After making a splash paddle-boarding in 2009, Linda McCoy-Schriever reveled in the ethereal beauty of Lady Bird Lake. One thing bugged her, however, as she plowed upright through all that watery serenity.
"I would notice pockets of Styrofoam and plastic bottles," she says. "It really piles up. I was appalled. Someone should organize a clean-up, I thought."
Then it dawned on her.
"Maybe that person is me," McCoy-Schriever considered. "I don’t know who the magic ‘they’ are."
Eventually, she marshaled as many as 80 fellow enthusiasts based at the mouth of Shoal Creek for bimonthly clean-ups. Passing joggers thank them. Municipal engineers have sought their expertise as they try to stabilize the banks of the oft-flooded creek.
"The city asks us where we put in our paddle boards and how they could help," she says. "This is an awesome place. I don’t know if I could love a city more. The more I get involved, the more invited I feel."
McCoy-Schriever, 46, underwent a "me, too" conversion experienced by tens of thousands of Austin volunteers. Recently, the San Antonio native, who owns a tiny textbook-related company, was honored with other altruists by the Ballet Austin Guild, primarily for her clean-up work, but also for her anti-cancer activities.
Her long, generously curled blond mane gives McCoy-Schriever the girlish, outdoorsy look of a surf "betty," reminding one of the sweet, funny cheerleader Betty Cooper in the "Archie" cartoon series.
McCoy-Schriever grew up on the north side of San Antonio. She loved science, history and art at Clark High School. She also ran track, played in the band, joined the art club and hung out with the New Wave girls.
She attended the University of Texas-San Antonio for a couple of years, then went into retail sales, got married, had a baby, then entered the publishing field, finally starting her own business.
After both her parents died of cancer, she started participating in Dam That Cancer, the premier benefit for the Flatwater Foundation, which provides counseling to families struggling with cancer. Seventy-five or so participants raise at least $1,500 each to paddle as a pack — it’s not a race — from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam, the length of Lake Austin. The 21 miles takes eight or nine hours and culminates with a well-deserved party at Hula Hut.
She got into paddle-boarding because her husband, Greg Schriever, a FedEx truck driver, actually surfs the ocean pretty well. She witnessed paddle-boarders in Hawaii, but was not ready to try the balancing act on the Pacific waves.
Later, by coincidence, Kristy Murphy, a women’s longboarding champion, got stuck in Austin when her truck broke down and was willing to sell her boards.
"I was hooked," McCoy-Schriever says of paddle-boarding. "I knew I wanted to do it. It’s very relaxing. You can make it as hard or as easy as you want. You can work out your shoulders, or you can race. It’s such a neat way to see the city: Buildings reflected in water, birds, fishes, turtles."
After her clean-up conversion experience, Keep Austin Beautiful helped her find the perfect spot on Lady Bird Lake near the mouth of Shoal Creek.
"It snowed the day before," she says of the first effort in December 2009. "We had three people. We were freezing and on our knees most of the time. My knees were shaking so bad, I could barely stand up."
Yet McCoy-Schriever felt she’d made a small difference and was ready for more. She discovered the Adopt-a-Creek program.
"I said, ‘Sign me up for life,’" she recalls. "This is my creek as long as I can clean it. If I can put on boots, I’ll come out."
One thing that convinced her that she’d found the right spot was the tiled, serpentine wall that memorializes ceramic artist Tre Arenz nearby. She never knew Arenz, but met her sister through Facebook and participated in a celebration for the artist.
Her group has found all sorts of weird things, including a collection of old, rainbowy bottles in the creekbed.
"I wondered: Why there?" she says. "Were there houses on that peninsula?"
She’s proud the city government included her — "Trash Girl" — in meetings on the future of Shoal Creek.
Her clean-up efforts haven’t distracted McCoy-Schriever from other volunteer efforts, including her comic identity — well-known online — as a martial arts cancer fighter.
"Mom always told me when I cried, it’s OK to have feelings, just let them out," she says. "When she passed away, it felt weird to make light of things. That’s where Cancer Ninja came in, as a way to let the feelings out. To kick cancer’s ass."