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?
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.
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.
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?