Every month Olympian and NOC Ambassador Wayne Dickert (aka Wayner) will bring you an interview with extraordinary paddlers and enthusiasts that have given unselfishly to make this sport one that all can enjoy and participate in. We’ve dubbed these generous souls NOC River Leaders. The NOC River Leader is someone that has given back to the paddling world whether in the form of community involvement, educational outreach and/or support. Each month NOC will honor a different leader for their efforts to give the recognition they deserve.
This month I want to honor our veterans in recognition of Memorial Day. The decision was an easy one. I would like to introduce and recognize Becca Carter as May’s NOC River Leader. Becca has given her time to help veterans heal physical, mental and spiritual war wounds. She is the organizer of Asheville’s Team River Runner (TRR). TRR has several chapters around the country and uses paddlesports to help wounded war vets overcome some of their challenges when returning home.
Wayner: How and when did you begin paddling?
Becca: I began paddling whitewater at NOC guide school in March 2006. It was an exciting experience and I learned so much about being in control in a whitewater boat. Although I had been paddling for five years on flat water in the Raleigh area, I felt like I wasn’t a paddler until my first experience on whitewater. Soon, I was whitewater rafting all over the Southeast and had a special fondness for the rivers in West Virginia because of their beauty and challenge. I then discovered whitewater kayaking and completely jumped into the sport.
Wayner: Did you have any struggles early on? How did you overcome those?
Becca: It took a long time to learn to roll because I did not take any formal instruction. After a year of flailing around and learning on my own, I decided to take a clinic. I went with Anna Levesque to Mexico on a women’s only clinic and conquered my roll!
Wayner: If you could offer any new boater a suggestion, what would it be?
Becca: First, get professional instruction. You won’t flail around forever but it makes a significant difference to have a solid foundation to start from. Also, just as important, find several reliable friends to paddle with. They should enjoy paddling the same level of whitewater as you. Shelly and Will Gillis were my first paddling buddies. We had a lot of whitewater kayaking trips together. I was fortunate to have some good friends that helped get me started. They were always ready to go to the river with me.
Wayner: What do you do to improve your paddling skills?
Becca: I enjoy paddling slalom gates. It has helped me refine my skills. Often on the river, I do not have to be in a specific place, or at least that specific place isn’t well defined. With the slalom gates I know exactly where I am supposed to be. I use the water to help me get to that place. Working with the paddlers in the Team River Runner group has been great because it has helped me refine my own skills. I have to think through the skills I am teaching and the alternatives in case what I present doesn’t work very well for that person. By having to think critically while teaching, I found that I learned the techniques better and applied them more accurately on the water.
Working with the wounded vets also taught me about self-forgiveness and not feeling like everything had to be perfect. Working with TRR has been as encouraging and inspirational for me as it has been for the vets…and they love it!
Wayner: What is your favorite river and why?
Becca: Chattooga Section IV. It’s remote and beautiful without being too hard but it is still challenging. My favorite moment is coming around the corner below Woodall Shoals and sensing the remoteness and serenity of the river. Its beauty recharges my soul.
Wayner: What activities are offered through TRR?
Becca: Roll classes in the pool at Warren Wilson College are offered every other week. That is a great place for the vets to work on the basics. They confront any fears in a controlled environment and become comfortable on the water. TRR has several river trips each year too depending on the availability of volunteers to help out. I would say my favorite river to teach on is the Pigeon River on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Team River Runner participants kayak on whitewater rivers with volunteers and the spouses follow along in duckies or rafts. After time on the river, the group gathers for a meal and an opportunity for group bonding. This has quickly become one of the highlights of the trip. Everyone is able to share stories of the challenges and successes from the day on the river. It gives the families a chance to observe the excitement and healing first hand.
Wayner: What is your favorite thing about paddling now?
Becca: Personally, I enjoy the bond of trust with others. Paddling whitewater is one of the places where you have to be “in the moment.” You have to remain focused on what you are doing or the river reminds you to pay attention. This complete and inner focus is very spiritual for me.
My favorite thing about working with TRR is the ability to bond with the participants. Being able to share my passion with them and offer an opportunity for healing mentally, physically and spiritually through paddlesports is most rewarding. It is wonderful to be a part of this and watch them heal. Kayaking connects with their personal challenges and fears. I have this one vet that went down with his helicopter. Consequently, every time he is upside down in a kayak, he has a flashback to being in the helicopter. To see the courage he, and others, exhibit is phenomenal. It is inspiring to watch these veterans overcome their fears.
Wayner: What have been some of the greatest challenges for you and TRR?
Becca: First of all I had never run an organization before. There was a pretty steep learning curve for me but it has worked out well. We have been able to gather several boats for the group even though we usually need more. Once we set up a regular schedule to meet at the pool every other week, things became a little more predictable and easier to manage. Organizing our events and paddling days is always one of the most challenging but certainly the highlight of our programs. It is well worth the effort to see the group and family bonding that goes on during these trips. Everything has fallen perfectly into place for us. It was definitely meant to be!
Personally, it is also a challenge to find the right people to paddle with. Many of my friends either paddle easier rivers or much harder rivers than I enjoy paddling. I like to be challenged on the river without feeling scared. When you can find that group of people it’s very spiritual being out on the river with friends who share the same passion for nature and respect of the river.
Wayner: What are some of your goals for the future?
Becca: For my personal goals, I want to be a better creek boater and continue to challenge myself by working on problem solving techniques on the river. I would also like to develop my courage as I enjoy paddling with good friends that are similar in skill level. More than anything however, I want to “practice being present” in the moment on the water.
My main goal for TRR is to find more volunteers to inspire the TRR paddlers. Our next goal for our group is to paddle on more rivers offering more trips. In order to do so we need more volunteers but I know we can make it happen.
Team River Runner is always looking for volunteers. If you would like a rewarding and fun paddling opportunity check out TRR’s Facebook page and schedule.
Join Wayner again next month to learn more about another honorable NOC River Leader. If you know of someone that is deserving of this recognition, please email Melissa.Pennscott@noc.com with details and contact information.