A journey home to Joy
Interview: Sarah Thornely
Photos: Charlotte Graham, Frit Tam & Jo Moseley
Jo – you describe yourself as a joy encourager, beach cleaner and midlife adventurer – can we ask about the life-changing moment that led you to this place.
A few years ago, in spring 2013, I found myself at a very low point. I was a busy single working Mum, juggling all the things! My parents were having chemotherapy – my Dad has had breast, bowel and skin cancer, and my mum was being treated for Lymphoma. I felt overwhelmed, anxious and desperate for a good night’s sleep. I thought it was all down to stress and didn’t realise that, aged 48, I was also experiencing symptoms of perimenopause.
One afternoon the boys and I were in Tesco’s supermarket in the biscuit aisle. I remember dropping my bags, leaning against the shelves of chocolate and bursting into tears. “I can’t do this; I can’t do this anymore.” I sobbed. I looked at the chocolate Hob Nobs and thought to myself, “how did my life come to this?” Part of my journey back to joy and feeling well over the last few years has been encouraging other women to put themselves on The Priority List, find what makes them happy and cheerleading them along the way.
What did you do to change your life after that, and did you have encouragement from others?
A few days later, I shared with a friend what had happened, and she gave me an old indoor rowing machine suggesting exercise might help me sleep. Within two weeks of using it at home, I slept well, and everything felt better and brighter.
My Mum died later that year on December 21st 2013. On May 5th 2014, on what would have been my parents’ wedding anniversary, I began a rowing challenge to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support to say thank you for all their help. I rowed a million metres, two half marathons and a marathon in her memory, and we raised £10,000 with Gift Aid. The marathon was on the first anniversary of her death and five days before my 50th birthday.
Can you tell me when you first stepped on a paddleboard? Where was this, and did someone introduce you to paddling?
I remember the moment so clearly! September 24th 2016, in the Lake District and I booked an afternoon with Lake District Paddleboarding. I had injured my knee at the start of the year and needed crutches for some time. I’d read that SUP was perfect for building your core strength and yet would not negatively impact my knee; that was slowly healing. I began a project on September 1st called Rain or Shine 30, where I promised myself I would spend 30 minutes being active outside each day for my physical and mental wellbeing. Until my paddleboarding lesson, I was walking, so this was a fabulous treat.
The minute I stood up and looked out onto the lake and breathed in the fresh air, I knew that this would be something special in my life. For the first time in months, I felt like a warrior, not a worrier. I couldn’t stop smiling or talking about how wonderful it was for hours!
Just a few years later, you undertook quite an incredible challenge for someone relatively new to the sport? Can you tell us a little about that?
I had the idea to SUP coast to coast from Liverpool to Goole along the Leeds Liverpool Canal and Aire + Calder Navigation shortly after my first lesson in the Lakes in 2016. I recently found lots of notes on my phone about the idea – I’d even created a logo!
However, when I told some people about my idea, the response was less than encouraging. They said it sounded pretty boring, logistically complex and possibly too hard for someone my age! I was only 51! I wasn’t very confident in my abilities, so I decided against pursuing my dream and tucked it away in my heart.
In January 2019, I realised that my youngest son would be going to university in October of that year, and I wanted a dream to pull me to the future. I had said goodbye to several girlfriends in the intervening years, and only one of them had reached 50. This had brought it home to me that life is short and precious, and if you have the tiniest spark of a dream, then you should at least give yourself the chance of trying to achieve it.
In January 2019, I decided it was time to bring the coast to coast idea back, and this time, no one was going to stop me!
Having never done anything like this before, where did you start with the planning?
I took a pragmatic, although somewhat optimistic approach by looking at the distance – 162 miles – and deciding that I could do 14 – 16 miles a day. I asked for eight days of annual leave to give myself a bit of room for manoeuvre, including the two weekends the leave covered and then booked some accommodation. Someone recently asked at a Women’s Institute talk how much time it took to plan. It was two months of procrastinating and doubting myself and then a week of actual planning and decision making!
Can you let us know about the fundraising and awareness you brought to that trip?
I was keen that I could make a difference with the adventure. I have been picking up litter each day for several years and am proud to be part of the 2MinuteBeachClean Foundation community. My goal was to raise enough money for three new beach clean boards.
I also know how much being near the sea or inland waterways has helped my anxiety, so I chose the wonderful surf therapy charity The Wave Project to fund raise for. They help children and young adults lead more positive lives through surfing, so I am proud to support them.
Seeing the plastic pollution in some areas was heartbreaking and yet knowing the fundraising was adding up made me feel so uplifted that maybe we could make a difference. I think my confidence grew after paddling through the mile-long Foulridge Tunnel in Lancashire – it felt like a big step facing that fear. Arriving in Goole in a thunderstorm with a huge rainbow was perhaps the most emotional moment – there were tears and smiles in equal measure.
Congratulations on becoming the first woman to SUP coast to coast, 162 miles from Liverpool to Goole.
Thank you, that’s so kind. I appreciate it.
I have been lucky enough to view the film Brave Enough – A Journey Home to Joy – how did this film come about?
The film came about after a serendipitous meeting at the Women’s Adventure Expo in 2018, where I met the filmmaker Frit Tam of Passion Fruit Pictures, the event photographer. We met briefly at Kendal Film Festival to chat about dreams over a cup of tea a few weeks later, where I was speaking with FINDRA. When I shared on my Instagram that I would paddle coast to coast, Frit asked if I would like a filmmaker. The rest is history!
We spent eight of the 11 days together on the canal and then 19 months creating Brave Enough. It has been a true labour of love, sweat, tears and friendship. We are so proud of the film and the messages we hope we are portraying that you are never too old to do something wild and it’s never too late to make a difference. You can find out more about the film on Passion Fruit Pictures or look at my website for details.
How did this journey and experience change your life, emotionally and practically?
The journey itself, the film and the response we have had to Brave Enough have helped me believe in myself and my dreams more. My natural inclination is to doubt myself and worry! I realise now that I don’t have to be brave; I just have to be brave enough to start a project and take one small step and then the next.
As a single Mum empty nester, SUP and my tiny films, collaborating with Frit on Brave Enough, the podcast and writing have given me projects to focus on in the present and dreams to pull me to the future was particularly helpful in lockdown.
What other opportunities did this lead on to Jo?
I have spoken at Kendal Mountain Festival and regularly speak at Women’s Institute, wellbeing and now corporate events about the challenge and the joy of midlife adventures on your doorstep. I have been fortunate enough to be invited onto many adventures, midlife and wellbeing podcasts and featured in magazine and newspaper articles. I’m honoured to have been asked onto the radio to talk about SUP and being active in your 50s with Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.
I am incredibly grateful to have been invited to be an Ambassador for two charities: the 2MinuteBeachClean Foundation and friend of SUP Mag UK Cal Major’s new charity, Seaful. I support the Canal and River Trust with their Plastics Challenge and continue to be an Ambassador for FINDRA and Bluefin SUPs.
I also have a commission to write a book about beautiful places to paddleboard in the UK. If there is somewhere a reader thinks I should include, I’d love to hear from them!
You have recently set up your podcast, The Joy of SUP – The Paddleboarding Sunshine Podcast’ – what is the most important thing you want to get across in the podcast?
Thank you for being a guest, Sarah! It was a huge honour to share your brilliant story. The podcast’s goal is to share all the health, happiness, friendship, adventure and possibilities of SUP. From world record adventurers to SUP surf, SUP racing, SUP yoga to SUP with a Pup, coaching, instructing, and advocating for better kit, body confidence, and plastic pollution.
I hope that someone new to SUP will find episodes they relate to and find their joy in SUP by sharing stories.
I’ve been overwhelmed by my guests’ stories, download numbers, ratings and reviews. ‘We rise by lifting others’ is one of the mottos of the podcast. I love cheerleading my guests, listeners and SUP, and it is one way I can say thank you for everything paddleboarding has given me.
Many people have been affected by mental health issues, and being outdoors and mainly on or in the water is proven to help – have you found this to be the case for yourself and others you may have spoken to?
Yes, being in nature has helped my mental health – moving, fresh air, seeing people if only to nod to and say hello at a distance on my walks in the Dales. I haven’t been on or near the water as much as I would usually have, and so I have relished the moments I have. I know that blue health is vital to my guests, and many have shared how much it has helped them in lockdown. Blue mind is a topic I am researching more.
I know you are also passionate about age not being a barrier to living your life – what would you say to anyone (of any age) teetering on the edge of a challenge or adventure?
My advice would be:
- Put yourself and your adventure on The Priority List, or it’ll keep being overlooked for more immediate family and work demands.
- Know your ‘why’ – you can draw upon it when things get tough. It could be fundraising, making a difference to a place or community you love or simply, and just as importantly, it could be because it brings you joy. Your joy can be your why.
- Start small, start today, start just as you are! You don’t have to be super brave; you just have to be brave enough to take the first small step (training, research, planning) and then the next. Small steps can take you a long way.
- Visualisation, vision boards, positive self-talk and affirmations are all great ways to keep your dream alive and build your confidence.
- Be a cheerleader; find cheerleaders. Having a group of people, IRL or virtually, that support you and your challenge are so helpful for the good and challenging times. I’m happy to cheerlead your readers on their adventures on The Joy of SUP Podcast page!
I hope you agree this is a wonderful story culminating in JOY for all the new adventures and opportunities in Jo’s life. She is a beacon of positivity – thank you so much, Jo, for your time in creating your story for SUPM – how can people find and follow you?
Twitter: @healthyhappy50 #thejoyofsuppodcast
Instagram: @healthyhappy50 and @thejoyofsuppodcast_ #thejoyofsuppodcast
Facebook: Jo Moseley and The Joy of SUP Podcast Website: www.jomoseley.com
Podcast: The Joy of SUP – The Paddleboarding Sunshine Podcast