By Martin Cleary
The photograph is absolutely priceless and spoke volumes about an energetic and enthusiastic man living his life to the fullest.
Decked out in his waterproof, whitewater paddling gear and crowned with a cranberry-coloured safety helmet, a beaming Jeff Pappin was in full control in his boat, dipping his kayak paddle into the glistening waters of an Eastern Ontario waterway.
Life was good for the full-time Ottawa engineer, who filled his days with numerous ways to celebrate his life as well as to help others capture the essence of sport and enjoy activity as much as he enjoyed it.
That photo depicted only one of the many layers of a giving life, which was always open to accepting more roles. Too bad each day was restricted to 24 hours. If Pappin didn’t have to sleep every night, imagine how much more he could have brought to the sports communities of cross-country skiing, whitewater paddling, golf, cycling, downhill skiing and basketball.
But on April 15, life came to a thunderous halt for Pappin, doing what he loved for the past 46 years – paddling, this time on the whitewater of Beaver Creek, which is north of Marmora, ON. Pappin drowned on that Saturday. He was 62.
“He never needed to prove himself on the river and never took risks he couldn’t manage because he knew he had too much to live for,” his family said through a written release.
His family is honouring his legacy by creating the Jeff Pappin Memorial Fund to allow young paddlers to enjoy the outdoor challenge and learn to train safely. Whitewater Ontario, a volunteer-run organization which promotes all aspects of the sport in the province, is working with the Pappin family to oversee the fund.
Donations can be sent by e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org or by cheque to Whitewater Ontario, 411 Carnegie Beach Road, Port Perry, ON., L9L 1B6. All donations should mention they are for the Jeff Pappin Memorial Fund.
Pappin was one of a kind when it came to stepping into an activity. He started kayaking at 16 and spent his university summers conducting paddling tours. The Ottawa River was his favourite paddling waterway.
Paddling would become a family interest and when daughter Merrill was 19, she became serious about the outdoor adventure. There were many father-daughter summer trips on the Madawaska, Petawawa, Le Petite-Nation, Rouge and Ottawa rivers.
Pappin’s love of life and sport was particularly apparent at the Kanata Nordic Ski Club. There wasn’t a job he couldn’t do and a job he didn’t want to do.
If it was time to clear the brush and trees from the trails in the fall, he was there. And if that wasn’t enough, he would zip up to Dacre Heights Ski area in the Madawaska region to prepare those trails for the upcoming backcountry skiing and snowshoeing season.
If the club needed someone to groom the trails in the early morning, he happily volunteered to drive the Kubota tractor grooming machine in the dark and would proudly post photos of his perfect corduroy tracks.
If a racoon got into the club cabin, he volunteered to right that wrong. He would open the club in the early mornings for skiers and close the gate late at night. He would do a lot of the tedious work and not complain.
If it was time to arrange port-o-potties, install culverts and move gravel or wood chips, he was on the work team.
He also spent time on the club’s board of directors, first as secretary in 2019 and then as facilities co-ordinator.
When it came time for a ski race, Pappin’s name was often on the start list. He wanted to bring his infectious enthusiasm and joy to the start line and test his skills against racers of all ages.
“Jeff was a genuinely passionate guy,” the Kanata Nordic Ski Club posted on its website. “He was one of the first entrants into last year’s FunRace because he thought it would be a hoot to test himself against the clock and the other racers.
“He had dreams of how else we could make Kanata Nordic a better, more welcoming and, most of all, more fun place to be. An awesome guy who enjoyed life to the fullest and brought warmth to those who knew him.”
Kanata Nordic president Nigel Wallis became good friends with Pappin over the past few years and called his passing “a tragic loss.”
“It’s a great loss to the club,” he said in a phone interview. “He was a fun guy to be around and so positive. He didn’t have to be asked. He would do a lot of things in the club.
“(His commitment) was above-and-beyond the normal members. I will miss our personal lives, going to hang out. He would tell stories and constantly tell jokes. He was always saying: ‘What a fantastic day, a great day to be alive.’”
Pappin joined Kanata Nordic, which is located at Wesley Clover Parks in Ottawa’s west end, because it was closer to his home than the Gatineau Hills trail system. He would exit the Queensway, head to the club and ski for 60 to 90 minutes before work or after work, if his day didn’t go well.
“I’m not sure how he found the time and had the energy to help us. I never saw him not have the ability to bounce around and keep doing stuff,” said Wallis, adding Pappin also carried his enthusiasm to work as he would encourage his co-workers to go for a walk in the woods or play nine holes of golf.
“He would say: ‘How can I get more into my life? The day’s not long enough.’ He was happy throwing more into his day.”
Not only did he do it for himself, but also for the benefit of the people around him.
“What a tragic loss,” Kanata Nordic member Marlene Alt wrote in a tribute to Pappin on social media. “Jeff exuded positive energy, enthusiasm and seemed to live life to its fullest. I can’t imagine the hole he leaves behind, especially for his family.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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