By Suzanne Wilk What do manatees, owls, alligators, monkeys and flamingos have in common? They are the wonderful wildlife I have seen kayaking in Florida. I have been kayaking for seven years now, but when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April of 2008 at the age of 50, I thought my physically active lifestyle was over. All the outdoor activities I once enjoyed seemed out of reach. What was I going to do? My wonderful husband and I discussed a few different options that we could pursue in order for me to continue to kayak. One was to purchase a tandem (two person) kayak. But we’ve had a tandem kayak in the past—what a disaster! They are called a divorce boat for a reason. I love my husband dearly, but don’t want to be in the same kayak. I want to be able to paddle my beautiful 14.5’ touring kayak with minimal help.
How was I going to continue doing something that had become a passion? Fortunately, I have no significantly debilitating symptoms at this time. Unfortunately, I have been overweight and out of shape for many years. I decided that I am not going to let this disease dictate what I can and can’t do. So what changes can I make to me continue to kayak solo for as long as possible? Of course, losing weight and becoming more physically fit will help. In order to accomplish this goal, I am now working out (cardio and weight training) three days a week. I am also participating in a national program designed to help individuals change their eating patterns. In addition, my husband will carry a tow rope in one of his hatches in case I need assistance reaching the take out. I will continue to kayak with my husband and our friends on the shorter paddles. In the past, our usual paddling trips would take anywhere from 7-9 hours. We decided that at this time it is best for me to be on the 2-3 hour short paddles. Have I given up on the long paddles? Absolutely not! I envision someday being able to participate in some of the longer paddles I used to enjoy.
Having MS doesn’t mean that we have to stop living. It only means that we have to make adjustments in our lives, and have the courage to stand up to this disease.So, I want all of you with MS to try something even if it seems impossible. Take that first step … or paddle stroke! Anything is possible. See you on the water!