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Dolly Merritt: New challenges for a risk taker

I confess: I'm not a risk taker.

In a world full of divers, plungers, climbers, zip riders and rafters - all claiming self-fulfillment and exhilaration - apparently I've missed out. I'm content in my safe little world, having succumbed to plain, ordinary fear.

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Unfortunately, those fears started surfacing gradually after my children were born and I was, ultimately, happy to sit on a bench and watch our son and daughter ride the Triple Loop roller coaster with their dad.

Through the years, I endured their childhood escapades on skateboards, bikes and boogie boards, always giving them safety warnings. As a result, I earned from them the title of "safety director" for our family.

But somewhere along the way, things gradually changed.

About nine years ago, my husband and I took our oldest grandson, then 12 years old, to a water park and it was my idea. I'm afraid of heights, but nonetheless - all for the love of our grandson - climbed the massively high stairways to the slides while carrying an equally massive inner tube. I never looked down and managed to descend each slide with closed eyes and a prayer. I did it.

A few years later, all for the love of my youngest grandson, I joined him on an inner tube specifically designed to be pulled by a speedboat. Of course, we were sporting our life jackets, as we catapulted along choppy waters of the Patuxent River, and I white-knuckled the rubber handles on the tube. Again, I did it.

Last summer, I even spent a full hour in the surf with him, a feat I never enjoyed with my children because the water and waves were always too cold and too rough. For some reason, the water was warmer and gentler.

I thought these experiences were paving the way toward a new me.

While sitting on the bayside patio of an Ocean City condo, I noticed people gliding by on a paddleboard. They were standing up, using a paddle to navigate around the bay. It looked effortless.

"I could probably do that," I told my daughter.

Recently, she challenged me during a visit to her waterfront home.

"You want to go paddleboarding?" she asked with an expression of there's-no-way-you're-ever-going-to-try-this.

"Sure," I said.

We carted the longer-than-I-thought 12-foot boards to the beach.

I was given 10 seconds of instructions.

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My husband's encouraging words were, "Look out for those pylons," which supported the piers punctuating the beach.

Pylons, I thought. I had never noticed the pylons.

"I think I can, I think I can," became my mantra as I was instructed first to kneel on the board.

So far, so good, I thought, positioning myself.

As I began to paddle, three simultaneous sets of instructions - "Paddle right," "Paddle left," "Paddle backwards" - were shouted to no avail from my husband, daughter and son-in-law.

I was afraid to go forward into the deep water and I didn't want to veer left or right for fear of heading toward the pylons.

So I paddled in circles, with no direction.

"I'm panicking," I yelled and then quit, much to my daughter's dismay.

All was not lost; we had a good laugh.

After all, how do you panic in two feet of water?

Maybe I should try kayaking. It looks safe enough, as long as I stay away from the rapids and learn how to paddle.

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