Described as a “rising star” in the sport of kayaking by National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” Steve Fisher, the late Shannon Christy ’12 was looking forward to competing in July’s Great Falls Race on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.
Both were interviewed by CBS News’ David Martin before the scheduled event about the dangers and challenges of the Class V (expert-level, extremely difficult) rapids they would navigate. Two days before the race, after the 23-year-old Christy had attempted a practice run of the “Five Fingers” falls, cameramen spotted her empty kayak. Boaters near her on the run said they had seen her out of her kayak and swimming near the place called “Grace Under Pressure,” and they felt certain she had been drawn into the dangerous chute of the falls that they avoid, called “Subway.” Fisher led a team that recovered her body from underneath tons of compression from the waterfall.
The race was canceled, and fellow kayakers instead gathered on the river to remember her and spread flowers on the water. Many spoke later of her infectious smile. “I really believe that her faith in her future really diminished any fear that she had in any area of her life,” said her mother, Kim Christy, to a Washington Post reporter. “She didn’t fear the future; she didn’t fear the river.”
Her father, Lee Christy, told the Post that she and her two brothers “grew up on the water.” Working as a rafting guide, the Andrews High School graduate took up kayaking when she saw other guides enjoying the sport. At WCU, she began taking clinics to improve her techniques. “She would take any kind of instructional event where she could hone her skills,” her father said.
In May 2012, Christy graduated from WCU with a degree in communication and had been on the dean’s list. She served as the assistant director of new media at TV62 as well as a contributing feature writer for the Tuckasegee Reader. During her senior year, she served as a feature writer, editor and administrator for The Western Carolina Journalist, and chronicled a first run of the Nantahala River’s Cascades in an April 2011 article, “The river less paddled: personal first descent.”
In it, Christy wrote about paddling through a dangerous rapid: “After my near extinction above the fall, the feeling of confidence I got from making it through all right lasted the rest of the trip.” She closed the article by encouraging readers, “Kayak the river less paddled; face your doubt. It’ll make for a good story and an even better memory.”
Before her graduation, Christy had begun working as a marketing associate and media specialist for Confluence Watersports, a manufacturer of kayaks and associated equipment headquartered in Greenville, S.C. “It was a perfect combination of her communication training and her love for the outdoors,” Betty Farmer, WCU professor of communications, told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “Shannon was just a shining star, always smiling, always upbeat. She was one of those people you wanted to be around and you knew was going to do well.”
The Department of Communication in WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences is in the planning stages of a Shannon Christy Award for Outdoor Journalism for students submitting an article or multimedia project about outdoor recreation/competition. Her friends also have set up a fund benefiting Base Camp Cullowhee, the WCU outdoor programming unit, in honor of Christy. For information, contact the WCU Office of Development at 828.227.7124 or toll-free at 800.492.8496.