9-year-old kayaker sets sights on gold
When Sage Donnelly was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 3 and later with celiac disease, her parents decided they would home school her to better control her environment.
But they made a point not to set limits on her life.
“We want her to know nothing should be able to stop her,” said her mother, Stephanie Viselli.
So far, nothing has.
The 9-year-old fourth-grader showed students in Fremont Elementary School’s outdoor club a video of her kayaking down the 35-foot Big Bend Dam into Lake Oroville in California.
Sage explained why the sport her parents learned on their honeymoon has become the focus of her life.
“I like kayaking because the big, green waves feel like roller coasters you can go up and down,” she said. “I like the feel of water beneath my boat. Sometimes, it’s like water balloons.”
When Sage is home in Carson City, she said, she trains by doing push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and running.
“I like doing flatwater workouts in the Carson River,” she said.
For about half the year, however, she and her parents are traveling from river to river for competitions.
“If we’re not going to competitions, we’re going to other rivers to keep up on skills,” Viselli said.
Viselli said she was not surprised with Sage’s dedication to the sport. She and her fire captain husband, Matt Donnelly, met while rock climbing and have made outdoor activity a priority in their lives.
“Sage has been a black diamond skier since she was 5,” Viselli said. “She climbed Snake Dike in Yosemite last year, too.”
Sage has qualified for this year’s Junior Olympics in North Carolina in July.
“I am very excited,” Sage said. “I always wanted to do something with the Olympics. I can’t wait to get there.”
Sage is sponsored by Jackson Kayak, Snap Dragon spray skirts, Astral PFDs, Truckee River Foundation, Outdoor Nation, American Whitewater, Spokiz Eye Wear and Red River Racing.
As an ambassador to Outdoor Nation, she encourages other kids to get outside and be active.
She leads by example that you’re never too young to get started, and especially champions other girls because there aren’t many in her sport.
“It’s always me and a bunch of boys,” she said.
Her public-speaking experience helped settle the nerves before Thursday’s presentation at Fremont.
“I’ve talked to crowds before, so I’ve gotten used to it,” she said.
She’s also gotten used to dealing with her diabetes while competing.
“Sometimes I get really hungry or weak,” she explained. “If I’m hungry, I usually just suck it up. If I feel weak and I’m not in the water, I’ll usually get something to eat.”
Dealing with celiac disease can be more complicated. People with celiac can’t digest gluten, which is found in most cereals and breads.
“We just try to prepare ahead and improvise,” Viselli said. “That can be hard sometimes when you’re in some of these really small towns.”
In addition to preparing for the Junior Olympics, Sage has set other short-term goals for herself.
“I want to get a passport and paddle rivers in Mexico,” she said.
And she has her ultimate goal.
“I want to go to the Olympics,” she said. “That would be really, really cool. And I want to get a gold medal there.”