Remembering Steve Senior

This past week at ALF we lost a member of our community.  I received a Facebook message that day; a dispatch from the river that shook my core.  Steve Senior had come out of his boat, was flushed into a hydraulic, and his foot became entrapped.  Just about the worst combination of events possible became possible.  And an unlikely outcome for that particular rapid, became a reality.

The paddlers on the rescue team were second to none.  I know many of them personally and can attest to their skill level, training and  commitment to swiftwater rescue.  Each individual is one who would do anything within their means to perform a rescue; I can only imagine the magic that happened when they came together as a team.  They got him out after several minutes submerged and performed CPR.  He responded at the scene but died later in hospital.

This incident left me reeling.  My heart goes out to Steve’s family, to those who love him, and to his fellow paddlers and rescuers who witnessed a death on a river.  It is haunting to lose someone this way.  It is too sudden, too unreal, too tragic.

For the past week I have been pondering why it is we do what we do – why we paddle whitewater rivers.  There is the beauty of the land and water for sure, but there is something else.  There is the rush, the adrenaline, the risk factor.  Activities like paddling whitewater expose us to risk in ways we avoid in everyday life.  Why are we drawn to risk?  And is it worth it?  Perhaps some risk is necessary to feel alive, vital and real.  Perhaps it is psychologically necessary.  Is it?

There is a zone, a sweet-spot for risk.  A place where there is enough risk to push our limits, but not so much that we are paralyzed with fear.  This is a place where we can push the boundaries of our comfort zones and learn.   In this place risk is calculated, mitigated, but not eliminated.  As a teacher I spent years trying to create this space and bring my students there.  I have witnessed immense growth of character and spirit in the cradle of this space.  The experience of calculated risk has become a fundamental value that I have taken into parenthood.

But risk is not without, well, risk.  Steve was in that zone of calculated and mitigated risk and he had a freak accident.   And he’s gone.  Without risk, he would still be with us today, but would he have lived the life he wanted to live? Would he have enjoyed the sport he had come to love? Would he have seen and done the things he was able to do in a canoe?  Would he have grown into the person he was?

So here’s the dilemma: it could have been any of us.  It could have been you.  It could have been me, father of three little boys who need me to watch them grow up.  Is it still worth the risk?  Should I stay home?  Or should I steady my nerves and get back out to the magic place of growth-through-risk?

This tragedy leaves me with more questions than answers.  I will continue to paddle, continue to mitigate risk for myself and my students.  I will still embrace a certain amount of risk, because that’s why we paddle whitewater.

I will also be more wary next time I am on the water.  And I will spend a moment in silence in memory of Steve Senior.

5 thoughts on “Remembering Steve Senior

  1. Great thoughts here, Andy. Thanks for sharing. Very sad news and although I don’t know Steve, I feel his loss as part of our extended paddling family.

  2. Great piece Andy. Thank you.
    I paddled with Steve last year and had looked forward to paddling with him again this year as we both were going to train for slalom racing.

    At ALF, I paddled with Steve and Ken G on Sunday where we all ran the ledges and Baby Falls on the Tellico. Steve had a great run and successfully landed Baby Falls.
    He had a great day and I showed him the pictures on Monday at breakfast.
    Bill K

  3. Hi Andy,

    Thank you for your thoughts. We have been going through the same thoughts and have come up with the same answer. Andrew and the crew did such a great job. Realistically we have also to look at everyday risks we face, whether driving in snow, city, walking down stairs etc.
    Steve was having a great day and was in top form. We all swam that rapid at one time or another. Would I have counselled him differently? No. He had all the information, skill, judgement and mindset for that rapid. It was truly a freak accident. Do I change what I do? Personally, no as I always mitigate and teach for success in the student which includes pushing them in a “safe” environment to achieve more when they are ready. My challenge is now how do I deal with my own mind, dwelling on the positive vs guilt, seeing the line vs danger, embracing the water for what it is and not the potential of hurt. We did that by getting back on the horse, as it were and paddling as soon as we could get back on the water. Each of us in our own way finding our place again with the waves and eddies. Feeling the joy in paddling that we always knew and that Steve loved. I think of him and what he would say and hear “Don’t be silly. Get back out there.”

  4. I was there and helped pull Dr. Steve up on a rock to work on him. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget what I saw and felt that day. I have boated seval days since then, I dont know if it will ever feel the same as before.

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