Please welcome contributor Janet Perry with her story about how SUP saved her life. Make sure to leave her a comment! Thank you Janet!

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Learning to paddle saved my life. Well, my sanity for sure. As I sat in a waiting room of a class-one trauma center for almost two months waiting to see if my husband would live or die, I was witness to many things. Some days it seemed like a war zone plain and simple. From the Life Flight helicopters flying in and out just outside our windows, to the droves of people filing in scared, bewildered and shocked at the sudden turn of events in their lives. It seemed the gunshot victims brought in the biggest crowds every Friday and Saturday nights. How we all dealt with the trauma could be a horror to witness or one of the most touchingly beautiful things ever. This was living after all, in its grittiest form. I was stripped of all my “exterior trappings” the things I thought made me, me. What was left was simply my authentic self. The one who is open, honest, fearless and seeking. The one who sees life in all its gore and glory and finds the value and significance, even beauty in all of it.

After chaperoning a group of kids to France in 2012 my husband became ill on the flight home. What it was we will never know but within two weeks it culminated into double-lung failure. We had him Life Flighted to Portland, Oregon from our home town of Gig Harbor, Washington for a rare life-saving treatment called ECMO which ended up saving his life.

Within two weeks of arriving, a total stranger offered their beautiful floating home on the Columbia River for me to use. Not only did this put me close to the hospital, but also allowed me to feel the healing power of water. It did not take me long to realize I would never be truly happy without a moving floor beneath my feet, even though I did get seasick after the first wind storm.

I started seeing this odd activity in the river… people paddling around standing on surf boards. What the heck was that all about? Then I started hearing some of the medical staff talking about SUP. What the heck is this SUP? When I finally returned to Gig Harbor two months later with a very grateful, happy and recovering husband, I was primed for… something! That’s when I started moving: trail running, alpine hiking, you name it. If it was in the great outdoors, I was all over it! I was hungry for nature! Enter my friend and fellow 100 paddler Laura Jane Brougher who asked if I would like to learn to SUP. Simple answer, “HELL YES”! I never looked back. I had my moving floor under my feet again! I bought an inexpensive 8’9″ board and blasted through that in about two weeks and then went looking for a real board. Found my Bark Dominator 14′ and it became my best friend! We’ve clocked a zillion hours together.

Little did I know at the time what was coming down the road for us within the next year and how much paddling would become my saving grace.

image2Within a five month period, my husband was hospitalized six times all for different reasons. All this happening to a previously heathy man! We were unprepared. Everything was immediate and deadly. Life had an important lesson for us and we better listen up! His case was too complex for our local hospitals so there was always a the lengthly commute to Seattle. I would get up early and be on the water before sunrise, spend the day at the hospital, and then be on the water again in the evening. It was summer. Days were long. My friends would take me out in the evenings and we would paddle hard then find a beach to sit on, drink wine, watch the sunset on Mt Rainier, giggle like 12 year olds, then paddle back in the pitch black watching shooting stars cross the sky. How those nights decompressed me! I asked my questions and got my answers on my dawn paddles.

One very tumultuous morning we were all seeking answers, both the doctors and ourselves. Did he need brain surgery? Did he need open-heart surgery? If so, which one first? Which one was more immediate, more deadly? It seemed to me like we were talking about the massacre of a good man. I remember one particular sunrise sitting on my board asking for clarity for ourselves and our doctors as well as peace for our souls.

I was looking upon the most beautiful sight, the sun coming up over the Puget Sound of Washington State. With Mt Rainier dominating the scene it was as though God took a paint brush and in one stroke lit the buttermilk sky above in vibrant fiery colors, I just sat there with my mouth open in awe. How could we be part of this miraculous place of creation and not have good things coming down the road for us? I was filled with complete peace in that moment. I knew then, there would be brain surgery, there would be heart surgery, there would be recoveries and all would be well. We were listening and we were getting our answers.

I paddled out that morning feeling stressed, horrified and sad but paddled in feeling uplifted, happy and with clarity in my heart. I knew what we had to do. When I arrived at the hospital my husband said it had come to him that brain surgery would be necessary and he was at peace with it because he knew everything would be ok. Then in walks our funny doctor who says ” though it is a rare thing, we doctors all got together and had a moment of perfect clarity.” We said, ” Yep, already knew that!”

Today my husband is happy, healthy and living life large. It is not unusual to see him kayaking next to me in the harbor. He is called “The Miracle Man” and has shown me all things are possible. So paddle on my friends while appreciating every moment of this wonderful sport. Paddle fast, paddle far, but don’t forget to see the miraculous in all things. Life is short and every moment a precious gift. Paddle on.

Janet Halseth Perry

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