Hello! My name is Angela Como, and I am excited to introduce myself as the new GAP intern. To be here in Asheville working with Anna and all of you lovely ladies is quite an honor, and actually, I would call it a dream come true. I would like to share with you how my journey has taken me here, and what I look forward to during my next few months with GAP.
I was born and raised in the Milwaukee area, and am currently preparing to start my junior year at Lawrence University, a small liberal arts institution in Appleton, WI. I am studying biology, environmental science, and creative writing. My career-related aspirations at this point in time are varied and numerous. Some days I think I will pursue research in a freshwater ecosystem; some days I convince myself that I could earn a living writing novels and poetry about rivers; some days I maintain that I will always be a kayak instructor, no matter where else my path may go. My dad always tells me that if something makes you happy—happiness not only in the sense of satisfaction or gratification, but in the sense of true joy—that’s a great indicator that you are meant to be doing whatever it is that you’re doing. With total certainty, I can affirm that no other “job” prospect at this moment in my life gives me more joy than teaching others about the river. Having the opportunity to share in both the moments of discovery and the longer-term processes of personal growth that tend to accompany learning to paddle with fun, motivated women is quite a blessing. I look forward to sharing my own edifying times on the river with all of you! (No pun intended).
When I look back to the first day I ever paddled a whitewater kayak, I recall the initial task to be sitting in a circle with about 20 other women and sharing our goals for the day. Anna had traveled to Wisconsin to instruct at the annual Women’s Whitewater Kayaking Festival, an event held at Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Resort on the Wolf River. I signed up for Women’s Fest and begged my dad to drive me the three hours up there because I just knew I wanted to whitewater kayak. My heart simply told me to go, and I followed. Sitting there in the strong July sun—yes, it even gets warm in Wisconsin, on occasion—I blurted that my goal was to do something I’d never done before. I remember Anna smiling and promising me that this particular flavor of “trying something new” would be an awesome experience. For the remainder of the festival, as I toiled to complete a t-rescue without drinking half the river and to ferry just a few yards before spinning wildly downstream, I kept my goal in mind. Even in the most frustrating of moments, I tried to smile and congratulate myself for just being out there and giving it a shot. The day after our initial sharing circle, all of the women convened again to give a little update on how our goals were coming along. As I listened carefully to the other women, I started to ponder the power of goal setting. In my mind, to set a goal is to designate something into which you plan to pour all of the positive energy that you can muster. To set a goal is to tell the universe, I want this. I can do this, and I will. The power of the goal is to keep us grounded yet inspired, connected yet daring as we encounter the many twists and turns along the path to get there.
Needless to say, since that Women’s Fest during the summer I turned 16, kayaking had me deeply hooked. I think I was impossibly drawn to the wild beauty of whitewater, and curiously intrigued by the capacity for good kayaking technique to deliberately bring humans into an incredibly intimate relationship with the water. As surely as I’d known at 16 that I needed to start paddling whitewater, I knew at 17 that I needed to become a whitewater kayak instructor. Living three hours from the closest whitewater, this was not necessarily a readily accessible goal, so I embarked upon an intense exercise regime in patience until I turned 18 and was able to move up to the Wolf River for the summer. After two amazing seasons of learning to teach on the Wolf River alongside an incredible boss and friend, Jamee Peters, my next goal hit me with that familiar level of clarity: it was time to explore, to paddle some whitewater out of my comfort zone, perhaps teach on some whitewater out of my comfort zone.
Naturally, this next development in my paddling goals had me in contact with Anna, whose friendship and instruction I’d really begun to treasure after four years of Women’s Festivals in Wisconsin. I believe that Anna’s manner of teaching enabled me, from the start, to experience kayaking as very personally empowering. Early on, she helped me to discover exactly how my thought patterns affected my paddling, which really made me aware of how my thought patterns affected many aspects of my life. She taught me to tell myself stories in the river that had a positive outcome—my favorite mantra that she suggested I use when I started to panic in the rapids is “I’m okay.” These simple words have truly helped me to focus my energy, my breath, my mind and my heart on positive outcomes in running races, academic exams, stressful teaching situations, you name it. To make a long story somewhat short, I wanted to come spend a summer at GAP because I knew that I would learn a lot about paddling and even more about life.
Already, the adventure of planning a summer in a new and unfamiliar place has taught me a lot about faith and reminded me of the power of the goal. In the steps to get here to Asheville, I’ve been reminded that it is possible to drive yourself crazy in trying to plan out all of the details before they unfold. It’s also possible to drive yourself unhappy by comparing yourself to other people or to certain standards that simply don’t describe you at this point in time. Really the best way to remain sane and smiling in the face of transition and boundary pushing is to ask: am I doing what makes me happy? If the answer is yes, then I’m right where I need to be. Letting myself believe in my goals has perhaps been the most important part of realizing them. With perseverance and faith, the details fall into place. With patience and self-love, the only standards of any importance relate to character and spirit—and I have total control over these aspects of my life.
I’m here because I admire Anna’s mission to empower women through experiences on the water. As a way to say thank you for all that GAP has done for me, I hope to contribute to GAP in whatever humble yet genuine ways that I may be able to. I am so excited to spend some time on the gorgeous rivers here, learning about water and life as I go. Thank you for welcoming me into your journeys, and for the roles that you will play in mine! See you on the river 🙂