Women in Paddlesport – Joan Breen Paddler Profile

CANI believes that a diverse membership and participation base makes for a more enjoyable experience for all, and our current members – including women and men of all ages – come from a wide range of backgrounds. But research shows that significantly fewer women take part in all sports and physical activity as compared to men, and canoeing is no exception to this rule. Currently, our female members make up less than 25% of the total, which we believe is nowhere near enough!!

We’ve looked at sporting research, and there are some surprising results. Many women and girls, when thinking of taking up a new sport, will first think “I’ll be no good at that,” where men are more likely to think “Yes, that’ll be good fun, I’ll give it a go!” With something like canoeing, women may also doubt their ability to keep up with a group, or their physical strength, and then of course there are practical issues, such as time – and the ability to juggle the demands of work, family and personal time, with personal time often losing out!!

We’d love to see more women on the water, and in the hope of inspiring you to come along and join us, we’ve asked some of our female paddlers to share their stories – Our first article is by Joan Breen (nee McAleer) read on, and see what you think. There’ll be more stories in future issues, so keep on watching this space 😊

Thanks, Angela


How did you start canoeing?
I started paddling 11 years ago when I finished my undergrad at Jordanstown after friends convinced me to give it a go and use it as a good way to get over my fear of water. The first 3 years I don’t really count as I was too scared all the time to really enjoy it. I had decided to give it up at that point but then they made president of the club. This was actually a blessing in disguise as it really made me step up my skills and confidence as there was a lot more expected of me since I was president. Since then I’ve done whitewater, sprint, surf, open boat touring and sea kayaking but my main focus is whitewater.

I started a female group called Paddle Like Females (PLF) a few years back which went well for a while but travelling with work plus getting married and buying a house meant it had to take a back seat though i do plan to get it going again in the future. I used to do a lot of paddling with UUJCC, PLF, LCP and BCC when I had most of my weekends free and would attend all the CANI Rec paddles and Paddlefest every year. I was on the CANI coaching panel for 2 years and had been working towards my whitewater 4* assessment when I started a family.

What have been your memorable moments?
The most memorable moments are:

  • kayaked a grade 3/4 river at a Women on Whitewater meet and meeting killer whales sit on top kayaking in New Zealand while on honeymoon.
  • Whitewater trips with Tollymore to Scotland and France.
  • Rolling on the L’Argentière-la-Bessée slalom course in France,
  • CANI Rec paddle – the Great Glen Way in Scotland,
  • Sea kayaking at paddlefest around Kinnego Bay in Donegal
  • Sprint kayaking – wonderfully simple in theory but hard to do
  • Was an official for the sprint competition at the world police and fire games.
  • Open boating to an island on lough key and camping the night in the grounds of an old Franciscan monastery
  • Freshers weekends for UUJCC – Particularly when the Mourne and Owenkillew rivers are at high levels
  • Seeing club members progress and get better, especially ones that didn’t think they could paddle

What challenges have you experienced?
Firstly I had a fear of water which I slowly overcame by repeatedly getting out and paddling. I guess my confidence issues would have been tied into this but i definitely lacked it when trying to challenge myself. I often got intimidated particularly on play waves and testing out the limits of my skills. I was often very conscious of swimming which may have resulted in rescues as I worried about keeping people back and ruining other peoples fun as it meant they would have to stop playing to rescue me.

I suppose I’ve always been worried about what people thought which in turn had a negative effect on my paddling skills. This was one of the reasons I started the PLF group to create a more welcoming environment on outings that I felt comfortable with to push myself, I felt that being out with all females or certainly a majority of females would do that and it did.

Currently my main challenge is my lack of time due to having a baby, changes in my body as a result and feelings of guilt about how I should use my time. I had a cesarean which has had a massive impact on my body, my core muscles have become very weak and it is taking a good amount of time to build them back up again doing various exercises provided to be me by my physio.

There is no doubt about it, my baby takes up a lot of time which means that full days paddles and weekend overnight trips are out for me are now, I guess I could still do them but I wouldn’t enjoy them since I’m spending so much time away from my child. I have no problem leaving my baby with my husband or using a babysitter, it’s just that time away is so precious that I could be using it to get stuff done or simply taking some time for myself like reading a book, going for a walk etc which is a lot less hassle and effort to do than going kayaking. However despite all this I’m determined to get back out again and really enjoy my time out on the water again.

What are your paddling plans?
Now my baby is a bit older and on solids it a bit easier to be able to leave her so I plan to start off doing some short gentle paddles. Then depending on how my body is and the availability of babysitters I’d like to get back out doing whitewater and working towards my 4* assessment. Before I got pregnant I bought a playboat which I have yet to have it out on the water. I’d like to get out in it and get into playboating, I think it will suit me better now due to the typical park and play nature of it. Short term I would like to start back with the CANI Rec paddles and some open boat paddles. Longer term I would like to get back to whitewater get my 4* and maybe some coaching qualifications, I’d like to return to sprint paddling again too and rekindle the Paddle Like Females club. However first things first, the next Rec!!

Thank you for reading


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