Last summer, 17-year-old kayaker Danielle Sartori competed in the Junior Olympics in North Carolina. “For me, this was a big accomplishment because I was paddling with highly skilled slalom kayakers,” she said. The Parkway Central senior has been paddling since before she can remember and has no plans to stop. “I’m excited to explore new places and rivers through the sport of kayaking. I’ve met so many amazing people, and I look forward to meeting many more.”

How did you first get into kayaking?

I don’t remember how old I was. My dad developed a passion for kayaking when he was in college, and he introduced me to it when I was young. I started out canoeing. My brother and I would catch critters on local Missouri float streams. My first kayak was a yellow Perception Dancer XS. I began kayaking on lakes, then, after about a year, we moved to meandering rivers.

Tell us about your development as a kayaker.

I got my roll at age 9 at the South County YMCA pool. Every year for about the past seven years, the Missouri Whitewater Association rents the pool on Sunday evenings when it closes, and we bring in our boats and practice during the winter months. My first time on the St. Francis River, which is Missouri’s only reliable whitewater river, was in June 2009. The river was really low. It was a perfect introduction on a warm day.

And when did you start competing?

When I was 13, in March 2012, I entered my first kayaking race. It was the down-river race at the Missouri Whitewater Championship on the St. Francis. The following year, I competed again, but added slalom classes. I medaled in every class I competed in: women’s novice, age group, plastic short and down-river. I did better than I ever thought I would.

What are your favorite waters to kayak?

The Ocoee in Tennessee and the St. Francis in Missouri. Both are gorgeous rivers. The Saint is technical and clogged with boulders. The Ocoee is pushier and has a lot of play spots. There’s a wave there called Hell Hole that I really like! It’s big and steep. It’s hard to surf, but when you get a good one, you really get bounced around.

What are your favorite aspects of kayaking?

Kayaking requires so much technique and commitment. There are many different types of kayaking, each requiring slightly different moves, like play-boating and flat-water racing — all fun and unique. I most enjoy slalom kayaking and paddling new rivers.

Tell us a little about your training regime.

I kayak mostly when I feel like it. When I’m training for a race or when it’s warm outside, I may be on the water up to four times a week. I remember training [for the Missouri Whitewater Championship] with my Dad on the Meramec River at night in the middle of the winter. When I’m training, I also lift weights. When I’m not training for a race, I keep in shape by practicing yoga and running.

Where do you hope the sport of kayaking will take you?

I want to continue to develop my skills. When I attended my first out-of-state slalom race on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, my world opened up. I was exposed to so many new people, and a new level of expertise I didn’t know existed. Over the last few years, I’ve broadened my racing to include flat-water and have competed in flat-water sprints as well as endurance races, my longest being a 40-miler on the Missouri River.

What advice would you give to beginning kayakers?

Don’t jump in too quickly. Often people find themselves on pieces of water that are too advanced for their skill level, and one bad experience can scare them away from the sport. Ease into more difficult water gradually.

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine