Liam Malakoff at the recent national canoe and kayak time trials in Wisconsin, where he won a gold medal, made the national team and is still considering giving up the sport (Michael Thompson)

“You put it all out there,” Malakoff told Perkins, “and the chances of actually achieving … anything that really means anything is pretty small. You’re not curing cancer, ending world starvation, even if you win an Olympic medal. I’ve decided I can do more good elsewhere.”

Malakoff and his sister, 13-year-old Eliza, began their whitewater career on the Potomac, and then stepped up to the Bethesda Center for Excellence and high intensity training. But there’s no money from sponsors or any college teams, so post-high school paddlers must go it on their own.

For now, rising high school freshman Eliza will assume the spotlight. She finished second in the national one-woman kayak trials, but was too young for the Junior National Team. “Every river has a different personality,” she told Perkins, “and every single section is completely different. It’s always changing. There’s always something to challenge yourself with.” She didn’t say whether she’ll continue after high school.

Here’s video of Liam in canoe slalom at last year’s team trials: