As a one-person department, Kim Ketcham, meeting planner at Standard Insurance Co., in Portland, Ore., juggles numerous responsibilities on a daily basis. How she keeps many balls in the air at once and still maintains her sanity can be attributed to nothing other than the wisdom of the ancients. Ketcham is a member of a national champion dragonboat racing team, and as such she is part of a sport that can be traced back 2,000 years to China.
"Dragonboat racing gives me the peace of mind to do the kind of job that I do," she says. "I juggle a lot and at a high pace. Paddling is the other side of that coin. It is a great balance to get out and really exert myself in a very supportive environment, and then come to work where I'm very much on my own. With all the phone calls, faxes, and e-mail every day, it's great to just get out on the river in Portland, the city that I love, and paddle. It keeps me grounded."
Employed at Standard Insurance Co. for the past 21 years, Ketcham became the company's meeting planner six years ago almost by chance, and with virtually no experience. More often than not, her success has been the result of on-the-job training and ingenuity.
"I was just in the right place at the right time when this job became open," she recalls. "I sort of jumped in with both feet, having no idea how much was involved. It was a lot of trial by fire. I have had some great meetings and conventions, and a lot of it was just luck. I look back on some of the speakers I've hired, and how things turned out, and it was just meant to happen the way it did. Again, I had no idea aboutor how to deal with hotels. Maybe I just have a knack for it. I've done pretty well and really love what I do."
The Zen of Paddling Ketcham plans five meetings a year plus a number of incentive programs. "I do a very important start-the-year-off meeting in January," she says. "In March, I do my top qualifiers and producers meeting. My largest meeting is in June for about 200 people. In the middle of it all, I coordinate production clubs and incentive programs."
Luck also played a part in bringing Ketcham to dragonboat racing. "I was a competitive walker, and a walking partner and I were talking about how it would be great to try dragon racing for upper-body strength," she explains. "A friend saw something on the Internet that said 'dragon paddlers wanted.' We went down to the dock, and have stayed with it for six years."
One of the fastest-growing sports in the world, dragonboat races are usually held in a festival setting with boats outfitted with colorful dragon heads and tails. Teams compete in intense head-to-head sprints. Each team consists of 16 to 20 paddlers plus a caller or drummer and a tiller. "I can barely describe it; paddling is a Zen experience," Ketcham offers. "You're so into it that it seems easy. Paddling is rhythmic--there's a drum. It's very primal."
Ketcham is a part of the Wasabi Paddling Club, which has 70 members in four dragonboat teams. Last September, Wasabi won the national championship, and will represent the U.S. in world championship competition to be held August in England. Ketcham is on a team of 12 men and eight women, who have become like family for her. "We lift weights, go on walks, and eat together after practice," she says. "Dragonboat paddling is the tightest team you can imagine. You're on a bench that's no more than two feet in size. The key to paddling is synchronization. All 20 paddles have to hit the water at the same time."
Living, working, and paddling in downtown Portland have made juggling the various aspects of Ketcham's life somewhat easier. She has two teenagers, who she says are very self-reliant. "It's a challenge, but we talk on the phone a lot," she says. "I've been very lucky. For me, it's perfect timing: I've got my job, I've got paddling, and the kids are taking care of themselves."