Kayaking and the lifestyle that accompanies it have led me to see some of the most inspirational places and to meet some of the most inspirational people. It is hard to express in words exactly what has drawn me to the rivers so strongly, but I am thankful for that draw and I consider myself most lucky to be able to pursue my passion. I first found whitewater kayaking when I was 11 years old and I have been undoubtedly hooked since my first trip down the Cartecay River. At the age of 16 I discovered the realms of creek boating and squirt boating and my mind became fascinated with the new dimensions that were opened to explore. It was at this point that I began to understand the greater picture, and I became more aware of the importance of what I saw in the river’s currents. It became clear that the river had desire to flow and that I could do the same. Then during the spring of 2010 I met Jeff West and my paddling career took a new turn. That summer I began instructing at Ace kayaking School and discovered that not only do I love kayaking, but I also love sharing it with others. That is not all I learned in the summers and winters to come with Ace, but it is a good place to start sharing with the world. There is nothing that makes me feel better than running a big rapid, or watching someone smile as they discover new possibilities and potentials within themselves out on the river.
I LOVE Kayaking! I remember the first time I was in a boat, I got flipped upside down to “wet exit” and came up with a huge smile. I knew it was meant to be. I have been paddling for 6 years and every year I find something new I want to accomplish. In 2011, I decided I wanted to learn to instruct so I took an ACA certification course and in the spring of 2012 I called Ace Kayaking and basically begged for a job interview…and shocked as ever I got a shot! I love teaching. I can’t help but smile every time I see a new paddler learn their roll, get their first combat roll, or make their first good eddy turn. I know the difference paddling made to me and enjoy getting to share this love. Paddling changed my life. I found a new family who has gotten me through some of the toughest times I have ever faced. I found a new place of refuge from the world on the Ocoee River. I found some of the funniest ladies I can imagine to share adventures with. 2012 was an amazing year for me paddling wise. I got to paddle the Green River for the first time and fell head over heels for the rapids. It led me to set my own new personal goal. Green River Race…that’s the plan.
Certifications: Registered Nurse, ACA Level IV instructor, ACA Swiftwater, CPR and First Aid Instructor, Wilderness First Aid Certified
I have been addicted to kayaking since 1995. I kayaked for myself until 2006 when my friend, mentor, and former boss Jeff West allowed me the honor of working with him. This amazing opportunity changed my life forever. After learning the strict technique of guiding funyaks down the Middle section of the Ocoee River, I participated in an American Canoe Association (ACA) Whitewater Kayak Instruction Certification class. Quickly putting this new skill to work I found my passion for teaching to be equal to my passion for kayaking. And again, my life was changed! I am a mother of two amazing step-sons and two amazing sons of my own. Being the daughter of an Ocoee River Rafting company owner, this beautiful part of the country has always been my home. My family and myself are dedicated to outdoor fun and whitewater. Obviously having a love for children, I immensely enjoy having an avenue to work with kids on the water. Whitewater kayaking is such a demanding sport mentally and physically. I use the word “counterintuitive” often while teaching. So, being a part of that moment when one accomplishes a truly difficult goal is why I do what I do. The sport and the lifestyle that accompanies can be life changing and has been for more than I can count who have joined us in the whitewater endeavors here at Ace Kayaking. I and We love what we do.
I started working on the Ocoee in 2009 as a raft guide and that is when I found my true passion for whitewater. I grew up interacting with water and learned early on to appreciate it. Fishing and tubing on the creek behind my house and the Hiwassee River with my family was a very common occurrence when I was young. We also made camping trips to the Tellico River many times a year as I was growing up. The natural attraction to rivers and being around them has aways been something I have felt strongly about; however, I did not find my true medium for expressing this until I started kayaking. At the end of my first year as a raft guise I got in my first kayak and the script flipped. There was no turning back. Not only do I love kayaking and the joy I get out of each and every moment spent on the water, but I also don't think I could find a better community to be a part of. I have spent my whole paddling career trying to improve so I could do better things and see better places, but I have found a new aspect of kayaking that I thoroughly enjoy and that is teaching. That moment when something “clicks” and you get to see someone get excited about kayaking is hard to beat. I feel very fortunate to not only get to share kayaking with people, but to make it my lifestyle and my job. I am very happy to be a part of Ace and I am thankful for the opportunity to potentially change people's lives. That is a bold statement but if you are considering taking a lesson with Ace my only advice is buckle up. Because after you discover kayaking nothing will be the same.
I prefer being outside hiking, fishing, biking, running, canoeing, and kayaking. I started canoeing as a small child on flatwater, paddling with my father in Georgia and have since traveled the world and competed in whitewater slalom, freestyle, and creek boating. I have spent extensive time in the Ocoee area kayaking with my wife Aleta (Miller) McCleskey, as well as my friend the late Jeff West. Now days I call Western North Carolina home and am focused on teaching others the knowledge I have accumulated over 30 years of outdoor experiences. I use positive reinforcement, enthusiasm for the experience, and a love for kayaking in my teaching and coaching. I am looking forward to working with ACE Kayaking School and spending time on the water with you.
15 time member of US Slalom Whitewater Canoe/Kayak Team
Past Member of US Freestyle Team
Multiple top 5 and top 10 finishes at Whitewater Slalom World Cups and World Championships
Passed winner of Green Race in C-1
Volunteer and coach at Nantahala Racing Club
Cast Member of Ultimate Survival Alaska Season 3 on National Geographic Channel
Certified Wilderness First Responder , CPR, and First-Aid
I started as a playboater, then discovered the adrenaline-infused realm of creek-boating, but can also be found in canoes, rafts or any other type of boat that best fits the occasion. I’ve trained hard in racing over the years, and have won several races both in my division and outright. I love to travel to new areas to descend unfamiliar rivers and creeks, where teamwork and self-sufficiency are critical. Over the years I’ve paddled in several different countries, and extensively throughout much of the United States, where I’ve most enjoyed the multi-day creeking expeditions of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, and the verdant, magical gorges of the Northwest and British Columbia. I’ve led numerous first descents throughout the US, particularly in the Southeast, where I truly feel at home.
My love for the Southern Appalachians and my desire to share the wonderful paddling opportunities here has led me to write a comprehensive whitewater guide titled Whitewater of the Southern Appalachians, which I hope will inspire future paddlers to get out there and experience the magic that is in our backyards.
I knew Jeff West for many years until his untimely passing, and always identified in him the purest of passion, not only in his smile but in the way he actually lived his life. Ace still carries that spirit, which essentially distills down to the goal of sharing what we’re passionate about. I’ve joined Ace to do just that, to share my passion for paddling and all it means to me – and to give others the skills, knowledge, resources and inspiration to maximize their happiness through whitewater paddling. I plan on learning as much as my students, so awaken your sense of adventure and let’s grow together!