Swiftwater Rescue w/ Andie

Andie was a recipient of the 2021 scholarship for outdoor education.

My name is Andie Madsen (she/her) and I am heading into my third year at Columbia University in New York City. I am majoring in Political Science and I’m excited to start my career, which will be committed to land protection and combating the climate crisis for the next generation. Growing up in Utah, public lands and beautiful landscapes became very important to me and their protection in the coming years is an incredibly important priority for me.

However, recreating in these spaces has only been a recent development in my life. Before this past school year I had never set foot (or bottom) inside a kayak. Before 2021, I had never used a rope to climb to insane heights or repel great depths. In high school I was friends with some very talented outdoor athletes and I always compared myself to them; subsequently I never tried climbing or kayaking because I was afraid to fail and not be able to keep up. Then COVID happened. Like others I realized that life is short and that I should push myself to do things even if they are scary. Last fall I joined the Whitewater Kayaking Club. I’ve attended almost every practice that takes place in the pool at the university gym in order to learn new skills. To get on the river I needed to be able to roll the kayak. I was one of the last rookies to successfully roll, and I was determined. Finally, after constant trial and more error, and significant help from older students, I finally figured it out. After, I was able to get out on the river a few times this semester to learn even more skills like paddle control, eddying out, ferrying and even combat rolling.

I became hooked on the water sport, which is where Backcountry Squatters fits in. I wanted to feel more comfortable and empowered as an individual in the water as well as contribute to growing the Whitewater Kayaking Club at Columbia so I decided to take a Swiftwater Rescue Course this summer. This opportunity was only possible through the scholarship I received from Backcountry Squatters.

I learned a lot about water safety in my course but I also learned immensely about myself and my impact. Some of the skills I learned were anchor building techniques, rigging, boat handling, communications and commands, quick rescues, throw bags, self-rescue + rescue swimming and how to swim through rapids. However I think what was one of the more important takeaways was that I learned that I, myself, was able to do these skills. I think that it can be difficult for myself to feel like I am capable of recreating in the outdoors and valuable to a team effort on a trip. But this course was able to give me skills that I can use in the field while also giving me the confidence to feel like I belong just as much as individuals who have always belonged on the river (historically athletic men).
I’m excited for this coming year and offering the safety skills to the Whitewater Kayaking Club. I think that my confidence on the water will translate to more enjoyment on trips for myself in addition to the confidence of our group the next time we hit the river. I am thankful for Backcountry Squatters to create this opportunity for myself and I hope to continue building my confidence and empowerment in the outdoors.

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