADDED 7/15/15

I'm honored that Nouria responded to this post. She sums up beautifully what greatness truly means: 
Sweet blog post about the Canoe & Kayak Magazine Awards, thanks for the support Sarah Leith Bahn.
Reading this blog post made me realise it's been a great year paddling but it's also been one of the hardest year of my life. I can deal with the hard times at school, bad slalom races, shoulder surgery, rehab, not making the team...it's okay. But loosing friends on the river hurts way more than anything else. 
If I had to vote a female paddler of the year I would pick Louise Jull. Because it's not all about racing fast, running big drops or any other personal success but also about what you're able to give, how you interact and inspire people. Anyone who knew Lulu know how big of an inspiration she was, still is and will always be. 
I might never go to the Olympics and I might never win a race again but I will follow my dreams, make sure I live life to the fullest and spend as much time as possible with the people I love. I will live rad like Lulu and this is way better than any award.Miss you Lulu, thanks for being such a good friend and inspiration. Lulu 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!

You know what's inspiring? The fact that the social media ice bucket challenge has raised $22 million dollars for ALS. That's amazing!

Six months ago I thought ALS was a disease that affected old people. I thought it was a disease that ran in families. And I had no idea that a diagnosis of ALS was a death sentence.

Since this challenge I have learned that ALS is a disease that mostly affects people between the ages of 40-60. Ninety percent of the people diagnosed have no family history of the disease.  There is currently no cure for this horrific disease that steals you of your muscles which eventually includes your lungs - your ability to breathe. And I learned from a friend, Jen Hart who lost her uncle to ALS, that it doesn't affect your mind - so although you are fully aware of your body dying around you - your mind thankfully remembers the people you love up until the last breathe you take.

There are critics out there that think this challenges is doing nothing other than annoy people when they check Facebook. I think those critics are unloved people that need a hug!

Not only has the challenge raised my awareness to this disease, it has educated me about it, and made me realize that because of how "rare" of a disease it is, its very unlikely the bio-medical field will invest the millions and billions it will take to find a cure. As Dan Diamond with Forbes said best, "ALS is technically an "orphan disease" - it afflicts about 30,000 Americans, or about 2 in 100,000 people. That means there's little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to pour billions into R&D and pursue the market." In plain and simple - without private donations the needed funding to find a cure for ALS will not be achieved.

Some critics have argued that even the $22 million raised won't do anything to help fund research to find a cure. I refuse to believe that. In addition, I don't think this ice bucket challenge is even far from over - I think world is prepared to raise at least another $22 million for ALS.

I'm thrilled to have been nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge and I was honored to donate to the ALS foundation at www.alsa.org. Here's my video and here's what I wanted to say (I screwed up a lot of words - my dyslexic mind at its best with poor word retrieval on the spot and I was a little nervous about the boys jumping in after me.)

"I was nominated for the ALS bucket challenge by my most beloved and inspiring friend, Harriott Lumpkin who is a stage three breast cancer survivor and has experienced first hand what all these donations can do to forward medical research.

As one of our own within the Proctor family has been diagnosed with ALS, I've chosen to nominate three of my most favorite Proctor people: Corbett Leith, Dougo Houston and Katrina Roski-Pearl!

This is the White Salmon River, which is fed by glaciers coming off Mt. Adams - its basically a river full of ice. This jump and my donations are in honor of Eric and Heide Johnson and their two daughters."

Friday, February 7, 2014

Is It Worth It?

I had a close friend ask me the other day – “Is it worth it?” I knew immediately what she was referring to even though she didn’t define it. She was asking, was it worth training for the Olympics even though you didn’t make it.

With the Winter Olympics here, I too find myself thinking about the solid 12 years I spent trying to make the Olympic Team in the sport of Whitewater Slalom. I think about the countless hours I spent on the river dodging poles and pulling with all my strength. I think about the shoulder pain I endured for years and the ridiculous amount of Advil I took. I think about how, despite my dedication, I didn’t have the perfect athletic genes and was nuts to think I could have ever achieved such a goal. I think about how incredibly hard I was on myself workout after workout. I think about how truly demoralized I could make myself feel when I didn’t race well. I think about all those lost opportunities I could have pursued had I not raced – an MBA, better career, more money. I think about all the times I spent away from friends and family to get just one more workout in, go to one more training camp, or make one more race on some far corner of the world…

And then I think about how for a decade-plus everything I did was to achieve one goal – make the Olympic Team and how I failed.

So – was it worth it? Absolutely – every second. Many of my moments of training were hard and painful, but so many more were great and amazing. I might not be the perfect specimen of an athlete, but I am truly driven and to have had the opportunity to channel that drive into a sport that took place on majestic rivers around the world was an absolute dream come true.

But almost more importantly, now that the dust has settled and my mind has aged, I think about how failing to achieve one of my greatest desires was still truly a beautiful moment in my life.

Despite Whitewater Slalom being a summer Olympic Sport, the 2000 Olympic Team Trials were held on a freezing early spring weekend in Tennessee. I remember low hanging thick clouds threatening to snow. I remember walking up to the start gate, placing my ultra-slick, little-white kayak in the water, and feeling the cold river lap up on my toes and shocking my body. And I remember being scared shitless. I was so nervous. I wanted puke. I wanted to cry. And I wanted to get the hell out of my boat and drive away. I hated start gates, but the Olympic start gate brought on more bile acid and fear than anything I had ever experienced before. And start gates for Whitewater Slalom races were already rattling at best. Often the water of the river was swirling underneath the hull of your boat while you tried to keep yourself steady and focused on the course before you that drop down into huge waves and holes with little tiny poles that hung down from the sky that you had to duck and dive your kayak under and around… Whitewater Slalom was intimidating enough and with my dreaded fear of the start gate, I have no idea why I ever entered any races. But here I was, at Olympic Team Trails absolutely freezing cold and painfully sick to my stomach. But as soon as I heard go, and got to the other side of the start gate, my stomach released and my mind was free. I knew I was where I belonged – in the race. I paddled my little white kayak as fast as I could and although in one split second at the bottom of the course I screwed up, the other 99% of my run was as perfect as I could have dreamed for. 99% of my run was perfection and 1% wasn’t, and although that gut wrenching 1% cost me the Olympics, fourteen years later I truly see the beauty in the fact that I went through the start gate and participated. (See Plans Suck for a more detail account of my actual race run).

I’ve always struggled with start gates in every aspect of my life. I remember lying in a hospital bed in searing labor pain with my first son Wyatt, and the doctor telling me to push – in my opinion, the official start gate to motherhood. I didn’t want to push! I was so scared to become a mother. When the doctor told me a second time to push, I yelled at her! “I’m not doing this! I’m leaving." But thankfully, because of my swollen belly and inability to walk, I had no choice and Wyatt entered this world and gave me the greatest title in the world, Mama. As soon as I held Wyatt in my arms, I was living the dream – I was participating in motherhood.

Publishing my first book was also the same way. Writing the book was fun, but entering the start gate was horrifying – sharing my book with readers and letting them judge my work was an extremely terrifying start gate. I remember it well – I was sitting in my parent’s kitchen, it was mid-night on December 21st. It was just my computer monitor and the Christmas tree lights lighting up the room. It took me many second guessing and sickening minutes to hit the enter button on my keyboard and make my book available online to the world to purchase and download, but as soon as I hit the button, I felt a huge release. I was in the game. I was participating and it felt amazing. And by no means I now find success as an author – far from it – but I am still in the game and able to channel my drive and desires.

My point to this post is, our goals and desires can be incredibly hard to achieve, but the biggest hurdle and most scary part is the start gate. Just get to the start gate, close your eyes, bite down hard, and get through it. Once you get through the start gate you can start living, and even when you fail, you can still find greatness in participation.

Don’t get me wrong, till this day when I see a start gate – regardless of whether it’s the enter button on my keyboard, the long walk from my car to the front door of my new job, the turning of a doorknob to a new house in a new state, or the actual start gate at a race – I get nauseous. I’m still so scared of going through a start gate, but every time I do its 100% worth it.

Over the next two weeks, NBC is only going to show you the victories. They are going to paint dramatic pictures of athletes that achieve greatness and are awarded shinny medals. And these moments are inspiring, but it’s so far from the whole picture. Every single one of these athletes are just like all of us – when they enter the start gate they have no idea what the outcome will be – and just like we have the ability to do in our own lives with our own dreams – they go through the start gate.

As my Dad has always said, “Just get in the game!”

Happy Olympic Days Everyone! Much Love, Sarah 

For those of you who are curious about whitewater slalom click here for a great video on the sport.

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle