11 years old Sage Donelly is an aspiring athlete paving a way for the future of whitewater kayaking. She races creek and slalom, freestyle paddles, and rock climbs in the off-season. Last year she won the Jr. Women’s Freestyle National Championship (while still 10), competed in the Class V Brush Creek Race, and ran most of the rapids on the Grand Canyon. Beyond being a young and talented athlete, she speaks with an enthusiasm for the river that is sincere and unparalled by anyone I have met her age.
Rush Sturges caught up with Sage for a quick Q+A to get her take on things.
You are running dangerous whitewater at a young age, how does that make your parents feel?
Almost everything I have run, both my parents have run. They always have parameters that we stick to, such as river level and people involved. And I always run something a step down several times without any problems before I move up a level, so it is a well thought out process with lots of safety in place. Anyone of us can say no at anytime. My mom does not like to be behind me on hard rapids because she tends to watch me instead of making the necessary moves.
The river is a powerful place, how do you face your fears in such a hostile environment? Are you ever afraid on the river?
I just try to believe in myself and what I can do. I do find myself afraid of the river sometimes, and I just try to focus on my skills to get me through it. I practice slalom racing a lot as I go down rivers when I navigate harder runs and that helps me with my paddling skills.
What types of obstacles have you had to overcome so far in life?
I have been a type 1 diabetic since the age of 3 and was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of 8. I have to monitor my bloodsugar when I work out, but seem to always go low just as a competition is starting! It can be hard to do well when your muscles are weak and shaky and you are dizzy! So far, I haven’t had a problem getting insulin and supplies on the road, but with celiac (gluten allergy) we have to plan well ahead to make sure we can buy gluten free products to eat. We are also vegetarian so meals can get creative!
If you had the option of kayaking for a living, would you do it?
Yes! But with diabetes, I have to be realistic about my health, so I am actually thinking of a career in nursing so I will have a flexible schedule to travel.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Wow! I’ll be 21! I hope to be an Olympic caliber paddler in both freestyle and slalom, and continuing to keep encouraging others to enjoy the river.
Thanks Sage – best of luck to you! Rush