Sarah Leith Bahn's Blog

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 though, 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.

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Published on July 19, 2016 20:15

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 WestProspect. 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 rightbus 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. 
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Published on September 09, 2015 14:48

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'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 
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Published on July 09, 2015 14:11

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 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."

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Published on August 21, 2014 21:49

March 18, 2014

Guest Post by Nikolas Baron at Grammarly

I was honored to be contacted by Nikolas Baron at Grammarly. This is an outstanding article packed full of excellent advice - I promise! Cheers, SarahCan Blogging Catapult You into a Writing Career?Over the past few years, there has been a huge shift in the writing trends; anyone can write now. Just get a website, set it up with WordPress, and start typing away about your favorite topic. However does blogging actually help writers who want to make a career out of it? Does it help to promote writers who are already publishing material at Barnes and Noble? Some writers swear that blogging gave them tons of opportunities, and some say that their blog never got off the ground and was a waste of time and energy. I think the most important fact about the blog writing technique is how you choose to use your blog. I’ve talked to several writers who “have a blog and are always posting,” yet they feel that, if their work is good enough, some curious editor will just stumble upon their blog and success will follow. Even though this may have happened to some, it is not the norm. If you want your blog to be successful, it is necessary to promote it, understand Google Analytics, and understand your audience. There’s also another helpful tidbit in there. It is not always necessary to overly promote and market your blog. Some bloggers choose to use their blog as a set of samples to send to editors. You may not have a huge following, but the fact that you post consistently and your posts are worth reading makes a huge difference. The question then becomes, are you a promoter or a sampler?           Promoters spend time and energy trying to get their work noticed by utilizing SEO techniques, advertising, statistics from Google Analytics, and a large number of posts. Sometimes the issue becomes quantity over quality. Editors are never looking for someone who posts articles twice per day that are merely filler to make the blog look busy. They look for quality articles in addition to someone who is conscientious about posting often. SEO techniques and Google Analytics can help you draw readers to your blog, but does it keep them there when they realize there is no real substance to be read? Blogging can help get your name out there, expose the quality of your work, and get your ideas noticed. However, remembering that posting just for the sake of quantity isn’t the standard on which editors will evaluate your blog. Additionally, if you promote your blog and fill it with only SEO text and plagiarize other popular blogs to infatuate your Google Analytics, you’re only fooling yourself that the traffic is real. Remember, the quality of your work, even if it isn’t getting noticed quite yet, is much more valuable than traffic, SEO, and statistics.           If you’re a sampler, SEO, traffic, and advertising may not be the route in which you’re interested. I’ve known tons of writers who blog regularly with low traffic. Their articles are high quality and interesting yet haven’t quite found their audience yet. This is a great reason to use them as samples to catch the eyes of an editor. When you send a query letter, attaching a link to your blog not only gives editors several samples and styles to look through, but it shows that you’ve been committed to your topic and writing without being paid for it. Editors look for passionate and focused writers they can count on as freelancers or staff writers. Several of my writing friends have told me how their blog, although low in traffic, has landed them freelancing jobs over and over again. Their focus on quality over quantity pays off and does not risk possible issues of plagiarism. Some overly promotional blogs focus on combining tidbits from other popular blogs without citing their sources, and generate a good amount of traffic. Originality is always key. Checking for plagiarism is one of the many notes posted along with freelance job descriptions. Always cite your sources because plagiarism can kill your writing career, whether you’re famous or underground. For an excellent plagiarism checker, use Grammarly. It’s free and checks your work against many sources alleviating any feelings of plagiarism doubt.           Whether you’re a sampler or a promoter, blogging can help ignite a writing career if you take the right steps. Plagiarism, filler, and mainly SEO text will not impress editors. Quality, frequency, and passion impress editors and, if you fit their needs, can lead to many jobs.
By NikolasBaron

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading.To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle
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Published on March 18, 2014 12:22

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 pools 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 sending freezing shock waves up my spine before I got in. 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 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 stood up to my fears and 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 scared shitless 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 just 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 key that opens the door 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 

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle
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Published on February 07, 2014 15:14

December 17, 2013


I remember getting to go to Sea World with my family when I was around 8-years-old. I sat in the huge dome stadium barely able to contain myself when Shamu swam into the big viewing pool. I fell in LOVE instantly and dreamed of one day getting to be the person that swims with these huge mammals and get propelled gracefully into the air by them - just like the trainers. Then I watched Free Willy and sobbed and thought maybe we should free all the whales. But the PR firms representing Sea World successfully convinced me that these whales were better off in captivity - that these were sick whales they saved from the wild and created a life for them they wouldn't have been able to have otherwise...

Last night I watched Blackfish and haven't been able to stop thinking about this powerful film. Despite Tilikum, the largest male killer whale in captivity, having killed three people, I sobbed for this animal. Tilikum's own story of having been ripped from his mother's side in the wild by poachers (the EXACT same story all killer whales in captivity have) made me want to run into Wyatt and Finn's room to hug them - the fear so many Mom's have of having our children kidnapped was so intense that I couldn't sleep - I had nightmares of Wyatt being silently torn from my side, without me seeing, as I had stopped to check the flight monitor at a crowded airport - my innocent 4-year-old taken from me forever - kidnapped and sold into some unimaginable horrid trade. I truly sobbed for Tilikum's mother's loss and for Tilikum's tortured life.

I've had the amazing opportunity to see killer whales in the wild. When I was in my early twenties, I kayaked out to into the middle of a bay with a group of kayakers. A killer whale pod swam up to us and at times were merely five feet from our boats. They spy hoped us - jumped for us - it was one of the most powerful moments I've ever had in nature and NOTHING compared to what I saw at Sea World. If you want to see these amazing creatures - go see them in the wild where they belong. At Sea World you will leave depressed, possibly sick to your stomach knowing these poor creatures are kidnapped children that were sold into show business - in the wild your soul will grow when you see the dorsal fin emerge from the shimmering black sea.

Please click here to see Blackfish's official movie site. Movie can be either rented or purchased on itune.

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle
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Published on December 17, 2013 10:22

September 7, 2013

I ain’t scared

Two days ago I posted the following statement on Facebook:
Seeking Advice: Finn (1-year-old) has been sleeping in our closet his whole life. We were thinking its time to move him out of the closet... And into Wyatt's room with Wyatt (4-years-old). Wyatt will not be moving into the closet just incase that needed to be clarified. This shouldn't be complicated. I know I should just throw Finn in with Wyatt and hope for the best, but SLEEP - its a precious commodity I don't want to lose any more of. Current problems: (1) Wyatt sleeps with the closet light on, Finn sleeps in the pitch black. (2) Wyatt basically jumps around his crib (yes he still sleeps in a crib) making boom banging noises for about an hour before he falls asleep. I'm not sure Finn will stay sleeping during Wyatt's reenactment of Lightning McQueen's beat down of Francesco. (3) It's not unordinary for Finn to wake up at 5:30 whaling (it's such a wonderful moment when Ryan and I lovingly look into each others eyes and peacefully decide who's getting up, NOT). Wyatt sleeps till 6:15. Any advice on making the transition to the boys being in the same room will be GREATLY appreciated.
Although there were multiple hysterical and informative replies, one reply stuck out from the rest, Cyd Franken’s who is the wife of a wonderful man, Tao “Richter” Franken – a true adventurer with a devilish smile who passed away very recently at much too young of an age. Cyd wrote:
Tao and I chucked Trina into Kai’s room early… As Tao would say, I ain’t scared.
Let’s rewind here to four years early when I probably last spoke to Richter by phone. I was pregnant with Wyatt and walking along the wooded and richly green C&O canal just outside Washington DC. For reasons I can’t remember he had a few questions about Potomac Festival, a local whitewater event  – those were quickly answered and small talk ensued. Being as I was waddling along in my oversized state, and honestly, a little scared about what was growing in my belly, I asked Richter if I would survive parenthood. “Parenthood?” Richter balked. “That’s easy.” I laughed. Richter didn’t. He meant it.
I hung up the phone a little confused. Richter for all practical purposes had earned the right to have an opinion on parenthood. He had two kids that were at the time of the conversation a toddler girl and a young son who was already boofing waterfalls. He had earned his stripes. And yet, he was the only one out of all the parents I knew that was telling me that parenthood was easy…
Cyd’s reply to my Facebook post two days ago finally made Richter's answer of four years earlier make sense. “I ain’t scared,” a phrase I heard Richter say countless times from the back of the Proctor High School kayak van where he and my brother – two wild and untamed teenagers – would sit dreaming of their college days ahead when they would run huge waterfalls in between classes.  And I’m sure as the years went by Richter said it on his approach to the world’s tallest peaks and the deepest canyons. It too became a motto of my brother’s and mine. We would often quote Richter with an equally devilish grin before we headed out into the backcountry of Wyoming for a ski adventure, or at the put in of some wild river. But as the years went by I said it less and eventually forgot it completely.
When my brother called me a few months ago and could barely talk in between sobs telling me that his best friend, his roommate for years, and his true brother had died of sleep apnea next to his son in their tent on an innocent camping trip I was shocked. I didn’t move. I didn’t talk. I just let the gushing sobs from my brother bring me into his misery. I thought about his wife, his son, his daughter and I too sobbed at the simple fact that he was gone.
As I sit here now, I realize with no doubt in my mind that Richter greeted death with his wonderful grin and said, “This is much too early, but I ain’t scared.” And thanks to Cyd, I am reminded of how powerful this simple phrase is. Fear is toxic – it prevents love, it prevents humor, it prevents the true joy that can be experienced in life.
Before I posted about moving Finn into Wyatt’s room, I was scared! I was DREADING the pure exhaustion that would ensue from potential sleepless nights of worrying over whether Wyatt would smother Finn with a pillow, or chuck a toy at Finn’s head leaving him with a gushing wound, or simply if the boys would sleep. It’s the same stupid fear that consumes me at the entrance to the grocery store with both boys in tow knowing the all-to-soon melt down from Wyatt will emerge when I tell him we can’t buy six boxes of cookies.
But Richter’s phrase, “I ain’t scared,” snapped me out of this worthless state of fear. Upon seeing Cyd’s post I immediately went into action. I took a few necessary precautions by removing from the boys’ room all pillows and sharp-pointy toys that could suffocate or impale, threw the boys into the same room, and merely chuckled when I left their room and closed the door to their first night of sleeping together. And yes, I didn’t sleep. And yes, the boys barely slept. And yes, both boys and both parents were cranky monster after a night of no sleep, but the boys did have a blast laughing and playing together, and Ryan and I did laugh the next morning despite the fact we had to call the doctor at 5AM because we overdosed Finn on Tylenol. By all means it was a miserable night, but because I wasn’t scared I could embrace humor and the love from my crazy boys and as a result have the time of my life. 
I will never again forget Richter’s phrase because when Wyatt gets his drivers license or worse his motorcycle license – I just shivered and gagged – I will chant, “I ain’t scared” and beat back fear with a whopping bat.
Richter, I still don’t believe you – parenthood is hard, but it is a lot easier, and more importantly, full of a lot more love, fun and meaning when you’re not scared. Thank you Richter for always giving me that devilish smile above huge waterfalls and saying, “I ain’t scared.” At times I thought you were crazy. Now I know you were just smarter than the rest of us. I love you and I miss you.
To dear Cyd, thank you for reminding me of your husband’s most perfect phrase. From here on out, this Mama ain’t scared!
For those of you that have been touched by Richter's life like I was a fund has been set up to help support Richter's two children, Trina and Kai. Please click here for more information.


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

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Published on September 07, 2013 10:04

August 6, 2013

Pop Turns 70 - It's All About the Adventure!

My Dad turned 70 last week! My Mom threw a nice party with local family and friends in Huletts Landing, NY. And I just couldn't help myself - I had to toast the Pop we love! Here's the toast I gave my Dad at his 70th:
One of the greatest qualities my father has is his ultimate sense of adventure.
Dad made everything an adventure - everything - even our pit stops at the no-name gas stations on our 12-hour car drives to Lake George, Florida or Roanoke, VA. On any random stops we'd here a "Psst" the sound of Dad's trademark call meaning adventure this way. "Everyone out!" He'd say, "I saw a river and I'm sure there's swimming hole." And sure enough, on the side of the road, somewhere between Michigan and Lake George there was a river with even a cliff to jump off of. It was as if the greatest swimming holes and the best rope swings would just magically appear for Dad.
By far one of my favorite adventures with Dad was when I was in third grade. Grandma and Grandpa Corbett took us to Bermuda. We rented these little scooters that allowed us to pull off the road and explore any beach we saw. And in true Dad fashion at every single roadside beach there was fun to be had. But at one of these little beaches there was a path.... And before we knew it we heard his trademark call, “psst - this way.” And we were off - tiptoeing with excitement. The path turned into a cliff wall. We were scaling huge rocks, passing crabs the size of buses. We could see gigantic turtles, and sharks, and octopuses swim below us while we all clung onto the rock with our tiny fingers. It ended at a point with 50-foot waves crashing against the cliff. Dad told us we couldn't go back the way we came. We had to jump off the cliff and swim in. But we couldn't just jump - we had to time our jumps with the waves. Dad strictly instructed us that we could only jump when he said go and when he said go we had to jump - absolutely no hesitation. And when we hit the water, Dad told us to swim as hard as we could back to the beach. Never in my life had I felt so alive, never in my life had the sky seem so bright, the sun so pure, and life just that great - It was my first truly epic adventure. Now looking back, I am sure we weren't actually scaling cliffs and the jump was probably only 10 feet with maybe 3 foot rolling waves washing in - but in my memory - in my imagination - everything was epic - everything was amazing because we were with Dad.
It didn't matter if we were running around the baggage carousels in the Atlanta airport at the 3AM in the morning, it didn't matter if we were at the Grosse Pointe Park doing the dinky little exercise circuit, it didn't matter if we just in our backyard - my Dad could create the greatest adventures to be had.
I've kayaked all over the world, I've paddled the Grand Canyon, I spent winter after winter living in Coast Rica kayaking a river infested with horrid snakes, I've paddled huge waterfalls, I've hiked deep into some of the most beautiful wilderness in the world. AND I know for a fact that I would have never had the guts to go on any of those adventures if it hadn't been for my Dad - he is the one that created that spirit inside me and in turn created my burning desire to show my own sons that every single day no matter where we are - no matter what we are doing we can create the greatest adventure.
Some people don't understand the adventure spirit and that's fine, but for my Dad I think it was his way of teaching us that we can’t achieve anything by sitting on the sideline. It was only by getting into the game - climbing out to random point in Bermuda, jumping off the high dive at GPYC, and swimming in an unknown river that we would be able to really see what we were made of and what we were capable of achieving.
My father still amazes me - even though he's 70 he still puts on a slick ski-racing suit and joins the ranks of the best US Skiers in the country and races the town downhill in Jackson Hole. For those of you that don't ski, this means he reaches speed on his skis faster than you drive on a regular road. He skis some of the hardest terrain in Jackson Hole and rides the lift back up with the young bucks that star in ski movies. And here at Lake George when Corby and I are back on the dock with him, it only takes him a few minutes before we here, "Psst - adventure this way!"
Happy Birthday Pops and thank you for always including me on all your adventures! We love you.
Me and Wyatt toasting Pop:)

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

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Published on August 06, 2013 15:20

June 18, 2013

Plans Suck

Plans suck, but its June and everyone is graduating and everyone needs a plan!
I’ve always thought it was extremely important to have a plan. I don’t know if it was my parents, teachers, or coaches that told me this. Or maybe I heard it in my commencement address… Regardless, I thought plans were important.
When I graduated from high school at 18 – with the sun shinning on me while I sat charged and excited all dressed in white – I came up with the following plan while tuning out my commencement speaker:
Graduate from college with a 4.0 and make U.S. Olympic Team by 23-years-old. Retire from sport. Work fulltime for three-five years. Get MBA at Sterns School of Business before 30th birthday. Then become the best financial analyst the world has ever known. That was my plan, and I was going to stick to my plan. Everyone sticks to their plan, right?
It wasn’t until I was 33 and in labor with my first son that I realized plans are worthless. You see, when you’re pregnant the doctor tells you to write out a labor plan that will detail how you want your labor to go. Perfect I thought – this is what I want: (1) No drugs – I’m super tough, how hard can labor really be? And, (2) I want my husband at my side caressing my head and counting the seconds during each contraction. Easy, right? Contractions are suppose to last about 60-90 seconds and then you rest for about a minute while your husband gazes lovingly upon you before it starts all over again. Labor was going to be like a 10-hour intense and painful mountain climb with my devoted husband at my side. PLEASE – at 7AM contraction number one started, and never stopped, or so I felt. After wanting absolutely NO ONE to touch me, talk to me, or even look at me, I had a baby in my arms at 9AM. I didn’t breathe through my two-hour-long single contraction – I screamed at the top of my lungs. Remember how I said I was tough and didn’t need drugs? Well I screamed for drugs while literally foaming at the mouth! My husband said I sounded like a crack addict begging for anything to just take the edge off, and no one brought me anything, and I was pissed!
My labor plan, just like all my plans, was worthless. Let’s scroll back to my original plan because as you can see having a kid at 33 wasn’t part of that plan. It was 2000, I was 23, and the Olympics were in three months, but first I had to make the U.S. Olympic Team at U.S. Team Trials. In the sport of whitewater slalom (my sport) one female from the U.S. would be able to race in the big games. U.S. Team Trials, day one: I crossed the finish line with the fastest time. I was in first. A good start to a three-day race. Day two: I had another great run going. In the last 30 seconds I crossed a wave, caught my edge, and flipped over – breathing water in the sport of whitewater slalom is not fast. My dreams of making the Olympic Team were over. Literally – in that split second when I flipped the first part of my plan I’d had since I was five-years-old was gone – gone.
At the finish line I was embraced by my brother who said, don’t worry there is always the next Olympics. I nodded. He was right. Maybe I could just extend my plan to include another four years of training. I was only 23. Why was I rushing off to Wall Street? I had about 60 undergrad credits left. I could finish college while training for the next Olympics and then get a job and then get an MBA and then become the best financial analyst in the world. It was settled – that was what I was doing.
Again – plans are worthless. Trying to make the Olympic Team and go to college at the same time was a stupid plan. I half-fasted both. I did graduate with a 3.98, but I missed out on key internships that would have greatly increased my career in lieu of World Cup competitions. And my training suffered greatly too. I showed up at the 2004 Olympic Trials a shadow of what I was in 2000. I still ended up second, but my rival who had beaten me in 2000 ran away with the Olympic spot and went on to win the Silver Medal in Athens (click here for my rival's amazing story).
Less than two weeks after racing at Olympic Team Trials in Athens, Greece, I started working at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington DC. I was 27. I still wanted to get my MBA before I was 30, but I couldn’t get into a top MBA School without at least three solid years of work experience before applying. My plan was pushed out – I would work at the SEC till I was 30 and then head off for my MBA.
I’m laughing out loud right now – that plan was completely worthless. The ultimate plan ruinner happened – love. I fell in love with Ryan, my best friend and started dating him in early 2005. Ryan, having tried to make the Olympic Team as well, wouldn’t be done with his undergrad for another three years. I wasn’t willing to get my MBA in Washington DC. I wanted to get it in NYC where I would eventually walk Wall Street as one of the best, so my MBA got pushed back again. A marriage and pregnancy later, I realized that I was never moving to NYC to get my MBA.
In 2009, at 36 weeks pregnant, I threw out all plans when my husband and I moved to Hood River, Oregon, a tiny town on the Columbia River. I had my last day at the SEC on a Friday, got on a plane to Portland on Saturday, and waddled off the plane with my swollen belly determined to come up with a new plan. Surely I could still become the best financial analyst while living in Hood River with no MBA and a newborn…
Four weeks later when my labor plan completely failed me, I had my glowing revelation that plans are not only worthless, they suck. And I want to tell everyone this because its June and in June everyone graduates from either college, high school, middle school, elementary school, and even pre-school and each kid has to come up with a plan – their next move – their path to success. I have a great buddy that’s 14-years-old. He will be a Freshman in high school next year and he has to decide right now whether to take Algebra II and Geometry together during his Freshman year. If he doesn’t, he will not be able to take Calculus his Senior year, and if he doesn’t take Calculus his Senior year he might not be able to get into his college of choice, and if he doesn’t get into his college of choice, he might not be able to get a top engineering job, and if he doesn’t get a top engineering job, he might not be able to invent disappearing dog poop spray, and if he can’t invent disappearing dog poop spray, he definitely won’t be able to invent disappearing cat poop spray… (Did you ever see that stupid moive?) The later example is supposed to shed light on how quickly plans can get silly. Try this on for size: My 14-year-old buddy doesn’t take Algebra II and Geometry at the same time, and he doesn’t get to take AP Calculus his Senior year, and he doesn’t get into MIT, but he does get into University of Washington, and because he went to University of Washington and not MIT he met his best friend, and together with his best friend on one random night when neither of them had any plans of any sort they figure out how to reverse the acidification of the ocean and save the Great Barrier Reef.
My point is: Dare to imagine your next achievement when your plan doesn’t work.
Now, if you really most know – I still make plans because I do believe plans are important - doesn’t mean they don’t still suck - but they guide us, push us, and inspire us. However, if you are like me, be prepared to ditch them because all plans expire the second you take action. And in the second they expire, keep your mind open so you can see the next opportunity that is dangling in front of you.
PS – when your plans don’t happen the following side affects may happen:
1) Tears – its devastating when plans don’t work out. Many tears were shed when I didn’t make the Olympic Team. However, thanks to my failed Olympic attempt, I am that much more devoted to seeing my plans to become a writer come true.2) Humble Pie – It doesn’t taste good, but when your plans don’t work out you usually get a slice and often emerge a better person. This year when my son attended Pre-School Graduation, my plan for the night did NOT entail my perfect three-year-old son taking a closed fist to a little girl’s head and making her sob. When I told my friend – who happens to be the mother of the 14-year-old that I mentioned above – she said the sooner you realize parenting is the most humbling and unplanned journey of your life, the better and more understanding parent you will be. 3) Revelations – Failure is a good thing. Every single time you fail, you do emerge with more knowledge and better chance of success in your next plan. Remember: Dare to imagine your next achievement when your plan doesn’t work.4) Listen to your commencement speaker: I bet if I had listened to my commencement speaker she probably had mentioned something about the perfect plan never working out and how that’s a good thing:) 
Me racing at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Me and Ryan in 2005. And yes, Ryan came with the 90 pound wolf-like dog.
To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle 

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Published on June 18, 2013 15:24