Whitewater kayaker tackles 3 sports in 1 day to honor fallen friend

When whitewater paddler Shannon Christy died training for the Great Falls Race in 2013, her best friend Adriene Levknecht felt she lost a significant part of herself.

Levknecht is an expert whitewater kayaker known around the world for her dual mastery of extreme creeking and international freestyle.

Her accomplishments include seven Green Race championship titles, third place in the 2013 freestyle kayaking world championships and this year’s Canoe & Kayak Female Paddler of the Year award.

But it may be the friendship and loss of Christy that has most shaped her life over the last three years, something Levknecht honored last month on July 11, the day of Christy’s death.

While some people place flowers on the grave, Levknecht chose to fill that day with trail running, paddling and mountain biking, sprinkled in with shenanigans and friends.

“It was a great day to remember what Shannon would have done every day of her life. She loved doing triple-sport days,” Levknecht said.

Here’s how she did it.

Step 1: Run up a steep mountain

Shannon Christy poses with her helmet in June 2013 at the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. Photo: Charli Kerns

Shannon Christy poses with her helmet in June 2013 at the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. Photo: Charli Kerns, idea by Shannon Christy

“Snowy and I ran up Table Rock. We leave a ‘you are beautiful’ sticker up there every year,” Levknecht said. She and her fiancé and fellow paddler, Mark “Snowy” Robertson, sped up 3.6 miles with a 2,000-foot elevation change.

The trail runs through oak and hickory trees with scattered pines and hemlock before opening up to a granite dome, Table Rock Mountain (3,124 feet), overlooking mountain views in the northwest corner of South Carolina.

“Running is always the most painful for me, but she was so good at it," Levknecht said.

The “you are beautiful” sticker Levknecht stuck at the top of the trail is a message that has its roots in Chicago. What began as 100 original stickers in 2002 has since burgeoned to over 3 million placed around the world as a message to brighten someone’s day, “a way to remind ourselves that even when things aren’t going great, it’s ok.”

In the last three years, most of the whitewater community came to know that sticker as Christy’s signature from one she had on her helmet.

A photo taken during a multi-day trip on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon features that helmet and sticker, becoming her emblem, and hundreds of stickers like Levknecht’s have been placed around the country in her memory.

Steps 2 and 3: Paddle a hard river and enjoy some wine

Following their run, Robertson and Levknecht paddled down their home stretch of river, the Green Narrows. Paddling the Class V steep creek for over 10 years, Levknecht has nabbed first place seven times in the world-famous Green Narrows Race, earning her the title “Queen of the Green.”

Levknecht reflects on her runs with Christy as some of the best.

“The Green was one of the few rivers Shannon and I shared frequently, and it has always had a special place in both of our hearts,” Levknecht said. Among the memories is a time when they paddled it together at twice the normal flow, kicking the difficulty beyond what most paddlers would usually try running.

“I routed her off of Sunshine, down the middle, without scouting. All I could hear behind me was giggles the whole time,” Shannon reflected.

“Snowy ran gorilla for the first time since October when he hurt his shoulder,” Levknecht said.

In celebration of his successful run and Christy’s life, they enjoyed the Outdoor Vino by Naked Winery. Levknecht added, “It’s a plastic bottle! Brilliant.”

Step 4: Head to the trails

Shannon Christy

Shannon Christy and Adriene Levknecht pose during a mountain bike ride. Photo: Courtesy of Adriene Levknecht

Next came a 12-mile bike ride at DuPont State Recreational Forest, a friend joining them on the second half.

They rode two of the more than 70 rideable trails in the 10,400-acre forest, which is almost as famous for its world-class riding as it is for being a backdrop to the “Hunger Games” film in 2012.

“DuPont was close enough it made it a bit of a shorter day, and we love DuPont so much for its access ability and awesome trails,” Levknecht said.

Step 5: Celebrate

What better way to end an action-packed day than with the food, drinks and company Christy loved? Levknecht said theirs finished with beer and pizza and friends, a classic finale most all athletes would appreciate.

“These three sports are the ones that Shannon loved the most in her life,” Levknecht said. For her, the best way to honor her best friend, anyone, is to live the day with them in their memory, and she offered that advice to anyone who has lost someone they cherish.

“Find something you both enjoyed doing together, and do now it as much as you can,” she said.

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