fit at mid-life · fitness · fun · kayak · winter

Dani Donders Has All The Fun: An Interview

Dani Donders is a kayak enthusiast and kicksledder who works for the federal government and lives in Manotick, Ontario with her family.

She is also an excellent role model for how to maximize your fun.

Dani and I have never actually met but we’ve known each other online since our kids were young and we both enjoy trying new things…but only on our own terms.

I have long enjoyed her writing and her photography and I love experiencing her various hobbies from afar. In the past few years, Dani has gotten into two activities that have especially intrigued me – kayaking and kicksledding- and I wanted to know more about them. I thought that the Fit is a Feminist Issue readers would enjoy hearing about them, too.

Thanks for the great interview, Dani!

Small confession: I didn’t know that a kicksled was called a kicksled and my interview questions originally called it a ‘winter slide thingy’ but now I know that it is either called a kicksled or a spark. Yes, I could have left that out of this post but then you wouldn’t get to grin a little at my expense…what’s the fun in that?

A person in a purple winter jacket and black pants stands on a kicksled on a snow-covered winter trail.
There’s Dani, having all the winter fun! Image description: Dani is facing the camera and smiling while standing on her kicksled on a snow-covered path with trees in the background. She has long dark hair and she s wearing a purple jacket, a multi-coloured scarf, and black pants. Her sled is made of a light wood but the treads are black.

What drew you to kicksledding and kayaking? Now that they are part of your regular routine, what do you enjoy about them?


I live on an island in the Rideau River and have pined for a canoe for the 10+ years we lived here, but for some reason I thought I had to get one that I could cram all three kids and both adults into – which would have been very expensive. Now that the kids are older, I felt comfortable buying a kayak and taking the time to go out on my own, away from the family. I’ve always been drawn to water, though. I’ve rented kayaks and canoes and even peddle boats and always loved them. I only wish I’d bought one years ago.


The kicksledding was more random. My friend Annie got one for Christmas, and I loved the idea of it. I’m afraid of falling, so I don’t really like skiing or skating, but I loved the fact that I wasn’t strapped to the kicksled – if I felt it was out of control or going too fast, I could just hop off. It was a bit of an impulse buy, but from the moment I tried it, I loved it. I absolutely love zooming down an icy trail, hugging the edge of being in control. It’s very exhilarating, while being quite safe!

I might have a bit of an obsessive personality, so for both kayaking and the spark, I didn’t just do it once or twice a month. I go out on long adventures on the sled (a 10 km run is my favourite length) and I have paddled more than 300 km so far this year in my kayak. Winter or summer, I’m out doing my favourite activity at least once a week but usually several times each week.

What sorts of physical activities did you do before getting into kayaking, etc?


I had a gym membership, and did hot yoga, but I did not do a lot of outdoor activities. I would say I struggled against being sedentary and am not a very “athletic” person. When I started kayaking last summer and then kicksledding last winter and started spending hours each weekend outdoors, I’d jokingly say, “why didn’t anyone tell me outside was so awesome?” This new-found outdoorsiness is very uncharacteristic for me.

How do your current sport activities contribute to your life?


Especially during the pandemic, both kayaking and kicksledding were enormous stress relievers, and while I go solo most of the time, both lent themselves well to social distancing so were a key form of socializing during the pandemic. What I didn’t expect was how empowering they would be. There’s something that makes me feel like a badass when I can lift my own kayak on top of my car and tie it down and then undo it all and get my kayak in the water by myself. I am actually afraid a lot of the time when I’m kayaking – I don’t like deep water, or seaweed, or bugs, or wide open spaces, and spend a lot of the time when I’m paddling talking myself out of being scared. So that’s empowering, too.


I’ve also gotten enormous peace of mind and stress relief from being physically active. This level of activity is unprecedented in my life. I was a regular but unenthusiastic attendee in the weight room of the local gym, and I did enjoy weekly yoga, but the idea of spending hours outside sweating in -30C temperatures is definitely new for a girl who always considered herself clumsy and unathletic. And it’s made me love my body, for all its softness and pudge, because it’s proven amazingly strong and capable. I used to get aching knees and hips from walking anything more than 5 km, but I can easily paddle 15 km or kicksled 10 km across ice on a winter morning. I would have never imagined I’d be capable of doing that, and I’m really proud of my middle aged body for showing up, if not a little late to the game.

If someone you knew wanted to take up kayaking or kicksledding, how would you advise them to get started?


Both sports have relatively low barriers to entry in that they’re pretty easy to just hop in or on and go. In both cases, there was a cost of about $400 for equipment. I’d recommend anyone who is thinking about it go ahead and get started – one of my only regrets is that I waited as long as I did to get a kayak. Both kayaks and kicksleds are often available locally for rent if someone wanted to try it out before plunking down an impulsive $400 each time like I did. I’m just happy it worked out – both the kayak and the kicksled would have made awkward, expensive paperweights if I happened to not love them as much as I did.

The front of a blue kayak sits on calm water. There is a blue thermos and a half-eaten cookie sitting on the top of a small zippered compartment.
And here’s evidence of some of Dani’s spring fun. She and I share a ‘bring a snack’ philosophy. Image description: The front of Dani’s blue kayak from her perspective. In the foreground is a blue thermos and a chocolate covered cookie with a bite out of it resting on the zippered flap of the kayak’s storage compartment. Beyond the kayak, there is calm water and leafless trees. The trees are reflected in the water.

This blog is called ‘Fit is a Feminist Issue,’ how does the idea of fitness as a feminist issue resonate with you? What meaning does it have for you?


This gets back to the empowerment issue, I think. In both cases, kayaking and kicksledding are activities I do entirely for me, and largely by myself. As a mom to three kids, it’s empowering to carve that space for myself back into my life. I tend to go for excursions very early in the morning so it doesn’t interrupt our other family rhythms too much, but I’ve made taking the time to enjoy these activities a priority in our family routines. I think this teaches the family that it’s okay to do things for yourself, and that taking care of yourself is an act of love.

Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself, your activities, fitness, or feminism and fitness?


Kayaking is a pretty common sport, but the spark is very unusual and my friends all thought it was (might still think it is) pretty weird. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out that someone hasn’t stopped me to comment on it – usually with a smile in response to how much FUN I’m obviously having. So I’d also say don’t be afraid to follow your heart, even if other people think it’s a little unconventional.

I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a conventional gym again. Fitness used to be a chore that I did – going to the gym was important because I know exercise is a big part of a healthy life. What I didn’t realize was that when you find an activity that makes your heart soar, it’s not even remotely a chore. When I’m zooming down an icy trail or paddling up to a turtle sunning itself on a branch, I’m transported with joy and my muscles are just along for the ride. I haven’t been to a gym or done a yoga class in a year, but I’m in the best shape of my life. So whether it’s gardening or ultramarathons, don’t be afraid to try new things (even if you are on the far side of 50 like me) and don’t be afraid to follow an unconventional path.

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See what I mean about Dani as a role model for fun?

Do you have a kayak or a kicksled or do you find your fitness fun in other activities?

kayak · Sat with Nat

Nat had a great time kayaking!

A couple weeks after arriving in McAdam my cousin Tina invited me to join her and some other women for an afternoon of kayaking on Wauklehegan Lake.

Tina and I have known each other our whole lives and have a long history of laughing a lot so I was thrilled to be invited.

The big day came and I was lucky to be able to borrow all the gear I needed from my mom from safety kit to personal flotation device to kayak and paddle. AMAZING!

At the dock I recognized a few women and chatted as everyone got gear in the water. Tina’s daughter Vanessa joined us. It was great to get to know her a bit. She’s a really cool human.

Natalie and Tina try to take a selfie on the shore. Vanessa successfully photobombs to great comedic effect.

The pace was laid back and the weather outstanding. There was a wide variety of watercraft: canoes, paddle board (go Vanessa!), two person kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and all models and sizes of recreational kayaks

We made our way up the lake to Sandy Beach, chatting, drinking, laughing and wondering at the splendor all around us.

At one moment we were surrounded by a school of palm sized white perch that were fining and jumping all around us. The water practically boiled from their efforts.

On the water, looking at Sandy Beach where dozens of brightly colored kayaks line the shore. Behind are women in swimwear sitting and standing in groups having a wonderful time.

Every event needs a commemorative tank top and beverage coozie. These were made by Jenni and super fun! Her brother is married to another of my cousins so it was great to see her again.

White text on a tie dyed background reads “girls trip cheaper than therapy 2021”

There was over 35 vessels all told and with that many folks you tend to cluster into smaller groups. Tina, Vanessa and I ended paddling with mother daughter teams, Kerri & Emily (who I think maybe we are related on my dad’s side?) as well as Fonda & Destiny. I met Fonda when I was very young, she’s the nearest and dearest friend of my other cousin Nicole. These relational things are so important, you’ll see why later.

Most of the folks are in this photo while others are taking photos for us. Thank you photographers! We are wearing our commemorative tank tops. I’m with my daughter for the moment Emily, laughing.

As we got back on the lake after libations some folks made a direct line back to the landing. It was so beautiful Tina suggested we take a circuitous route around a nearby island. We were joined by Lindsay who I had met at the beginning of the trip. (We never got to last names…this is important later) Kerri and Emily agreed to hang out for a bit before going to see other friends.

So we toddled about for a few hours, chatting with people Tina knew on a jet ski, a couple who have this vessel made from two 14’ aluminum boats held together with a dock on top, to a fellow with a boat and an Adirondack chair bolted in for passengers.

They were lots of great conversations and laughs. I did get a bit sunburned. Oopsie!

When we finally decided our trip was over Lindsay kindly offered to give me and my kayak a lift home. When her beloved arrived with their truck I introduced myself, as I had been doing all day as few people knew me or recognized me. The man burst out laughing, it was another of my cousins, Jamie, who I didn’t recognize as it had been too long. Lindsay thought that was hilarious as she knew how I was related to her. I was the clueless one!

I was so thankful for a day of companionship and gentle movement, not for working out or getting to a destination.

It was a wonderful way to reconnect to old friends and make new ones. Thank you for the invite Tina!