With an accent from the deepest south of the United States and the heart of a kayaking adventurer, Tracy Hines has definitely added colour to the field for next week's inaugural Whitewater XL.

What she really hopes to add, however, is a bit of cash to a crew of Ugandan orphans.
The 42-year-old C1 paddler arrived in New Zealand last week and has spent much of her time training on the Kaituna River near Rotorua. She's got a clear goal in mind for Whitewater XL, which will be held on the new Vector Were Whitewater Park course in Auckland from November 24-27, as the Alabama native takes a break from studying theology in Oklahoma.

"In order to do this race, I had to take a bit of leave for this semester - the school was really nice to give me leave but one of the reasons was because of what I plan to do with any prize money I pick up," Hines explained. "During the course of the year, I made friends with a guy who has an orphanage in Uganda. They're trying to build a chicken house and grow some crops and one of my goals with this cash-purse race is to make a good donation to the orphanage. I've been making donations already and have helped write some grant applications but I'd really like to give them some cash."

Hines joins a star-studded cast of international paddlers at New Zealand's biggest paddling event, which will feature a bevy of Olympic medalists and rising stars, as well as top Kiwis Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones.


It's her second time in this country, having represented the United States at the world freestyle championships near Taupo in 1999, and she didn't need much incentive to come back.

"Mike Dawson sent me a little note on Facebook and I clicked on it and saw this race here this summer. I hit the like button, then started searching for plane tickets. I didn't need any more convincing."

Hines has enjoyed a rich and varied existence. After discovering kayaking in Huntsville, Alabama, aged 16, she ran away from home at 18 to become a raft guide. She later became a soldier in the US Army, completed graduate studies at Western State University and self-published two books.

In her spare time, she writes poetry and aims to become a chaplain at a Veterans Affairs hospital.

For now, though, she's just drinking in all the land of the long white kayaking cloud can offer.

"Our team selections aren't until May and it's really cold in the States at the moment so I'm going to try and stay here through the colder months - through January and February - at least."