Yes, they are all the same person…
Ever since I was 8 years old I wanted to go to the Olympics. In 1972 I watched Mark Spitz win 7 Gold Medals in Swimming that year and joined the swim team myself. I did what the coaches told me to do and tried really hard. In the beginning I was not educated enough to have much influence over my progression beyond sheer effort. For example, I didn’t know that other kids were doing two workouts each day, instead of one, and that they were on a summer swim team as well as a winter one, and that gave them the advantage each season… But then again, I was 8, 9, and 10 years old, and there wasn’t an internet, and I didn’t know that perhaps I could find a book on training at the library. I become the best on my team in a small town in PA, Loch Haven YMCA. 20 years later I still had the pool record for the 25 yard butterfly and the 50 yard butterfly. We moved to florida and I got caught up with Bass fishing and didn’t swim there for the next 5 years until I was 15. My olympic dream wasn’t crushed, it was one of those “so far away” things that I really didn’t understand it, or know how to pursue it. I didn’t know any olympians, haven’t ever seen one, nor knew anyone who thought it was possible or how to do it.
We moved to New Hampshire when I was 15 and joined a small summer swim team on Baboosic Lake in Amherst. I also joined the Merrimack Valley Paddlers kayak club with my dad. I enjoyed the swimming training and practices immediately. I was getting older and stronger and always was the one who put in the extra effort in every game (especially physical effort) and like hard physical activity. I swam OK that summer, but wasn’t winning many races. I joined the Nashua YMCA swim team for winter season and I was finally on a 12 month swimming program. My first season there I took my times down 10 seconds on my 100 yard butterfly and 5 seconds on my 100 yard freestyle. I was riding my BMX bike 15 miles into Nashua every morning for a 5:45am workout that summer which I had to leave before 4am to make it. Some days I couldn’t ride back without stopping and resting and almost passing out (I don’t think I knew what dehydration was back then). I won the 3D award for the team that year (Dedication, Determination, and Desire). I was also getting good at kayaking and was running the hardest runs that were commonly run that year. I was quite unaware of any type of competitive kayaking at the time. The next three years of high school I was training and swimming, getting better all of the time, and I won the State Championships for both 100 yard butterfly and the 400 yard freestyle relay (with my team). It was a “step” towards the olympics, I thought, but the National championships was still far out of my reach. The top guys were still quite a bit faster, and when I met them, they were quite a bit bigger, all of them. 6’+ every time and I was only 5’6″. I kept training, as hard as I could.
then one day I was on the Kennebec River in NH and was doing enders and surfing the “3 sisters” a rapid that changed and no longer has three awesome waves in it anymore. A guy came down in a low volume boat, and was surfing around, but not doing enders. He had a “USA” paddle jacket on and I kept yelling “Ender” every time he was in position, but he didn’t do it. Finally I caught up to him on the river downstream as he kept going and asked him… “hey man, what’s with the USA jacket?” He replied, “i am on the USA kayak team”. “WHAT THE HELL?? THERE IS A USA KAYAK TEAM?????!!!!!!” Now that is the craziest thing I ever heard of. I love the competitive part of swimming and the training and racing, but kayaking is only about 1,000 times more fun! Is it possible that I could do both?
I got off the river that day and went to see Wayne Hockmeyer, a friend of mine who owned Northern Outdoors Rafting company. I told him that I wanted to be an olympic kayaker and win the world championships in kayaking, not swimming now. He listened and asked what I wanted from him. I told him that I had no idea how to get a boat, or where to start. I was 19. He committed to sponsoring me right on the spot. He purchased me a green, with yellow stripes Excaliber II that matched his company colors. He gave me a green and yellow paddle jacket and life jacket that also matched. Russell, a young ex slalom racer from England, was working for Wayne at the lodge and we set up some gates on the pond at the lodge and started doing some flat water gates. Shelby Corson, a young 15 year old girl, was also participating and training with us. I also got a UltraMax C1 and started paddling that too. Wayne took us to the Androscoggin River for a slalom race. I got second place to Chris Smith, a guy who was on the USA Team and beat another guy who was good at the time. Chris called Bill Endicott, the USA Slalom coach and told him about this cocky kid from Maine who wants to be on the USA Slalom Team and just did his first slalom race. At the same time I was about to go to back to my sophomore year of engineering school at University of Maine. I called up Bill Endicott in Bethesda, Maryland out of the blue. I asked him if I could come train with him so I could make the team. He graciously invited myself and Shelby down to MD to “scout us out”. My dad drove us down and we did a week’s worth of training there and at the end of it, he said that if I wanted to move to DC and train, I could. I asked him if he thought I was good enough to make the USA Team. He said, “If you move here and train full time for 5 years, I think you could do it.” hmm… OK, that I all I needed to hear, and I told him that I would do it in a two years or less. 5 years later, after dropping out of college, being broke and just working for bare subsistence survival, and getting married to Kristine… I made the USA Team in 1989. The funny thing about this whole thing is that Slalom kayaking wasn’t in the olympics when I moved to DC. My high school yearbook’s EJ quote for my “dream” is to go to the Olympics for Kayaking. But kayaking wasn’t an olympic sport! I had trained for 4 years full time before the IOC announced that slalom kayaking would be in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Now, in 1989 I was a USA Team member and was finally really good. The critical moment for met getting good enough to make the USA team and be one of the world’s best, was my 6 week training camp with Richard Fox, then 2 time world champion. Richard needed a training partner in Brazil and he didn’t have anyone to push him there. He invited me to travel with him and his lovely wife Miriam while in Brazil. I jumped in their car and we found a river, set about 100 gates on it out of bamboo and we trained like crazy. We would do over one hour endurance paddles that in the beginning, he would leave me in the dust, and by the end, I could beat him to the finish every time. I adopted a much more focused method of doing gates, of training, and a harder physical regimen than I was getting in DC. When I returned to the USA, I won’t the first two races of the season, beating out all of the USA team members. This was my first true evidence that I was on target to become an olympian.
The next two years were up and down, as my finances were so bad that my training suffered, and usually at the wrong times. I also wanted to race well SO BAD that my mental game wasn’t right yet. I was the fastest guy at the starting line, but rarely won races and never won a big race. I was the top American Finisher in the World Cup and the Worlds right before the Olympics. I had the second fastest time in the 1991 world championships, but got 14th due to two 5 second penalties. It was still better than the other American’s finish. I got a 7th, 6th, and then a 5th in the last three world cups of the season and was getting better all of the time I felt. Then in the fall of 1991 in Spain at a USA training camp at the Olympic course (USA Team wasn’t set yet) I hurt my shoulder at a 6am workout, in sub freezing temps, on the last possible workout of the camp (I was one of the few to do that workout as we were all tired and ready to go home). I couldn’t paddle from November to February due to a really messed up shoulder. In february I could paddle forward and do right hand turns, but not left. I did my first race in the spring only turning right! Team Trials were in April of 1992 and I did my first right hand turn on the last week of March. I was skinny, weak, and had little training time going into the trials. Here my entire life was wrapped up in this moment and I was broken and not at full capacity, but there was no “rain day” for team trials. I raced, and I made the Team, along with Scott Shipley and Rich Weiss. Floods of emotions ran through my veins as Bill Endicott lifted me off the ground with a big bear hug, and Kristine was crying and smiling at the same time. Even little Emily, then 2 years old seemed to know something really cool just happened. It was one of those moments in life where a crazy dream became true, where the odds against you for years on end give way to dedication, determination, and desire.
this story is about the 2012 Olympic Team Trials and what I am doing here, at 48 years old…
To understand that, it is important to understand that I have learned more about living life since then, then I did leading up to my Olympic debut. What I learned, that makes me who I am today, is that living for a long term dream, for an end goal, isn’t living, it is putting off life until you achieve it, and the moment is so brief, that when you get there, you miss that moment entirely and are putting your life off for the next goal. Does that mean that training for the olympics is a bad idea? Absolutely not, as long as you aren’t “sacrificing” what is important to you. If you would do it anyhow, knowing that you will not achieve your goal, then you are doing the right thing, I believe. If you would not do what you are doing, if you knew y0u would ultimately not achieve your goal, you are doing the wrong things.
I have raced in subsequent Olympic Trials- 1996 I was primed for not only making the team, but it was my best shot at winning the olympics…. I failed to make that team. It tore my heart out as it occurred to me then that I wanted to be a kayaker, not a slalom racer in DC. I moved into an RV and traveled with my family for the next 8 years full time and became the person I wanted to be, and my life improved 1000%. In 2000 I competed in the Olympic Trials again, and this time I was 2nd the first day, but the second day I had a bad race and didn’t make the team… but that is OK, I hadn’t trained in 4 years. (I made the 1997 and 1998 USA Teams without training at all in a slalom boat, just paddling my creek and freestyle boats)
from 2001-2008 I did USA team trials but never making the team. My USA rankings ranged from 5th- 10th usually. That brings me to 2012. I have a 19 year old son and a 22 year old daughter that would both be awesome at slalom if they trained. They are both multiple world champions and their competition heads are better than anyone on the planet, they always perform well under pressure. I also really love racing slalom. I noticed that USA Olympic Trials were in April this year when I didn’t have another event. I decided in early March that I would race in them. I asked my kids and they both said they would race, too. This time, unlike the past 16 years of my slalom racing, and lack of training, I decided I would train for this race! The top racers (and the next tier down) would not consider what I did training, but for somebody who retired 16 years ago from a full time, 500 workouts in my boat each year regimen, to zero workouts, I have stepped it up again. I have now done about 25 workouts in my slalom boat. I have also purchased the latest, greatest design, the Sonic from Galasport. On the outside, for me to talk like I have a chance of making the team, or even performing well is a joke, as I am competing against people who have been at the top of the game for 10 years and make the USA team every year, and I have only done 25 workouts. That is quite true.. but there is always something to remember in any battle of skill, strength, or will, and that is that it isn’t always the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog also matters. The amount of stress for each competitor on race day depends on themselves. If they are at all like I was 16 years ago, they put a ton of pressure on themselves to perform well. Everyone responds differently in that situation. The top USA paddlers have been performing quite well under pressure, looking at their ability to make the team year after year. I have learned to perform under pressure, and normally better than I do when it really doesn’t matter. 4 World Championships titles over the past years, each one in a gut wrenching, heart pounding, pressure cooker environment with the announcers screaming out, crowds going crazy, and everyone giving it their all for the win. I get more relaxed in my mind, more clarity in my life at that moment, as I know exactly what I am supposed to be thinking about, doing, and focusing on.
The training I have been doing here gives me some perspective on what I can expect from myself. I am less consistent, with lower top end potential (less overall top speed on most moves), and more likely to hit gates and makes mistakes than the top guys. So, what is the game plan, why am I here? Well, my top end potential, if I do it from the top of the course to the bottom, is better than the top guys if they can’t put a full run together, which is quite hard in slalom. My lack of consistency is something that doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t hit me during 4 of my 6 runs (4 0f 6 count). If I only mess up two of my 6 runs, I still have a shot. But the real reason I am here is that I love competing, and love racing against the best. I have an immense respect for the top guys here, the Scott Parsons, Danny Stock, Scott Mann, Bret Hyle, Jim Wade, Butter, Ricky Powell, and more… There are about 7 guys that could make the Olympic Team if they race well. There is only 1 spot for the Olympic Team for men’s kayak and this race cuts to the top three. The world cup this summer determines the final guy. Anyone who makes the top three have a shot at it. If I was getting ranked, I would probably be ranked around 10th in the USA right now by coaches and anyone watching… Anything better than 10th place and I’ll be happy with my performance, in that I rose to the occasion. Anything higher than top 7 and I broke into the elite, of the elite of the USA slalom athletes. Anything higher than top 5 and you know I had a great three days of racing and I’ll be wearing a smile for a long time related to my racing. Top three… well, I’ll be shaking my head in disbelief, but not total disbelief, as I reconfirm the concept that skills used in one area of your life can be transferred to another, and that if you don’t race, you can’t win. If you are a betting person, don’t bet on me making the USA Team, as it isn’t a “good bet”. Bet on me having fun, racing hard, and learning something again, that I can apply to other areas of my life… Like my business, my family, etc..
Emily and Dane…. Emily has been training along side of me. She is doing awesome and improving every day. If you want to bet on a Jackson to make the USA Team, she is the best bet. The depth of field in the women’s class is much less and Emily knows how to compete. Today is her anniversary and she just might be getting Brett Hyle’s Sonic Kayak as an anniversary gift from Nick… Sweet! She is fired up and is already talking about doing more training in the future, to really become a top slalom racer.
Dane, well, he could be a dominant slalom racer with training… he left for Canada while Emily and I were training. He will also race well for a 19 year old that can count the total number of times in a slalom boat on his hands and feet. Actually he’ll race well, period, but he hasn’t caught the bug like Emily and I yet… He is happy to demonstrate some moves on Buseater that he can do like not other or any big wave… or race class 5 against anyone here… or any other freestyle kayaking endeavor he is at the top of the game worldwide… It is good for him to compete in an arena where he isn’t the favorite.
Today is the final day of training…. I just arrived after four days at home due to a big meeting with my business yesterday regarding kayak fishing. Today my partner Tony arrives in Rock Island, as well as the rest of the JK Board and advisors. JK Board meeting, quarterly review meetings are this week. I am not attending because I am racing in the USA Olympic Team Trials… How about that…