Laura's Story "Live as if Anything is Possible"

"Kayaking taught me to live as if anything is possible, but as a teen, I had no idea how far this philosophy would take me."

cancer survivor olympic kayak

At fifteen, competing internationally in Olympic Flatwater Kayaking, a sport I had neither witnessed nor experienced before that year, seemed impossible; but, my parents borrowed a boat and made arrangements for me to spend the summer at an Olympic Training Center development program. I was a terrible paddler. Every practice, chased by a motor boat, I inevitably flipped, splashed into the cold Adirondack water, surfaced gasping for air, and swam the sixteen-foot boat to shore where I immediately climbed back into the cockpit and raced to catch up with the other twenty teen paddlers. I was the worst. In fact, the only day the national coach noticed me that year was because I endured an entire workout without tipping over and swimming the kayak to shore.

After the end-of-season pep talk, the coach pulled me aside and told me that anything was possible. He was right. At sixteen, after a winter of determined practices in an icy Montana lake, I made the Junior racing team and paddled the Ottawa Canals against Canadian teams. Then, at seventeen, I was the fastest junior in the country and traveled to Yugoslavia to race in the Junior World Games against twenty-three other countries. Before the race, I floated with the murky Danube River beneath me, my paddle resting across the cockpit, and watched other heats. I was in this place because anything was possible.

 

cancer survivor olympics kayak

Nearly twenty years later, I again relied on this philosophy when diagnosed with an extremely aggressive cancer. I had a husband, two daughters in sixth grade and a thirty percent chance to live. I clutched to my anything-is-possible philosophy and made each daughter a promise: when I was well, Evee and I would ride horses through the Rocky Mountains and Laney and I would zip line through the forest. After enduring eight months of chemotherapy, a radical double mastectomy and another months three of radiation; I spent the next year regaining my strength to fulfill the promises. Evee and I spent seven days in the the San Juan Mountains, riding to Grand Lake, to the ice caves, riding up switchbacks that, even in reverie, make me dizzy; and I’ll never forget Laney’s twelve-year-old screeches as she stepped off the platform to zipline.

 

cancer survivor olympics kayak
cancer survivor olympics kayak

Last month, my youngest daughter, a fifteen-year-old high school senior, a small town Missouri girl, applied to Oxford. Whether she makes the Oxford cut or not, this girl who has never been outside the US has already succeeded in my eyes because she learned to live as if anything is possible.

Recently, in the elementary where I’ve spent the last nine years as the school librarian, I sat in the story well with a sandy brown haired boy, a second grader with a hard life. He thinks we are working on his reading, but my goal is to inspire him. After the third page, his finger paused at the end of the sentence, and he looked up at me. “I will be a teacher,” he said. I looked into his eyes and replied, “You can. It is possible. Anything is possible.”

 

cancer survivor olympics kayak
cancer survivor olympics kayak

Last week, with the five-year cancer check behind me, I slid the kayak down out from between garage rafters and hauled it to the lake. Knee deep in the water beside my boat, I sloshed water over the hull, rinsing away two decades of dust. Chunky clouds hung motionless over the nearly glass lake as I braced the Hungarian paddle over the cockpit and slid into the seat. A family of ducks, immune to the cold water, bobbed beneath the surface near the shore. My first strokes were wobbly, jerky; and, more than once, I thought I might once again tip and swim the sixteen foot boat to shore; but, as the kayak gathered speed, the paddle entered the water more confidently. I gained courage and ventured further from shore.


I don’t know what obstacles or opportunities lie ahead. I don’t know how many more lives I will have the fortuity to positively influence. But, I am more determined than ever to live as though anything is possible because, sometimes, it is.