Meet Patricia Kittelberger

This is Patricia's first year in the Lake Erie Challenge and she's already making sure her impact is being felt far and wide. Learn how Patricia is making stand-up paddleboarding more accessible for youth and making sure that Lake Erie will be there for the generations that come after her. 

Hey Patricia! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, absolutely! My name is Patricia Kittelberger. I was born and raised in St. Thomas, Ontario. However, I've spent many years in other places across Canada. I've also lived in Calgary and Winnipeg as well.

The sport that I'm going to be doing in the Challenge is stand-up paddleboarding, so I'll be part of Team SUP and working with the Caldwell youth in the final five kilometres of the Challenge, which I'm so excited about. And I'm 44 years old! I know some of the team members are a bit younger than me, so I'm hoping to be able to keep up with the younger group and I'm really excited to be a part of it. 

And we're excited to have you! So can we dive a bit deeper into your story with stand-up paddleboarding and how you got into it? 

Yeah, absolutely. I've been stand-up paddleboarding for about three or four years. And I started actually with a group that's called Wild Women Expeditions. I started travelling with them and I attended this event that they were holding in Parry Sound called Women on Water.

I was really interested in the event because it was all primarily women and it was a skills weekend where they teach you how to paddleboard or kayak or canoe, whatever your interest was linked with. And so I booked this weekend for myself and I went up there and I was introduced to paddling with that group and I immediately fell in love with it.

I spent the weekend on the water and I was actually super excited about getting up at 5:30 in the morning. We'd all have coffee and get out on the water. And I've been paddling ever since! It just lit this fire within me, you know? When you're on the water, on the paddleboard, especially in the morning, and it's quiet - you hear noises you don't hear every day when you're stuck in the city or you're working. So yeah, I got started with them and I just haven't stopped. I just keep going. 

That's awesome. And how you're speaking about your memories and the tranquillity of the mornings of the water actually flows really nicely into our next question: do you have a favourite memory of your time on Lake Erie?

On Lake Erie? You know I was thinking about that because when I first learned how to paddle it was primarily on smaller bodies of water that were always very calm. So you never really had to worry about strong currents or waves or anything like that.

So I live about 15 minutes away from Lake Erie. I'm really close to Port Bruce and Port Stanley and I initially started paddling in Port Bruce. That was where I was spending a lot of my time and finding my solace. So one of my favourite memories was going out there. It was later in the day, not getting quite dark but it was later in the day and I took a paddle towards the cliffs in Port Bruce. There's a lot of clay around and things like that but the water was very calm and there weren't many people around. And it was so quiet that I laid out on my board and I was staring up at the sky and wherever I looked at there was water and the cliffs. It was just absolutely beautiful and it was the first time I could honestly say my mind just closed out everything and it was just absolute quiet in the mind and I went, "How can people not love this?" And so those cliffs were my first experience of Lake Erie on the board and where I really started to cruise around get the feeling for it.

But that's also when I noticed that it's changing. There's a lot of change happening in Lake Erie. Because I grew up in the area, I was thinking back to how much it has actually changed with the cliffs falling away, with the water levels changing, that particular area has lost probably half of its beach.

So there's a couple of facets that sort of fascinate me about that. First is the power of water.  I think as humans we completely underestimate it. But then there's also the changing of the environment that I think is related to how we treat the areas and climate in general, and the effects that these powerful forces have on the earth. And until you sit back and think about your childhood and realize, "Oh my gosh, it used to look like this", or "I remember when..." And you start having these conversations with people, and I think that's when you really realize the depth in which our lakes have actually changed.

Wow, so you've been able to see those changes happening in person! Did those changes take place over a few years? Or has that been a little bit longer than that?

It's been a few years that I've actually spent time focusing on and noticing the changes within the lakes and the areas surrounding the lakes. As a kid growing up, I didn't focus on those types of changes. But now, since I've entered this world of paddling and finding this passion, my focus is more on the elements rather than on less important things that I focused on in my teen years. So yeah, since entering the paddling world, I find myself spending more time focusing on the changes that have been taking place. 

That's wonderful that paddling helped you create this connection to where you are, where you live and everything that's happening around you. And again, that ties really beautifully into our next question: what made you want to get involved in the Lake Erie Challenge this year?

You know, it really is because in the last few years, as I've been noticing these changes, one of the questions I've been asking myself, and I think everybody asks themselves is, "Where can I make a positive, impactful change?"

And if you can tie that impactful change into a sport or something that you're passionate about? I mean, you can't ask for a better combination. So getting tied in with the Freshwater Alliance and as a Water Ranger and starting to do water testing and garbage cleanups, that's been really exciting. So, not only am I making a positive change, but I'm meeting a lot of really great amazing people that share the same type of passion and mindset.

But the Challenge itself, it was exciting for me from a few different aspects actually. Firstly because of the involvement with the Caldwell First Nations group. A goal of mine, as I progress forward into the paddling world, is that I share my passion with not just the Caldwell First Nations community but all communities that would not otherwise be able to be exposed to these types of sports, whether it due to finances or community involvement or just not knowing that this even exists. So part of my passion is to bring this sport to those types of communities.

Then behind that, you meet a lot of really amazing people when doing stuff like the Challenge, and they all have the same passion for what you're doing, and you can learn new things. For example, with the paddling, I met Derek because I took one of his courses. Lake Erie has a number of different ways in which it shows itself. It can be very calm waters, it can have wavy waters, and you have a lot of fun when you're out there paddling.

So one of the things that a friend of mine and I decided was that we wanted to learn how to surf the Lake Erie waves. We had played in the waves with our boards and we thought, you know what, this is super fun, but we should probably learn how to do this properly before we hurt ourselves.

And that's how I met Derek! Derek had taught us how to properly and safely surf the Lake Erie waves and so I think the Challenge allows me to also step out of my comfort zone. And I think everybody kind of needs to learn to do that, you know, to feel that adrenaline rush to learn that new sport, to figure out if you don't already know how amazing this particular element is. It's a part of our world if you've never experienced it, you should learn how much fun you can have. 

I would love to circle back for just a second. You were talking about how you want to bring paddleboarding into communities that don't usually have access to it. And in particular, you've brought in the Caldwell First Nation, and they're going to be paddling the final few kilometres with you and the athletes. Can you tell me a little bit about how that all came about to be this year?

Yeah, absolutely. So, when I first met Derek, we learned that we shared a First Nations background. He had attended a number of First Nations schools growing up and then myself being a part of the Caldwell First Nation. That created a connection between us and as we talked about our passion for paddleboarding and what we wanted to do, we found ourselves in this position where we both really wanted to bring this forward to the First Nations that don't have access to it.

First Nations people are, we are water people, that's who we are. We live off the land. And I think that knowing that, and doing that, and the kind of joy that the sport and the water brings to me, I want to find a way to share that with these communities. So having the youth involved was was something that we thought, "Well nobody else is offering this to the youth, or even to adults in general." So when we first talked to Caldwell First Nation about being a part of this Challenge, the goal was to be able to introduce the sport and the love of Lake Erie to the youth and to safely teach them how to enjoy the waters. They may have never been able to experience paddleboarding or see what windfoiling is or surfing even. So it's exciting for me to be able to work with the next generation of people, to grow the sport, and to bring attention to the things that are happening in our lakes.

There's a lot that I'm uncovering being a part of the Freshwater Alliance that I didn't know before. Right now I'm in learning mode. I didn't know about all these different types of algae, or what to look for or where they come from, or about the impacts they're having on our waters. And I thought if I don't know, who else doesn't know? And what better way to introduce this stuff, but to our youth who can grow and continue to teach other people and, hopefully, have a positive impact on our lakes moving forward? So that's our goal!

What youth are doing around the world right now, at home and around the world is so inspiring. They're just they're rising up in a way that I've never seen before. 

Oh, absolutely. They have more motivation than I did when I was a youth!

Yeah, when you mentioned not that paying attention to things going on in your teenage years, I think a lot of us can relate to that! And be thankful that there's such a great group coming up.

Yeah, definitely. 

Tying into that you mentioned a little bit about learning about the problems that Lake Erie is facing. Are there any threats to Lake Erie that really concern you in particular?

You know, I can't pinpoint one. One of the things that I told myself during this process was that I really needed to place myself in learning mode. So as I mentioned, I've been spending more time really trying to acknowledging the changes that are taking place, being more mindful of what those changes are, and taking on the action of actually learning more, like how to recognize other things that I don't know. So as I mentioned, algae blooms. I didn't really know what that was, so I'm taking the time to really understand what they are and the impact they're having on our lakes, and how we can make a change, how we can reverse those impacts.

It's something that I want to continue to learn about. I want to continue to learn about things that we can make a change on, like how industry is affecting our lakes and what species are at risk in our lakes and what species are invading. And I think that the topic itself is so widespread, that I haven't been able to say, "Okay, there's just one thing that we need to fix as the human race." I think there are multiple things kind of going on. And so I want to take all of those in, and then try and figure out how, as one person, I can educate others, while also taking the action to help? You know, how can I do my part to make this better? So I can't pinpoint one. But I am learning that there are a lot of different things that are impacting our lakes, and not in a great way. And I want to figure out what my part is to help change that. 

You've touched on this already, but have you been personally impacted by any of the issues you mentioned or the other issues that are affecting Lake Erie?

I don't know so much about whether I personally have been affected by it, but I see it now. And when I think about the impact that it's going to have, I'm more concerned about the generations that follow us. If we continue down the course that we are going down today, there may not be a Lake Erie for children to swim in or for somebody to go paddling or do yoga or to surf. So, I'm trying to imagine what it would look like even 50 to 100 years from now and a lot of people think, "Oh, that's so far away, it's not going to affect me." No, but it's gonna affect my children and my grandchildren. So when I think about my grandchildren that I have now, I'm like, "What is this body of water gonna look like for them growing up?" And then, "How can I educate them so that they can respect the waters and and do their part?" So from a personal impactful viewpoint, it's more about how is it going to impact the generations behind me if we don't do our part now.

You want them to have a lake to swim in. I was reading about so often there will be a pollution warning. And officials tell us not to swim in the lake. And why is the answer not, "What can we do about this pollution?" Don't we want the lake to be there for your kids and my kids? And everyone's kids?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because you see a lot of those warnings, you know, saying it's not safe to swim in and people say, "Well, I guess we're not going to go swimming today." And I think that question needs to be, "Wow, why is the lake so polluted?" And, "What can we do to prevent that from happening?" We're just not asking the right questions.

We've been normalizing pollution as a part of life, when reality is that it isn't and that we shouldn't be. We should be doing something about it.

But even on social when they advertise not to swim in the lake because there's too much pollution, I think it would be more advantageous for them to say why it's polluted. Yes, we understand there's pollution. Where did that come from? Why is it unsafe for us to be in there? And I think we forget about the important piece of it.

It would be really powerful to let people know what the cause is.

Yeah, changing the message!

I think we're onto something here.

(Laughs) I think we are too!

We'll have to keep this in mind after the interview. And speaking of which, what does it mean for you to come together with other Lake Erie citizens for the Lake Erie Challenge?

Oh, my goodness, it opened me up to this whole new world. When I talk to the folks that are involved in this Challenge and you can see the excitement in them, the passion in their expressions when everyone is coming up with different ideas to get the message out and how we bring this very important event to people's to people's awareness -- that is absolutely amazing to me and I'm very honored and privileged to be able to be a part of this Challenge.

And I hope that through this Challenge, that the part that I'm going to play will impact the people that I know, and maybe people that I don't know! And that it's going to bring awareness and it's going to be an amazing challenge, and fun, and absolutely physically challenging.

And I don't think it stops there. It can't stop that day, it needs to continue on, we need to continue to spread the awareness outside of the Challenge. I think the people that are involved in the Challenge are all big-hearted, wonderful people with the same goals as everybody else: to share the passion for the sport and to bring awareness to Lake Erie and the challenges that the lake has itself. So I'm just really honoured to be a part of it. And excited to learn more about it so that I can teach people that I know about what I've learned.

I love that. You'll be a central point radiating out to everybody at all your networks and communities. Well, before sign off today, I was wondering if you could share a fun fact about yourself!

You know, a fun fact about me that I will tell you is I'm not very good about talking about myself. So I actually called my daughter and I said, "What is a fun fact about me?" And she said "Mom, you're like a turtle. You love the water and being around water." 

And I think that's true. I'm really light-hearted kind of person. I love to go with the flow and the turtle is who I am. 

But I'm also an adventure junkie. And I can best describe that in zip lining. So I really love to zip line. And I don't know what it is, if it's the adrenaline rush behind it, but if there's a zip line, I'm doing it. I love the speed, the wind and the air. One of the most memorable zip-lining experiences I had was when I went to Los Cabos a couple of years ago. And when I think back to it, I'm like, "Oh my God, that wasn't very smart of me." It was over like this canyon. And I was going fast. And I got distracted by the view of the ocean. So, I'm going over this canyon, and I'll say right now, the moral of the story is to break a lot earlier than you should because it's a pretty hard stop.

So I'm full of adventure. I love to try new things. I love being pushed out of my comfort zone to see what else can I experience. I think we spend too much time working and not enough time living. And that's something that I've been learning to do for the last several years now. We're here to live life and to have amazing experiences and to meet amazing people around the world and just learn. So that's what I got.

I love it. I'm imagining you slamming into the end of that zip line so hard! (Laughs)

(Laughs) You know, because I hit that so hard my teeth chattered! And the crew is looking at me and they're like, "Are you okay?" And I'm like, "I'm good. I got my adrenaline, I got my ocean view." 

It's just this freeing feeling. You've got your arms out, the wind's blowing in your hair, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, this is amazing." and then "Oh, crap, right. Here's the end!"

(Laughs) Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, and for your very insightful answers.

That was awesome. Oh, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

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