by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
Warren Wilson College caught what Alessia Faverio calls the “whitewater bug” 25 years ago, when the paddling team was created.
“Once you catch it you can’t get rid of it easily,” she said.
Since its formation in 1987, the Warren Wilson Paddling Team has grown into a large, talented group. This year marks the first year that the team has been recognized as National Champions in the American Canoe Association’s Collegiate whitewater race series.
During the competition, which took place March 30 and 31 in Dillsboro, NC along the Tuckaseegee River, the Warren Wilson team won almost every event, and the paddlers collected a total of 22 medals in different solo and tandem races.
Warren Wilson competed against four other schools, one of which was our paddling rival school Albion College. In the seven years that the ACA collegiate competitions have been held, Albion has always beat Wilson, but this year, we emerged victorious.
Faverio has been on the team since her freshmen year, when the Wilson team placed third. Last year, the Wilson team placed second.
“We’ve been steadily improving,” Faverio said.
What significantly helped them in this competition and others from this year has been the grant that the team received from the previous college president, Sandy Pfeiffer. Last year, the team’s coach John Griffith applied for a grant through the President’s Initiative Fund, which is sponsored by several trustees of the college.
“We had gotten to a point where we had the skills but not the boats to match,” Griffith told the Echo in October.
Griffith and the paddling team were awarded $5,000 to purchase new, faster canoes and kayaks.
“I told them that a national championship was within our grasp if we had competitive boats,” Griffith accurately prophesied earlier in the school year.
As a club sport, the paddling team has a smaller budget than other official college teams. Earlier this season, the team was running out of money, and it was uncertain as to whether or not they would be able to make it to Nationals. The team decided to host a bake sale, and raised $250 in a matter of days. With this money, they were able to travel to Dillsboro and become National Champions.
“We want to thank the community for our bake sale,” Faverio said. “That was the only reason we were able to go.”
This year, the team consists of 17 paddlers, all of whom have different backgrounds and experience levels that they bring to the group.
“A lot of people start off inexperienced,” Faverio said. “But we’re willing to teach people.”
Before coming to Warren Wilson, Faverio had never paddled before. She had attended roll practice, hosted by Outdoor Programs in the pool, and, after having enjoyed the time in the water, decided to join the team. Since she became part of the team her freshman year, she has become co-captain, and has achieve first place in the women’s kayaking division two years in a row.
During her time on the team, Faverio has only seen one person stop showing up for practice, because their school work become too demanding.
“Once they join, once they catch the whitewater bug, they’re usually in for the duration,” she said.
And it’s not only students who have caught the bug. The team has been around for a while, and has produced legends out of many Warren Wilson faculty and alumni, who are “amazing paddlers,” according to Faverio.
Alumnus Eli Herbert, now a professional open boater and creek racer, sometimes returns to Wilson to coach the team. Now a professional kayaker, Chris Gragtmans also returns to Wilson to instruct the team after he attended the college his freshman year. When paddling volunteer Will Leverette was a student, he was the head of the paddling crew, and he started Outdoor Programs, which began as a club and grew into a crew. Alumni Travis Weiland was a part of the paddling team when it was an official varsity team, and he now teaches math at the college.
“It seems like everything comes back around,” Faverio said.