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Despite ending in the middle of a pandemic, my past year at World Class Academy has been incredible. The memories, life lessons, and friendships that I have forged over the last six months, will be everlasting. As perfect as things may seem, the unexpected is always inevitable. Due to coronavirus, we switched our final quarter to an online program. It was crushing to say goodbye to our dreams of laying treats’ together on the Truss, but also there was an emptiness I felt in not being able to say goodbye to the friends and family that I had developed at WCA. As much as I have enjoyed my time at home with my family over the last two months, it feels like there is now an empty void in my life without my WCA homies to support and entertain me everyday.

From Canada, to Costa Rica, to Chile, my time at World Class Academy has been incredible. For those who haven’t heard of World Class Academy, it is a fully accredited high school where students travel the world, go kayaking, and receive a personalized education along the way.

My adventure with WCA was completely unexpected. Before WCA, I was a dedicated slalom paddler and I even competed in the Word Championships as a U23. I was only 14-years-old at the time, and craved to make the Junior team, so I could actually compete against athletes my age! I pushed myself to train as many times as I could, paddling everyday after school, and even more over the summer. Off the water, I went to a classic public brick and border school in Maryland. The school had a pressure-cooker environment to succeed, where everyone was competing for top marks. I was obsessed with my academics, taking all advanced courses and maintaining my 4.0 average. I struggled to balance both kayaking and school, as my slalom schedule caused me to miss a lot of class. I often stayed up until two or three in the morning to study and complete my schoolwork that was due the following day. However, my life quickly turned down a different path, when one of the teachers, Kalob Grady, sold my mom on the idea of attending World Class, and shockingly she convinced me into enrolling. Before I knew it, I recieved my acceptance letter and I scrambled to get myself ready.

When my family dropped me off at Ottawa for the beginning of my first semester, I immediately became fully immersed into the quirky and energetic group dynamic, where their individual personalities shine. I was intimidated by their candor and openness. Unlike myself, they weren’t scared to be themselves and I questioned how I would fit. The culture was extremely friendly, whereas on my first day at my old school, I felt like I was just one of 1,500 students. By being in this environment, I have found confidence to be myself. Today, I embrace individualism, and have the courage to be bold.

World Class has also introduced me to an entirely new world of kayaking- creeking. The school spends the majority of their time river running and creeking, and I had loads to learn, having spent little time in a creekboat before attending. My best fail of all was on a waterfall in Quebec called Honeypot. It was my very first waterfall and I landed on my head, twice. As frustrating as it was it only fueled my determination to learn to boof. Now I look back on it, I chuckle over the experience. I have progressed a lot since then, and have upgraded from a small previous generation Zen to a baby blue medium Nirvana. I’m more confident in my boat than ever before. I still have a long way to go in improving my boof, but I’m looking forward to the hard work ahead of me.

Growing Up World Class

Me running honeypot for the first time. Please note my facial expressions. Photo by Paige Minor

Costa Rica was an epic quarter, despite that we suffered disappointingly low water levels. The most memorable moment of the quarter was on the Baru River. We put on a river that had barely enough water to paddle down. We kept waiting until we would meet a tributary and have decent flow, but that never happened. The tributary that we had been waiting for was nothing more than a small creek emitting a mere trickle of water into the river. The school was close to having full mutiny on behalf of the students. Luckily, we had organized a girls paddle that day with Adriane Levkenecht and the ladies managed to keep smiles on our faces on the nearly dry river. We scrapped our way to the Pacific Ocean confluence, relieved to be done with the driest river of our lives. The swell that day was like a Christmas morning surprise, creating the biggest ocean waves I’ve ever seen (granted I haven’t spent loads of time in saltwater). We were grinning ear to ear, as we threw kick flips and got chundered by the crashing waves.

The sunset after a sick day of being throttled by the ocean in Costa Rica. Photo by Ava

By the third quarter, I was tapped into the flow state. We arrived at the end of summer in Chile, and we were pumped to tick some classics off our lists. We ran the Lower Tranchura, Upper Palguín, Blancho Sur, and the Lower & Upper Fuy all in two weeks. We then loaded up the vans and trailers with 30 colorful kayaks, as we made our way south to Patagonia to the infamous Futaleufu!

Growing Up World Class

Throwing my paddle for the first time on a waterfall at Blancho Sur. Photo by Logan Smith

The Futa is emphatically the best river I’ve ever paddled, with 26 miles of continuous big water so clear you can see the bottom. For weeks on end, each day after school we did laps on laps on laps of the classic Bridge to Bridge section. On weekends we explored other sections of the river such as Terminator section and Inferno canyon, ran the entire 26-mile “Todo” section in a day and did an overnighter. The overnighter was surreal. We camped on the riverside, and had a ginormous bonfire where we ran the beach dry of firewood. We slept soundly underneath the Southern Cross with the sound of El Throno rapid raging in the background.

Bonfire underneath the stars on the overnighter on the Futa. Photo by Kalob Grady.

While we were lifestyling on the Futa, we happened to be there for the kayaking festival and competition, that is Futa XL. The event was held on the bridge to bridge section of the Futa, and consisted of four events, boatercross, downriver sprint, giant slalom, and a long mass start race. I finished second overall in the women’s, taking two first places in the downriver sprint, and the mass start, a second in the giant slalom, and a fifth in the boatercross.

Growing Up World Class

Paddling to our campsite on the Futa overnighter. Photo by Todd Wells

My experience with World Class has been nothing short of magical. Being so focused on academics, I questioned if World Class was the right decision, hindsight being 2020, I wouldn’t change a thing. This program has taught me to prioritize and balance between academics, athletics and social experiences. I have found that this harmony is what makes me happiest. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Kalob Grady, my teacher and mentor, who reminds me to have fun, smile, and to always look up at the stars.

Ryder Noble and Rachel Buys play the guitar as the sunsets over the mountains.

I’m thankful to be able to call World Class my second family. The bonds we made have been able to transcend the physical geography and continued online the last quarter. Without this foundation of friendship, I would have struggled through this last quarter alone. We were all together albeit online, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with everyone to make up for lost time.

I hope everyone is staying safe during these uncertain times!

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