Kayaker sets personal goals and helps students find dreams, too

Plans on making Cuba to Key West trip

Showing off her “guns” to the students of Tavernier’s Montessori School, Teresa Diehl tells the assembled kids that her arms have not only been propelling her throughout the Keys during recent training for a Cuba to Key West kayak trip, but also preparing to circumnavigate Australia. Her breaks from training have a very specific purpose: to help children find their own personal goals and pursue them.


Diehl first picked up a kayak paddle four years ago while in Australia, studying for her Ph.D. in Education. “I was walking the beach when I met a man in an open canoe who was finishing a Darwin to Cairns trip (1,287 nautical miles) and heading to Sydney. I ran back to my house grabbed a notebook, tea, and biscuits and chatted with him for three hours.”

Diehl set a goal that day that she would learn to paddle and would one day kayak around Australia. A former Realtor and teacher, she said she returned home to the States and was reading up on the Cuba-Key West relations and thought the paddle would be a good practice run.

While on her quest, she stops at schools to speak to students about goal setting. “The class creates a goal, and then brainstorms ways to accomplish it,” she said at a recent stop to her training in the Lower Keys.

Students at Tavernier’s Montessori School set goals with Diehl at a recent kid’s workshop. ‘If it doesn’t give you a funny feeling in your stomach, your goal isn’t big enough,’ she said.
Students at Tavernier’s Montessori School set goals with Diehl at a recent kid’s workshop. ‘If it doesn’t give you a funny feeling in your stomach, your goal isn’t big enough,’ she said.

Diehl said she had one 10-year-old once tell her that he wanted to develop gills so he could breathe underwater. The class laughed, but she compared his goal to the Wright brothers’ goal of wanting to fly. The whole class then brainstormed ideas on how to make it possible. “I’m trying to spark goals for them to reach for after high school,” she said, comparing young student’s minds to little sponges. “It’s an absolute privilege to go to these classes and talk with these students.”

Her next goal is to speak to students in Cuba. Which is why she has been paddling back and forth from Miami to Key West since January in all conditions in preparation for the crossing. Diehl travels from Key West to Little Torch, for example, bringing all the necessaries in her 18-foot kayak to make camp overnight. Diehl lives self-contained out of the boat while she’s training, but said she’s inching toward her goals with the help of kind people she’s met along the way. Such as strangers who have let her pitch a bedroll on their beachfront property, and friends who have let her shower and feed her a warm meal or take her to the grocery store. “I come across people like this all of the time,” she said. “The best part of this entire journey is the people and kids I get to meet.”

Diehl has already received the clearance from both governments, and is squaring away her crew and fine-tuning her equipment for the Cuba to Key West trip.

“Although Cuban migrants make the crossing in small vessels all the time, no one has actually kayaked it officially,” she said. She said she’s inspired by Diana Nyad’s historic Cuba to Key West swim in 2013 and has actually been in contact with Nyad. Diehl said she has the help with weather mapping from some of Nyad’s Key West support crew.

In the thousands of miles she’s put under her kayak, she said her favorite time to be in her boat is when it’s raining. “It smooths the surface and I can travel almost silently,” she said.