Gitchi Gumee 2012 Zorbari: I’ve never seen stars before! Andrea: Zorbari, you’ve never seen stars before?! Zorbari: Andrea, no! I’m from Chicago. Of course I’ve never seen stars before! Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, 2012. Zorbari had rock-climbed and kayaked with Chicago Adventure Therapy for several summers; the inaugural Gitchi Gumee Project was her first time camping. – and her first time seeing stars, at her first campfire, with her first s’mores.
Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, 2014. Zorbari was at the Gitchi Gumee Project, this time as a staff member with Chicago Adventure Therapy. With friend and fellow Youth Leader Fred, she managed the loading of the trailer through multiple venue changes in the course of the symposium, organized the troops to cook several meals, assisted coach Lori Stegmeir as an assistant guide on the Grand Island tour, and with Fred presented a trip report about their kayak camping trip on Grand Island in June with Greg, another Gitchi Gumee alum. (There were plenty of s’mores on the trip, and Zorbari got to build her first fire.) The Gitchi Gumee Project is a three year old collaboration that brings urban, under- served youth to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. It all started in August of 2011, when Bill Thompson of Down Wind Sports (the organizer of the symposium) and Belinda Lee (paddling coach from Detroit) said to Andrea Knepper (Chicago area coach, and founder of Chicago Adventure Therapy) – “We have an idea. We want to have a beer with you before the symposium is over.” Bill and Belinda’s idea was to invite urban young people, kids who would never get the opportunity otherwise, to GLSKS. They asked Andrea if she could bring kids. Andrea invited Lynette Spencer of partner agency Adventure Works of DeKalb to bring some kids, and in 2012 the two brought a group of 4 young people from the Chicago area, with 5 adults. In 2013, they brought 7 young people from Chicago, and Belinda brought 4 young people from Detroit, with a total of 9 adults for a group of 20. The 2014 GGP saw 7 Chicago participants, 2 Detroit participants, and two youth leaders from Chicago, the full group accompanied by 4 adults from Chicago and Detroit for a group of 15 this year. So what happens when you bring a group of urban young people to GLSKS?
*The best selfie is the one with the Off in it *You get to watch a group of young paddling novices load a trailer like a boss • Homemade strawberry shortcake for breakfast – the baked biscuit kind, not the store bought shortbread kind • S’mores • A full day paddling with Danny Mongno of Werner Paddles • Youth who’ve never paddled learning toggle tows • The full group surfing – and LOVING it! • Chicago and Detroit youth jumping off a break wall into Lake Superior; half of them scrambling into their boats on their own; one of them towing a rescue • You end up having to dance every time the group does the Gitchi Gumee Cheer – and you get told, with friendly apologies, that you “dance like a white girl” • Two Gitchi Gumee alums presenting a Trip Report about their kayak camping trip on Lake Superior in June • One young man gets a custom fitted brand new Werner paddle in recognition of the amazing progress he’s made in a year – in both his paddling skill and his leadership skills • You learn the meaning of the word “rachet” in full detail • Hilarious moments with neck gaskets… • An amazing, heartfelt reunion with the GGP alums, GLSKS students, and area coaches.
One of the highlights of the week, always, is watching young people get their first introduction to sea kayaking. Young people who would otherwise never get to have the opportunity. These youth thank us every year, with heartfelt intensity, for giving them this opportunity. They tell us, with what seems a belief that we won’t quite get it, that they would otherwise never get to have this opportunity. They tell us how much it means to them that we provide it for them. There’s also the refrain that underlies much of the week – “it’s nice to just get away from the city for a while.” For some of the young people in the program, three square meals a day and a safe place to sleep for 4 nights in a row is a welcome respite from the every day realities of their lives. This year, we also got to watch GGP alums from previous years take on serious leadership in the group. They were a full part of the leadership team that consisted of 4 adults and 3 young people. All three of the youth leaders have had additional paddling opportunities. Fred continued to paddle in Chicago with Chicago Adventure Therapy after being introduced to kayaking at last year’s GGP. He and fellow 2013 GGP participant Greg went to the Golden Gate Symposium with Chicago Adventure Therapy in January, and they both attended Canoecopia in March. After Golden Gate they were invited to paddle in the San Juan Islands – so at Canoecopia they solicited local knowledge from people who had paddled and guided there. They also took a dry land rolling class with Ben Lawry, and were excited to get back to Chicago to try out rolling at the pool. Greg got his roll, on both sides, and also a re-enter and roll. Zorbari had paddled with Chicago Adventure Therapy, and gotten her roll, BEFORE her first GGP experience in 2012. After several summers of programming, Chicago Adventure Therapy invited her to join the staff in a BCU-UKCC Coach Level 1 Training, and she became the youngest person in this country with her Coach One. Fred, Greg and Zorbari had their first kayak camping experience in June 2014, paddling from Munising, MI and camping on Grand Island. Jose, a GGP 2013 alum from Detroit, had a very difficult time with his first wet exit at GGP last year. Later he went to the East Coast Paddlefest in April of 2014, where he got to take classes with Nigel Foster and Todd Wright, and try out a SUP board and a surf ski. Jose, a very quiet young man, provided hints and tips on the water to most of the GGP team members, working behind the scenes, leading with his quiet personality. Zorbari and Fred were both more front and center with their leadership and skills – Fred explaining the mechanics of various performance paddles to friends, Zorbari demonstrating a roll, both giving paddling advice. All three shepherded the group on the water, keeping an eye on who needed help or a rescue and providing it. The three of them, along with Greg, are going to the San Juan Islands August 4-8, with one new GGP participant and one other Chicago Adventure Therapy participant.
When the Gitchi Gumee Project started in 2012, Bill, Belinda and Andrea all hoped it would be a great opportunity. They all thought it was a chance for a few urban young people to get to do something they would never get to do otherwise, and to get to meet an amazing community of paddlers in a beautiful venue. Three years later, the impact it has had on the young people who want to keep paddling; those young people who’ve been “bit by the bug” and get excited about the biomechanics of a forward stroke – the impact it has had on these young people has been life-changing. As Coach and owner of The Art of Paddling Jeremy Vore wrote after the first Gitchi Gumee Project, People like Steve Lutsch, Stan Chladek, Doug VanDoren, Nigel Dennis, and Michael Gray all welcomed a 14 year old into their circle and facilitated my paddling in a way that would have been impossible without them. What I do now – training and communication with specialties in risk management, decision making, and leadership for both the healthcare and aviation industries – is directly descended from what they taught me on the water 20-some years ago. Zorbari, heading back to Howard University as a sophomore pre-med major next year, wants to be a heart surgeon. She’s planning all her internships for the winter so that she can keep her summers open for paddling – working for Chicago Adventure Therapy or seeking out guiding jobs.
Fred told the entire symposium in the Grand Island Trip Report that he was homeless when he came to GLSKS last year. He also reported that he will be joining the Coast Guard this fall, and attributed his ability to “get his life back on track” in large part to Gitchi Gumee and the paddling experiences he’s had since his first GGP. It’s heartening to begin to see in these two remarkable young people a similar impact from paddling that Jeremy describes. It’s also enlightening to watch the effect of their leadership on the folks who are new to the group, the symposium and the sport. When adults are showing them the ropes, they get to learn from the experts. They realize this – it is not lost on them that they have a weekend where they get to learn from some of the best coaches in the Midwest. When they’re learning from a Youth Leader, it’s different. You can see that they realize not only that they are LEARNING from experts, but that they can BECOME an expert. They realize that if they want, and if they put in a lot of hard work, this symposium is NOT the once in a lifetime experience they think it will be. Rather, it can be the very beginning of a brand new adventure. Here’s what participants have had to say in the last year: • “Words don’t describe how thankful I am for this trip and everything that you have done. Thank you.” • “What you do for me is priceless.” • “You have shown me things I didn’t even know about myself so I want to say thank you so much.” • “You have changed my life so much and you’ve lit a new fire within me that I’ll never let die out. …
Thank you for believing in me.” The Gitchi Gumee Project, its growth and its continued success is possible because of the amazing support we’ve received from the industry. We’re grateful to forward-looking, community-minded companies that have provided support.
Kokatat -Kokatat has been our original sponsor from the very beginning, providing financial support and demo drysuits for our participants. The drysuits are especially helpful for those participants who take the rolling class (most of whom perform a successful static brace, and several of whom end up rolling), and also for the “Open Water Adventure” day, which includes jumping into the water from a breakwall.
Bomber Gear- Bomber stepped up big time this year, donating dry tops and warm fleece tops. The neck gaskets were a learning curve for the kids! Once they got in the cold Lake Superior water, they were all grateful for the drytops and the fleeces. Many of them also wore the fleeces around camp, where it was colder in the evenings than they expected.
Wilderness Systems- Edith Nelson of Wilderness systems secured boats for this year’s group. We had a variety of boats in a variety of sizes, so we were able to fit people to the boat that would help them have the best possible experience. We also had the flexibility to give newer, more anxious paddlers nice stable, beginner-friendly boats, and to provide some of our GGP alums with more performance-oriented boats. Thanks Edith!
NRS- NRS provided wetsuits, especially important with the cold water temperatures in Lake Superior. In the past we’ve had to search far and wide for wetsuits we could borrow from individual paddlers. NRS also supplied PFD’s and helmets for the group this year. David took special care to provide the just right PFD for a participant who had a challenging time finding one with the right fit. Thanks so much, NRS!
Werner Paddles- Chicago Adventure Therapy is so pleased to have a set of Werner paddles, and to provide those paddles for use with the Gitchi Gumee Project. For two years now, Danny Mongno of Werner Paddles has spent an entire day with the group on Saturday; for two years now the group has had the chance to learn to surf, jump off a break wall, learn to tow, learn to scramble into their boats, and have generally learned much more about paddling than most people, and especially the group, would think that a group of brand new paddlers could learn in a day. Thanks also to Werner for donating a paddle to one of this year’s Youth Leaders, who showed tremendous improvement in his paddling and his leadership.
Thank you to everyone who made the 2014 Gitchi Gumee Project possible. We look forward to bigger and better things for the GGP at the 2015 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium!