Blog - The Raven Speaks

Paddling for Mental Wellness

Raven Rescue instructor trainer, Chad Guenter, began the charity Keep Calm Paddle On (KCPO) in 2012. Since then, KCPO trips have touched the lives of thousands. 

 

"We can choose to be affected by the world OR
we can choose to affect the world" - Heidi Wills

In 2012, I set out on my stand up paddle board and covered 300kms of Lake Diefenbaker and the South Saskatchewan River. I was travelling solo; self-supported, with all the gear I needed to get me through. Using social media and my board as a platform, my goal was to shed some light on the stigmas surrounding mental illness, and the healing flow of the water. If I could get at least one person to stop and think about the people in their lives dealing with mental illness, or have someone who suffers from one of the many mental monsters just realize they weren't alone, I'd be happy.

At the end of the 300kms, those goals had been realized, new goals had been made. It was time to share this trip with others.

Since its inception, KCPO has lead 100’s of paddlers down the river, raised upwards of $40,000 (in Canada alone) for individuals and families.  KCPO has helped many realize that with a little support, you can step outside your comfort zone, seek help, and heal. We have also started a KCPO in the Cayman Islands, where the focus is kids with special needs and foster kids. In the last five years, they’ve raised close to $50,000.

The paddlers on our trips come from all walks of life. Business owners, conservation officers, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, medics, veterans, teachers, trades workers and so on. While mental illness can hit anyone, (20% of Canadians either have mental illness, or know someone who does), KCPO speaks particularly to veterans and first responders. On average, we have about 7-10 first responders or veterans on a 20-30 person trip. These individuals make up a large portion of our contingent, and personally we couldn’t be happier. Our first responders and veterans do so much for us - I’m glad they’ve found KCPO and our community.

It’s been well documented that the water can heal, if you let it. The surf, the river... it needs your full concentration just like the job at hand for first responders and veterans. We are working on first responder and veteran only paddling retreats and expeditions, and are hoping to roll those out later in 2018.

Considering donating to KCPO

Profiles of KCPO Paddlers

Nicole Toth

My name is Nicole Toth and I have been a firefighter for five years on the Sundre Fire Department. I met chad while taking a technical rope rescue technician course in canmore and we quickly became friends. Shortly after that, he introduced me to KCPO and unknowingly, to my new life as part of the KCPO family. Since then I have paddled the Saskatoon trip each year, except for this last trip. Missing this year’s trip was surprisingly very difficult for me and revealed just how important the KCPO meaning and family are to me. Usually the three days of paddling reveals insights into ourselves and what pushes us to do the journey, but this time by missing the trip itself, I experienced just how much KCPO has truly affected me.

KCPO for me has become yet another family. It is a group of people with a calling to help others with pure intent to find their own strength, be strong for one another and share that strength with anyone else in need. It comes quite naturally to a first responder to be attracted to and immediately enveloped into such a wonderful, selfless raft of souls. It’s a group and philosophy that swept me up and has literally kept my head above water and kept me standing for the past four years during some of the most turbulent times of my life to date. I have loved and dated a fellow firefighter for five years, and in that time his PTSD from a lifetime of haunting calls, family estrangement, and his beloved role models’ suicide has eroded his mountain-sized will, persona and faith. He has suffered greatly; his positivity gave way to paranoia, his smile ceased, and his outgoing love has turned into the deepest type of internal self-hatred. I have tried my hardest to help him in every way, to the point of entering the darkness of PTSD now myself. I was so focused on trying to aid him, that I didn’t even notice it happening until recently; when I noticed my positivity waning, my smile missing and my own dark self- loathing beginning.

Like a lighthouse in the storm however, my KCPO crew has always appeared, bright and unwavering, to guide me through. When I see these people, I know they may not have seen, felt, or lived the same storm as me exactly, but I know they will not let me drown. Whether my life is calm as glass, or headwinds and whitecaps, they will always be there to keep me standing, and one stroke at a time they keep me paddling on. By missing this year’s paddle, I discovered the terrible feeling of letting myself and my family down. They have been through, given and taught me so much over the years, it felt wrong not to be standing by their sides. The challenge of the paddle itself always gives me focus and purpose which, when you have PTSD, can often evade you. This year more than ever I needed the KCPO family; their strength to keep me standing, their banter to bring back my smile, and the paddle strokes to clear my tired mind. Despite missing the trip, in true KCPO fashion, the crew have all reached out to me regardless - some to make plans to paddle on together soon and others just to catch up. I am so proud and thankful to be a part of such a wonderful group.  Without them I’d be drowning.

 

Trevor Peterson


As a veteran who lives with PTSD, and has been involved with raising awareness surrounding mental health, I jumped at the chance to join KCPO when Chad invited me. For the last 7 years, Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has been a huge part of my mental therapy. The rhythmic nature of paddling is my meditation, enabling me to ground and centre myself.

The last KCPO trip I joined allowed me to challenge uncomfortable situations, while affording me the opportunity to find the time to ground myself. Having been involved within the SUP community, I knew some of the participants - however, there where more unfamiliar faces than known. I have never been comfortable in crowds, and even now more so. As with any group trip, there was a large group paddling in the centre, and smaller groups extending to the front and rear.  It was within these fringe groups that I was more comfortable. I stayed near the front, which allowed me to feel useful by navigating around sandbars, and giving paddling tips. I was compensating my uncomfortable feelings by taking on a more professional role than participant. For a large part of the trip, if I wasn’t taking on this role, I felt unsure of where I fit in within the group dynamics.  I distanced myself from the group, feeling that I couldn’t relate to others because of the PTSD.

The final day of the trip was the tipping point for me. On the last day we were joined by a large group that could only contribute the one day. With the addition of this new group, I became completely unfocused, and the wheels were about to fall of the wagon. So as soon as we hit the water, I bolted. At first I charged ahead just to burn off the overwhelming feeling confronting me, only later falling into my meditative rhythm.

That evening after everyone had separated, rested, and showered, the main group reunited for a dinner and gathering hosted at Drift Cafe. The food was amazing - I think I went three times just for the salad. After dinner, Chad brought us all us to the rooftop patio. He then proceeded to ask us about our experiences and thoughts on the trip. At first the stories where of the highlights, but than people started to open up about their feelings and emotions. Tears started flowing and then, amazingly, I was not the only person dealing with the same issues. All of a sudden, I fit in and could relate to people.. people I never realized I could relate to because of my past as a solider.

Later, we went downstairs for drinks. Everyone was laughing, hugging and chatting. The dynamics of the group had drastically changed. Everyone left much closer, and more connected then they had arrived. All thanks to Chad's dream of raising awareness for mental health.

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