A River Runs Through It
Deborah Sommer is a full time marketing executive with Microsoft, mother to a fourteen year old son and a weekend river rafting guide on the Wenatchee River. Deborah took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions and hopefully inspire moms everywhere to recognize their own life's adventures!
#1. How did you get started in river rafting, and then guiding?
[Deborah Sommer] I was introduced to rafting as a teen with my parents; it was one of those thrill-seeking activities that seemed, well, like something you might die while doing. As such, it was my cup of tea. Funny, as much of a thrill seeker as I convinced myself I was, every time I thought I might fall out, I clung to whatever I could grab (including people) to make sure I was secure (ok, I wasn’t THAT much of a ‘fraidy’ cat but I sure thought about it). The first time I fell out of a raft I completely freaked out and thought I was going to die. Of course, I was hooked. (rafting is the best thing next to roller coasters and flying…..)
I took many rafting trips down Washington and Oregon rivers but never once did I consider guiding. Long story short, I met some really sharp, quick-witted gals that guided the trips I went on. One of the gals was an attorney- and here I thought all guides were just life-loving hippies and laid –back jobless folk. They suggested guide training, in hopes of leveling out the trade with more women. Given training started when snow was still on the ground, I quickly shunned the idea.
My family decided to get a 14 foot raft—once I realized that meant we weren’t going to float aimlessly down a nice slow river, I didn’t want to be left behind on the river bank. I had a son to protect (he’s rolling his eyes as I write this) and by gosh, since guiding a raft raised my stress level, I was going to overcome that one. After all, it seemed possible to enjoy the river and be in control of the boat.
#2. What's the most challenging aspect of juggling a career, a teenager and being a rafting guide?
I’m sure the moms out there will be familiar with this one--- balance. I have a lot of drive to succeed at whatever I do, and each of these areas can be incredibly time consuming and each have different cares and needs. It’s been really important to keep my priorities in clear view so that I can determine what to fight for, what to let go and what to enjoy. I’m not perfect, my son will certainly tell you that. But, I am happy and feel excited about the things that I’m achieving. By involving my son in as many areas of my life as he is willing, I am giving him a taste of what life can offer. I am very proud of him; he’s gaining some solid river experience and will be able to apply what he’s learned to his daily life experience. I really look forward to my weekends out on the river with him, it's serious quality time.
#3. What was the most harrowing event you've experienced on the water so far?
OOOHHHH. The most memorable is being 'maytagged' on the Wenatchee River. We were practicing swimming the bigger rapids to get a feel for how to react to the water in a rescue situation as well as to just know what it feels like.
I swam a rapid called Suffocator, a beautiful wave with a small drop-off on the other side. The wave was about to crest as I was sucked down and over a smooth rock surface. I held my breath as I was pushed through the wave crest. I felt my body get pulled down and I expected to bounce up and through. Instead, I felt “stuck,” so I reached up, thinking I would swim. I kept pushing my hands up hoping someone would grab them. Air was hard to come by. My head popped above the water and I took a breath, and then was sucked down 3 more times. I panicked first- then made calm enter into my brain. There has never been a doubt in my mind- the river has the power. Remembering that you need to understand hydraulics and use the river’s power is key.
#4 What goes through your mind when you're out on the river?
I feel really peaceful yet more awake and aware than at any other circumstance in my life. I love being out on the water and watching the wildlife as well as watching the water current and figuring out how to hit the waves to be sure everyone has a great time. Being out there helps me focus on the important things in my life- family, fun, peace.
#5 What advice would you give to working mothers to inspire them to follow their own adventures?
The river is something I look forward to, it helps me remember I'm my own person, not the sum of day to day tasks. Taking the words of Eleanor Roosevelt (http://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/), you should ‘do something every day that scares you.’ I am so easily sucked into daily existence because it is very busy- there isn’t any other way to spin that one. The hardest thing about life is, truly, living it to the full extent. I love the taste and excitement when I get out and try new things. If anything has taught me how short life is, it is my son. Nothing passes more quickly than the time we have to shape our kids. I felt proud when my son told me that he thought it was cool that we were doing things together outside—when he looks back I hope he will remember me as someone who showed him how to try new things.
I want to thank Deborah for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope that this inspires moms out there everywhere to go for it!