Archived Outdoors

Balancing grades, world-class training no problem for SCC Early College student

out frBy Tyler Norris Goode • Contributor

Rowan Stuart’s favorite kayak maneuver is called the “Phonics Monkey” and involves spinning the vessel on its bow like a pirouette for a full 360 degrees then flipping the boat end over end.

There’s nothing easy about the trick, but Stuart’s ability to cleanly achieve it at high-level competitions is a big reason she’ll be competing in the Freestyle World Championships, the premier competition for freestyle paddling athletes, that start Sept. 2 in the Nantahala Gorge. 


In much the same way, the 17-year-old has managed to successfully balance her academic pursuits at Southwestern Community College with world-class kayak training. She currently holds a 3.2 GPA in SCC’s College Transfer program and is scheduled to complete her two-year associate’s degree and high school diploma before she turns 18 through the Jackson County Early College.

“It’s just a lot of time management,” said Stuart, who enrolled in SCC’s Early College as a freshman in 2010. “Some days, I’ll go paddling at seven in the morning before school, or I’ll go at 2 p.m. afterward. I have a little more flexibility than if I were a traditional high school student.”

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While she’s had little problem fitting her kayaking time in between her college and high school studies, Stuart is taking 14 college hours this fall and knows the weeks ahead will test her like never before. 

So she has started talking with instructors and advisors to map out the most efficient way for her to make up for class time she’ll miss while training for and participating in the international competition. The biennial event takes place at different locations across the globe and is much like the Olympics of trick-boating, meaning the training necessary to compete is no walk in the park.

“That says a lot about how she balances her priorities,” said Matt Kirby, who serves as Stuart’s advisor through SCC’s Early College. “She’s got her head on straight, and she has a sound plan for the future.”

Stuart qualified for the world championships by placing among the top three junior women in the spring team trials for the United States’ team. At the standing wave in front of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, Stuart will try out her routine of tricks, flips and twirls against other world-class athletes.

She’s guaranteed three 45-second rides – two of which count – in the competition’s preliminary round. If she advances to the finals, she’ll get three more rides – and only her best run will count. Points and bonuses are given for the most complex and perfectly executed paddling aerobatics.

“I’m definitely getting excited,” said Stuart, whose sponsors include Pyranha Kayak, Astral Buoyancy, Immersion Research and Watershed Drybags. “There are definitely some nerves, too, when I think about putting my ride together and which tricks I’m best at.”

For general information about SCC’s programs for high school students, contact Cindy Thompson at 828.339.4610 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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