Last week I was fortunate to attend three events that support my goals to engage and educate myself about the waters of North Carolina, specifically the Catawba River. Ambassador training from the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation (CRF) kicked off the week, followed by The Water Symposium hosted by Queen’s University, Charlotte ‘Learning Series’, and to end the week, a Polar Plunge on Leap Day, February 29, 2020. I, along with my fellow Riverkeeper friends, ran into the bone-chilling waters of the Catawba River to celebrate our fundraising victory to send two kids/teens to summer camp hosted by the CRF. Last week presented opportunities to generate momentum for my platform as a candidate for Mrs. North Carolina. My goals for 2020 are to make a greater impact on the waters that serve me by advocating for water quality, continuing to educate myself, and positively influence those who live in the greater Carolinas.

In 2013, I met my incredibly talented, loving, and personality-filled, husband AJ, and moved to North Carolina to travel with him while he raced full time in the NASCAR cup series. I had just completed my Master’s Degree in Architecture from the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and I was ready for the next chapter. While traveling the country and living in North Carolina, I started working as an Aquatic Consultant and designer for a women-owned Construction Company, Conner Construction Corp. in Cornelius, NC. Aware of the challenges facing our human and environmental health, I decided to take action because I am passionate about water quality and I feel a responsibility to use my gifts for a greater good.

I am drawn to the water. Water is a part of my identity because of where I grew up and also because my fondest memories are boating with my family on the waters of Carter Lake, once part of the Missouri River between Nebraska and Iowa. Memories are what I have left of my mother, Glorie. Almost nine years ago, my family and I lost her to Pancreatic Cancer. I believe that water quality is tied to health, wellbeing, and livelihood, and I am confident it holds the answers to her sickness, and many others. It’s hard to accept, and for me, pinning a purple ribbon on my chest wasn’t satisfying. My legacy is to honor the way my mother lived actively engaged in my pursuit to ‘Fight for Glorie’, discovering knowledge-based solutions to protect water quality. I have shifted my focus from “Why did this happen?” to “What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen, anymore?” As a volunteer and member of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, I will continue to improve the waters of the region and the nation.

There is hope for the Catawba River. And from what I learned last week at the Water Symposium, the river has come a long way from its colorful and odorous past. As a community, we owe immense debts to the past, and as a gift to the future, I am committed to serving as a volunteer, educator, and spokeswoman for the Catawba-Wateree River Basin. Paramount, is the quality of our water for drinking, recreation, and eating. The Charlotte metro is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. As it grows, the Catawba River experiences an increase in stress requiring all people who depend on it to action. I, along with the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation will be the voice of the river and a steward for its future. I am a Riverkeeper because I benefit from the Catawba River and I am passionate about curating an impact that is positive.

Tara (left) with fellow Ambassadors at a training event in February 2020