Student Stories: Environmental major gets thrills racing on rivers

Running the rapids of a wild river in a kayak may sound dangerous, but it's a thrill Kurt Smithgall needs.

The Montoursville, Pa., native became interested in white-water kayaking when he was 12 years old. He said that it always had looked fun and he wanted to give it a shot. For him, the recreational pastime turned into a passion.

"I've been racing professionally for about four years," he said. "It's a great experience, and because of it, I've been able to travel to a lot of different places around the country. It's one thing to paddle on white water, but it's completely different to race on it -- plus, it's cool to constantly strive to get better at something."

The senior switched majors from Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering to Environmental Resource Management (with a Water Science option) in the College of Agricultural Sciences because he wanted to do something related to the natural world and wanted to take some hands-on, lab-based classes. He also will graduate with a minor in Environmental Engineering.

Smithgall admits that white-water kayaking can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing but says if you are careful and don't get in over your head -- no pun intended -- you will be pretty safe.

"I started at a young age, and people have been helpful," he explained. "The more experience you have, the more you know what to do, and over time you develop good judgment. My favorite part is the feeling of accomplishment and the ability to look back, after finishing a race, to see what I've just done."

He competed in the United States team trials last fall and was selected, from that race, to be on the U.S. team in the World Championships in France in June 2012, which is the highest level of competition and is held just once every two years.

In preparation for this event, he trained five or six days a week and often multiple times a day. "My school work was my first priority," said Smithgall. "Training, however, was a close second."

He is considering attending graduate school for environmental science or ecology after he graduates. His dream job is simply to be doing something that he enjoys and to have enough time to continue doing what he loves: wild-water racing.

For more information about the Environmental Resource Management major, go to online.


Media Contacts: 
Last Updated August 07, 2012