(Photo: Erik Richard Unger via Flickr)

Adriene Levknecht on Running Dangerous Rapids and Holding Down a Job

The champion South Carolina kayaker can’t train full-time. But that hasn’t stopped her from holding her own in some of the world’s biggest water.


Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

At only 24, Adriene Levknecht has paddled her way to four Green River Narrows Race wins (breaking her own record last year) and a spot on this year’s U.S. Freestyle Kayaking World Championships team. What’s even more impressive is that she’s done it all while working as a full-time paramedic with Greenville County Emergency Medical Services in South Carolina.

Levknecht will take to the water again at this weekend’s GoPro Mountain Games, where she’s hoping to capture titles in steep creek and freestyle. We asked her what she’s looking forward to this year, and how she manages it all.

So are the Mountain Games going to be more fun for you, or competitive?
Oh, I’m always looking to compete really seriously. That’s the main reason why I come out here. It’s not all about winning, but for the creek race it’s about making it down clean and fast, for freestyle it’s about doing your best.

How has making the World Championship team affected your mindset?
I want to make sure I don’t get hurt, because I want to do really well at Worlds. And I’ve actually been scaling back my really big steep creeking stuff a little bit, just in the last couple of years, out of choice. I lost a couple really good friends. I like having fun on creeks that don’t scare me.

Can you ever get comfortable doing dangerous runs?
I don’t think that anybody ever does get completely comfortable with it. And if you do get really comfortable with it, you’re not doing something right. If you’re running Class V, you’re not going to be comfortable.

You run some intense rapids. Have you ever had any close calls?
I’ve broken my nose, I’ve injured my shoulder. I ran one rapid that was supposedly unrunnable. I watched one of my best friends go through a sieve and I was right behind him. It kind of comes with the territory. Everyone has those days when the shit hits the fan, and you just gotta keep trudging.

How do you fit training into a full-time work schedule?
It’s frickin’ rough. I have a very patient boyfriend. He just does everything. My parents are both really supportive of what I do. Also, work, they kind of understand that I need time off to go train for the U.S. team. They gave me a month and a half off to come to Colorado, so it works out.

How did you end up going pro on top of going to school and holding down a job?
I kind of fell into it. I grew up in Michigan, on the Great Lakes. My parents would take me sea kayaking when I was a kid. When I got to be 10 or 11 I got kind of sick of the flatwater, so my dad started bringing me down to the Nantahala in North Carolina.

In my sophomore year of high school, my parents found the World Class Kayak Academy, and I finished up my junior and senior year of high school there. That was when I got really good at kayaking.

At the 2011 Mountain Games you not only dominated the women’s steep creek championship, but your time was also up there with the men’s.
When I started kayaking, I was like, “I don’t want to be left behind from the men.” So I’ve always been the kind of person to say, “If they’re doing it, I can do it too.” It’s definitely caused a few pretty rowdy beatdowns but in the end it’s worked out really well.

Do you have a set training schedule?
I don’t really have a training schedule. I have a dry-land workout that I try and do like five days a week. It’s around an hour and a half long: pull-ups, pushups and sit-ups. I mountain bike a good amount.

You’ll be shaving your head for First Descents this weekend. What’s the plan for that?
I found a woman in New Hampshire who hand-makes her wigs and donates those wigs to women my age who need hair. No money is exchanged, it’s all about donations and time. And my goal is to raise $3,000 [for First Descents]. I have a team page where you can donate.

How did you find out about the organization?
They did a First Descents week down at the Nantahala last year, so I spent a week with them and it was probably the coolest week I’ve ever had in my life.

It was for the caregivers of people who have suffered or are suffering from cancer. It was amazing just talking to them and hearing how grateful they were—just to have a week when they don’t have to worry about medications or doctor appointments, or anything that comes with taking care of somebody who is terminally ill. 

Any goals for the next year?
I want to end my professional life as a kayaker on a really good note. That would include winning the World and winning the Green Race in one year, because that’s never happened before. Nobody has ever come anywhere near it, actually. So I’m gonna train just as hard as everybody else is, and I’m gonna utilize my ability to kayak.

So will this really be the end of your professional career?
Every year I’m like, “Well, I don’t know if I’m gonna do it again,” but then, here I am.

Lead Photo: Erik Richard Unger via Flickr

promo logo