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Girl Scouts prepare for competitive canoeing

Paddlers 5.10.19
Swift Water Paddlers practiced their skills on Bedford’s Sebbins Pond April 28. They’re preparing for two races this month. (GSGWM photo)

Swift Water Paddlers is a unique way to participate in Girl Scouting

BEDFORD, NH | It’s a chilly, gray April day at Sebbins Pond, and the sky threatens showers, but the Girl Scouts who participate in Swift Water Paddlers don’t seem at all worried. Some even show up in shorts and T-shirts, as if it’s a warm summer day.

The 14 girls on the team are mostly high schoolers are dedicated to perfecting their canoe-paddling skills so they can take part in two competitive races in the short two-month season. They start out with stretches and snack, and it’s not long before they unload metal canoes from storage at Camp Kettleford, the Girl Scout day camp on the pond.

Two to a boat, the girls set off on a warm-up lap around the pond, take a break, then they’re off to a serious five-lap workout to prepare for racing.

Swift Water Paddlers race each May in New Hampshire and New York. The first race is the 45th Annual Great Smith River Canoe and Kayak Race on May 18, which takes place in Wolfeboro on a 4-mile course that includes a stretch of white water. It begins at Lake Wentworth and passes through the Smith River to Crescent Lake, then to Back Bay. On Memorial Day weekend, the team faces a bigger field of competition at the General Clinton Canoe Regatta on the Susquehanna River. They compete against other Girl Scout teams in a 15-mile course, 5-mile sprints, or relay teams of four or six girls, breaking up the 15-mile course into 5-mile stretches with in-water canoe switches.

Coach Megan Cook has been mentoring the team for 11 years. She has a strong coaching team with Kate Shaffer, Erin Balcom, Alandra Horton and Vanessa Horton. Most paddled as girl members and now are passing those skills on to today’s teams.

“They come in knowing maybe one other person,” she said, “but they make friends fast. It’s a unique thing to do.”

“It’s another way to be involved in Girl Scouts but not in a troop,” added assistant coach Kate Shaffer. “We’re Girl Scouts first and foremost. They keep that in mind and support each other.” She noted that while the girls are competitive, if someone is in trouble, they’ll put that need over the desire to win.

Cook likes to see the girls grow. “I love being able to introduce girls to canoe racing,” she said. “Especially girls who may not be too outdoorsy otherwise. It's great to see girls become more comfortable through the season and over the years as they return to the pond over and over again. It builds confidence and character for sure!”

Girls interested in canoeing with the Swift Water Paddlers should sign up in February or early March. They can do so through by contacting or calling 888-474-9686. “It’s good to secure a spot early,” said Cook.

Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains encourages every girl to be a G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™, whether they join a traditional troop, the Swift Water Paddlers, a robotics team, through Girls Rock the Capitol, as an individual member, or simply by attending Girl Scout camp. Getting girls outdoors is one of the four pillars of the Girl Scout Experience, the others being STEM, life skills and entrepreneurship. For more on joining Girl Scouts, see

About Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains: Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is recognized throughout New Hampshire and Vermont as a leading expert on girls. Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind leadership development program for girls, with proven results. It is based on time-tested methods and research-backed programming that helps girls take the lead—in their own lives and in the world. Through our exciting and challenging programs, Girl Scouts not only participate but also take the lead in a range of activities—from kayaking, archery, and camping, to coding, robotics, financial literacy training, and beyond! Serving more than 10,000 girls throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, girls discover the fun, friendship, and power of girls together. Visit