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Katie Mahaffy - What Paddling Means to Me

For our second installment of the youth paddling essays series we have a gem from Katie Mahaffy. If that names seems familiar that is because she is the daughter of our contributor and podcast co-host, Bill Mahaffy. Katie has a super bright future ahead of her in this sport and we cannot wait to see where she can go. Did we mention that because she came in 2nd place in the contest she won one of the most coveted prizes in all the land? That's right a CanoeRaceWorld hat!


Katie Mahaffy

What Paddling Means to Me

Paddles splash. Water flies. Hups are called. Paddling is more than just those things. The friends you make and the people you meet turn this sport into something more than a sport. I’ve made many friends and learned so much from all the people in the paddling community. I’m Katie Mahaffy and this is my story about all the people I’ve met and why this is so special to me.

Living in downtown Grayling has exposed me to the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon for years, but we always hid from the chaos. In 2014 my dad, Bill Mahaffy, started paddling. That first year he only did the smaller races like Curly’s, Spike’s, and Mio. That year when we went to watch Harry Curly’s my dad introduced me to Katie and Kristi Treston, who later became huge role models for me. In 2015 he did the Marathon for the first time with Ed Lipinski. That was the year where I had more exposure to the paddling community and met more people. When I was on top of Mio Dam with my grandma and great aunt, I was able to see my dad and run with him for a while. At that moment, I realized that I wanted to paddle too. Within the next couple of years, I met more people amazing people and learned more about the sport.

The first race that I did was the Spike’s Kids Challenge. That year another boat pushed me and my partner into a bridge and we didn’t do very well. In the second year, I had a little more experience under my belt and I felt like I could do it all. My partner, Ally Doderlion, and I came in the first and the next year we came in second. In the fourth year, 2019, my partner was Natalie Kellog. At the Muskegon River Throwdown, we did the youth race together and we came in first. I also did the mentor race with Kyle Stonehouse and we came in first. You’d think that coming in first in two races on the same day would make you over-ecstatic and you would feel like there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do. Instead, I learned a life lesson. These races taught me that coming in first and winning the money or the medal or the paddle wasn’t what mattered. It was the fact that I had learned and grown so much from my first year of paddling. It was the fact that I had met some incredible people and had the chance to be a part of an amazing community. Over the course of four years, I learned how the proper stroke, the river, how to keep a boat straight, but most importantly, I learned what the real prize of this sport was. The real prize is the growth you make and the people you meet.

The people in the paddling community not only taught me how to paddle, but they taught me things about the river and the lessons that come with any sport. People like Cheryl Lucy, Lynne Witte, and my parents have taught me about the history of the river and the best ways to learn the river. Cheryl and Lynne and dedicated countless days of their summers to training with Katelyn Moore and me. They have taken us from Town to Burtons so many times that I feel like they deserve more credit for the time they’ve put into making me and so many others better paddlers and people. Along the way, I’ve also met the Treston sisters, Rebecca Davis, Mikayla Erickson, and so many other strong female paddlers. They gave people to look up to in the paddling community. They are all so supportive of me and other young female paddlers. I’ve done mentor races with Katie Treston and had long conversations about paddling with Mikayla. I’ve watched in awe as Rebecca Davis passed me and Ally second before we finished the Spike’s Kids Challenge. These ladies are my inspiration and I will continue to look up to them until one day I can paddle alongside them.

I’ve watched all these incredible paddlers and learned so much from them. I only hope that someday I can become a role model for all of the future paddlers. I hope that someday I have a little girl come up to me with much encouragement from her parents and tell me that she’s my biggest fan. I want to be a role model and I want to be able to teach kids the same lessons that I’ve been taught. I learned about winning and losing and grit and so much more. Without paddling, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

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