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Doing What You Fear Frees You to Achieve

    Fear keeps us from doing things that we think we might enjoy. There is a theory about getting rid of your fear that says you should expose yourself to that experience, person, place, or thing that you are afraid of in order to reduce your fear. Constant exposure to the object of your fear will help immunize you against your fear.

    I had an experience recently where I tested out this theory. I wanted to learn to kayak. This included learning paddling and safety skills. In order to be safe on the water, in the event of a capsize I knew that I would need to learn how to quickly escape from the kayak. I also needed to get myself back into the boat. Not so tough for most people, but still a little scary.

    I was terrified! Since I have a spinal cord injury and can�t walk or swim, and have limited ability to move my legs and hips, I knew that this maneuver would be difficult for me. Boating would be dangerous if I didn�t learn how to rescue myself correctly. Any time a person is boating there are risks. Mine seemed overwhelming.

    I had a previous experience on a whitewater rafting trip nine years ago. This was before my spinal cord injury. My husband to be, Mark, and I were on the Gauley River in West Virginia going through a narrow rapid, when the boat suddenly capsized and we were tossed into the frigid water. I was trapped underneath the boat. Mark floated downstream. I thought life was over in a split second. As I swam to the surface of the water, I struggled to get my first breath. I was rescued as the current took me down stream and felt lucky to be alive. It was several minutes later before I saw Mark being hoisted up by other paddlers holding on to his lifejacket. Both of us survived, but we were overwrought with fear.

    Last summer, on vacation in Port Townsend, Washington, we decided to try sea kayaking. We went on a three hour guided excursion on flat water. We were in a tandem kayak and were given a few paddling and water safety tips. We had a wonderful time and came back to the shore excited about our new sport. This was one fun activity that we could do together, where my disability was not limiting, it fact it was unnoticeable. I have a strong upper body from all the exercise I get using my wheelchair. Strong arms are an asset to a paddler.

    As we strolled down the street in front of a sporting goods shop, I saw the kayaks on the sidewalk that were for sale. �Mark, let�s get one by next summer!� I said.

    In the months that followed, we read kayaking books and web sites, watched videos, talked to salespeople, and ordered a tandem sea kayak that was delivered in early spring. We also bought all the safety gear. We took our new kayak out on calm water a few times to get comfortable and then we enrolled in an adaptive paddling class. The instructor helped us to modify our boat so that I wouldn�t get cut during a wet exit and would be more comfortable paddling. Our instructor then helped Mark put the kayak in an indoor Olympic-sized pool where we were taught: paddling skills, self rescue, wet exits, and boat reentry techniques.

    Capsizing and water exits scare me! It�s one thing to transfer in and out of my wheelchair into the kayak at the boat ramp. It totally freaks me out to think that I will have to get out of the boat into the water to learn wet exits as a safety maneuver.

    Whenever I see footage of people in kayaks in whitewater, I see how they do an Eskimo roll in order to safely rotate a kayak to an upright position. These kayaks have skirts across the top so water can�t enter the boat. The paddler has the skills needed to totally flip the boat. Recreational touring paddlers do not need to learn this skill. Little did I know this at the time of our instruction. I was expecting to have to learn how to do an Eskimo roll in our unskirted tandem kayak.

    Fear rattled me while I sat in the kayak in the swimming pool. I was clutching my life jacket which had been tightened around my body. I watched as the instructors demonstrated a wet exit. It was much different than I imagined. No Eskimo roll! All I had to do was rock the boat to one side and slide out into the water. What a relief!

    Soon it was our turn to apply what we had seen in class. �One, two, three, FLIP!� I said as we flipped ourselves into the water. I held my breath, fell out of the boat, quickly came to the surface, and held on to the side of our capsized boat. The instructors and other classmates were cheering wildly. My fears were quickly washed away.

    This experience reinforced my insights about fear. Fear is to be faced head on in order to confront it. Much of our fear is based on false assumptions and this keeps us from moving forward. Taking small steps toward overcoming our fears is a good approach. We should learn procedures and techniques gradually.

    Watch others and then try it yourself. Imagine what it will be like when you are going through the maneuver and what joy it will bring you when you succeed. Focus on your motivation that brought you to the activity in the first place. Let your motivation drive you into action.

    � Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. would like to read your comments about her column and the impact it has made on your life. She also encourages your ideas for future columns. Contact her at: Rosemarie@RosemarieSpeaks.com, or 1008 Eastchester Dr., Columbus, OH 43230-6230.

    Byline: To book Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. to speak at a conference, contact her at: (614) 471-6100; www.RosemarieSpeaks.com. Rosemarie works with organizations and corporations that want to bring out the best in their people, and she demonstrates how to live life with conviction.

    Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D
    Rossetti Enterprises Inc.
    Speaker - Trainer - Consultant - Writer
    1008 Eastchester Drive, Columbus, Ohio 43230-6230
    Phone: 614-471-6100
    North America: 1-866-471-6110 (toll free)
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