One of the favorite canoe & kayak downriver races is coming up!  The ACA Collegiate Race Series National Championships.  Colleges & Universities from across the country will show up on March 30th at the Tuckasegee River to compete in canoe and kayak downriver racing. What makes the event fun is that it is in both individual and team races–in kayaks, solo and tandem canoes.

Local southern favorites like Warren Wilson College, Georgia Tech and Georgia State are always enthusiastic participants at the event.  Last year a surprise showing of force arrived from Virginia: the combo team of Sweet Briar and Hollins College.  Returning again this year, the womens’ college team is fired up for another great event!

Tasha Gillum, outdoor director for Sweet Briar College (SBC) and Jon Guy Owens, Hollins’ outdoor director (HOP), are the support team behind this great group of ladies.  Coming up on the weekend, we pulled the two aside to reflect on what brought the schools to the competition and what their strategy is for this year.

A Sweet Briar/Hollins team showing up for the race series. When did this come about?

Tasha (along with Kate, SBC’s team leader): We have gone to regionals/state three times now.  This will be our 2nd time at Nationals. We started going because Jon Guy got Laura Staman (former SBC director) jazzed about it.  Then we, the students, got excited because we got to meet other boaters (we were a little reclusive at that point) and get out on new rivers!

Jon Guy: This is the 4th year that Hollins has traveled to the National Championships, and the 3rd time on the Tuck.  The first National Championships was in Fredericksburg over Fall break.  We decided to go up and try it out for fun.  Getting to hang out with other schools, with other boaters sold the deal.  The big motivator was realizing that with some with work we could actually do well.  Maybe not win, but we knew we could get people’s attention.

Hollins and Sweet Briar have always had some good rivalries in sports. How did you two bond for racing together?

Laura/Kate:  There is nothing like a little innocent rivalry to get students psyched! SBC and Hollins have had a great time paddling together, competing and supporting each other. SBC boaters look forward to meeting up with the ladies they’ve formed friendships at races and other events like swift water rescue classes. It has been fun to have two women’s paddling groups coming together to do what they love – and encourage each other through competition and support of each other.

Jon Guy: I would say the bond has come together in the sense of sisterhood.  Hollins wanted to Sweet Briar to do well because they were so similar.  It was less about school pride and more about women getting the chance to compete on par with men.  They love making men squirm at the thought of losing to a women.  I am not sure if they would say that, but I know its true.

What is the students’  favorite part of the event?

Laura/Kate: The opportunity to get out and paddle with a community – meet other boaters and have a fun day on the river.

JonGuy:  I think that the women at Hollins really enjoy that they have done so well.  It is not lost on them that they really know that the time could come when they get crushed again, so they are enjoying it.  In many ways it reinforces their choice to come to Hollins, be successful in a male dominated arena.

Okay, without spoiling your strategy, what is the goal for this years competition?

Laura: Our ladies aim to do their personal best in the kayaking races. We don’t have a well rounded program so we focus on the kayak portion – we know it won’t bring us an overall win but the ladies have fun getting out on a different river, trying to their best and meeting other boaters.

Kate:  We don’t go to win, we go to have fun. ACA is cool because you can be as competitive as you want to be. At nationals last year we wanted to get on new rivers, work on our paddling skills, meet new people and have a good time. We go to become better paddlers.

JonGuy:  Our goal is to really have strong representation in all of the events.  OC1, OC2,  & K1.  This is the best way for us to come out on towards the top of the pile in the end.  It is hard to win a single event, there are some great teams out there.  Consistency is our best bet at getting in the top 3 again.

We’d love to hear any final thoughts leading into next weekend?

Kate:  ACA’s offer a time for new boaters and old boaters alike to get out and meet more boaters. States is better for new boaters and we have had more beginners come with us on those trips than to nationals. It has been cool to meet other boating schools, particularly Hollins, and I hope that more schools start coming to these events!

JonGuy: My biggest thoughts towards the women that have been racing is the fact that it has really pulled whitewater paddling into the forefront at HOP and Hollins. The spirit of completion has motivated them to strive to be better paddlers.  They check out boats more often, they work out more often, and they are starting a club with the full intent of helping to support the competitors.  It has created a sense of identity for many of them, which is incredibly important to many of them.  They are accused of being too much of a clique.  Imagine that, a HOP clique!!!

Tasha: The ACA’s races have given the SBC boaters an opportunity to rally as a team and work toward goals – individual and team goals. The veteran paddlers encourage new ladies to join the team and compete each fall. It’s something to rally around and a way to build community. I’d second Jon Guy- even within the SBC Outdoor Program there is a paddling crew. They’re hooked and they encourage each other in pool sessions and on the river. Having a culminating race is a great way to celebrate all their work and be a part of a larger boating community.

Well, obviously the Endless River crew will be cheering for both Sweet Briar and Hollins. We love sharing time on the river with you. And sure enjoy your enthusiasm. The best best of luck!