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10 years ago (May 2014) I became an American Canoe Association (ACA) volunteer. I was selected to be ACA State Co-Director of South Carolina with my soon-to-be friend Ethan as part of an initial cadre across each U.S. State and Territory. The ACA was founded in 1880 and is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves the broader paddling public by providing educational programs, supporting stewardship initiatives that affect paddlers, and offering competition opportunities to athletes of all abilities. The ACA State Director role involved 1) helping paddlers find local instruction or certification opportunities, 2) promoting competition, training, stewardship, and other community-based paddlesports events, 3) building coalitions for paddler advocacy initiatives, and much more.

Little did I know this State Co-Director role and volunteer work would start a journey that would transform my life. At the time I was living in Charleston, South Carolina with a huge passion for paddlesports and 5 years of kayak teaching experience for Outdoor Recreation Georgia Tech (ORGT), a wonderful college outdoor program. Nearly every weekend I would paddle around Charleston or drive 4-5 hours each way on weekends to paddle or teach on waterways around the Southeast U.S.

While in college, I remember ORGT introducing me to the ACA through a sea kayaking skills course at Tybee Island, Georgia. This was my first experience with professional paddlesports instruction. One weekend of training transformed my skillset. I felt so much more confident in both my sea kayak and whitewater kayak after this. I also learned proper technique to be more effective and efficient, as well as all sorts of new skills. I also completed Swift Water Rescue skills training from ACA Instructors multiple times, which helped me to become a more prepared and safer teacher and paddling partner. These experiences aided my start in kayak instruction. These great skills courses were strong motivators for me becoming a volunteer a few years later after I graduated college.

Becoming an ACA volunteer was a catalyst for me becoming a certified Instructor, pursuing my ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayaking Instructor Certification (class 3-3+) a few months after my State Co-Director appointment. The following year (2015), I would move to Asheville, North Carolina and put in a ton of work to earn the highest river kayaking level: ACA Level 5 Advanced Whitewater Kayaking Instructor (class 4-4+). I’m currently the only person in the Pacific Northwest holding this certification. While in North Carolina, I became the ACA State Director of North Carolina.

A few years later (2018) I moved to Seattle and diversified my instruction by earning the ACA Level 3 Coastal Kayaking Instructor Certification, now professionally teaching both river and sea kayaking. This last certification introduced me to the owner of Ballard Kayak and Paddleboard, where I now teach kayaking and grew a strong team of instructors providing the Seattle area with high quality paddling education. The was a major milestone for me becoming a professional in outdoor and experiential learning, and I attribute much of this to the ACA. This same year I was elected to the ACA River Kayak Committee, a group of amazing volunteers responsible for curriculum and new programs development.

3 years later (2021), after years of dedication and hard work, I earned becoming an ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayaking Instructor Trainer, responsible for training, certifying, and re-certifying ACA River Kayak Instructors. This was a huge honor for me as I could help to start or further develop others’ professional journeys in kayak instruction. I am so excited to see others putting in the work to teach and help members of their communities to be more prepared and safe while on the water. This same year I began helping to lead instruction at the Greater Seattle Area’s 1st Diversify Whitewater event, an annual two-day event with aims of providing life-changing experiences and making whitewater paddling a more diverse and inclusive sport.

In 2022 I was elected National Chair of the ACA River Kayak Committee, volunteering to lead the creation and update of nationwide curriculum and programs. This 2-year appointment was one of the greatest honors of my lifetime. I dedicated 100’s of hours to improving river kayak curriculum that’s used worldwide to be more consistent across levels, encouraging more safety and rescue skills being taught, and introducing the new river kayak hand-paddling instructional program. A couple months later I was awarded ACA Instructor of the Month, a national recognition.

I attribute this moment of signing up to be an ACA volunteer 10 years ago for developing me into a professional outdoor educator, sponsored athlete, committed volunteer, and nonprofit leader. I live a much healthier and happier life because of this volunteering. I have accomplished several things I thought would be ‘impossible’ because of 10 years of steady volunteer commitment. I’m grateful for the opportunities and the many people I’ve met along the way helping me achieve these goals. I’ve volunteered with the ACA every day since then, now as the Past Chair of the ACA River Kayak Committee, helping to mentor a new cadre of leaders and develop future river kayaking curriculum and programs. It’s amazing of what volunteer work can do for you and the communities we live in. What seemed impossible before is now possible. Giving back transformed me.

What will the next 10 years look like? I certainly don’t plan to stop volunteering in support of paddlesports anytime soon. I hope to help more members of my community to find a lifelong connection with paddling and some to find a new profession in kayak instruction. I hope to help paddling students and instructors to find each other and lead happier and healthier lives because of it. I envision myself getting more into educational opportunities for paddlers with disabilities and underrepresented communities in paddling. I’m excited for what’s to come and the people I’ll meet along the way. Thank you for reading my story.