Meet the founders of Diversify Whitewater!

Photo Credit: USMC Veteran and TRR—Fort Collins member—Matthew James Berrafato

“Diversify Whitewater’s aim is to introduce more BIPOC to whitewater kayaking and rafting. The Fort Collins, Colorado-based organization’s founders are two women of color—Lily Durkee and Antoinette Lee Toscano. The duo has organized a series of summer events, including a community paddle and skills day, at no cost to participants to increase access to paddlesports and break down barriers.” 

Read the full article about them in Paddling Magazine!

Read More about Diversify Whitewater’s Mission and Efforts

Meet Antoinette Toscano

Branch of Service: U.S. Army Veteran
How long have you been with TRR?
I’ve been with Team River Runner for 7-years. I started with TRR-Raleigh/Durham. I’m now with TRR-Fort Collins, now that I’ve moved to Colorado.
What if your favorite river to paddle?
My favorite river to paddle is the Arkansas River–Milk Run section in Buena Vista, Colorado, at peak flow. It challenges my skills, it is a scenic river, and I usually kayak it with TRR members from all over our state.
Why do you like participating with TRR?
What I like most about whitewater kayaking with Team River Runner is the camaraderie on and off the river. I moved to Colorado three years ago. I didn’t know anyone until the second week of my Colorado residency. On that day, I went to a TRR-Fort Collins, indoor, kayaking skills-building session, I met my new teammates, and suddenly I had a dozen new friends. What I love about my chapter is that we are like family. We spend time together on and off the river, and we look out for each other. It feels good to be part of a group of people with shared experiences.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a veteran after transitioning to civilian life?
I left the military one week after a surgery. I had a lot of health challenges to overcome, as a result of my 11-year military service. I used whitewater kayaking with TRR to regain my health, to create a new normal, and to live as big a life as I can envision.
Now, through my work as a freelance writer I’m helping others to do the same. You can check out Antoinette’s freelance work here!
Why do you think connecting with other veterans is beneficial? 
Many veterans miss being a part of a team, and fellowship with people to support you that don’t need a lot of explanations because they have a shared experience. Having a support network when life is stressful has been very helpful to me.
What sparked the idea to start Diversify whitewater? 
Lily Durkee, a new TRR—Fort Collins volunteer had the idea to start Diversify Whitewater—DW. She asked me if I wanted to join her.
Knowing that I have an MBA, experience as a TRR—OJT program graduate, and Assistant Chapter Coordinator, as well as experience at running a business, with deep ties to a number of communities, I jumped at the chance to co-found DW.
What goals do you have for Diversify whitewater? 
Immediately after our first event, I felt that with Lily’s knowledge of whitewater events management, and my access to regional support from organizations like TRR—National, we could take our concept around the country. That is our goal for 2021.

Meet Lily Durkee
What made you join TRR and when did you join?
Funny story actually. My research lab at CSU was hiring an undergraduate research technician, and Shawn Sabo, a TRR-Ft. Collins member, applied. I brought him in for an interview, and he told me all about the Ft. Collins chapter and said I should come and volunteer at a pool rolling session. I did just that, and the rest is history!
What is your favorite river to paddle? 
I love all sections (Top, Upper, and Lower) of the Youghiogheny River in Western MD / PA. 
What is your favorite part about paddling with TRR?
The community was so welcoming in Fort Collins, and being new to the area, I was looking for a paddling community. Meeting the TRR-Ft. Collins chapter members gave me the river buddies I was looking for, and it was also where I met Antoinette for the first time!
What sparked the idea to start Diversify Whitewater? 
During the Black Lives Matter movement, I was thinking of ways that I could make a positive difference in my community. I was inspired by the BLM statement released by Immersion Research and realized that I could make a difference in a community that is very important to me – the whitewater community. I grew up always being the only Asian or POC face on the river. It was something I had accepted as normal – but I suddenly realized that it didn’t have to be normal. I had a vision of a group of BIPOC floating down the river together, huge grins on their faces, and I knew that I could make this a reality. I reached out to Antoinette, and together we worked to found Diversify Whitewater and to bring over 100 BIPOC together on the water during our two events in 2020. 
What goals do you have for diversify whitewater? 
I would like to bring our two event models, the Downriver Community Paddle and Skills Day, around the country in 2021. Our events for the residents of Northern Colorado and Denver Metro were so successful – both in turnout, and in positive feedback – that I hope to share the amazing experience of paddling with other BIPOC around the country. 
How can people get involved with Diversify whitewater? 
There are two main ways to support our efforts at DW:
(1) Volunteering with us. We can always use support at our events, but also when planning our events, with social media/marketing/outreach, and in developing educational materials. 
(2) Making a donation. We are currently in the process of becoming our own 501(c)(3), and we will soon have tax-deductible donations available. Until then, you can donate through Venmo @Lily-Durkee.

Vanessa Jones

Committe Co-Chair

Vanessa A. Jones is a dynamic force dedicated to fostering
inclusivity, encouraging discussion, and promoting a culture of
belonging in the outdoor sports community. Hailing from
Washington, DC, she brings a wealth of diverse experiences and
perspectives to her endeavors.
As a US Army veteran and ordained Chaplain with a focus on
seniors and caretakers, Vanessa is deeply committed to serving
others. Her work as a patient-caretaker advocate reflects her
passion for supporting vulnerable populations and ensuring their
voices are heard.
Currently, Vanessa is employed by a resettlement agency, where
she confronts challenges head-on with resilience and
compassion. As a single, Black woman veteran, she embraces
the unique hurdles she faces, viewing them as opportunities for
growth and empowerment.
In her downtime, she wears many hats, including that of a
missionary, spreading hope and positivity wherever she goes.
Weekends are spent paddling, immersing herself in West African
dance and finding solace and joy in nature’s embrace.
Vanessa is committed to equitable principles, ensuring that
everyone’s opinions are valued and heard. Through her
unwavering dedication and inclusive leadership, Vanessa is
paving the way for a more equitable and diverse outdoor sports