Vail Teva Games: Kelly edges out teammate for steep creek win
Vail, CO Colorado
RED CLIFF, Colorado – Nikki Kelly guesses that she was probably praying as she entered the final stretch of the Homestake Creek.
“I was thinking, ‘Please, please, please keep it together,'” said the New Zealand kayaker.
Kelly did, with a total time of 4 minutes and 9.48 seconds that rivaled some of the men’s field and just hundredths of a second faster than fellow Teva team member Tanya Faux – to win the Women’s Steep Creek Championships at the Teva Mountain Games.
The competitors got two cracks at the course, a thunderous, fast and relatively narrow quarter-mile stretch near Red Cliff, where even minor mistakes often cost precious seconds and a podium spot.
“My first run wasn’t as smooth, so I knew I had to make it up on my second run. Once you muck up once, you’re fighting it the rest of the time,” Kelly said, referring to the first run where teammate Faux had the fastest time. “Tanya is such a strong paddler, I knew it was going to be tough. But I changed a couple of my lines, and the run was way smooth.”
Even the top paddlers said the course was physically and technically challenging. Both Faux and Kelly ran into trouble near the end of the course when currents pinned them against a rock wall.
Faux, who beat out Kelly last year to win the race, said she felt she had smooth, clean runs. On her second time down the river, her plan was to paddle hard through the flatter first section, navigate cleanly through the middle rapids, finish strong and stay focused.
“I was coming through smoothly, but I just got pushed against that wall and lost just enough time,” she said.
However, the teammates are used to battling it out for podium spots. They were all smiles as the times were announced and slapped a couple wet high fives from their boats after Kelly won.
“Kelly is a fierce competitor and a good friend,” Faux said. “We always work together, almost like a team. We talked about the course between the runs and talked about what lines we should take. It’s extremely unique in the world of kayaking, and it’s something I value.”
Faux wasn’t the only thing Kelly was battling – she’s two months pregnant and had to tough out some morning sickness before the race.
So what does it feel like to paddle your heart out after exiting a section of gnarly rapids, with your eye set on Leap of Faith, the last drop of the race?
“It’s definitely intimidating at the end, but I’m never thinking about the outcome,” Faux said.”
Rounding out the top three was North Carolina native Adriene Leukvecht, who took third. She had a smooth first run, then hit some snags the second time around. She lost some precious time when she got turned around in the middle of the course.
“I knew I was going to come in third, so I just wanted to keep it clean and safe the second run,” she said. “I grew up looking up to Nikki and Tanya, so it’s great being able to compete against these women. It’s funny, but I’m honored to lose to them.”
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.