Carson City Junior Olympian brings home gold |

Carson City Junior Olympian brings home gold

Shannon Litz / Tribune News ServiceSage Donnelly with her freestyle kayak, for tricks, and her race boat, for speed, on Tuesday.

On her inaugural trip to the Junior Olympics, 10-year-old Sage Donnelly won five gold medals, earning the Rivermeister award for the most points earned in the kayak competition.

“I was pretty surprised,” she said from her Carson City home Tuesday morning. “I was happy and excited.”

For the past two months, Sage and her parents have been on the road, living with their four dogs and a cat in the family van to compete in kayak competitions throughout the West. This was the first year they traveled back East to compete.

They first hit the USA Canoe/Kayak Age Group Nationals in McHenry, Md., on June 27. Although other girls showed up to race, they backed out when they saw the difficulty of the course.

Sage, who didn’t turn 10 until the drive home at the end of July, was the only girl left in the 10 and under category. Instead, she had to compete in the 14 and under age division, where she placed second.

From there, she went on to the Junior Olympics in Nantahala, N.C., July 10-18 where she took first in freestyle, slalom, downriver sprint, C2 and sprint slalom. She also won two non-sanctioned events, downriver race and boatercross.

Although it was her first time to compete in that level of competition, Sage said she didn’t let the pressure overwhelm her.

“I just pictured the gates and thought of my ride and did my best,” she said. “I did everything I knew how to do.”

She’ll continue trying to improve, she said, so she can one day be a professional kayaker.

Her mom, Stephanie Viselli, says Sage has what it takes.

“Lots of pros didn’t learn some of the tricks she knows until well into their teen years,” Viselli said. “On that note, a lot of pros have helped her learn what she knows now. It’s a very giving community.”

Despite all of her accomplishments, Sage’s success has not come without a struggle.

Sage was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 3 and later with celiac disease. Viselli said managing Sage’s diabetes is a constant battle. What works one day isn’t necessarily a guarantee that it will work the next.

“It’s always a trial,” Viselli said. “Sometimes you’ve got it, and sometimes you don’t.”

But Sage doesn’t let it dissuade her, and encourages others to overcome their challenges as well.

“If you have a disease or anything, you should not give up your dreams,” she said.

One of her dreams is to one day compete in the Olympics. She hopes that by the time she’s old enough, freestyle kayaking will be an Olympic sport. Now, only the slalom is official.

She’s so committed, she’s given up competitive skiing to focus on kayaking year round.

“We’ve kayaked in blizzards where we can’t even see where we’re going,” Sage said.

The home-schooled student speaks to other youth groups about overcoming adversity.

Last year, she made a presentation to the Outdoors Club and Fremont Elementary School and plans to return later this year to update members on her progress.

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