Riding the Lightning: Superhero Paddler Adriene Levknecht

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Adriene Levknecht has a split identity.

In one world, Adriene is an employee for Greenville County EMS, driving ambulances and saving lives on 12 or 24 hour shifts. Once her shift is over, Levknecht steps into an entirely different world of raging rivers, 30-foot waterfalls, and elite international competition. She is one of the best female kayakers in the world.

Much like Clark Kent, Adriene steps away from work and into a phone booth (or more commonly her Subaru CrossTrek), and emerges a whitewater superhero. At the young age of 25, Levknecht has already achieved a Bronze Medal in the World Freestyle Championships, won the elite Green River Narrows Race five times straight, dominated the Vail [Teva, now GoPro] Mountain Games creek race, and run top tier rivers around the world. She has also done incredible charitable things like shave her head to raise money for First Descents, an organization created to help cancer survivors.

Adriene’s larger-than-life personality seems somehow perfectly appropriate for her 5’2” build. Her nickname, “Lil’ A,” makes it particularly sobering for the many men whom she shows up on the water.

She could undoubtedly have a successful career as a professional paddler, but prefers sleeping in her own bed every night to “gallivanting around the globe” kayaking.

“I like to have separation in my life,” she says. “Kayaking means more to me than traveling the country or the globe working on sponsored projects or trying to win competitions. I’m in this sport for the long haul, and I find that if I can separate work from play, I feel less likely to get burned out in either.”

This is not to say that she doesn’t put in her time, though. In an average week, Adriene kayaks 5-25 hours (depending on the season), spends eight hours in the yoga studio, four in the CrossFit gym, and still resolves to make it home for dinner every evening.

“I usually get up around 5:30 am for work, but honestly I get up earlier on my days off. I try to take advantage as much as possible of every opportunity, and my time at work is usually my recovery. I can rest sore muscles and hit the reset button on my brain. This allows me to come back fresh.”

Next time a tiny girl with infinite energy blazes past you on the river, on a mountain bike trail, or in the gym, don’t let it hurt your feelings. Adriene busts her butt every single day to operate at the level of a superhero.

Advice from Adriene

1) Have people in your life who support your passions.
2) Just kick ass! Get up and chase your goals. You won’t regret it.
3) Go 100% at work as well so that you develop trust and rapport with your boss. It’s way easier to ask for leeway when you’re indispensible.

Levknecht Specs

Age – 25
Hometown – Greenville, S.C.
Employer – Greenville County EMS
Specialty – Whitewater Kayaking
Hobbies – Yoga, Mountain Biking, Lifting Weights
Sponsors – LiquidLogic Kayaks, Kokatat, Werner Paddles, Shred Ready Helmets, Teva, Jen-ai clothing, Watershed, G-Form
Aspirations – “Just keep riding the lightning!”

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