As Rob Avery, ’19, approached the last drop of the Alseseca River in Veracruz, Mexico, exhaustion started to sink in. He looked down at the bubbling water beneath his kayak and began to prepare himself for his descent down the waterfall.
However, as his boat touched the water, he knew his preparation wasn’t enough.
“I ended up messing up my line and my kayak flipped over, and safety had to come on shore to try and throw me a rope,” Avery said. “The problem was that the boat was in between me and the people throwing the rope so though I was able to hold on to it, they were having a lot of trouble trying to pull me ashore.”
Because the water was so aerated, he wasn’t able to stay afloat — his head was submerged under the water the entire time.
The rescuers tried to pull Avery out, but they weren’t succeeding. By that point, he was losing his energy and was hardly able to hold on to the rope anymore, so he wrapped it around his fingers. This move ensured the ability of the on-shore team to do its job without relying on any of Avery’s strength.
Luckily, after about three minutes of being submerged under water, the safety crew was able to pull Avery to shore just in time.
“That was the closest I’ve been to drowning because I had zero energy left and nothing left to fight to stay alive,” Avery said.
But even after this near-death experience, there is still nothing that can stop Avery from continuing to kayak.
“If anything it makes me feel alive,” Avery said. “Honestly if I died doing this, it would suck, but at least I would be doing something that I loved.”
Originally from Brattleboro, Vermont, Avery’s passion for kayaking began when he was about 10 years old at a wilderness-based camp near his home, at which he decided to randomly participate in the whitewater kayaking program.
During school breaks, Avery has traveled across the U.S. as well as Mexico, Ecuador and Canada. He usually kayaks in the Delaware Water Gap during the school year when he has time.
In the future, he said he would like to be able to go to Europe to kayak in rivers there, specifically in Norway.
Avery said his friends and family are very supportive of his kayaking and he likes to post a lot of videos of him kayaking on his Instagram to see their reactions.
“I think Rob’s kayaking is really cool and unique. You don’t really hear of many people willing to throw themselves off of waterfalls,” said Avery’s girlfriend Maggie Helmes, ’19. “Although, I will admit, sometimes it scares me that something will go wrong, sometimes it’s hard for me to watch his videos.”
As much as he would ideally like to kayak professionally, Avery said it’s best for him to keep it as a hobby and focus on his job after graduating in the spring.
JR Jennings, a friend Avery made through kayaking, said that he and Avery have very similar styles of kayaking and mentalities on the river which helped them become friends very quickly.
“Kayaking has a way of becoming your entire life,” Jennings said. “There is a culture around it that comes from putting your trust in each other’s hands while on the river every day. You have to know that you can help your friend, and they can help you if anything goes wrong.”
Upon graduation, Avery will be working at KPMG in its advisory practice and living in New York City. As far as Avery’s future aspirations are concerned, he’s not quite sure what he wants to do but he is certain it will be something that involves leadership roles, as he enjoys working with people.
What he does know for sure, however, is that his love for kayaking will not change no matter how much his professional goals may shift.
“There’s nothing else out there that has made me feel this way,” Avery said. “I’ll always do this in my spare time.”