Select Page

April 13, 2009

Are you familiar with the newspaper cartoon "Family Circus?" It’s infamous for always featuring the same story: a little kid running around with a dotted trail trailing him, showing his path of destruction all over the house and yard.  Well, if you were to follow the path of New River Academy in the past two weeks, our dotted line would be all over the South East, looping around and dividing to ensure your athletes are getting access the best of spring flows. Our dotted line would show us hopping from river to river, to Mojo Burrito in Chattanooga, to play wave, to ice cream at the Sky Lake General, to river, to the movies (Haunting in Connecticut), to river to river…

Already, we have had the opportunity to run the New River Gorge in West Virginia, the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia, the Ocoee River in Tennessee  and the Green river in North Carolina. In addition, we’ve been able to put in some serious freestyle training at Upper Railroad on the New and Brave Wave at Rock Island. 

The highlight of the trip so far has been the guest coaching of Billy Harris. Billy is, among many things, a veteran freestyle competitor and Canadian National Champion, regarded by many as the best freestyle coach in the world.

Now, I can certainly attest that our athletes regard him as one of the best coaches they have ever experienced. I gleaned this from such conversations as the following, which I overheard while driving with some of the students to the Jackson Kayak factory for a tour:

Alex Shallhorn: Wow, Billy Harris is the best coach I’ve ever had.
Keegan Grady: I think he’s the best coach on the planet.
Alex Shallhorn: Definitely the best coach in the world. I’m getting so much better!

As I’m writing this email, Isaac Holden is sitting not far from me on the couch. As I type, we’re discussing Billy Harris and he said, "Tell the parents in your email I said he was the best coach ever!"
"Well," I told Isaac, "I would, but Keegan already said he was the best coach on the planet, which is more quotable, so I think I’m going to write that."
 "In that case," Isaac shot back, "I say he’s the best coach in the….galaxy!"  
"Within a nine planet radius!" shouted someone from the kitchen.

….and you see how it goes. In all seriousness, Billy did amazing things for our students in only a few days. Before joining the group, he met discussed each student at length with David Hughes and Tino Specht, documenting their individual skills and needs. He provided one-on-one coaching at Brave Wave, followed by one-on-one follow-up meetings with the students to discuss training, moves, upcoming competitions, routines, diet and cross-training. For two evenings in a row he gave presentations, each about two hours in length. I listened in on these talks and was tremendously impressed. He focused on the often-overlooked mental element of training and competing, and how self support and confidence will gain you the ultimate advantage over your competitors. Everyone- students and staff- sat in rapt attention throughout. Billy also stressed the need to support one another, on the wave, in the eddy and off the water. His main point was that supporting those you travel and train with will eventually transform you into a confident, positive and successful athlete.

Although the talk was specific to whitewater freestyle, there were so many broader life lessons to be learned from Billy’s talk. It was exciting to listen to, and to observe everyone absorb his words so thoroughly. 

After his talk, Billy remained with the students until ten o’clock, answering individual questions and explaining exactly how judging and scoring worked. New River Academy director David Hughes stated, “Billy impressed me yet again. Billy has a great ability to assess each person’s athletic place and address the coaching they need to advance individually. Billy basically inspired our entire student body, and took the time to make a difference.”

Needless to say, with the influence and inspiration of Billy’s coaching fresh in their minds, the ambition and enthusiasm for training was edged up a few palpable notches. More and more of the students elected to wake up at dawn to get an early morning play session in, tugging on dry suits even before their eyes were completely open. At the end of their session, they were rewarded with thermoses of hot chocolate at the take-out. As a teacher, I am a huge fan of these optional dawn-patrol sessions, because the students who have participated are alert, wide awake and cheerful in class.

From the kitchen of the New River Academy WV base, at a table full of students studying algebra and eating bagles,

Melina Coogan,
NRA English Tacher

 Click to see larger imageClick to see larger imageClick to see larger image