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
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!