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Seven Years Later

by Jim Sullivan

A Short Story of My Instruction Career

My addiction to whitewater kayaking began when I was in high school.  I cannot place the blame for my addiction solely on the 3-Day Novice Kayak lesson that I took at Zoar Outdoor, though the instruction and the experience was phenomenal.  The day after the lesson I purchased a kayak.  With the support of both formal and informal paddling groups, over the years that followed I developed and refined my skills and my addiction.  I jumped at every chance to paddle with my new found river friends.  I kept the dam release schedule in my wallet and cursed every weekend that I had to work when the dryway was releasing.  When it came time to move into my college (which was conveniently located 45 minutes from the Deerfield River), the first item to go up the winding four flights of stairs to my dorm room was my whitewater kayak.  It was around this time that a chance encounter with Philip, the campground manager at Zoar Outdoor, would alter the course of my paddling career.

I was at a pool session hosted by my college’s Outing Club, helping a friend learn to roll.  Philip suggested I apply for a job as a kayak instructor at Zoar Outdoor.  Though I knew myself to be a much better swimming instructor than a kayaking instructor, I couldn’t help but dream.  To be on the river all the time, meeting awesome people, sharing my love for the sport and the culture of whitewater – it would be the ideal summer job. 

To my surprise and delight, I got the job with Zoar.  Getting through all the training and certification was far more challenging than I had anticipated (I didn’t even pass the first time – but Zoar kept me on as an assistant instructor until I was ready for full certification).  I learned more about kayaking, teaching, and myself in that first summer with Zoar than I had in all my previous years of kayaking on my own. 

An even greater surprise is that seven years later, I am still working summers at Zoar Outdoor.   The joy of working outside, teaching, and sharing a passion with others are still motivating factors in my decision to return year after year, but there are also other factors, unique to Zoar Outdoor, that make it an incredible place to work and play.  The relationships I have formed with my co-instructors, management, and other staff can make Zoar feel more like a second home than a work place.  The dedication of the management staff to supporting professional development in all aspects of work and whitewater has enabled me to continue learning and attain further certifications in kayaking, canoeing, swiftwater rescue, and wilderness first aid.  Finally, I can’t resist the temptation of Joel’s salsa – packed fresh daily in lunches for instruction clinics. 

- Sara Dorsey

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