Paddle for Leaders – Summary of 2015 Journey

Alzar School | 10.05.15

This year, our Board of Directors launched the Paddle for Leaders program to provide the chance for supporters to get in on the fun and adventure of developing the next generation of leaders.  The 2015 effort provided many different ways to support our financial aid program.

It started with co-founder and Head of School Sean Bierle issuing a challenge:

Sean made the plan to paddle over 60 miles of the North Fork Payette drainage in under 24 hours on May 7, 2015.  Then, he issued a call for alumni to create their own paddling challenges:

In our first year, 4 intrepid alumni took on their own Paddle for Leaders challenges… Lizzy (Rivers of Chile 2010) would SUP 15 miles of the French Broad River, John (FLOW 2010) would learn to flatwater loop, Kaylee (Fall 2013) would paddle 20 miles of the North Fork with Sean, and Alec (Spring 2014) would do 30 consecutive kayak rolls without break.

With the program launched, the map was set and training began.  The route:

Boise BBQ Presentation - 4.22.2015 (22)

For weeks, in Chile and Idaho, Sean and the alumni trained for their challenges.  Read about those sessions herehere, or here.  Some of the alumni tackled their challenges before Sean’s paddle, like Alec, who performed his 30 rolls in front of dozens of Boise supporters at our annual event for supporters there.  Sean and Kristin described the growth and development of the school through the first three years, then Alec showed off his paddling skills:

John and Lizzy completed their Paddle for Leader challenges on waterways near them too.  Here’s one of John’s training sessions, as he worked on a flatwater loop:

Throughout the lead up to May 7, our Board of Directors and staff were hard at work to make this an engaging process for everyone who wanted to support our scholarship program.  Dozens of businesses, both local and national, came forward to support the effort, either by contributing cash or by providing items for our online auction and raffle.  These included:

  • Shore Lodge
  • Lakeview Chevron
  • Manchester Ice / Event Center
  • Snapdragon
  • Les Schwab McCall
  • Backcountry Chiropractic
  • 44⁰ North – Art, Clothing, and Gifts
  • Wild River Java
  • ProBuild McCall
  • May’s Hardware
  • Harlows McCall
  • Gravity Sports
  • McCall Real Estate (Steve and Cindy Jones)
  • Dr. Uma’s Healing and Creative Arts Center
  • Osprey Packs
  • Lake Cascade State Parks
  • Idaho Whitewater Unlimited
  • Momentum River Expeditions
  • The Insurance Group (TIG)
  • Cascade Store
  • Amerititle Cascade
  • Wheeler’s Pharmacy
  • The Roxy Theater
  • Trinity Therapeutic
  • Nails by Carol
  • Tea Leaves -N- Coffee Beans
  • Granite Construction
  • Kelly’s Whitewater Park / Mark and Kristina Pickard
  • NRS
  • Arnold Aviation
  • Whitewater Expeditions
  • Press in the Pines
  • Sierra Sage
  • Network for Good
  • Rizen Creative
  • Jackson Kayaks

A major opportunity developed, thanks to Momentum River Expeditions, where supporters could join the Alzar School leadership team on the Wild & Scenic Main Salmon River in Idaho.  Sean, Kristin, and Board member Cailin O’Brien-Feeney will take select supporters on that 6-day trip down one of Idaho’s gems, launching on July 18.  [There are just a couple of spots left… if you’re interested, email]

Finally, on May 6, the main event began.  There were some challenges ahead… the weather was worsening, the dam would not be releasing water, and we had a lot of money to raise yet.

The Shore Lodge hosted an awesome launch party, with supporters from Cascade, McCall, Donnelly, and Boise joining us as Sean prepared to start the journey at 12 midnight.  May 7 had been selected for this event to coincide with Idaho Gives, a statewide effort to raise awareness for the important work that Idaho’s nonprofits do.

Sean prepares his playlist for the night paddle. The Karma Unlimited (donated by Jackson Kayak) has waterproof LED lights on the bottom to make it visible for the launch.
Supporters sent Sean on his way with sparklers and encouragement.
Supporters sent Sean on his way with sparklers and encouragement.

After 3.5 lonely hours, Sean was 16.2 miles into his 60 mile paddle for leaders challenge- and the school had raised just over $61,000!  It was 37 degrees outside, his snacks were freezing on him, but he was holding up well:

Here’s where we were on the overall journey:

3:30am at Smylie Lane, mile 16.2
3:30am at Smylie Lane, mile 16.2

Throughout the journey, we were excited to share videos that told the story of the Alzar School experience and explained the types of awesome teenagers that our financial aid program is able to support.  The first video, about Valley County Ambassadors, was:

Then, at 6am, Sean arrived at the start of Cascade Reservoir, and was glad to see the sunrise.  Ned, our science teacher, joined him for the next few hours of paddling.

6am at Tamarack Falls Bridge, Ned waits with the sea kayak he built.
Ned and Sean prepare to take on Cascade Reservoir
Ned and Sean prepare to take on Cascade Reservoir

An hour and a half later, Sean and Ned arrived at Tamarack (a local ski resort our students love for its short lift lines and stunning views of the lake):

It was time to release another video, this one more generally about the students we serve from Idaho, and one of our supporters stepped forward to match the next $1000 in donations:

Mentally, one of the largest milestones of the entire day was when Sean and Ned finished crossing Cascade Reservoir.

Arriving at Cascade Dam meant that all of the remaining segments would have at least SOME current.

Shortly after getting back on the river, Sean arrived at Kelly’s Whitewater Park, a favorite destination for Alzar School students.  Sean changed from kayak to SUP, and was greeted by some friendly faces:

From left to right – Ron Baker of Rizen Creative, Cuzco (llama), Sean, Murphy (llama), and Kaylee.

For the past 45 days, Ron Baker of Rizen Creative (which assists Alzar School with graphic design, messaging, and website development) has been taking on a SUP challenge… to paddle 30 of 45 days.  He achieved his goal the previous week on a training run with Sean, and returned to Cascade to help Sean get through his paddle.  To add icing to the cake, Ron and Rizen Creative pledged to match $250 of the donations that came in while they were on the water.  Kaylee (Fall 2013 semester) also joined to take on her own 20 mile Paddle for Leaders challenge.

About an hour later, the trio arrived at the Alzar School campus:

There, Sean was reinvigorated by seeing the awesome Spring 2015 students, who cheered him on.

Olivia and Skye meet the llamas.
Olivia and Skye meet the llamas.

We released another couple of videos, highlighting the young leaders who join us for a transformative semester:

Specifically, we also showcased our longstanding exchange program with students from Chile, who add so much to the Alzar School experience:

By now, the Paddle for Leaders effort was gathering steam.  Ron, Kaylee, and Sean departed campus and headed for Cabarton Bridge.  On campus, some of our furrier friends got in on the action:

When Sean arrived at Cabarton Bridge (which marked the start of the last segment of the journey), he was met by the entire class of Spring 2015 working on a service project there.

Cabarton Bridge is a popular rafting put-in, and our students planted willows, aspens, and seeds to restore the bank after the county added new access stairs.  And, Alec joined Sean and Kaylee for the last 12 miles of river.

The last miles were tough, but the end was in sight.  Sean, Alec and Kaylee powered down the Cabarton section, with students from Spring 2015 joining for the last rapids.

Spring 2015 students waiting to paddle the last few miles with Sean.
Spring 2015 students waiting to paddle the last few miles with Sean.
Sean finishing Howard’s Plunge, the last rapid of the last section of a 64 mile journey that started 19.5 hours earlier in McCall, Idaho.A

After that last rapid, a group of supporters celebrated in Smith’s Ferry.  We learned that the John William Jackson Fund was adding $3,000 to our scholarship fund, giving a significant boost.  The online auction gave folks a fun way to buy awesome items while supporting our efforts.



Where do we stand now? Our goal was to raise $100,000 for student scholarships. As of 5.9.2015, we’re not quite there yet:

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 10.07.34 AM


But, we know that number will continue to rise in the coming weeks.  Donations continue to come in the mail, and even though Idaho Gives has closed, supporters can still donate online.

The most amazing part of the entire journey was seeing the community of Alzar School students come forward to make this all possible.   Sean and Kristin, who didn’t sleep for 40 hours during this event, were exhausted but also proud and humbled by the generous support.  Next year, we’ll will have more students than ever before, and the money raised from these efforts will make it possible for even more great teenagers to challenge themselves.

And, after this effort is completed, the school will begin to turn its eyes to the next phase… just as we ask our students to hone their “Continual Learning and Improvement” (one of our 10 Elements of Leadership), the school constantly keeps an eye on the future.  Here is our vision for growth in the coming years:

Will you be a part of this vision?