Hometown: Asheville, N.C.
An Exhilarating 90 Seconds—Over and Over and Over
It’s about a 90-second race. The horn sounds. Paddle hard down the chute. Stop and turn on a dime to go back upstream through the eddy. Lean hard to slip through the gate without touching the pole. Spin your head around to spot the next gate until you’re through all 20 of them. Practice that just about every day for four years like Austin Kieffer ’12, and you can dream of winning a spot on the U.S. National Kayaking Team.
Icing On the Cake, Ice On the Paddle
It’s 25 minutes from Davidson to the U.S. National Whitewater Center just west of Charlotte. “That’s not why I came to Davidson,” says Kieffer, “but it certainly is the icing on the cake! It’s my favorite course in the world.” Six days a week, Kieffer straps his 12-foot, 18-pound Slovakian-made kayak to the car and makes the trip. He meets his coach and runs the quarter-mile concrete course again and again for two hours. Weather doesn’t matter. “You know it’s cold when you see ice forming on your paddle!”
Year One: A Perfect Fit
He’s convinced that Davidson is his perfect college. During spring semester 2009, he took Humanities, French, Calculus II, and a religion course, “The Sacred Quest.” The national selection meet occurred at the same time as Davidson exams, but he made arrangements with professors. “Thanks to the Honor Code, I’ll be able to take my exams off-campus or later.”
Amenities and Commitment
Twice a week, Kieffer goes to Davidson’s Lake Campus seven miles away and works on speed and endurance, paddling hard across the flat water of Lake Norman. That, plus a day of cross training and three times a week in the weight room, works out to roughly 14 training sessions a week. He’s just as committed to his studies. Every evening after dinner he goes straight to the library, and stays until the work is done. “It’s exhausting, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I can’t define myself with this pursuit. I’m trying to be a good student. One day it’ll end, so paddling can’t be everything I am.