I think of this paddler as a bit of an advocate ninja. When she sees a gap that needs to be filled or something missing in the whitewater community, she doesn’t rant and rave about it. She just gets quietly to work planning, collaborating and creating until suddenly, the whitewater community has something great. That’s how we got the Boater Chick Festival. This paddler has given so much to women paddling–and paddling in general– that I honestly don’t know how to do her story justice, but here goes the attempt. Enjoy the Q and A with Anne Connolly.
How long have you been boating? It depends on how you wanna look at it. I’ve been boating since I was 8 years old in a big old aluminum canoe in class II- III-, but I was big into surfing and skiing when I was a kid because we lived by the beach. I also used to build rafts and pull them across the river. Everything I’d always done revolved around the river. Official start? Probably when I went down the Ocoee in a raft 20 years ago. I didn’t like it because I’m little, and the guide put me up front. He thought it would be funny to fold the raft over on me, and it slammed me down to the bottom of the boat. Everyone said to get up, and I said hell no! That freaked me out. But then I saw the kayakers, and that got me interested.
How did you learn to kayak? Well, 8 years after the Ocoee raft trip, I got in a kayak and taught myself by a William Nealy book. I read the whole book and colored it. My friend and I put a boat on layaway, and we had a pfd and a paddle. So we went to the lake and kept reading Nealy, learning forward strokes and everything. We did it for a month and a half and then went to NOC’s Guest Appreciation Festival and that’s where we bought the second boat. We ran the Nantahala and met these guys on the way down who asked if we wanted to lead them to lead us down. We got to truck stop eddy before Nanty Falls, and one guy asked if we wanted to run it. I said yes. We ran it, and then I saw I saw people playing in the hole at the bottom and thought what the hell I wanna try that.
What specifically got you interested in boating?I like a challenge and the sense of accomplishment. I like the camaraderie with
the group, too. I can’t say I’m addicted to danger, but I enjoy the danger factor and how hard you’ve got to concentrate. Your life’s at stake sometimes, and you’ve got to have a lot of concentration. When you run something really hard you feel like you can do anything after that. I like that feeling. I want that feeling back. I miss it.
You miss it? I feel differently now because I lost my best friend when Jenna died two months ago. That tore me up. I haven’t done class V since. All my guys friends tell me to get back out there, and I think if I could get that there, I’d get that feeling back. I’m not scared I’m going to die, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s just, Jenna was my best my friend. To lose that…that part of me died when she died. I’m going through all those 7 stages of grief crap, and I’m stuck between anger and sadness. You stay in the sport long enough, you’ll see someone die. At her service, I got to put her ashes in the water and put my hand through her ashes and paddled the river. It was the most profound moment of my life.
What do you want to share about kayaking with people? Kayaking has taught me faith and courage and prayer. It’s taught me humility and wisdom, humility more than anything. Kayaking humbles me and everybody needs to be humbled. Everything I learned in kayaking has given me the courage to live and be outside of kayaking. It’s also taught me it’s a bit of an individual sport. Sitting in front of a waterfall is kind of like football. You’ve got a team, but it’s like holding a football in front of the line. It’s all about you. You could totally screw it up or throw it in to make the touch down. You’re the one who has to make the decision on whether you’re going to do it. Everyone down there makes sure they can save you when things go wrong, but when you hit it right and everyone’s patting your back, there’s nothing like it in the world.