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Below the Surface


On the open water, Raven Allen is a powerful force. With each stroke, the calamity of a still lake is shattered, her kayak speeding toward a weighted buoy, her finish line. It is a testament to her full-body strength, leaving the competition in her wake. When the Special Olympics Georgia athlete was selected to represent Special Olympics USA in kayaking, those who know her best attest to a strength that extends far below the water’s surface.

“You really get out of your comfort zone,” said Raven. “Getting out in the water, in the middle of the water, it’s a lot… It’s the adrenaline kayaking gives me that makes me excited about it.”

The day Marsha Keating was introduced to Raven, she hoped to one day serve as her coach. Years later, the two are inseparable. They share a fervor for the open water, for the art of creating homemade stained-glass masterpieces and for their chosen family in Special Olympics.

Raven inherited her artistic talents from her mother, who passed away in November of 2021. Over time, she has learned to channel her artistic expression in designing custom stained-glass pieces, which she cuts, grinds and assembles herself.

“With Raven and sister, her mom would sit them down at the table with paper and coloring pencils, and would say, ‘Color it out,’” explained Marsha. “That was a way for them to work out their feelings.”

Between her two jobs, assisting patients with August Developmental Specialists during the day and caring for a 95-year-old woman overnight, Raven is responsible for managing her own home, where she lives independently.

“It’s the house she grew up in,” said Kevin Enright, Raven’s local Special Olympics program coordinator. “When her mom passed away last year, she wanted to keep the house. She’s not only paying for the mortgage, she’s paying for the upkeep of the house. She works 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at clinic and she works 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. with the lady she cares for.”

When the time came to nominate a female kayaker to represent Special Olympics Georgia as part of Special Olympics USA in the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023, Kevin advocated for Raven’s selection. He advocated on behalf of her character, charismatic and bubbly, on behalf of her athletic ability and on behalf of her strength, mental and physical.

“I thought he was joking, because we’re always joking,” laughed Raven. “Then, I was like, ‘You’re serious, you’re not pulling my leg.’ He had his serious face on.”

In the precious, but limited, time that Raven has to herself, she is working to fundraise in support of Special Olympics and training at a state park for World Games competition. Marsha and Raven paddle out, measuring distances using weighted buoys, fishing lines and landmarks on the water’s edge. For her first trip outside of the United States, Raven is doing all she can to be ready.

“To me it’s a big adventure,” said Raven. “It feels like it’s an honor, like I’m the first one in my family to do something this awesome. I’m still shocked that I’m going.”

A well-deserved honor, Raven’s upcoming adventure reflects her strength as a competitor and as an individual, regardless of the water’s temperament surrounding her. Atop the water, she calmly glides. Her might is in the stroke, making all the impact below the surface.