This morning, my husband Clive and I took our two boys paddling at Danson Lake in Bexleyheath. Tristan (who will turn four in September) sat in the front of a Rocket Junior K2 to try out his new paddles from his Nanny and Gubby, and I sat behind him, watching Rhys on Clive’s lap and pondering on the joys of parenting.
It is delightful how naturally Tristan paddles, and how thoroughly he has always enjoyed being on the water. My mother, always thoughtful and supportive, bought Tristan his first life jacket (which has now been inherited by his baby brother) for his 1st birthday, and he took to being on the water instantly. There was no real surprise there, as he accompanied me to a Canoe Polo tournament I was playing in – while Clive played at a different venue – when he was four weeks old, so he has grown up with canoeing being a regular and fun part of our lives. There is such a straightforward pleasure in sharing our own enjoyment of something with those we love, and in particular with our children.
Whenever I am swimming, or on a bicycle, I think of the things my mother taught me – to breathe out fully when my head is under water so that my lungs are ready to suck in as much air as possible when I lift or turn my head; to keep pressure on the pedals for as much of their rotation as possible, not just when pushing down, increasing speed and smoothness. While I was apparently swimming in the farm dams practically before I could walk, my mother was disappointed that I never took to competitive swimming as a child, which had been her own passion when young, but she was never pushy, and we were instead able to enjoy this together later in our lives when a friend challenged me to swim the Midmar Mile – the world’s largest open-water swimming event – in 1999. I was in high school and still living at home with my mother, and she was delighted to finally be asked for advice on my swimming technique. She soon entered the race with me and became my training partner. We not only completed the swim (my mom somewhat faster than me), but swam a 2.5km open water race together a couple of weeks later.
I don’t remember learning to ride a bicycle, though we always seemed to have bikes. I remember the pink bike I had when I was 7, and my huge excitement when I got my first mountain bike for my 10th birthday. It was black with splashes of purple, blue and white paint, and I thought it was the coolest bike in the whole world. My best friend Cate and I spent many long afternoons cycling the back roads of Hilton together in those years. For my 21st my mom and her partner Dirk bought me an absolutely beautiful, light, fast mountain bike, which cost more than my first car! Tristan has taken to cycling with amazing skill – he first got the concept on his little back motorbike from his aunt Elin, then his awesomely cool balance bike from his uncle Mark, and he now whizzes around on his first peddle bike (no need for stabilisers for this little man) which many of our friends and family contributed towards as his birthday and Christmas present last year.
Climbing is another sport in which my mother taught me most of what I know, which in this case isn’t a huge amount! Every holiday I would try do at least one climb with Tessa and Dirk, and I always absolutely loved it, but while I now have my own shoes, it is not something I have done much of with anyone else, and as I usually only see them once or at most twice a year, I don’t retain as much information as I would like between climbs so still need reminding on tying ropes, unclipping gear, and so on. When I was climbing with Dirk in Cornwall a couple of years ago, my mom was babysitting a (then baby) Tristan, and was delighted at his complete lack of fear of highs – she had high hopes of teaching him to climb when he was a bit older.
When I run, I think of the things Clive has taught me – when running up a hill, focus on the ground just in front of you, and concentrate on one step at a time, as looking up at the summit can be disheartening; don’t push down hills, or hold back – just let your legs relax, and let gravity do its job.
But when it comes to kayaking, my first coach was my father. He taught me how to read a rapid, carry a boat on my shoulder with as little bouncing – and thus bruising – as possible during long portages, and appreciate the glorious scenery around me. He believed in my ability, and thus made it natural for me to believe in it too. He let me steer down our first marathon, the two-day Fish River Marathon, a few months after I turned 13, and plucked me out the water after two over-eager fellow competitors edged us out of a clear channel and into a willow tree, which gave me a resounding whack on the forehead with a solid branch before we capsized. The world went black, and it was quite a few minutes before I could see again, but my dad calmly directed me regarding when to steer left or right, since there was nowhere for us to get to the river bank. A few months later, in January 1996, I paddled my first Dusi Canoe Marathon (video link here) with him behind me again, and when it flooded on the third day and they were advising novices to withdraw, he calmed my fears and got me through in one piece. Many years later, he came out of his canoeing retirement to paddle K1 alongside me and my sister Elin on my first Berg River Marathon in 2000, a gruelling 4 days with very little water in the river and snow on the mountains during a freezing Western Cape winter.
I am grateful to both of my parents for instilling in me a love for adventure, a belief that I can do anything I really put my mind to, and a thorough appreciation for the beauty of the world. I am glad to have found a life partner who enjoys these things as much as I do, and has become my new adventure playmate. Indeed, I would not have met him if it was not for my involvement in canoeing, and he comes from a family of well-known paddlers himself. I am grateful too that all of these things leave me in an excellent position to pass these joys on to my children.