“You need to have a ticket to this party, and they are sold out.” 1984- Doug Gordon at the USA Team Trials for slalom when I asked him what my chances of making the team were. I realized at that event, my first USA Team Trials, placing 16th, that making the USA Team in the men’s kayak class, in particular, was going to be something that took dedication, determination, and desire. I went to the 1985, 1986, 1987 team trials, still not making the team, each one training harder each year, all year long, with breaks only when I didn’t have money for gas to the river. Then in 1988 the year I got married to Kristine, I had tendonitis so bad from over training, that I was overdosing on ibuprofen and ended up in the hospital at South Bend, Indiana, the site of the 1988 Team Trials for the entire duration of the event. I managed to drive to South Bend, only to go straight to the hospital.
Finally, in 1989, after a winter of training in Brazil with Richard Fox, then 3 time World Slalom Champion, and having Kristine care for me where I often didn’t take care of myself, I made the USA Team in 2nd place to Rich Weiss. At that moment, I got my first “ticket to the party”. The party consisted of a World Championships in June, and then a World Cup of 7 events in USA, Canada, France, Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy. After competing in the World Championships on the Savage River in Maryland I realized that this was a party I never wanted to miss. Incredible athletes dedicated to the same thing I was, all competing to win the big event. It was a rally point for my life, a higher purpose beyond making a living. I was hooked.
2013- I have been on the USA Team every year since that time and the ticket to this party would be my 25th straight year with a ticket if I made it, something I only realized two weeks ago. There is something about having the ticket already that makes getting your next ticket easier, for the most part. However, the pressure of wanting to keep it is a different kind of pressure than wanting it for the first time. There are quite a few USA paddlers who have been on the USA Team before that were competing for another shot.
Some notable athletes with the ability to put down rides that can put them on the USA Team, and who had done this already before more than once…
Bryan Kirk had been to the World Championships 5 times before (2001, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2011). Jason Craig (2009), Dane Jackson (2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011), Clay Wright 6 times before in K1 and Squirt (1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2011) Stephen Wright- 2009 and 2011 (winning a bronze medal at both of them). Andrew Holcomb (1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2007) was also someone who held down a team spot for many years. ( I am pretty sure I got all of the years right, if anyone has any corrections let me know!)
Then you have those who have never been on the USA team but are training super hard and paddling super well. The Demshitz crew of Dave Fusilli, Craig Cleckner, Mike Patterson, Matt Anger in particular spent the winter training at Eternity Hole and also at the NOC hole. They were making a huge run for it and everyone was paying close attention. Each of them had brand new Carbon boats for the competition, and Graham Mackereth, the owner of Pyranha was here from England to watch them compete and cheer them on. Tommy Yon, NOC local, has been training at NOC since he was a kid 12 years ago. He is an explosive, natural boater, with beautiful moves, combos, and a person to watch in any competition there. The list continues on, but the strongest ones, the top 10 listed above.
The format of this competition was a prelims- cutting the entire field down to just the top 10 paddlers for Saturday’s Semi-finals. Friday was a sunny 70 degree day and the water level was perfect. Rain was in the forecast for the weekend, and heavy rain, not just a light rain predicted. All classes had their prelims and most of the expected people made the next round. I was so nervous during my prelims, that I risked messing up in the first round, placing 7th, my lowest place in a USA Freestyle event round in freestyle for as long as I can remember. My average combined training rides for my prelims training was in the 1600’s and my score was 1386 for prelims. 1600’s would have been 3rd and in the top heat, much better. My kids were very nervous for me. Dane almost didn’t talk to me and Emily and Nick were always asking if I needed anything and trying to tell me not to worry. All of the Demshitz team made the next cut as well and Bryan Kirk was last guy in to the Semi-Finals making it by the skin of his teeth.
Semi-Finals- Rains were falling and the river was crazy on Saturday. We woke up to 1,140 cfs compared to the expected 800 cfs and the hole was super flushy, water brown. I trained in the hole with Emily, Devon, Haley, Jessie, and Bryan Kirk to make a new plan for my rides. I had a routine I was trained up for that was being thrown out the window. Behind the scenes the folks at NOC were working hard to get the water levels back to the right levels and figure out how to calm the natural disaster about to happen. The entire South East and Mid-Atlantic are about to flood, but we wanted NOC to be normal water levels. Drama is normal for this type of situation, but people did a good job keeping it in check. The river dropped back to 890 cfs and was a great level for the Junior Men, c1, and Men’s kayak classes. I was in the first heat of men and watched Bryan Kirk get a 600 point ride on his first ride. I did my first ride and got a 916, which is a good ride, but not a great ride. Jason Craig followed up with a 1200 point ride and killed it! I was now in second place. Bryan Kirk did his second ride and had the ride of his life in that hole! 1275 and took the lead from Jason, putting me in 3rd place! I was in heat 1 of 2 heats and there was a second heat of Men to go. I had to be in the top 5 (not counting Nick- Canada, and Dane- who has a bye) I did my second ride, thinking I was going to get my routine right and score big, but I missed my Lunar orbit and my right phonix monkey to finish around the same score again. Talk about nervous. I was sitting in 3rd place and all I could do it wait for the second heat to go. Clay was right behind me at 890 points and he also had only to wait and see as he was in 4th place and only 1 of the 3 paddlers left could beat him for him to make the team. Kristine was in her typical support spot- gave me a kiss before I went. Emily was with her.
I sat in my boat- at the river left eddy- to watch the others and cheer them on, with Clay. The first to go was Stephen Wright, who was the top American finisher in the 2011 World Championships in Plattling, Germany with a bronze medal. He entered the hole and missed a couple of moves right away, getting a score in the low 800’s and not in the top 5. I really wanted him to do well on his first ride and make the team. He is an amazing paddler and a good person to have on the team, and is one of Team JK’s top boaters. Mike Patterson was next and threw down an awesome ride with some combos, and everyone was biting their nails. His score came up at 846 putting him in 5th place right behind Clay. Andrew Holcomb went next, also able to knock me out, but didn’t have a good first ride. After first rides I was still in 3rd place for making the team, then Clay and Mike. Stephen went for his second ride and missed his opening front loop, his signature move. It went downhill after that and he didn’t beat the 846 needed to make the top 5 so far. At that point I was only one person away from making the team. As long as both Mike and Andrew didn’t beat my 916, I was on. Mike went again, starting off strong, but didn’t improve on his score of 846. It occurred to me, right then, sitting next to Clay, that I was on the team no matter what Andrew, Dane, or Nick did! My heart was racing as all of the nerves, adrenaline, and thoughts were coming together in one big crash. Clay had to sit and watch one more amazing paddler, Andrew Holcomb, do his ride. Andrew was second to Nick in prelims and clearly had the ability to rock this hole. He entered the hole and started throwing his cartwheel moves a little low angle, missing critical splitwheel combos and finally missing air on his Mcnasty, each minor mistake cumulatively preventing the score from getting up near the 1000 point mark. Whew… OK… Wait, we are watching, no to see if Clay is on the team, I just realized that Clay made it too!! Clay had that shocked, happy, disbelief look on his face, but Mike Patterson, in 5th place, the guy Andrew may or may not have just knocked off the team was sitting in a huddle with the rest of the Demshitz crew with their fingers crossed. Andrew was not happy with his ride and was dismissing his chances of it being good enough, however, his ride was good enough that I couldn’t make the call without going back and adding up his points. I was just about to start doing that when they made the announcement…. “Your unofficial USA Team is…. Mike Patterson, Clay Wright, Eric Jackson, Jason Craig, and Bryan Kirk, and earning his spot at the last world championships- Dane Jackson.”
I was so relieved, so happy, but still in disbelief as to how hard this trials was so far, mentally. I put way to much pressure on myself in advance, and the whole “If I make this team it will be 25 years straight” thing would have been much nicer to find out and realized AFTER the competition, not before. It isn’t like I can start over and try to get 25 years in a row next time if I missed it this time. That part occurred to me and while it was never a goal of mine to achieve this, I couldn’t keep it out of my head. I was a nervous wreck. Now- I was a recovering nervous wreck and had only the finals to worry about, and could compete in those with no consequences!
It rained all night, Saturday night, and it really started raining in the morning on Sunday. The Women, C1, Junior Men and Women, and OC1s still had to have their final cuts to the USA Team. Water levels were fine at 10am, but were rising at 100 cfs every hour. At the rate of rain, at some point, this hole would not be a hole any more! Talks of cancelling finals and making the last cut the round for the USA Team were going around the “campfire” but that should/can only happen if there is a disaster and no way to do the finals. The competition started on time. OC1s went and the 5 in finals cut to 2 on the team. Jordon Poffenberger and Dane Jackson both had great rides to make the USA Team. In the Junior Men’s Class, Bennett Smith, Hunter Katich, and Alex Vorhees, all who are friends and trained together for the past two weeks, made the team and will be amazing competitors for the Junior Men’s class at the Worlds.
In the Junior Women’s Class- there were only three junior women in finals and Lauren Burress has a bye from her last win in Germany. Rowan and Katy both made the team in good form as the water was rising.
Then the Senior Women were up. Devon Barker (member of the USA Team more than once) Emily Jackson (two time world champion and only lost 3 events in the past 3 years, but pregnant at 7 months now), Elaine Cambell (scored the only McNasty in prelims for the women and past USA Team Member) Adrienne Levknect (queen of the Green, and amazing at throwing big loops and has strong athletic ability) and Haley Mills (USA Team member in 2011 and trained in Africa with us this winter and paddling super well) were all in finals. The water was rising fast at this point. Muddy water was coming in from under the bridge just upstream of the hole and was probably adding a good 100 cfs at this point. The women were watching the hole, and deciding to do wave moves in some cases. Emily was first to go and was semi-confident looking. She threw a space Godzilla but then a loop to flush and flushed on a spin. She got 75 points, probably her lowest score in 5 years. Devon went and missed her loops and got a 40 point ride, even lower than Emily’s. Elaine went and did two loop moves but landed sideways scoring only 45 points and was shocked at her score. Adrienne and Haley both threw low scoring rides, but over 100 points to make the USA Team Emily, Haley, and Adrienne after the first of 3 rides…. Second rides, Emily struggled again, missing loops and looking flustered, scoring lower than her first ride. Devon had the same. Elaine bumped her score up to 110 with a loop and two spins. The hole was flushy and the women were doing their best, but it was tough. Adrienne had a huge space Godzilla and a cartwheel and was now in 2nd place. Haley got another good ride and was still in 1st. Final rides…. I was trying to coach Emily from the bank- (Do a straight front loop and stick it, then do two spins for the tie and then do your cartwheels) She was so nervous and really didn’t know what to do. She has so many moves- waves or holes. She is heavy, at 7 months pregnant and still in the Star, so she doesn’t have the big air as an option. She needs to throw more moves. Devon goes, and still misses her loop, landing sideways, rushing a little too much to get clean moves. Unfortunately not moving into top 3. Emily goes next, and I have never seen her not pull it out in this type of situation so, while I was very nervous watching, I was confident. She started with a perfect loop and then a spin to the left. 100 points… 10 more points to tie for 3rd, 20 points to be in 3rd. She spun ½ way to the right, but then pulled her stern back like a back roundhouse and then put her paddle in the air to clean her bow for a clean spin, but touched the water. Time up. Hmmm… she might have scored a back roundhouse (25 points) or add a clean to her left spin (10 points).. or nothing…. Scores come up and it was nothing… 100 points- 4th place. This is the first time Emily missed the USA Team. She was very upset at herself and crying. It happens, and if it were to happen to Emily, having it happen while you are 7 months pregnant and the year you are having your first baby is the best time for it to happen! Dane and Kristine were very worried about her. I was watching in my gear as the Men’s Finals were the last event of the USA Team Trials. The water was shooting up fast now- likely up to 1,500 cfs by the time we got in the water. I was first to go.
I lined up my entry move- it looked like Rock Island at 1 generator. I can stick the entry move… 10 feet from the hole, looking at it, then the judges, I changed my mind and dropped into a front surf. Big Loop, Big Space Godzilla, blunt left, blunt right, cartwheel right, cartwheel left, donkey flip left at the buzzer. I stayed in for the 45 seconds and it was close to the best ride I could think of with so little foam and no air to be had on blunts. I got a 435 point score. Dane was next, Nick, and Jason Craig, but they flushed early, as did Bryan Kirk. I tried to improve my score but flushed on my Donkey Flip this time. Nobody beat my 435 after 2nd runs. Final run- I try a different routine but couldn’t improve my 435. Dane goes up for an entry move- worth 50 points, or a big flush for the loss. He nailed the entry move and then threw a great ride to beat my score by 15 points!! The entry move wins the day! Bryan Kirk throws a sick last right, but just behind my 435 at 400 points. The finals are over- the USA Team Trials are done, only the awards held at Slow Joe’s in heavy rain under the deck were left.
I don’t have any video of my competition rides, but here is a training ride…. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxZ11cNHb3E[/youtube]
The 2013 USA Freestyle Kayak Team: (Bold indicates Team Jackson Kayak paddler)
Dane Jackson (Bye)
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