by Christian Diaz, News Editor
Two weeks before Warren Wilson’s Paddling Club was set to compete in the American Canoe Association’s National Championships, sophomore Biochemistry and Outdoor Leadership major Alessia Faverio was advised by her therapist not to compete.
An injury on her left shoulder would make it too difficult for her to paddle the Tuckaseegee in Jackson County, NC, where the competition was held.
“I had a lot of people telling me not to compete, and a lot of people telling me to compete. I decided I would be kicking myself more if I didn’t do it than if I did it and did something stupid, so I just went for it,” Faverio said.
Paddling coach and Electric Crew Supervisor John Griffith says Faverio made the right decision. She placed first on women’s kayaking division, bringing home some gold for the team, which as a whole placed second in the competition (last year WWC placed third). Not bad for someone who picked up paddling casually at the beginning of her first semester at Warren Wilson.
The paddling community at Warren Wilson shrinked this year, after several core members graduated last Spring. Faverio and her boyfriend Cameron Thacker, who also competed, are hoping to see the club grow.
John Griffith saw the first batch of river-friendly Owls emerge in the early 1990s. He started coaching as a volunteer in the late 80s. He and his wife taught themselves to paddle after he got invited on a rafting trip on the Nantahala near Bryson City, NC.
Former Dean Alan Holt asked Griffith to teach a canoeing class. Griffith agreed on the condition that he be sent to an instructor’s class. There, he learned that he knew very little about paddling.
Since then, Griffith has served as volunteer coach, a role which Faverio describes as one where the coach gives everything for very little material compensation, but Griffith acknowledges that the role is rewarding, though the time commitment sometimes annoys his wife. Seeing his students do well is enough compensation for him.
“We went down to a race down in the Tiger River not long ago and the women in our team just dominated,” Griffith said.
The twelve-person club practices twice a week. During the weeks leading up to the competition, time spent in the water is increased. The club ran down the Tuckaseegee so many times, Thacker said he could paddle it with his eyes closed.
However, Faverio practiced little during the weeks preceding Nationals on account of her injury. Instead, she would close her eyes and visualize the 3.5 course, drawing with her hand the line on the river that she would paddle.
“I did it until I knew well enough what rocks I would go past,” she said, holding a moleskin, flipping pages through several pages worth of a single, vertical line.
Paddling is rarely as violent as one would imagine. Instead, Faverio and Thacker liken their bodies in the water to metronomes, the canoe or the kayak reaches a point in the river where it cannot go faster even if one paddles with more force. The key is to paddle gracefully, and though one might imagine the surge of adrenaline that must course through a paddler’s body, the feeling is one of intense focus, the honing of senses until it syncs up with the river, and the body operates in harmony with it.
Though the paddlesport community is small, the national collegiate competition has become more prominent. The club recounts that they had never seen the Tuckaseegee so crowded before. Griffith had to park their vehicle in the middle of the road.
Though it feels good to bring home awards, students and coach both admit that they paddle because they love being in rivers. It’s fun to be a paddler, and competition is only a part of the fun.