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Pam Philips, Women's Paddling Ambassador, on her passion for white water

Pam Philips is one of British Canoeing's ten Women's Paddling Ambassadors. Having started paddling in 2015 when This Girl Can offered her six free lessons at Lee Valley, she has become passionate about white water and the fantastic things it has bought to her life. She chatted to us about her love for the sport.

You didn’t start paddling until you were in your sixties. Do you wish you had started sooner?

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'Yes! A Facebook memory popped up on my feed the other day, from December 2014. I had been walking at Lee Valley and posted a picture of people on the White Water course, with the comment ‘Rather them than me!’

How wrong can you be?! A couple of months later I received an email from This Girl Can offering six free lessons and I was hooked.'

How did you feel after that first session?

'Really pleased that I wasn’t cold! I always feel the cold and that had been my greatest worry. At my first session the coach lent me a pair of mitts and I was fine.

I got off the water and all I could think was ‘I can’t wait for next week!’

You clearly have a busy life. Do you find it easy to fit paddling in around everything else?

'I only live 1.5 miles from the Lee Valley White Water centre, so it’s really easy for me! I have seven grandchildren and am often helping helping to look after them. Paddling is great because I can pop out, have some fun on the water and be back in a two hour turnaround. Or I can stay for the day if I get the chance.

I can go out on evenings or weekends and sometimes go out early mornings. There are lots of different session and they’re so flexible that there is always a way to find time.

My husband doesn’t paddle but he has his own hobbies, such as volunteering for CanalAbility, so he is busy doing his own thing too. He does worry a little about my safety though and likes me to let him know when I get off the water.'

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There are lots of paddling disciplines to choose from. Why did you go for white water?

'It wasn’t a conscious decision really. Because my first lessons were on the water at Lee Valley I just got carried along.

I have done a few different things such as Boater X at the Women’s Rafting Day at Lee Valley, volunteering to help with British Canoeing starter sessions and some gentle paddles on the River Lee but it’s white water which I always come back to.'

What do you feel you get from your time on the water?

'I’m an adrenaline junkie and have never been one to sew or knit. I’ve always been into sports and used to horse ride when I was younger. I also love paragliding and rollercoasters! White water paddling gives me the adrenaline rush I need and I love the feeling of coming off the water and being tired because I have pushed and challenged myself.

Paddling takes me to another place when there is something in my life which is difficult or stressful. Whatever else is happening, for that couple of hours I am on the water my mind is completely focused.

I used to be a physiotherapist and have always tried to stay fit. I still cycle, swim and do Zumba and paddling has really improved my fitness for these. I am fitter now than I have been for twenty years; my stamina is loads better and I’ve discovered muscles in my legs that simply weren’t there before.'

How about off the water - is there a social side to your paddling?

'I have a pretty busy social life already and there is usually an age gap between me and my fellow paddlers but it has still added to my life. I have been on a few group trips and we go for meals.

One of the young ladies from my group often comes to stay at weekends to make her paddling easier.

Paddling gives me a buzz and a real sense of belonging. If you’ve got a paddle in your hand then suddenly there’s a bond.'

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Have there been any obstacles along your paddling journey?

'Not many really. I do get a little frustrated at not being able to keep up with the younger people. It took me longer to get to my Level 3 than the people I was paddling with who were in their twenties. Some of people I paddled with were ready to take their assessment for the Olympic course within a year.

Rolling is the bane of my life - I just can’t do it and had a bad experience on my progression to white water. I perceived that I was stuck in the boat when I couldn’t get my spray deck off while rolling. In reality the experience was over in seconds but it felt like longer and gave me nightmares for some time after. However, this fear has made me a better paddler as I am always determined to stay upright!'

You have come a long way in the short time you have been paddling. What’s next for you?

'I am always challenging myself to get better and like to set myself targets. This summer I am planning on doing an intensive course over a weekend. Previously I didn’t feel my fitness and stamina was up to this but it is now.

I would also like to go on more trips. A trip to Scotland saw me taking in five rivers in five days and I know there is so much more out there to explore.'

Thank you Pam, it has been great to talk to you and your enthusiasm really shines through. We're sure you will be a fantastic Women's Paddling Ambassador and inspire many other people to have a go at white water.