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Thursday, October 9, 2008 -- Morgantown, WV
Today is a New Day (iPO Event Id#: 11403)

By Julie Black

Julie Black
It's been 6-years and a day since I've paddled this far in my kayak. The Lower Yough River, my stomping grounds, my sand-lot.

We had to drive in two cars to set shuttle, my husband Jason and I. We chatted by cell phone, admired the crimson leaves and farms from afar. It brought back many a memory. This is where we had our first date. This river is what changed my life. The friends I made on the river would be part of me forever.

I started whitewater kayaking about 9 years ago. I really only paddled 3 years, and then I had a 6-year break for two reasons that changed my life dramatically; life and death.

My son was born and then no more than 8-months later one of my best friends, Jeff Mayfield, died doing what he loved... kayaking on Big Sandy Creek.

I was there. I saw it happen. I've been unable to talk about it until now.

I could tell you all about the press that hounded my friends and I about Jeff's death. I could go into great detail about the two weeks and more it took to see his body again. I could go on and on about guessing what went wrong, what we could have done different, or how beautiful and horrible that day was at the same time. There are just no words to justify any of it. All I can say is that it sent a never-ending ripple thought the tight river paddling community at the time and changed many more lives than my own.

Mayfield was just that kind of person.

Today, on the river I felt different. It used to be hard. It used to scare me. It used to eat at my soul in the middle of the night, but today it felt like an old friend.

Lower Yough
As I paddled into double hydraulic, the hole tossed me side-ways and surfed me into the deeper hole below. I could almost hear Jeff, laughing at me as he sat in the eddy ready to "rescue me" if I was swimming. In the midst of all the mayhem I felt a hug of sorts, and then I flipped, upside down and floundering around. I didn't wait long to set up and roll, my husband cheered as he waited in the eddy where Jeff would have been. He enjoyed the show and memories as much as I had. We laughed out loud. We didn't have to say a word.

My son Kirk, now six years old, has grown up in and around the river. It's no surprise to me that he's a natural on the water. Kayaking is as much a part of his lifestyle as walking down the street. It's second nature. He has inspired me to boat again. I refuse to be passed up by an 8-year old. When he's 10, I may let it slide, but I'm not ready for that just yet...

So this weekend I head to more familiar places with friendly faces who were there the day I walked away from the river angry and sad. They've been waiting for me to return, in silence, and I can't thank them enough.

Today is a new day.

More Photos: [ P-Lot ] [ The Blacks ] [ Ohiopyle Falls ] [ The Area ]