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Nathan's summer rapidly going by on Youghiogheny River

OHIOPYLE, PA. 7/26/10 - The summer is going by at a “rapid” pace for Keene State soccer player Tara Nathan. Instead of charging down the field, the sophomore from Bethel, Conn., is running the rapids as a whitewater rafting guide on the Youghiogheny River in Pennsylvania. “I wanted to have an adventure between semesters and figured this would be a fun way to do it,” said Nathan, before embarking on one of the 35 trips she makes down the river each week as a member of the Laurel Highlands river tour staff.

Located in the 20,000 acres of Ohiopyle (Pa.) State Park and the westernmost ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, the Yough offers modern-day pioneers the challenge of conquering a raging river amidst the serene beauty of tree- covered shorelines.

Commenting on the Laurel Highland web page, Ralph McCarty, an early river runner, summed up the balance between the river trip and nature when he said that rafting is the only sport he was aware of where “not even a footprint is left behind.”

Nathan, who was pretty pumped after scoring six goals for the Owls last season, says there’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of beating the rapids. “It’s incredible how much power the river has,” she said. “You think at first that it’s going to be a battle between you and the water and you have to win. Instead, it’s more like a working partnership.”

A self-described “water child” growing up, Nathan spent many summer vacations with her older sister Stacey, and her parents, Robert and Barbara, cascading down rivers around New England as well as out west in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Family trips to her grandmother’s home in Maryland provided Nathan an early opportunity to hone her skills on the “Yough.”

After speaking with a tour guide last year, Nathan knew she had found her summer adventure. You don’t just pile into a raft and head downstream. In addition to being familiar with the river, the guides go through an extensive training process that includes first-aid and safety courses. “The customers see the water and think about having fun, but as a guide, you’re biggest concern is safety,” she said.

Looking for a fun-drenched experience, some of the customers end up in the water. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s no big deal,” Nathan said. “We tell them to relax and get on their backs so they can see their toes. We then go back, fish them out, and continue with the trip.”

The river is aptly called the “beast of the East.” “There’s no comparison to it on the East Coast,” said Nathan. “The most successful rafts are the ones that work as a team. It’s the same in soccer - if a couple of players aren’t on the same page, you’re not going to go too far.”

Depending on the depth of the water, trips can last as long as six hours. You can’t paddle on an empty stomach, so the water cavalcade stops at the midway point for lunch. The rations usually include cold-cuts, drinks, and chips. “I don’t have refrigeration where I live, so it’s nice to get some meat,” said Nathan.

When she’s not on the water, Nathan and the rest of the guides live on the “ranch” in Ohiopyle, Pa., not too far from the West Virginia and Maryland borders. “Most of the guides are from area schools like West Virginia University, Pitt, and Penn State, “said Nathan. “I’m definitely a stray from New Hampshire.”

Nathan plans on staying in Pennsylvania for a few more weeks before picking up some things at home in Connecticut and heading up to Keene for pre-season soccer practice. “It’s been a super fun time - something I never thought I’d get a chance to do,” said Nathan, who plans on returning to the river next summer.

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