Local / Regional Female athlete: Adriene Levknecht (Greenville, S.C.)
Upbeat, strong, and inspirational to all, this talented lady might as well be dubbed the Queen of Whitewater. With six Green Race wins under her belt (a record she shares with only two other paddlers—Tommy Hilleke and Keith Sprinkle), Adriene has been an icon in the paddling community for over a decade. Despite having traveled around the globe in search of the best whitewater, with a backyard run like the Green River Narrows (which flows over 300 days a year) in addition to reliable rainfall and a number of dam-controlled rivers, it’s no wonder Adriene has chosen the Southeast as home base.
“I love kayaking because it gives me a freedom that I have not been able to experience in any other aspects of my life,” Adriene says. “I can go as fast or as a slow as I want, I can go where I want to go, and if I am overstepping my limits the river lets me know!”
Local / Regional Male athlete: Ben King (Charlottesville, Va.)
Ben King is a beast on two wheels. He’s a two-time Junior National Champion, a two-time U23 National Champion, a two-time U23 Pan American Champion, and a USA professional National Champion (2010). Ben is easily one of the most competitive cyclists in the industry, regularly placing in the top 10 at some of the world’s most challenging multiday stage races. His stomping grounds in central Virginia may seem like an odd choice for training, but according to Ben, there’s no where better in the world to ride.
“I have trained and raced all over the world and in my opinion the Blue Ridge offers some of the best terrain, road density, and scenery out there,” he says. “Riding and racing make me feel alive. Even when it hurts, you are aware of yourself.”
Inspiring outdoor person: Bob Peoples (Hampton, Tenn.)
A small man with a solid build, big heart, and a thick Boston accent, Bob Peoples is a legend among hikers. He owns the cozy Kincora Hiking Hostel in Hampton, Tenn., and annually hosts hundreds if not thousands of hikers from around the world. Peoples himself is an avid hiker, knocking off treks of both the Camino Portugués and the traditional Camino de Santiago in the last decade. His love for the hiking community inspired him early on to get involved with trail maintenance. He’s the lead trail maintainer for the Tennessee Eastman Hiking & Canoeing Club and the brains behind Hard Core, the largest hiker-fueled trail maintenance event in the country.
In an interview with BRO last spring, Peoples explained why the hiker community inspires him: “It’s such a good community because basically age, sex, country of origin, language you speak, money in your bank account, means absolutely nothing. The white blazes don’t care. Everybody’s equal out here.”
Raft guide: Linc Stallings (Endless River Adventures, N.C.)
This guy’s been around. From the West Virginia classics like the New and Gauley Rivers to the gorges of Colorado, Linc is a man of whitewater. He’s made the river his life, raft guiding for over a decade and deciding in 2012 to create his own SUP guide service near his home in northeastern Georgia. So what is it that draws Linc to any and all forms of water? Well—we’ll have to wait for him to get back from paddling through the Grand Canyon to answer that one.
Climbing guide: Elaina Arenz (New River Mountain Guides, W.Va.)
From her hometown crags at the New River Gorge to the remote walls of El Potrero Chico in Mexico, professional climber and guide Elaina Arenz knows her happy place is on the rock. She’s the founder and head guide of New River Mountain Guides in Fayetteville, W.Va., and she brings her two decades of climbing experience to every trip she leads and every student she instructs. She’s a sponsored climber for La Sportiva and an Access Fund athlete ambassador. Her numerous first ascents in North America have made her an icon among women climbers worldwide. Despite having traveled around the world to climb, she says she enjoys coming back to West Virginia to guide and share her passion with other people.
“I am reminded every day what it was like to discover climbing for the first time,” Arenz says. “I see the psych in the people I teach and it makes me thankful I can help others reach their climbing goals.”
Fly fishing instructor: Reba Brinkman (Hunter Banks, Asheville, N.C.)
Reba Brinkman’s love affair with the river is tangible to the students she teaches every year. She’s been fly-fishing since 2001 and says when she first felt the flyrod in her hands all those years ago, she never wanted to go back.
“Fly fishing allows you to submerse yourself in a moment,” Reba says. “Being a part of the surroundings and actively trying to emulate nature brings total focus and serenity.”
Reba helps newcomers to fly-fishing learn everything from how to read a river to knot tying, fly selection, and even trout habits. She says one of her favorite things about her job isn’t just the actual instructional sessions—it’s the things she learns from her students that keep her inspired.
“Every student is different and fly fishing allows oneself to develop their own connection and perspective.”
Male A.T. thru-hiker: Matt Kirk (N.C.)
Strong, tough, yet humble, one would never guess that Matt Kirk’s slender frame and quiet resolve were the key ingredients for a lean, mean, hiking machine. He’s the record holder for the fastest unsupported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in the summer of 2013. The trail, which normally takes hikers anywhere from five to six months, took Matt a mere 58 days and 40 minutes. What’s more, he chose to go southbound instead of taking the traditional approach and following Spring north.
“The softer we walk on this Earth, the closer we are to flying,” Matt says.
Matt is a true minimalist and completed his record setting hike with a homemade pack. He says that “travelling fast, light, and free” is primarily what he loves about hiking, and it’s clear that Matt truly has found a freedom in the woods not unlike the liberties of a bird in flight.
Female A.T. thru-hiker: Jennifer Pharr Davis (N.C.)
“I love my relationship with the A.T. because it has really met me at every phase of life,” says three-time thru-hiker and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Jennifer Pharr Davis. “It allowed me to find out who I was as a 21-year-old in 2005, it allowed me to grow closer to my husband in 2008, and it challenged me as an athlete in 2011. Now it’s the best place to take my daughter and I’ll be happy when I’m older just going and sitting on a rock.”
At 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, Jennifer currently holds the record for the fastest supported thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, a feat she accomplished in 2011. She’s hiked all over the world, from summiting Kilimanjaro to thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, but she says the community, biodiversity, and accessibility of the A.T. make it her favorite trail in the world.
Outdoor legend / pioneer: Payson Kennedy (N.C.)
Over four decades ago, Payson Kennedy and his wife Aurelia decided to move from their comfortable home and jobs in Atlanta, Georgia, to the outskirts of Bryson City, N.C. Their reason? Adventure. When Horace Holden approached Payson about starting an outdoor recreational business on a piece of property he’d recently purchased (conveniently located on the banks of the Nantahala River), Payson jumped at the opportunity. The year was 1972 and that business was the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC).
“We took a total of about 1,200 people downriver,” Payson says. “People came off the river so exhilarated and so excited that I knew we’d be able to see this through the long run.”
Payson’s hunch was spot on. The NOC now takes over 100,000 people rafting on seven different rivers in the Southeast. The center offers more than just whitewater adventures too—from ziplines to mountain bikes, the NOC can provide a wraparound adventure vacation for everyone from families to young adults.
“I really believe in the concept of ‘flow’ and that’s what I’ve tried to emphasize in our activities here,” Payson says, “to have people have these experiences when they’re completely focused on the moment and perform beyond their normal ability. These are moments that can last a lifetime.”
Coach: Randy Ashley (N.C.)
Running is Randy Ashley’s life. From an early age, Randy always knew that he wanted to run. Inspired by and with the help of his high school coach Richard Westbrook, Randy decided to take his passion for running to the next level. Randy would go on to run competitively after high school, eventually landing himself a spot at the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1996 and 2000. He now trains runners of all ages and has helped his prospects achieve such feats as winning the USATF 50K National Trail Championship and qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. So what’s a competitive racing veteran with over two decades of experience have to say to up-and-coming athletes?
“Believe in yourself. Remember that training is simply the method to stronger racing. And always keep running in perspective. Failure is part of the process of growth. Running provides a freedom that not all have, so lighten up on yourself.”
Bike shop personality: Paul Hoover (Blue Ridge Cyclery, Va.)
What’s it take to be voted the “best bike shop personality” in the Blue Ridge? You guessed it—personality. If there’s one thing aside from Jedi-bike-fitting skills that Blue Ridge Cyclery’s Paul Hoover has, it’s personality. Friendly, helpful, and ever-so-patient, Hoover will get you hooked up at the shop, whether it takes five minutes or five hours.
“You meet some really enriching, creative, and fun folks working in the bike industry,” Hoover says. “No matter where I’ve been, I truly believe [central Virginia] is the most beautiful, interesting place in the world.”
Bike mechanic: Matty Smekowich (The Recyclery, N.C.)
Canadian-born Matty Smekowich loves bikes. From mountain biking in the early ‘90s to working as a bike messenger for seven years in Vancouver, Matty’s life runs on two wheels.
“Working as a bike messenger, I got a lot of bikes stolen, got hit a lot, so I learned how to build bikes through necessity just so I could go to work the next day,” Matty says.
Matty’s worked at a number of community bike shops across North America, so when he moved to the Asheville area 12 years ago, the first thing he did was get involved with The Recyclery, a volunteer-run bike shop that upcycles old bike parts.
“People can come to The Recyclery and learn how to maintain their bikes that they already own, they can build bikes from scratch, or some come down to buy bikes that we’ve already refurbished,” he says. “I think it’s great for folks to get the skills to maintain the things they use. It helps them feel a little more confident about life in the process.”
Sports physical therapist: Amira Ranney (Asheville, N.C.)
We all know how frustrating it is to be sitting on the sidelines recovering from an injury while your friends rip it up. That’s why it helps to have a physical therapist who knows her stuff. Amira Ranney certainly didn’t get #1 sports physical therapist for nothing. With over three decades of experience in physical therapy, Amira chose Asheville’s outdoor hub to open up her own practice so she could cater to her own love of the mountains as well as help others get back to the woods as soon as possible.
“I love working with people to help them keep and improve their mobility and strength and to play a part in keeping them doing what they want to do,” Amira says. “Our tag line is ‘we keep bodies in motion’ and that is what I love doing.”