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Vernon company helps couples’ therapist with canoe adventure

Elements Adventure Company partners with Okanagan Wellness Relationship Adventure for summer excursion
The Okanagan Relationship Wellness Centre, and Vernon’s Elements Adventure Company, are teaming up this summer to provide another fully-guided and catered Couples Adventure Retreat for six nights on the Kootenay River, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. (Contributed)

Henry Sawatzky is enlisting the help of time in nature – and in a canoe - to facilitate growth in relationships.

Sometimes jokingly referred to as, ‘a divorce boat,’ the canoe is notorious for putting even the best relationships to the test. So why is Sawatzky – co-founder of the Okanagan Relationship Wellness Centre – asking couples to paddle one in whitewater to build relationships?

As a young boy at school, Sawatzky didn’t necessarily want to be sitting in a classroom. He would sit at the back of class, doodling and dreaming of being an explorer, adventuring outside among mountain peaks, rushing rivers, pristine lakes and tall forests. He would imagine himself quietly disappearing from his desk and slipping into the wild landscape that he had sketched into his notebook.

In present day, after 30 years of helping couples find their way through the turbulent waters of relationships, Sawatzky decided to take his practice outside – back into the landscapes that he once drew as a child.

He started to form a plan to take some of his clients into a setting that can challenge and strengthen any relationship – on a canoe trip. He formed a partnership with an experienced paddling school and guiding company, Elements Adventure Company, to offer the first ever Hold Me Tight couples workshop on a 7-day, 130-kilometre wilderness whitewater river canoe trip.

In the age of COVID, this was a refreshing idea - not on Zoom, not on Skype, but face-to-face in the great outdoors, with Mother Nature providing the context and challenges that precipitate some of the rocky moments that all relationships encounter.

“Paddling a canoe safely down a Class 3 river isn’t something that anyone can do. It takes time to learn this skill, which is an added bonus for couples who enjoy learning and adventuring together,” said Elements Adventure Company owner Charles Ruechel, who runs a whitewater canoeing school, based out of Vernon, and can support couples in developing teamwork and skill by attending one of their many paddling courses offered on the Shuswap River in advance of the couples retreat.

“It just makes sense to do personal development work on a wilderness trip,” added Sawatzky. “It is such a fun way for couples to really commit some focused time on the connection between them – a connection that is so often challenged by schedules, phones, kids, work, and the rhythm of everyday life.”

In summer of 2022, Sawatzky will offer another fully-guided and catered Couples Adventure Retreat for six nights on the Kootenay River, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

During the day, couples navigate the glacier-blue rapids, play on the sandy beaches, fish for cutthroat, hike to waterfalls, eat camp-cooked meals and swim in the calm eddies. Evenings are spent being guided through the Hold-Me-Tight workshop.

Hold me Tight is a world-renowned couples workshop designed to meet couples in any stage of their relationship. It is promoted by the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy and licensed to Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

Kevin Dunn, who participated in last year’s Hold Me Tight Couples Adventure Retreat, found that the experience was an incredible way to enhance his connection with his spouse and his relationship with nature.

“Henry has a professional and genuine approach to helping people look both inward and outward in positive ways,” said Dunn. “Henry helped us face fears and doubts without fear or doubt. He gave us some practical tools to reinforce how much we care about each other. Most evident, however, was Henry’s ability to listen to everyone with a kind, well trained, professional ear – one that seeks to move people forward while honouring their past.”

To obtain more info or apply for one of the few spots on the summer 2022 Couples Adventure Retreat, you can contact Henry directly through the centre at or at 250-787-6943.

Black Press Media Staff

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