Rad Women Do: Kristin Stickels, a.k.a. Paddlechica

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural installment of #RadWomenDo (the title of which was inspired by Natalie Cole’s ’80s anthem “Wild Women Do”), a series spotlighting, in words and images, inspiring women who, regardless of their age or others’ expectations, are throwing off convention and daring to forge their own paths. I hope you will be as inspired by their stories as I am …


“Maybe it’s the fear of missing out on something, but taking the road less traveled or the unknown route has always been appealing to me. I kind of approach things with the attitude of, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’”


Kristin Stickels, a.k.a. Paddlechica

Dragon Boater, Outrigger Paddler, Coach

Ontario, Canada

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think what I wanted to be when I grew up changed on a daily basis, but I do remember wanting to be the first female Major League Baseball player. I played Little League on an all-boys team, which was a big deal at the time. So, yeah, I’ve always been athletic and sporty.

What characteristic do you most admire in other bold, adventurous (rad) women?

I admire women who are free-spirited and willing to go against societal expectations, and who are ambitious while maintaining integrity. I’m not interested in looking up to a woman who is strong, but steps on others on her way up the ladder.

Tell me the story of how and when you started paddling and what drew you to Dragon Boat racing? How old were you when you discovered the sport?

I was 36 when I first found dragon boating. I was living in Miami, Fla., and looking for something to do that involved the ocean, plus I needed a way to meet new people. At the time, I was teaching and my life literally consisted of home and school—I had no social life at all. I looked on Craigslist under the “activities” section, thinking that perhaps I might find something interesting to do. In all the other cities I’d lived in, that was a good place to find things like an adult softball team that needed women on its team. In Miami, however, it was a bit different. Most of the postings were things like “Hot women needed for massage tonight!” which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. But I stumbled across a posting for a dragon boat team and it had pictures. And the pictures made it look really cool! So I grabbed a woman I kind of knew who worked as a coach at my school and said, “Let’s go try this!” I was far too shy to try it on my own. She was sporty and game to try it, so we did.

I have to admit that my first time on the boat I thought to myself, “Holy hell, people do this for fun?!?!” At that point, we had paddled exactly two minutes and 30 seconds. The woman I went with, on the other hand, was totally into it. She kept saying, “This is so cool!” so her enthusiasm for it rubbed off on me. By the end of practice she’d convinced me that we had to join the team. I heard later from teammates that they all thought she was going to be this amazing paddler, but they thought that I was quite useless. I was super scrawny and was truly awful with the paddle, so it’s no wonder. Ironically, she quit within a month and I stuck with it.

How did Paddlechica (Kristin’s blog about paddling) come about? Where do you want to take Paddlechica in the future?

Paddlechica was originally conceived as a way for me to get information to my teams about paddling without having to email each member individually. I wrote my first post about core exercises. My intention was for the posts to only go out to the team I was coaching, so I sent them the link and hoped they’d read it. The second post was about nutrition and the third post was core exercises, part 2.

At this point, most of the team had seen the posts and I was happy. It seemed that my solution was working. My fourth post was titled “How to Be an Expert Paddler” and within a day the stats showed that it had gone worldwide, which blew my mind. What started as more of a “filing cabinet” for information for my paddlers became an unintentional billboard. And from there, I started writing for a much wider audience.

Eventually my brother helped me by designing a logo that matched my style and personality and helped me with the website, and a paddler I coached at a training camp helped me with many other aspects of the site, and I am eternally grateful to both of them. I feel really lucky that I happened to name the blog something that was catchy. You know when you’re sitting up late at night creating your own blog for the first time in your life, there are many ways that whole naming process could go very wrong, especially when you have no idea that anyone will ever read it. I’m very grateful that I didn’t call it something ridiculously dull like “Kristin’s Coaching Info.”

Where do I want to take the blog? That’s a tough question, given that I had no idea it would ever become anything at all. I’ve been called an “accidental success,” which I take as a huge compliment. I’d love to be able to write and do research full-time, but so far that hasn’t been overly lucrative (and by “overly” I mean that it doesn’t cover much of the bills at all). I love examining myself as a paddler and writing about what I’ve discovered.

What is your favorite characteristic about yourself? Or, what trait do you think you have that made it possible for you to pursue something like this?

I’ve always been adventurous and a risk-taker. When I was 28, I quit my teaching job in the states and moved to Costa Rica with only two suitcases (one full of clothes and the other full of teaching supplies). I had a one-year contract with a school to teach in a small village on the beach. I ended up staying for four years. I should probably clarify that I’m not a risk-taker in the sense of jumping off of bridges, or out of planes (though I wouldn’t rule that out necessarily!), but more of a risk-taker in terms of lifestyle, life plans, comfort zone, etc. I purposely choose the path less followed because it generally seems more interesting.


I always talk about the fact that adoption wasn’t really my “plan B” because I just assumed my life would kind of follow the same path the rest of my family’s did (marriage, bio kids, etc.). And then the idea of adoption occurred to me and it was like a light bulb went off. I knew then that my life would look a little different than what I (or others) had expected. At what point did you realize that your life might look a little different than what you expected or what others expected for you?

I don’t think the realization came to me until just a few years ago. I always assumed that at somepoint I’d meet someone and “settle down” and have kids, although I never had a burning desire to do so. But “at some point” never came. I honestly thought that it would magically arrive at my doorstep one day and voila! I’d have a life just like most of my friends. Instead, early menopause arrived at my doorstep and I realized that the whole marriage-kids-traditional-life had just gotten the door slammed on it. Hard. That was probably the first moment I finally realized that life was going to look a little different than what I had been conditioned to expect. It wasn’t an overly big deal, though, just the sudden realization that Mother Nature had made the decision for me. That’s not to say that I couldn’t get married or adopt or any of the other ways we can create a family, but the traditional method of marriage-followed-by-pregnancy had been eliminated for me (though considering how horrified I was as a child when I found out how babies entered the world, I think I was O.K. with that not being an option for me).

When you start to doubt yourself or go through a tough time, how do you get through it? What do you do to get yourself back on track?

I’ve found that somehow everything always works out. Most of the time it isn’t at all how you would expect it to, but even then, it works out. When I’m having a tough time, I try to remind myself that whatever I’m going through is because I’m meant to learn something from it and move on to what is supposed to be. I’ve had some trying times, for sure, but thankfully I’ve been blessed to always come out of it in a better situation. So as much as it may have sucked in the moment, in the long run everything was even better. Of course, that’s really hard to keep in perspective when you’re in the sucky part, whatever that might be.

What do you wish you could tell your 20- or 30-year-old self that you wish you had known then? What do you think is the greatest benefit of being the age you are now?

I would tell myself not to be so insecure. I’ve been painfully insecure most of my life, always thinking that everyone is better than me and that most people wouldn’t want to bother getting to know me. Unfortunately my insecurity got mistaken for arrogance quite often because I wouldn’t talk to people – I’d just assume I wasn’t worthy or they had no interest in me. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that we’re all just navigating this world together the best way we can, with everyone just showing their own insecurities in different ways.

The greatest benefit of being 45 is hindsight. I can look back at all my mistakes as well as my successes and be humbled by them and learn from them. At 20 or even 30, I don’t think we quite have that capacity.


What quote inspires you and motivates you to push yourself and keep growing and getting better?

Wow. There are so many…“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

“You cannot discover new horizons unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

We all have excuses for why we don’t pursue things or take risks. What would you say to someone who wanted to try something unconventional or simply follow a passion, but is too afraid to start?

When I was a senior in high school I had applied to only two universities: UCLA and UCSD. I got into both of them and was having a really hard time deciding where to go. My brother went to UCSD and loved it. I was close to my mom, so staying in San Diego and attending UCSD was attractive. But I finally decided to go to UCLA for one main reason, which has guided a lot of my decisions since then: If I went away, I could always come back, but if I never went away, I wouldn’t know what I was missing.

Maybe it’s the fear of missing out on something, but taking the road less traveled or the unknown route has always been appealing to me. I kind of approach things with the attitude of, “What’s the worst that could happen?” It’s always easy to put off change. Change, for most people, is uncomfortable. It’s easy to procrastinate or give a million reasons NOT to do something. The difficult thing is taking the leap of faith and giving it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work out and you go back to what you were doing?



All photos taken at San Diego’s Mission Bay, October 2017; Nikon D750, Sigma Art 35/1.4. Special thanks to Clarke Graves of Cali Paddler for providing the outrigger used in our session.


I’m so grateful to Kristin for sharing her story and wisdom with us. As a photographer, it was a dream to be able to capture these images of her in the water. As a woman, it was nothing less than inspiring to spend time with her. It is my hope that this #RadWomenDo series will encourage you to pursue your dreams, even if that means defying convention or risking the unknown. Do you know of other rad women who, regardless of their age or circumstances, are forging their own paths and taking risks to pursue their passions? Please let me know about them! I’m committed to sharing their stories and documenting their adventures so that we all can learn and be inspired by them. Please use the “Email Me” link at the top of this page to nominate your favorite Rad Woman!

How to Climb a Mountain: Life Lessons From a 5-year-old

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity.” —Amelia Earhart

1,554 feet and almost four miles

That’s how high and how far this little one hiked on New Year’s Day. This self-professed girly-girl (I am NOT sporty, Mommy!) charged up Black Mountain with her older brother and sisters and conquered her mountain, despite having never really hiked before. Needless to say, I was incredibly proud of her, but I also took note of a couple of lessons from the experience that I hope can help us all conquer our mountains in 2018:

1. Be single-minded in your pursuit and don’t multitask. Do one thing (one mountain) at a time.

2. Don’t try to go it alone. Whether you’re racing to the top or just need someone to hold your hand or give you an occasional push when you get stuck, find like-minded people to support and who will support you.


3. Don’t give up. There was a point in our hike where the incline was steep and the rocks were slippery. She tripped and slipped here and there, and even scraped up her knee. Few things worth pursuing will leave us without a few bumps and bruises. Take a minute, assess the damage and keep going.

4. Celebrate your progress and don’t be stingy with praise. We did happy dances at several plateaus and lauded her toughness, especially when she fell and got right back up.

5. When you get to the top, stop, have a drink, maybe do another happy dance, and enjoy the view before moving on.


That’s it! Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? And at the risk of completely devolving into the corny and trite, I will leave you with the immortal words of Dr. Seuss:

“You’re off to Great Places!Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So…get on your way!”

Here’s to a happy, healthy and mountain-conquering 2018!


Sibling Session, Family Photographer, San Diego, California

“The highlight of my childhood was making my brother laugh so hard that food came out of his nose.” —Garrison Keillor

Do you have siblings? If you do, you know your siblings can drive you crazy, but they’ve always got your back and would defend you ’til the end of the earth. This is one of the reasons brothers and sisters are among my favorite subjects to photograph.

Case in point: The brother-sister duo. I was contacted by their aunt to take their portraits while they were in town visiting—she thought it would be a great gift for their mom (her sister). With a four-year age difference, I wasn’t entirely sure how it would go, but they were so close and so sweet with one another (and just all-around adorable) that it made my job was easy. Of course, the perfect weather, just the right amount of clouds rolling in, and an incredibly beautiful beach added to the magic.

I always tell my subjects before a shoot that I’m going to be bossy and tell them to do some goofy stuff, but they’re always welcome to tell me no. Hey, you never know if a little brother is going to tolerate a hug from his sister (without looking like he just swallowed a live goldfish). Or if a teenager will let down her guard and risk looking silly. I have found, however, that this is the best way to avoid going home with a card full of stiff and awkwardly posed pictures. And as you’ll see below. I’m pretty sure it worked.

I love the idea of freezing these moments in time—the hilarious little brother, the big sister growing more beautiful every day. Childhood is but a blink. And while the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters last forever, they change and grow as fast as the calendar pages turn. Photographs help us notice and document the passage of time and hold onto memories worth saving. If you’ve been wanting to have family portraits done, but keep putting it off for one reason or another, consider doing a sibling session. It’s a lot less pressure on you, less expensive than a full family session, and you will be so happy with the memories we capture. You can reach me by clicking on the Email Me button above. I hope to hear from you soon!



Because Being a Grown-up Doesn’t Mean You’ve Finished Growing

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” –Albert Einstein

More and more I find myself in conversation with people diligently searching for their passion, their purpose—that elusive thing that will make their heart race or sing or whatever it’s supposed to do when you know you’ve found “it.” In fact, finding your passion is often presented as something innate, a calling, something you just “know” you should be doing. Others liken it to finding a spouse: instant connection, love at first sight…you’ll know it when you see or feel it.

And it’s no wonder so many of us feel pressured to find it. Everywhere we turn, there’s a meme or inspirational quote telling us to follow our bliss, or that the only things worth doing are the ones we’re truly passionate about. Talk about pressure! I just don’t think life always works that way. Besides, to truly accomplish anything of value, there’s usually a lot of time, sacrifice, sweat and maybe even a few tears involved—and that’s a lot tougher sell than simply telling someone to “be epic.”

But oh my goodness, what an incredible feeling it is to get so caught up in something, anything, to the point where you lose track of time and it becomes all you can think about. Some researchers call it being in “flow.” This is when that falling-in-love analogy actually rings true for me—those blissful first months when new love is all shiny and romantic and exciting. Finding and pursuing a new hobby, project or cause can definitely make us distracted and maybe even a little crazy (but in a good way), especially when that project turns into an obsession. I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by now, but photography has been my obsession for quite some time now.

Have you ever watched a child become obsessed with something, such as a toy or an activity? Last year, our then-five-year-old became consumed by gymnastics, which meant every chair seat was an opportunity to do a handstand and every curb or wall was a balance beam. Her first request every afternoon when she got home from school (after she had donned her leotards, of course) was for one of us to do gymnastics with her, which usually meant practicing handstands against the wall or front door. In just a few short weeks, she made incredible progress, moving from barely getting her legs up high enough to touch the wall to being able to balance for a few seconds without any support. And now her sisters—being the competitive bunch that we are—have gotten in on the act, too.

Of course, most grown-up pursuits are a little more complicated than mastering handstands. But do you suppose that somewhere along the way, perhaps while we’ve been trying to earn a living or nurture our children’s interests and passions, we forgot to make room for our own? After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and pursuing activities and projects that are truly meaningful to us can feel a little selfish, given all of our other responsibilities. So, as consolation and to pass the time (even though there is never enough of it), we distract ourselves with things like binge-watching shows, social media and shopping (I’m writing from experience here). It may not be a very exciting existence, but it’s a comfortable one.

So here’s my plea: Don’t do it! Yes, encourage your children’s passions and interests, but don’t forget about your own. Life is way too short and offers way too many possibilities to settle for an existence that’s merely comfortable. Besides, it’s not as if you suddenly became a fully formed human being the moment you chose a career, got married or became a parent. Consider, for a moment, the reasons you are so intent on helping your children develop their interests and talents, and ask yourself why you don’t apply that same standard or intent to yourself.

If you’re unsure where to start or don’t know exactly what you want to do, try this: Instead of hoping a bolt of lightening will strike and your greatest passions will magically be revealed, start by opening yourself up to new ideas and experiences by simply being more curious. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, likens being curious to being on a scavenger hunt that may ultimately lead you to finding your passion. “If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity,” Gilbert writes, “your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.”

But even if it doesn’t, you’ll still enjoy the benefits of learning something new and getting out of the habit of doing the same things, day in and day out. Oh, and don’t you dare use the excuse that you’re too old to learn ______________, or to try ____________ [fill in your own blanks]. My grandfather was 90 years old when he bought a 1960s Willy’s-Overland Jeepster Commando to restore in his garage, a project that would likely have taken years to complete. He taught me that age is a lousy excuse not to try most things.

Maybe you don’t think you’ll never be really good at something, so why even bother? Gilbert tells the story of a friend who gave up figure skating as a teenager because she was told she’d never be good enough to compete in the Olympics. Years later, at age 40, she donned her skates again, hired a coach and hit the ice, simply for the sheer joy it brought her. Was she the best, or even really good? Nope. In fact, she was by far the oldest skater out there practicing every morning. But it made her happy and had an unexpected domino effect in that it gave her the courage to make other life changes as well.

Were you ever discouraged from pursuing something because you were told you wouldn’t be the best or even very good? Were there things you quit or were too afraid to try for fear of embarrassment? Here’s mine: I wish I had pursued singing—I used to sing in church all the time, but somewhere along the line I got fearful (or realistic) and stopped, even though I love to sing. But I’ve promised myself that at some point I’m going to take lessons or start singing in church again. And I will continue to sing my heart out in the shower and in the car (despite my youngest’s pleas for me to stop) because it brings me joy.

What brings you joy or makes you want to learn more, try more? Tennis? Astronomy? Travel? Fishing? Community theater? Think back to those times in your life when you felt interested and engaged in something. Could there be a long-dormant interest or project that is worth reviving? Has a book or documentary piqued your interest lately, but you didn’t take the time to look into it further? Go do it.

I remember my father telling me that he was never ever bored. And I believe it—his interests included everything from gardening and history to photography and fitness. And despite a very full life that included nine children and a job that took him all over the world, he nurtured that curiosity for as long as he could. I wish the same for my children—boring is not a word they are allowed to use—and for each of us, regardless of our age or season of life.

In the same way that you look at your children and see so much promise and potential, don’t forget that there is just as much talent inside you, just waiting to be unleashed. Don’t worry so much about finding your passion or purpose and just enjoy the pursuit of fun, interesting, meaningful things. Passions may or may not be uncovered, but I guarantee the journey—especially if it takes you outside of your comfort zone—will be a lot more interesting.




Bring Your Loved Ones Into the Frame



This is my father and me on my wedding day, almost three years ago.

I was the last of my parents’ nine children to get married. By that point, I’m sure my family had given up hope that it would ever happen. I can’t really blame them, as I tended to be pretty picky. I had also adopted two children on my own and wasn’t entirely sure there was someone out there willing to take us on. And then I met someone who did and, boy, did it happen fast. Looking back, it’s pretty crazy how fast it was, but it just worked. As they say, it just felt right.

The next few months were a whirlwind. When it came to planning the wedding, the two most important decisions to me were choosing my dress (which proved surprisingly easy) and choosing our photographer. And I chose one of the best—two actually, a husband-and-wife team named Erin and Courtney de Juaregui. From our first conversation, I let them know how important it was to me to not only document this day, but to make sure they captured moments with my dad. You see, my vibrant, charming father had been diagnosed with dementia five years before. Although he had been robbed of his speech, his joy and affectionate nature were always evident.

They caught it all—the smiles and hugs, the before-ceremony prayers, the quiet moments with his youngest grandchild and namesake. It was everything I had hoped for.

My father passed away less than three months later. At the time, everyone said what a blessing it was that he had been able to walk me down the aisle and see his oldest daughter so happy. And they were right. I can’t fathom that day without him, even though, as my littlest often reminds me, I will always carry him in my heart.

Timing, they say, is everything. I didn’t know when I was falling in love so fast and turning my world upside down that there might be other, unseen reasons why. I’m just grateful that I have those memories—and those photographs—to keep with me forever.

I tell you all this to urge you to take the time to get your loved ones into the frame, to capture memories today. From the very beginning of my business, I have encouraged families to bring grandparents to their sessions whenever possible. If grandparents resist (as they often do), tell them the photos aren’t for them—they’re for you and their grandkids to cherish and keep forever.

Time passes so quickly, and life is busier than ever, especially if you have little ones. How many times have you wished you could make time stop or, at the very least, just slow down a bit? I love how photographs help me freeze time, if only just for a brief moment. And they let me go back in time to those moments nearly three years ago, and experience again exactly how my dad smiled at me on my wedding day. And that is everything.