The Red River Racing Team


Power Olympic Outdoor Center


Warm Winter Whitewater:

Ben Kvanli first came to the Guadalupe river as a Junior Racer in February. Ben recalls, " I pulled on the pile lined hand covers that I'd borrowed, and the organizer laughed and told me that the water in the river was warm! "Yeah," he said, "spring water can stay the same temperature year around no matter what the weather is like." Just in case I tucked the "pogies" into the boat that I was renting. He was right. . . by the end of the day I was swimming in the river just for fun. That warm, spring fed water had a powerful effect on me that still hasn't worn off"" This one realization that the water here in Central Texas was warm, would eventually set in motion a set of events that would change Ben and start him on the wild adventure of the Red River Racing Team and the Power Olympic Outdoor Center!!!

Searching for great Training:

The first year that Ben kayaked full time he started in Colorado, but it required that he wear a drytop, and hardly made it fun to get wet. The same was true everywhere he went that year: North Carolina, Washington D.C., New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Idaho. By the time that Winter arrived he began to wonder if he shouldn't just move back to Central America (Ben's parents were missionaries and he was born in Guatemala). The next year that is what he did! This brought difficult questions: How could he kayak when most there could barely scrape by enough to stay alive? Living in the United States is truly something to be thankful for. So Ben decided to return home. However, when he returned to visit his family at Thanksgiving in Dallas, he wasn't looking forward to going paddling, much less going back to where he had lived, in North Carolina.

Texas connection

The day before he was supposed to leave for North Carolina, he remembered where he had gotten started in his kayak training, and drove to New Braunfels immediately without even loading a boat. He imagined what the rapids would look like with a little bit of rock work, and I decided to move. Ben returned with all of his boats! "I'd push the boats down to the course to make them available for folks to try out on the weekends, but it was pretty lonely paddling down there all by myself".

The start of something:

So when Ben returned to Dallas, at Christmas, He recruited some of his friends to join him on the weekends in the Hill Country, and wrote some articles for the region's paddling clubs inviting folks to a series of races called the Warm Winter Whitewater Slalom Series. These races were separated by a couple of weekends in which he offered to teach folks to improve for the next race. Ben's first students in Central Texas were Marilyn and Cliff Peery who have supported him throughout his pursuit of the Olympic dream! Like many of our team's sponsors, the Peery's were first customers. Then they became instrumental in raising money from other sources. Cliff helped to get the Bayou City Whitewater Club to donate money, and Marilyn was instrumental in funding the Red River Racing Team through the Leonard Hulsebosch fund and the Houston Canoe Club Rendezvous.

Ben reached his Olympic Goals by qualifying to race in the 1996 Olympic Games in Men's Kayak!!

What started the cycle of giving?

When did the tradition of giving back to the next generation start? "I wouldn't have begun teaching were it not for the generosity of my teachers" said Ben. The people mentioned in the history below are modern keepers of this tradition. We are touched that they have been part of the Red River Racing endeavors. They can never be thanked enough!! They have truly kept the dream alive!!

"To achieve something great, we must attempt something that we could never do alone"

Initial Impact

At the 1972 Olympics Games, whitewater was the third most watched event, and that inspired many people around the world to pursue paddling. In the US Jamie McEwan's Bronze medal had an enormous impact. Since, the beginning paddlers have carried on the tradition of passing along knowledge from group to group and from generation to generation, and somehow some very good paddlers began putting on paddling events in Arkansas and Texas. Events like the Six Flags Grand Prix, the Dust Bowl Rodeo, Olympic Team Trials Qualifiers for '92, '00, and '04 put this area on the national paddling map. Local events like the Divisional Championships, the Warm Winter Whitewater Slalom Series, and the San Marcos Sladeo encouraged more paddlers to improve their skills using slalom.

Getting Organized

The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were the tipping point that took paddling into the mainstream of business and recreation. At the same time this region was renamed from the Central Division to the Red River Division, and 1996 Olympic Coach Max Wellhouse passed down the reigns of the Red River Development Center to Patty Clements, and its coaching to Mark Poindexter. Patty started a Junior Olympic program, under the guidelines of USA Canoe and Kayak. Karen Baldzer helped to provide a framework for creating a racing team and developing athletes and coaches. Mark quit his teaching job to pursue paddling, and fielded a team in the first Junior Olympics to be held in the US in Wausau, Wisconsin. Patty's daughter Michelle Clements had begun paddling in February of 1995 as a result of the Warm Winter Whitewater Slalom Series. She was the first Red River Racing Team athlete and won a silver medal in the Team competition at the Junior Olympics in Wausau.

In 1997, Patty and Mary Beth Kvanli organized training camps along the racing circuit in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina. Ben Kvanli became the coach of the Junior Olympic Program, and fielded a team of 3 athletes in the Junior Olympics in Charlotte, NC. For the first time athletes were recruited in the fall and winter with the addition of camps and clinics on the warm, spring fed San Marcos and Comal Rivers and pool sessions at the Texin's club. Kids as young as 7 began taking up kayaking in the extra small gear that the team provided. Texas Instruments Outdoor Club President David Grote sponsored the team, secured storage, pool usage, and purchased boats and equipment for rental.

In 1998 Debbie Meller, Marsha Harner, and a group of parents added to Patty and Mary Beth's organizing efforts to put on several months worth of training camps again in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina. As as a result team members qualified for additional USA Canoe and Kayak camps in Virginia, and Indiana where the Junior Olympics and the National Championships were held. Pool sessions continued at the Texin's Club including the first US Pool Slalom National Championships. Oklahoma was chosen as the site for the Junior Olympic Games which made Red River the host. In the process of gearing up for that event the team recruited some new sponsors, and athletes that changed our direction considerably.

The Red River Racing Team also made it possible to send two of its athletes to the Academy at Adventure Quest. Michelle Clements and Jordan Kvanli left to train full time with the school in New Zealand. Michelle won the New Zealand, but recalls "You have to be a citizen to be on the team. I really liked the kiwi's. They are good people." Jordan came back to the states at the end of the term to be a paddling force. At 14 he made the U.S. Cadet National Team. He would go on to place second at the 1999 Junior Olympics in Golden, Colorado.

Ben Kvanli, remained in Dallas and began to work on pursuing the possibility of creating a Texas Whitewater Course. At the time the Dallas/Arlington/and Fort Worth,(DAFW), area of Texas was pursuing a Dallas 2012 Olympic Bid. Ben jumped in to the Bid process with both feet. He became an athlete representative, and a consultant on the whitewater slalom course design. When Michelle returned from New Zealand, she was able to represent her hometown of Arlington as an athlete representative as well. In the fall of 1998 Michelle decided to attend college at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos Texas (Now Texas State). Michelle remembers " I was accepted to many great schools, but I wanted to go somewhere that I could still train. At Texas State the people were nice, and the San Marcos River ran right through campus!! I even had the chance to begin instructing through their Adventure Trip Program. I enjoyed instructing and eventually had the opportunity to share my experience and write their paddlesports curriculum!" Ben later entered college at Texas State in the fall of 1999 to pursue a business degree in marketing to help him further promote paddlesports.

In the summer of 1999 Don Walls hosted the Junior Olympic Qualifier in Arkansas, along with Olympians Wayne Dickert, Horace Holden, and Ben Kvanli. These athletes helped to recruit and transport even more young people. Ted Brinegar, Ben's good friend from Texas State, left the team his apartment in San Marcos when he received a job in Colorado. David and Debbie Power sponsored the team and helped the Red River Racing Team develop into an official non-profit that same year. As a result 13 young people trained all summer in Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin and Indiana for the Junior Olympics and the Nationals. After Ben did not qualify for the 2000 Olympics at the World's in Spain he firmly set up the Red River Racing Team as an official non-profit and began pursuing the opening of a whitewater course in Texas full-time. David Lamb joined the team later that year bringing his talents and equipment for Marathon Kayaking and Kayak Polo. This redefined the team giving athletes opportunities in all areas of paddlsports!

Go Big or go bigger. . .

In 2000 the year began with low water and high expectations. Red River would play host to an Olympic Team Trials Qualifier come hell or high water. The race was originally scheduled for the Guadalupe river in New Braunfels. The water was far too low to host a good race. Two weeks before the event the team received a call with the go ahead for holding the race at the Six Flags Over Texas park in Arlington. Matt Wood, from the Dallas 2012 bid, no doubt must have made a call to spur this chain of events. He also would help Red River host the Junior Olympics at Six Flags later that summer. The team got to compete on home ground for the first time!! The race was a success with Michelle Clements placing first in the women's class and Jordan Kvanli securing a spot at the US Team Trials as well. This race also brought us one of our favorite athletes and friends, Hood Whitson, who continues to be a help to this day!! That summer the Team made trips to Colorado for the Eddie Bauer Whitewater Series and to Tennessee for the World Cup. The year ended with two members of the team volunteering at the Olympics in Sydney and a promise to open an official training center somewhere in the US.


The Red River Racing Team finds a home at The Power Olympic Outdoor Center!!!

David and Debbie Power delivered on their promise to purchase land for a training center after an extensive search. The site, on the San Marcos river and Interstate 35, was purchased in February 2001. The Power Olympic Outdoor Center officially opened in March after nearly 24 hour a day renovations done by the Powers, Carey Newton, Michelle and Ben. The excitement of the opening was quickly followed by the reality of the bills and maintenance for the property. The summer brought the enjoyment of the center for clinics and training camps, and a whole new generation of team members represented this area at the US Junior Olympics in North Carolina.


Michelle and Ben married in October of 2003. Together they run the Power Olympic Outdoor Center and coach for the Red River Racing Team. Michelle is currently competing and setting her sites on London 2012. Ben is still competes at many races with his partner Mark Poindexter.  He has become an Instructor Trainer allowing him to help certify other paddlers in Texas and beyond to spread the love of Canoeing and Kayaking. Michelle is a three time U.S. Marathon Team member and whitewater instructor, and a 2010 U.S. Whitewater Slalom team member. She continues to write the curriculum for the POC. Ben and Michelle have brought a new whitewater park, Rio Vista Falls, to the City of San Marcos that is a fantastic teaching and training site.