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I started kayaking with friends before I went off to graduate school. It wasn’t until I moved to Richmond, VA that I got back into kayaking. In 2017, I started to get really interested in freestyle. My first trick I learned was the bow stall. I spent hours on hours trying to add more time to the stall each time I paddled. In 2018, a big group of friends and I went up to spend a week paddling on the Ottawa River, Canada. It was on that trip that my freestyle kayaking obsession blew up. I was hooked. I was hungry to learn more and more tricks. On that trip, I met my coach, Seth Ashworth whom I have been working with since 2018. At the beginning of each year, I write out my detailed goals for the year and then we chip away at those goals each week focusing on certain things to learn and improve. My goals range from easy to hard with a couple of long-term lofty goals to make the USA freestyle kayak team and compete at the world championships in Nottingham, England. A quote that Michael Phelps said once that has stuck in my mind was: “You can’t put a limit on anything, the bigger the dreams the farther you will go.” Today, I have won events, made the USA freestyle kayak team, competed in the World Championships in England, and finished 4th place at GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, CO. My down river tricks have improved and lines on waterfalls. If you had asked younger me 3 years ago if I thought I would wind up with the level of success, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The Ottawa

Since 2018 my interest and focus has primarily been in the discipline of freestyle kayaking and competitions. I won my first competition at Dominion Riverrock in Richmond, VA 2019. Then, unfortunately, the pandemic struck and competitions were on hold. I continued to train, learn more tricks, and dialed in ride plans in the meantime. I got to finally compete in my first ICF event at the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, CO in June 2021 and it was the biggest event I had competed in. I finished in 4th place which I was stoked on but I had to figure out the ropes of the competition life as most were pro kayakers and had years and years of experience. At this time, I was on the Jackson Kayak team and knew most people who were there, but I was still shy because lack of experience. I felt intimidated paddling with people I have looked up to for so long and the caliber of their kayaking. The feature was a bit shallow and difficult to figure out in freezing cold water. Clay Wright and
Emily Jackson was amazing guiding me through this new territory of the comp life, along with a ton of other athletes that today I call good friends of mine.

I remember each day I woke up nervous and anxious about competing and I would walk around the village and hang with friends trying to shake the jitters and kept telling myself that I deserved to be here, I put the work in, and I have to start somewhere to fulfill the desire to compete. The main difference between the seasoned athletes and myself was experience. I found peace in thinking that I one day will have that experience too. Over the week, I was studying the athlete strategies: extracting insights from their warm-up routines, mental preparedness, pre-heat focus, ride observations, and how they mentally prepped for competition to take back home at practice

crossing the street during covid
Podium Finish

As the pandemic carried on into 2022, I didn’t get any more competition experience with the world on pause. However, the 2022 USA Freestyle Team Trials were held on March 19 in Oklahoma City, OK at Riversport OKC. This was my second ICF event and my first USA Freestyle team trials.…the very lofty goal I made back in 2018 had arrived before I could rack up experience competing in events to paddle at this caliber but instead, had to trust the training I had been doing for what seemed like a few years due to the fact it kept getting moved because of Covid. It was an epic week of training with everyone. On comp day, my rides did not go as I had practiced mostly due to nerves and levels, but I did what I had to do and made the team. I achieved my goal of representing the USA at worlds this summer in Nottingham, England.

The next competition I had access to was my 3rd ICF competition and my first worlds ever. I had been training to make the USA team and to compete at worlds. I did not feel as nervous as I thought I would during the rides. I had a ride plan that I was practicing the entire time I was training in Nottingham, however, I had to throw the tricks that the feature gave me looks at…so sometimes the plan had to be varied. I flushed on my final ride but I scored my Mcnasty and finished 23rd at worlds.

When I started getting good enough to compete in freestyle events the world shut down and I was left with only getting to compete on the biggest stages in kayaking. That is just how things turned out for me and I had to learn and adapt fast as I was lacking the experience of little competitions giving me that practice.

Opening Cermonies

A letter to my younger self: 6 tips I would tell my younger self 3 years ago when I started competing in freestyle kayaking

Focus on what you can control. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about uncontrollable things, especially during a competition week. Also, nerves/anxiety are good: it means you care but don’t overthink it. Sometimes it distracts you from progress and seeing the bigger picture. Learn to embrace the nerves, manage anxiety, and prioritize focus during competitions.

Not winning or making the cut at a competition is not a failure as long as you learn from it. Your value as a person doesn’t change. You are still human. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, especially right before a competition. Your results do not equal your self-worth. Learn how to process “failure” results without falling apart. One thing I do with my coach while at competitions is when I have a bad ride, score, etc not getting the results I wanted after training so hard and rehearsing my ride in my head 5 million times, we have a 5-minute rule: you can cry and vent but then you go back out and cheer on your friends. I also write in my journal what went wrong and contributed to a bad competition and everything that went wrong that day: boat outfitting didn’t feel right, tricks weren’t working, nerves, distracted, water levels, etc. and close the journal. Then in the future, you can flip back to that page and learn from what we wrong. Journaling the setbacks leads to stepping stones from unsuccessful competitions for future growth and success.

Believe in myself. Having the self-belief system helps with limited experience to rise above the pandemic setbacks in competition. I had lots of practice over the years but no formal competitions. Confidence, Confidence, Confidence: I worked hard to get here and I deserve to be here. I have my rides. Focus on only myself. No one else matters.

Success is being relentless and continuing to grind regardless of the outcome. If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.

The path to success is not a straight line. It is a maze that, when you finally figure out, you run into a wall. It ebbs and flows. You will fail and learn from it. There will be highs and lows. You will also learn to focus on yourself and your needs to not pay attention to anyone else and their distractions.

Enjoy the process and cherish the journey: embrace the grind, training, sacrifice, traveling all over and making global connections, making friends from every country, and competing. Fall in love with the process and the results will come.

Catch you on the river!