Narative and Photos by Meryl Stark
Greetings! I’m Meryl Stark, and I live in Chattanooga. I moved from Charlotte, NC about five years ago to start my first “big girl” job as a Process Engineer at Shaw. I love technology, data, and geeky things, but I’m too busy paddling to really pursue any of those interests outside of work. Aside of my river family, my parents live in Charlotte, and I have a younger brother who has been all over the place lately teaching environmental education at several outdoor schools.
I seal-launched straight into Whitewater as soon as I moved to Chattanooga (2013), and I haven’t looked back. I had dabbled in the sport previously, taking several lessons at the USNWC in Charlotte and teaching the Whitewater Merit Badge at Boy Scout Camp, but at that time I was more into Rock Climbing (what was I thinking?). Last year, I received my ACA L4 Kayak Instructor certification through TVCC, which has been invaluable both for helping others become better paddlers, and fine tuning my technique.
I love my river family, I love being outside and going to remote places that can only be accessed in a boat. I love the technique involved in kayaking and mastering moves. I love being and being surrounded by bad-asses. Most of all, I love the sharing the joy of being on the water, conquering challenges, experiencing beauty, and celebrating each other’s victories!
Each paddling trip is its own story, but one of my favorites is the first trip I ever went on with TVCC. It was a jump trip that I found out about on the Yahoo Group (check out that Throwback!) on the Class II/III part of the Conasauga in May of 2013. I definitely remember that Pat Carver, Jamie Wendt, Mike Shillinger, Lisa Lemza, Sandra Walker, and Doug Peace were on the trip. There may have been one or two more folks. Bless these wonderful TVCC members who were so patient with me. I showed up with the boat I had just bought with my shiny new aquabound paddle and helmet and a well-loved PFD and skirt that came with the boat. I didn’t know what float bags were (someone gave me one), that I needed more than a ziploc bag to put my lunch in, nor what a drytop was. I was wearing a bathing suit and gym shorts. Sandra, I am forever thankful that you had an extra shorty. You guys trusted me when I said I had a roll, and luckily I didn’t have to prove it that day. As soon as we got off the river, Mike took me straight to Rock/Creek to buy float bags and then we had beers on Dallas Fox’s porch. I even got to go home with a tomato plant! That day showed me what a solid group of people I found in TVCC and the rest was history.
My goal for TVCC is to make Paddle School 2018 the best ever, but I’m going to need help from each and every one of you!