Having claimed a share of a women's world record in 2009 for navigating an 85-foot drop in her kayak, Heather Herbeck should have no problem navigating the relatively placid waters of the Blue Earth River.
The Mankato native who is now a professional kayaker living in Hood River, Oregon, Herbeck is returning this weekend to participate in the Zonta Club of Mankato's Kayaking for a Cause. The event — which includes a kayak trip from Rapidan Dam to Sibley Park — raises money to provide scholarships for college-aged women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math as well as allow younger girls to attend STEM camps.
As a pro kayaker, Herbeck has amassed an impressive resume of achievements. She's earned a number of sponsorships, including Jackson Kayaks and Midland XTC cameras. In 2005, she was the only female on the team that made the first full descent of the Rio Alseseca in Veracruz, Mexico, and has placed well in a number of extreme races (including a pair of wins on races later held on the Alseseca River). Now, she has begun training for slalom kayaking and is preparing for a series of summer races in Idaho.
Her world-record jump five years ago (which has since been broken) was made to celebrate her birthday — an event she shared with her husband, himself a Mankato native who initially introduced Herbeck to the sport.
"Just before he got to the waterfall, he turned around, looked at me and said, 'I love you,'" Herbeck said. "It was really cool. Sharing those moments is so precious."
Herbeck, however, "didn't even know the sport existed" until she met her eventual husband. After he and his father introduced her to rivers around Minnesota, she became further motivated by a lack of women kayakers.