Interviewing Payson Kennedy, Nantahala Outdoor Center, Summer, 2015

(Pre-S: This article connects to the Sunday Morning Joe post that I published two weeks ago, which you can read HERE. Also, don’t miss the “PS” below — I think you will enjoy it.)

While working as the Global Media Ambassador for the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC,) one of my major responsibilities involved our hosting of the 2015 Junior and Under-23 Canoe Wildwater World Championships.

As excited as we were to welcome the world’s best young canoeing athletes to NOC, one of the most memorable parts of the experience was hearing the stories that many of the athletes from far-away…

Chattooga River, Mountain Rest, South Carolina (NOC photo)

In the early stages of Sunday Morning Joe, I would expand upon ideas that I never imagined that I would share publicly. This was, and continues to be, a cathartic process for me.

As the writing found its rhythm, people would respond.

Perhaps they relate the weekly topic to events happening in their own lives. Or to acknowledge a different side of me they didn’t know had existed during my time working inside the Olympic movement… a side of me that I didn’t know existed during those days.

More than six years after starting this project and an inbox filled…

Oklahoma City Boathouse District, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Mike Knopp photo)

(Pre-S: This article connects to last week’s post which you can read HERE. Also, don’t miss the “PS” below — I think you will enjoy it.)

As we motor up the Oklahoma River, I gaze over the starboard deck at the Oklahoma City skyline. This is anything but a dustbowl.

The orange light of the late afternoon sun reflects off of the upper floors of the glass buildings that form Oklahoma City’s modern downtown. Next to the river, a new and neatly groomed trail system is bustling with healthy-minded foot and pedestrian traffic.

I begin to make small talk with…

1972 Olympic Canoe Slalom Venue, Augsburg, Germany (Joe Jacobi photo)

Normally, I would not have stepped onto the boat.

I am not invited and question whether I really belong on this boat.

Yet, on this spring evening at 2008 Canoe Sprint Olympic Trials in Oklahoma City, I am glad to have a few minutes to catch up with my longtime friend from summer camp, Norm Bellingham.

Our respective work brings us to Oklahoma — Norm as the Chief Operating Officer of the United States Olympic Committee and me for my broadcast duties with NBC Olympics in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

Norm also happens to be a…

Lleida, Catalunya, Winter, 2021 (Joe Jacobi photo)

Clutching a rock where the river meets the rugged shoreline, I feel a mix of tension between trying to catch my breath and wanting to cry.

As I look out towards the river, some of the paddlers on this outing wrestle with my canoe, which is full of water and floating downstream in the center of the current. Other paddlers chase my paddle as well as other possessions that were previously inside of my boat… before I “swam.”

In this situation, to “swim” means that when I flipped upside down in my boat in the middle of the rapid a…

1972 Olympic Canoe Slalom Venue, Augsburg, Germany (Joe Jacobi photo)

One of the most challenging transitions from sport to life-beyond-sport is the off-setting ratio of practice-time to game-time.

On the river, game-time could be an elite level competition. Or moving a huge number of whitewater rafting guests through day-long river trip. When a highly skilled river paddler navigates a complex and unforgiving river rapid, this is “Game-On!”

In all of these river situations, a LOT of practice precedes a little bit of game-time.

In our normal lives, our daily existence is nearly all game-time with MINIMAL attention to practice.

When practice is in such short supply, what we practice and…

The 1992 Olympic Canoe Slalom Start Line, Parc del Segre,
La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, February, 2021)

Two different Olympic Games. A different job at each one.

Here is the progression of both jobs as they played out at the canoeing venue’s Olympic start line:

Job #1
1. Build up drama.
2. Inject bravado.
3. Speculate on possible outcomes.
4. Consider the impact of what it would mean to win an Olympic medal.
5. Project knowing exactly what needs to be done.
6. Convey this as the opportunity of a lifetime.
7. Anticipate the finish line.

Job #2 1. Inhale the stillness of the start area. 2. Exhale gratitude. 3. Be present in the moment. 4. Conserve…

Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, Winter, 2021)

Imagine that our objective is to successfully navigate a challenging problem in our “river of life.” It is as if all of the river’s current seems to flow directly into a giant rock that obstructs our river.

Let’s also imagine that we have some time to formulate an approach to navigate this demanding section of river… and our rock.

Conventional wisdom quickly turns our attention to our best attributes — our superpowers — that could help us conquer this problem. These could include responding with speed, strength, or confidence.

While immediately confronting chaos before the rock with our superpowers is…

Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo)

Much of my summer as a 21 year-old was spent traveling from river to river throughout Europe. In this case, not just to paddle a river, but to join the best canoeing athletes in the world to race in the top whitewater canoe slalom competitions every weekend.

The weekly routine was simple yet a little dirt-baggish. Each of us lived frugally out of a duffel bag and were always adjusting to new and different environments, on the water as well as off.

With our sport’s base and popularity anchored in Europe, my European competitors often had the luxury of passing…

Riu Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo)

The journey down a river challenges one’s comfort level. From the gear to the natural elements to the remote locations in which the activity takes place, paddling a river offers us a beautiful and unexpected perspective of the world. But such a journey is not likely to top the list of a comfort-seeker.

However, in my four-plus decades on and around rivers, the pursuit of more comfort on the water has been an ongoing work-in-progress. Accessories and gear with more storage to carry more things. Or more gadgets to process more information, detail more metrics, or capture more images.


Joe Jacobi

Olympic Gold Medalist & Performance Coach helping leaders & teams perform their best without compromising their lives.

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