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Boating Community Mourns the Loss of Sarah Ruhlen

“Live profoundly. Refuse indifference. Inclusivity. Shake the dust.”


Grief swept across the paddling community following the unexpected death of boater Sarah Ruhlen earlier this month. Ruhlen passed away in Crossville, Tenn., on August 3 due to complications of type 1 diabetes, a disease that her obituary described as something, “she never allowed to diminish her passion for living to the fullest or the joy she spread among her family and many friends.” 

Born and raised in the Southeast, Ruhlen started boating at a young age and grew up in the paddling community, eventually going on to become an instructor at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  She devoted much of her life to her passion for being on the water, media creation, and uplifting people in the outdoors through her work. Back in 2017, BRO highlighted her all-women edit for the 2017 Tallulah Fest in the story “How Sarah Ruhlen is Redefining Kayaking Videos,” which described how Ruhlen wanted to increase the representation of women in the sport. 

“Paddling is my passion, or more specifically—the people that make up the paddling community,” Ruhlen wrote on her website, Sarah Ruhlen Catalyst Media. “What I love most about media is the way I can both show those people, and create content for them that helps further the stoke.”

Since her passing, paddlers from across the country have posted online remembrances of Ruhlen, commemorating the positive impression she made on the community. Among them was the team of Dagger Kayaks, a company that worked with and supported Ruhlen’s work. 

“Sarah Ruhlen contributed her heart and soul to whitewater and she left a strong impression upon all of us on the Dagger Team,” Dagger employees posted on Facebook. “One of Sarah’s favorite quotes was ‘thriving’ or ‘never not thriving.’ With all her diabetic struggles and some of her other health issues, she always kept a positive attitude and encouraged others simultaneously.”

Ruhlen was particularly fond of the annual Green River Narrows Race, the extreme kayaking competition that takes place every fall in western North Carolina. The race announced on its Facebook page that this year’s race will be dedicated to Ruhlen.

“Sarah Ruhlen was a key team member here at the Green Race who passed away too young and too soon,” race representatives posted. “Authentic to the core, she was special and will be sorely missed.  Before we get into the usual banter, hype, and all things Green Race we want to let everyone know this year’s race is dedicated to her.”

Cover photo of Sarah Ruhlen by Mitch Bearden 

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