Health Update, a Setback and why Skooks

First paddle after the stroke, felt amazing!

 Time marches on and I have settled in to acceptance. The virus has been raging here in the Southeast and I often think of what it would be like living somewhere else. In Virginia, we have been in a consistent state regarding the numbers, but I can't be complacent. This is an unusual place for both myself and Lesley. Normally, we have done an extensive amount of traveling. This year, nothing. I have not taught, or done any demos. The only travel has been work related and a "there and back" in a single day sort of scenario. 

For the first month after the stroke, I was under orders to keep my heart rate lower than 100bpm and avoid stress. I am not the usual kind of person that is affected by external stress. My stress is internal, generated and applied by me. To avoid stress while running a small business during a pandemic....well, it's not easy. I am fortunate enough that the shop is thriving. I worked for this, hard. Now the doctors are telling me to slow down? I adhered to their recommendations until the follow up appointment with my Neurologist and Cardiologist. Taking my "foot off the gas" so to speak, is painful.

The Follow Ups

I was feeling good. I had a chance to go out and do some low impact paddling. My new companion, an Apple Watch keeping tabs on my heart rate and monitoring for abnormalities in rhythm. It was calming to spend some time with Lesley, just paddling for the fun of it. The visit to the Neurologist did not provide the solace I was looking for. It was a puzzling array of information, both good and not so good. 

First, the good. The Doc was pleased with the latest imaging. More evidence of healing was easily identified in the area of the PICA artery. My neurological response tests all were well within the normal range, the only lingering hinderance is a reduction in clarity of my sight. Oddly enough, that was also a symptom of the head trauma after the accident. Another piece of evidence that links it as a potential cause. 

Now for the not so good. Also observed in the imaging is an abnormality on the right carotid artery at the base of my brain. In laymen's terms, a "blister" and potential for aneurism. As he was showing me this on the screen, the thoughts started intensify in speed and worry. This was a tricky situation. I am on blood thinners to prevent a stroke and also an elevated risk of aneurism? What the hell! He provided some reassurance that it was unknown how long the abnormality had been there and it was now going to be monitored. The importance of my fitness and diet, as it pertains to cholesterol readings and blood pressure are vital going forward. He gave me the green light to return to normal activities with the only caveat being to avoid stresses like extreme strain. Power Lifting is off the table for the foreseeable future. 

The Set-Back

I have never been good at daily medications. If Lesley didn't set out my vitamins everyday, I simply would forget them. Taking blood thinners sucks. I must take them as a preventative and the side effects are not pleasant. Aside from the consistent heartburn, I bruise way too easily. My parents used to describe me as a "bull in a china shop". Durability was one of my strengths. That's not the case now. The rough and tumble world of teaching the joys of surf zone kayaking often left me with invisible bumps and bruises. Now I bruise if the wind blows the wrong way. I am not in the habit of being careful and I am starting to look like I lost a paint ball match in the worst way. My extremities are often dotted with dark yellow and blue spots and I have no recollection of how they got there.

The ugly result of a contusion and internal bleeding

One of these is unlike the other...

Then I got another reminder of my tenuous situation. I was caught on the thigh by the handle on one of the molds for the new boat coming out later this year. The guy helping, pulled back on the front as I was moving in the opposite direction. The combination of opposite forces of my weight and the 300lb mold nearly crumpled me on the spot. My comment was, "that's going to leave a mark". Little did I know that I would not be able to bear weight on it two hours later. I got light headed and my leg swelled to a very abnormal size. The next day, I could walk, barely. Four days later, still very sore, I glanced down at my knee and got a little freaked out. It had swelled up and turned an insidious color. Off to the doctor I went and the diagnosis was a severe contusion with internal bleeding. The bruising continued to spread to my shin over the next week, it wasn't pretty and it was painful. Doctors recommendation, be careful. So my return to the surf zone would have to wait until the blood thinners are gone. I am not a happy camper and it's getting hard to keep being a good patient. Ugh.....I just have to keep my eye on the prize.

Why Skooks?

Watching the videos of the Hurricane Riders at Skooks was inspiring. It was not the danger or the seeming insanity of what they were doing. It was the high level of skill and control they exhibited in this magical place that would easily punish them with the smallest mistake. It became the benchmark to where I wanted to be, in skill and control. It was the inspiration for my progression as a rough water kayaker. 

Warren Williamson at Skooks- Photo by Jamie Sharp
Warren Willamson at Skooks- Photo by Jamie Sharp

Years ago, my zen was found behind the windscreen of a motorcycle. As an amateur road racer, my happy place was sliding a motorcycle around a corner while dragging a knee and twisting the throttle. My partner and I were specialist at endurance races. Two hour races that were a test of will and skill, as fatigue would set in at high speeds. Our favorite track was a Nascar Oval with an infield road course. They installed a chicane in the back stretch to slow us down prior to turns three and four of the outer oval, the twilight zone. Getting it right was surreal. Tucked and hovering millimeters above the track surface, the bike would sink down under the centrifugal forces generated. I had the chicane figured out. Drop down a gear to scrub off speed and throw the coals to the throttle inches past the hay bales. We were ten laps in, and I hit it just right giving me an extra ten miles an hour on my target. I passed him on the outside before the hair-pin turn where we would go from top gear to first, before entering the infield section. Suddenly, I was hit on my left side. As he blew by, unable to make the turn, he reversed the direction of my left foot. The pain was bad and my foot refused to operate. Somehow I stayed upright and continued on. Unable to shift with my foot, I blipped the throttle and pulled the shifter up with my left hand. I did this for two laps as the anger of the situation set in. My foot started to cooperate and I started going faster. My only goal was to catch the guy who hit me and let him know how much I disapproved of his poorly executed turn. Each lap, I got faster and it was at the chicane that I found the extra speed. Every time, less deceleration, until I was taking it in top gear and at full throttle. Close enough to the hay bales that I could feel them brush past my thigh and under my elbow. I caught and lapped the guy four times over the next 45 minutes. We won that race by five laps over second place. 

What the hell does this have to do with kayaking? A lot actually. Our minds are often the limiting factor an any pursuit. The incident on the track removed my limitations, by over-riding and resetting what I thought was possible. I found what was possible through a little forced adversity and what my capabilities really were when pushed by an external influence. I had been operating in a safe zone, satisfied with the outcome and coasting. There was a whole next level in performance waiting for me. It took some pain and anger to find it. I've been coasting in my development as a kayaker. The stroke woke me up and I want more. So, just like that day on the track, I am going to push myself. More and more until I find that next level. I am very goal oriented and driven. If I want to be my best, the goal has to be a lofty one to make the journey hard. It is in those moments, where failure is present, that I will find the most growth as a paddler. Some may find this pursuit foolish and dangerous. At 53 and a stroke survivor, it is my way of living my life to the fullest with no regrets. It's not about the goal, but more about "the process" of growth to have the chance to achieve it. 


  1. Perfect way to catch up while waiting for a follow up appointment. Blue Kayak podcast and a reminder to check out your blog. Thanks for all you share.


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