Monday, June 21, 2010

Good people come with kayaks

If you've been following my blog, then you know I'm desperately trying to train for my first triathlon.  I've already got the running down (well, maybe not down, but at least I can run the 6 miles without dying). The biking portion is also kind of under control. That just left the dreaded kayaking -- and making it alive through the San Juan rapids on the American River.

You see...even though I surf, snorkle and do a bunch of water related things, I'm not really a strong swimmer so facing rough water while cruising down a river in a tippy boat was something I wasn't looking forward to.

But then my guardian angel came along and hooked me up with the nicest people in the area.


For the last three years, Sherri Reese and Steve Holmes have dedicated almost every weekend from May until July teaching new kayakers how to navigate down the American River and safely through the San Juan rapids.

They specifically work with people like me who plan on competing in Eppies Great Race, and believe me these people know what it takes to complete the race. Steve has competed in the Eppies for the last 27 years and Sherri has done it nearly 10 times. But they don't just race, they want to share the fun.

"We love the race. So Steve wrote to Eppies one year and told them we were willing to show people how to kayak," Sherri said. "But even though it's been three years, not that many people know about us yet."

When she told me that, I was baffled.  I mean, the kayak clinics they hold are incredible. They take you down the race route, show you the secrets of getting through the rapids and also the pitfalls of choosing some of calmer water.

But here's the best part. The kayak clinics Sherri and Steve conduct are free of charge and all the equipment is included. They provide the kayak, the lifejackets and the skill to show people of all ages how to paddle safely - and what to do if the boat does happen to capsize. They have 13 kayaks and borrow more from friends if they happen to need them.

And if you are like me and like to perfect things, you can attend more than one clinic, and regardless of how many times you go down the river with Sherri and Steve, there is never any cost. I've attended 3 so far and plan on hanging out with them two more weekends before race day. They are so fabulous and their attitude is "the more; the merrier". They love it when people come out -- especially us newbies.

"We had at least 10 people the first time we did it. For most people who come out, it's their first time on the water. There are a few that have kayaked before, but most haven't. Actually this year, we only had one person who had kayaked before," said Sherri.


I admit I feel a little guilty taking all these lessons, but when I asked Sherri and Steve why they do it for free, they said it's because they want to share their passion with others. They don't own a sporting goods store, nor do they sell kayaks. In fact, Sherri works as an infection control nurse at UC Davis and Steve is a high school teacher at Hiram W. Johnson. They say they don't want to charge for the lessons because they don't want money to be the reason people don't learn how to kayak safely.

"The race itself costs money. If you had to rent a kayak and then pay someone to teach you how to do it, it adds up," said Steve.

Sherri says one of the reasons they started giving the free lessons was because she was hit a few times on the water during the race in the middle of the San Juan rapids. She says some of the racers don't know how to steer their boats or they are unfamiliar with the course. They often end up ramming into other racers, capsizing on the river or putting others in danger.

"It's hard to believe people would do the kayaking portion of the race without any practice, but it does seem when I get out there, there are some people who have no idea what they are doing. They just get in the kayak and go," Sherri said.

While the couple won't accept payment for their lessons, they are being rewarded in other ways. They say there is nothing like seeing the look on people's faces when they find out they can kayak -especially when they make it through the rapids the first time.

"People always say they've heard about how scary and how awful and rough the San Juan rapids are. We show them how they can get through them. They just need skirt around the left side and it's no big deal," said Steve. "The best part is when people realize they can do it and the rapids aren't going to stop them."


Sherri agrees. She sees the free lessons they give as a gift. It's a way for them to share the good times they have on the river with others.

"During the race it's so fun to hear someone calling your name from across the river. Sometimes when I'm paddling, I'll catch up with some of our students. It is so nice to see them doing it and succeeding," Sherri said.

Sherri 's teaching doesn't stop with her students. If she sees someone struggling during the race, she'll give them some hints to help them out.

"They always seem so appreciative. Certainly I am passing them as I give them the hint. It is a race," she said, laughing.

Sherri and Steve are planning to hold clinics the weekends of June 27 and July 11. To sign up for one of their free kayak clinics or to find out more, email Sherri and Steve at
For more information on Eppies Great Race, visit

Monday, June 14, 2010

Humbled by the superhumans in California

I bow down to the fitness fiends in California. I mean, I’m a little nuts when it comes to working out and will go on a 50 mile bike ride, run 6 miles and then go dancing that night, but what I do is nothing compared to the people I meet here.
I swear, these people look like everyday individuals and then when you start talking to them you find out they are superhuman.

First there was the marketing director at News10. We get to talking and it turns out she just finished the 100 mile bike ride up the mountain in Tahoe over the weekend. Can you say "wow!!" My car has to go into overdrive going up that elevation. I can't imagine doing it on a bike.

Then I run into another girl who just finished the 178 mile Reno-Tahoe Odyssey Relay – yes, that’s right – I said it -- one-hundred-and-seventy-eight miles.

But that’s not all.

While having margueritas at Chevy’s, I learned about the Whitney Mountain hike. It sounds fabulous and it's now on my California "to-do" list. But get this...the couple I was with had done it not once, but four times.

"The first time Sarah got elevation sickness and couldn't get to the top," said the husband.

Elevation sickness? Hmmm...that's high. I may have to train a little for that one.

They have also done the Badwater Ultramarathon – which is 135 mile run across Death Valley in July. They told me if I do it, I should run along the white line on the road because it’s cooler.

So now I’m feeling a little inadequate with my measly 6 mile runs. I may just have to bring it up a notch.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A 14-year-old girl and a pig named O'Malley

Some people blow me away with their amazingness (yes, I know that's not a real word) and 14-year-old Sydney Morrow is one of them. Unlike a lot of people, instead of just talking about something, she took the initiative to start making her dreams come true.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, Sydney wrote News10 and sent us the cutest picture of her and the pig she was rasising for Future Farmers of America.  She wanted the station to come out and meet her pig, O'Malley, and maybe buy him at the El Dorado County Fair auction. 

I know writing a letter is just a small thing, but that's all it took to get my attention. While I wasn't able to buy the pig, I just had to meet this teen that made things happen -- and of course, her pig named O'Malley.

"I knew I was going to join FFA for a while. I was looking forward to it even before I got to high school," said Sydney.

Sydney is a freshman at Ponderosa High School and it turns out that the photo she sent in was the first time she had raised a pig. But she is definitely a girl with a plan. She told me her plan was to raise a market hog for the next four years, auction it off and put the money towards her college education.

She says raising O'Malley, who she named after a character in Grey's Anatomy, was both rewarding and challenging, but no matter how hard it was, she would raise pigs again. Her daily, year-long course involved taking care of O'Malley from the time he was weened until fair day. She says the whole process taught her valuable lessons such as how patience and dedication can pay off.

"I didn't expect the pig to be so hard to train. I have to clean him, feed him and do all this stuff to get him ready for the fair," said Sydney. "The hardest part was getting him to walk in the arena. The first time I tried, he wouldn't even go down. He gets grumpy sometimes and then there is nothing you can do."

Getting the animal ready for the judging at the fair is important and all 30 kids in her class were faced the same struggles. Not only did Sydney have to make sure O'Malley was well-exercised and toned in the right areas, she would have to get them in front of the judges or else he will be disqualified. She also had to make sure her pig was groomed -which means Sydney needed to bath O'Malley.

But Sydney isn't the only Ponderosa teen with a passion for animals and agriculture. There are 30 students in her class and some of them are from farming families.

"My family has been farming for six generations," said Rachel Bacchi. Rachel is raising three lambs and one goat this year.

Sean Golden, 16, also comes from a farming family. This year is his third time raising cattle.

"Cattle is a long process," said Sean. "Right now I have a three. I'm going to auction the steer this year and then breed the other two to get another calf."

Ponderosa high school started their Future Farmers of America (FFA) program in 1964 and it's never waned in popularity.

"We always have quite a lot of kids that want to get involved," said 16-year-old Sara Arsenault, regional FFA reporter. "We have an officer team that starts recruitment at middle schools to raise awareness and get students interested."

The program helps students learn the process of farming and the work involved. In the 2009-2010 school year, 210 students signed up for the Ponderosa FFA/Ag Department. Classes included everything from Agricultural Science, Ag Biology and Animal Science to Floral Design and Animal Health (pre-vet training). Many of the teens who take the program end up in agricultural fields or working with animals, which is why Sydney took the class.

"I really want to be a marine biologist or zoologist as I've always been in love with animals. My dream school is in Monterey because I heard they have a really good marine biology school," Sydney said.

The El Dorado County Fair is less than a week away. Sydney is nearly ready, but the hardest part is still to come. Her pig O'Malley is now about 200 pounds, and after watching him grow from a piglet to maturity, she knows it's going to be hard to auction him off and say goodbye.

"I'm probably going to end up crying," said Sydney. "It's going to be hard knowing I won't see him again."

Isn't she amazing?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Journalism: You've got to love it to work in it

It takes a certain type of person to be a journalist. You have to be dedicated, creative, a great listener, persistent, but most of all you have to be passionate…and maybe just a little bit crazy.

Last night was election night in California, which means it was a busy day for all of us at News10. Pumped full of caffeine and cookies, we were prepared to cover the races all night long –and then, after you had gone off to bed, we were still running around making sure we got the stories and raw interviews on the website, the tapes ingested for the morning team and memorable sound bites ready for follow up packages.

It sounds nuts, but let me tell you, it’s one electrifying experience.

Many of us (like me) started at 9 a.m. and at midnight were still there typing away as others shouted off final race results. Lesha on the news desk kept the rest of us in the loop all night with comments like: “NBA game over in 2 minutes. Lakers up. George on standby.” It’s one of those times where you can see how well our team works together, because even though it’s fast-paced, loud and constantly changing, it just feels right.

But our night wasn’t over yet.

At 12:30, just when the last of us were about to call it a day, a fire broke out at Broadway and 5th destroying the building beside the landmark Hong Kong Café.

We took one look at the massive flames and suddenly, got an extra burst of energy. Damien grabbed his video camera, I grabbed the digital camera to get photos and my notebook. Within a minute we were off and running.

Like I said, it takes a certain type of person to be a journalist.