2014 Paddler Of the Year
Jeff Fudala

Jeff Fudala deserves recognition as the 2014 Paddler of the Year for his work with Team River Runner. Team River Runner is a national organization using paddle sports to promote healing and develop leadership skills in disabled veterans. Over the past couple years Jeff has worked tirelessly to establish a Chicago chapter. He has invested the time to learn outfitting and alternative kayaking techniques for various types of disabilities; his success demonstrated after having guided two quadriplegics and having a regular participant who is a leg amputee. Proving our waters are accessible to any ability, or disability, and expanding the reach of paddle sports to a group who previously would not have considered it an option.


Jeffʼs dedication and hard work has paid off this year with an explosive season for Team River Runner Chicago. This success is not only accredited to Jeffʼs personal skill set as a paddler, but his ability to motivate and empower others. Team River Runner has a loyal staff of volunteers of varying abilities. Including one, who through Jeffʼs  tutelage, has progressed from her first time in a boat to a consistent companion on the water. The group of veteran participants is just as enthusiastic and has shown the same growth, overcoming perceived limitations to become kayakers. Margaret, a disabled veteran, is vocal about the positive impact kayaking has had in her life. Mentored by Jeff, she has accepted a volunteer staff position as outreach coordinator and can be found on the water more frequently than just at our bi-weekly events. She is a prime example of the leadership he encourages from people and the impact it has on the  larger community.


Bringing Team River Runner to Chicago has faced multiple obstacles that Jeff Fudala has faced un-dissuaded. The efforts have paid off in expanding Illinois paddle sports to a group who otherwise felt such activity was unavailable to them, some unaware that a nature experience can be had so close to the city. It has promoted leadership and skill building, not just in the veteran participants, but in the previous experienced paddling community. Jeff has excelled in every criteria as Paddler of the Year; commitment, contribution, accomplishment, and most notably volunteerism – his own and enabling others the opportunity. For these reasons Jeff Fudala should be awarded as the 2014 Paddler of the Year.

For more information on Team River Runner