Off the Beaten Path: UIW Kayak Class takes to the River

On a perfect spring Friday afternoon, students in the UIW Kinesiology Department’s 16-week kayaking class headed south from campus to San Antonio’s Espada Park. The sun shone high in the sky and a light breeze made the leaves dance on the nearby trees.

This was Plan B – a two-hour kayak trip down the San Antonio River to mark the culmination of the class’ lessons and practice runs both in the UIW Natatorium pool and on the river through campus. Plan A had been a three-hour trip slated for San Marcos to Martindale like in years past, but the outfitter that normally provided the boats and support had gone out of business.

Ramon J. Montez, a senior kinesiology student, said he was disappointed at first. He’d grown up on the city’s South Side and didn’t think Espada Park would offer anything special. But, he hadn’t been back to that area for two or three years, he said. When he arrived for the trip he was struck by how much it had changed. “When we kayaked … I just went crazy,” Montez said. “I went full throttle because it’s so much fun. The adrenaline just took over, and we kept going as far as we could.”

Off the Beaten Path: UIW Kayak Class takes to the River

Students practice their skills and strokes on the water.

Shortly after 1 p.m., with an audience of two ducks hanging around the riverbank, Montez and his classmates came in off the water. They took a short break, talked about the high winds and the heat of the sun before loading up the ocean kayaks and heading out. “Even though I had the idea it wouldn’t be a good time, I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to come in off the water,” he said.

Director of Sports and Wellness, Scott LeBlanc, kayaks down the river with his class.

That’s the kind of enthusiasm class instructor Scott LeBlanc ’06 MAA wants to foster. “This kayak trip is not required for the course, but we do it because it’s good for the students,” LeBlanc said. Students and colleagues said this sentiment is classic LeBlanc – he loves kayaking and has a deep commitment to the university and its students. It’s part of why he was chosen the 2017 CCVI Spirit Award recipient. The award recognizes a student and a faculty or staff member who embodies the spirit and mission of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. “This is more than a job, it’s a place that we all come and commune in and we’re together. We’re all a family,” he said.

LeBlanc’s love of the water started at a young age growing up in New Caney, Texas. “I grew up on the river,” he said. “My dad brought us a kayak home when I was 6 and that’s when I got turned on to it.”

Students and colleagues describe LeBlanc as humble, laid-back, hard-working, patient and approachable.

Still certified as a therapeutic recreation specialist, LeBlanc is now UIW’s director of sports and wellness. In that role, he manages the daily operations of the Richard and Jane Cervera Wellness Center, the Ann Barshop Natatorium, the Sand Volleyball Court and the Henrich Center for Fencing and International Sports. He also manages the Intramural Sports and Club Sports. Outside university life, LeBlanc also works with a group called Kinetic Kids that provides recreational opportunities for young people dealing with life-altering illnesses or injuries and helped create a course for teaching adaptive kayaking.

“He’s all about inclusiveness,” said BJ Lough, associate athletics director of the sports medicine department. Lough nominated LeBlanc for the CCVI Spirit Award after realizing his friend represented each of UIW’s core values: Education, Truth, Faith, Service and Innovation. “He tries so hard to work with anyone who comes in and asks for his help. He’s always willing to work something out. He’s always willing to donate his time to help others,” Lough said.

LeBlanc, 50, is also a husband and the dad of two boys. You’d think that would be enough to keep him busy. But LeBlanc also found a way to bring his passion for kayaking to the university.

“I love being outdoors. I love being around water. I’ve been a water bug my entire life. I think it’s why I’ve stuck with it, it’s sharing it with others, getting others into the water and into the sport. I’ve been all over the country teaching and I just like sharing that with people.,” LeBlanc said.

Kayaking is a beautiful sport, a life-long sport, he said. And it’s not as easy as it looks. LeBlanc’s students are often surprised to learn that there are weeks of general instruction in the classroom before the kayaks ever hit the practice pool. He teaches Essentials to River Kayaking and Essentials to Kayak touring simultaneously. Students who successfully complete the course earn their certification from the American Canoe Association. They first must learn about different types of kayaks, the parts of the kayak, water safety and how to recover from flipping over or getting caught in a strong current. Students also learn different strokes, how to tow one another, how to make turns in the water, and how to handle windy conditions.

Off the Beaten Path: UIW Kayak Class takes to the River

Marcos Luna, Brendan Ivie, Katherine Tyler, Vanessa Esparza, Kathelyn Ueckert, Scott LeBlanc, Kyle Tupper, Ramon Montez, William Fussell

“You learn if you have different emergencies, if you fall out of the kayak, or if someone else falls out of the kayak, how to help them. How to use your paddle. Practicing strokes. Bigger kayaks have a more stable buoyancy on the water where smaller kayaks make quicker moves on the water,” Montez said.

The 13 students in LeBlanc’s spring class were lucky. He was able to split the class in half so that each teaching hour he was able to work more closely with fewer students. The weather also cooperated by bringing rain to fuel the headwaters and river on campus along with sunny, cooler days. These ideal conditions enabled students to practice kayaking on the river three times in addition to the practice at the pool.

“In the pool you can simulate, but unless you can go out then you can’t really experience it,” Montez said. One practice trip was also a service initiative. Students floated the river on campus and picked up trash along the water’s edge.

“We got to put the information to use, it was hands on,” Montez said, adding that students could now see what LeBlanc meant by not getting too close to the edge. Montez said LeBlanc always offered to help students, inside the classroom and out. He’s the kind of teacher who makes the extra effort. “He wants everyone to have a good time. But he wants you to know the strokes, and he wants you to know this is a sport you can do at any age,” said Montez.

The best thing about kayaking? Once you’re on the water you feel like you can go anywhere. You get a feel for the water and your body just goes with it. I really don’t know how to describe it. It’s something someone just needs to experience,” Montez said.

Story by Tricia Schwennesen
Photos by Steve Holloway