A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


Laura Dillon

Two kayakers on the water smile for the camera

Laura Dillon on the river with a U.S. Army veteran. Photo by Dennis Walters

Laura Dillon began whitewater kayaking in 2010 after moving to Atlanta, Ga.

“My former life was with horses,” Dillon says. “And when I gave that up, I was kind of left with a void, because horses were my job, my passion, my hobby, my social life.”

She went on a whitewater rafting trip with a coworker on the Ocoee River and noticed how much fun the kayakers seemed to be having. The next weekend, she signed up for lessons.

“Most sensible people will go to a pool first so they can get used to how the boat feels and they can practice being upside down and getting out of the boat,” Dillon says with a laugh. “My first time ever in a boat was on a river.”

After that first time, her passion for kayaking was born and she hasn’t looked back. In 2013, Dillon set up the Atlanta chapter of Team River Runner, an organization that provides paddling opportunities to veterans to help them recover and assimilate back into society after returning from overseas.

Dillon was motivated to do more for veterans in a society that she says doesn’t do enough to repay their service and sacrifice. She also recognized that learning paddling could be very therapeutic for veterans, as it could provide a sense of community and a way to express physical and emotional energy in a healthy way.

“You’ve got the adrenaline, you’ve got the camaraderie, you’ve got the fact that you’ve got to look out for one another,” Dillon says. “And there’s that intensity of having to live in the moment. Cause when you’re paddling whitewater, it’s you and your boat, the water you’re on, and the people on the right and left of you. The rest of the world ceases to exist.”

Dillon now lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she volunteers with Team River Runner’s Chattanooga chapter as a Southeast coordinator. She is also still involved with the Atlanta and Fort Benning, Ga., chapters. — By Sam Kepple

Back to The Whitewater Spirit: Women making a difference


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2019 — June/July

2019 — June/July