July 27, 2022 Tennessee RiverLine Hosts Inaugural Paddlesports Leadership Academy

kayaking on the river

The Tennessee RiverLine, Explore Kentucky and Mind Body Paddle collaboratively hosted the inaugural Paddlesports Leadership Academy on June 22-26, 2022, in Knoxville.

The Leadership Academy is a new program to train and mentor individuals from communities typically underserved by outdoor recreation as leaders on the water. It empowers participants to transform their local communities by growing diverse representation in paddlesports. By fostering inclusive engagement with the Tennessee River landscape, the academy aims to enable diverse participation in river experiences and inspire pride and ownership of river spaces.

Participants were taught paddling fundamentals and techniques in the canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard. The program covered leadership skills on the water including group management, safety and rescue, paddling technique, trip planning and communication. The first cohort included eight participants from around the region including individuals from Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Texas with representation from organizations including Outdoor Afro, Black Kids Adventures, Hiking Healing and Outdoors, Black Women Who Kayak, Knoxville Parks and Recreation and the Office of Multicultural Student Life at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“The Paddlesports Leadership Academy is absolutely one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To learn, grow and simply be amongst like-minded individuals in a safe space is something I did not expect, but will forever be grateful for. I’m looking forward to the journey ahead and empowering my community just as Gerry James, Anna Levesque and Lizzy Gardner empowered us,” said Shawanna Kendrick, Paddlesports Leadership Academy graduate and founder of Hiking Healing and Outdoors.

Gerry Seavo James, the Founder of Explore Kentucky, developed the Paddlesports Leadership Academy as a concept to help overcome cultural, socio-economic and physical barriers to access and establish outdoor recreation as an inclusive and welcoming space for all. Through Gerry’s collaboration with the American Canoe Association, a new Community Paddlesports Leader certification was created as a more approachable avenue to formal paddling education and was the foundation for the academy’s curriculum.

Along with James, Anna Levesque, chair of the ACA Safety, Education & Instruction Council and owner of Mind Body Paddle, and Lizzy Gardner, Program Manager of the Tennessee RiverLine, were the first ACA educators to lead instruction through this new multi-paddle craft curriculum. Core components of the academy included the incubation of group culture that helps participants learn, play and grow their technical and leadership skills in a supportive environment as they work to create an inclusive space in the outdoors that addresses exclusion, barriers to access and historical erasure.

“As a black person in the outdoor community, my presence is often viewed as an anomaly, despite the rich history of our involvement within this space,” said James. “A range of barriers exist to entry in paddlesports due to outdoor spaces not historically being welcoming or safe for all people, compounded by a range of socio-economic, cultural, historical, social and physical factors. Programs like the Paddlesports Leadership Academy empower communities to grow leadership from within, moving the needle to create a more diverse representation, leadership and participation in river experiences. We’re all excited to be part of and support this kind of work.”

people smiling at the Tennessee RiverLine event

“Explore Kentucky, the Tennessee RiverLine and Mind Body Paddle look forward to witnessing the impact that graduates of the Paddlesports Leadership Academy will have. Together, we will work to transform communities with the knowledge and experience they’ve gained,” said Gardner.

This year’s academy was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Tennessee RiverLine’s principal partners, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Tennessee Valley Authority. The academy’s leadership is committed to continuing this program in the future and expanding its reach to new communities and diverse participants. This program nurtures a shared vision of promoting equitable access to river experiences and establishing the Tennessee RiverLine and other river communities as an inclusive and welcoming space for all.

About the Tennessee RiverLine
The Tennessee RiverLine is North America’s next great regional trail system, a multi-generational initiative that offers economic development, public health, resource stewardship and equitable access benefits to 2.4 million people in Tennessee River communities. The Tennessee RiverLine is led by the UT School of Landscape Architecture, a partnership of the UT College of Architecture and Design and the Herbert College of Agriculture, and principal partners, UT Knoxville and TVA, in collaboration with the Tennessee RiverLine Partnership, a consortium of organizations committed to realizing the vision for the Tennessee RiverLine.

About the Explore Kentucky Initiative
Explore Kentucky is a Black-owned and led outdoor-oriented social enterprise working to expand outdoor accessibility, build environmental literacy and improve quality of life for folks in Kentucky. Explore Kentucky partners with activists, artists, brands, communities and governmental + nonprofit organizations to bring diverse groups of people together, build accessibility to the outdoors, improve environmental literacy and invigorate ecotourism, thus creating a broader community of outdoor enthusiasts and better quality of life.

About Mind Body Paddle

Mind Body Paddle is a woman-owned business created to inspire women worldwide to thrive through mind, body and paddle coaching. Owner Anna Levesque is the leading expert in mental agility coaching for women in whitewater kayaking, a stand-up paddleboarding instructor, yoga teacher and ayurvedic health coach. Her years of passion and experience in paddling and holistic health grew to develop a business with a mission to empower women, share knowledge and curate experiences for her clients that lead to self-discovery, skill development and personal freedom.

About the American Canoe Association
The American Canoe Association 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.