The Beauty Of Unlikely

Joe Jacobi
5 min readMar 21, 2021


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 a nice gentleman on the deck of this 60-foot cabin cruiser close to where the captain pilots the boat.

“So, what brings you to Oklahoma City?” asks the man.

“The Olympic Trials.” I reply. “I’m here with NBC Olympics. I’ll be the color commentator for canoe/kayak this summer at the Olympics in Beijing.”

“Oh, that’s great!” says the man. “I worked in television for many years. I was a sports reporter.”

I am hungry for any broadcast advice I can get. At this time in the spring of 2008, I soaked up any and all feedback with the idea that broadcast journalism could be my new career choice moving forward.

The man shares his experiences in story-telling and connecting with an audience. Although I have known this man for just a few minutes, I can tell he is accomplished in both of these areas.

“And you are…” I ask wondering who this man is.

“I’m Mick Cornett. I’m the mayor of Oklahoma City.”

My encounter with the mayor does not surprise me. Neither does the casual nature of the conversation.

Oklahoma City feels small and its leaders accessible. These types of encounters would occur more frequently in the future.

Shortly thereafter, the boat’s captain shuts off the engines. At the request of the mayor, we retreat inside the cabin and take seats around a table. Joining us are Oklahoma City public leaders, CEOs, and community visionaries, about 25 people in all.

We watch a promotional video about Oklahoma City’s quality of life. It highlights what most Americans rarely see here: a vibrant and colorful downtown area full of activity, engagement, and pride.

If I hadn’t seen this video while visiting Oklahoma City, I would not have believed it. But, it is on par with what I have been experiencing over the past few days. There is a determined and inclusive energy growing in this city.

The video ends. The mayor seamlessly transitions into a short presentation where he focuses on the development of the city around the Oklahoma River.

In life, we sometimes find ourselves before an opportunity where we could become an early investor in something special. This could be a company, a leader, or a community. Oklahoma City feels as if it is an early stage epicenter for quality-of-life investment starring a river as its leading character.

It feels less like a city and more like a movement.

What is the mayor’s pitch in front of the dignitaries, VIPs, and Olympic leaders on this boat?

To relocate USA Canoe/Kayak, the national governing body of competitive canoeing in the United States, to Oklahoma City and align competitive paddlesports with the momentum of what would become more than a $200 million investment in the Oklahoma River.

At the center of this riverfront development is the Oklahoma City Boathouse District, a futuristic vision for all paddlesports that includes state-of-the-art facilities and amenities to serve any and every kind of person who would ever put a paddle in their hands with the intent of using it to propel water craft.

“We’re offering you a seat at the table,” says the mayor. “Not just a table that serves the Oklahoma River. Oklahoma City’s table. The time to come is now. Not five years from now.”

There was something about his, “not five years from now” imperative that rings like a bell. It vibrates clearly and deeply.

What truly draws me towards this project is its “unlikely” nature. Building a world-class paddlesports center… in the middle of Oklahoma?

Although I stepped onto this boat with no power, influence, nor official role with USA Canoe/Kayak, 18 months after our river excursion, I would become the organization’s CEO and join many of the people I met that night at the table about which the mayor spoke. And, we would make good on the mayor’s invitation to establish our national paddlesports headquarters in the most unlikely of places.

When the role of water takes centerstage in your own life and then an improbable collaborator steps forward with an unlikely vision for a river experience that improves a major city center, you listen.

In the context of relationships, unlikely challenges how a collaborative vision is formed.

As aligning values are thoughtfully and respectfully woven into the process, what emerges is a clean slate to bring unlikely to life…

Which opens the river of uncertainty to beautifully deliver unexpected joy.

With gratitude, — Joe

PS — A Podcast To Share: If you have been reading along with The Pursuit Of Contentment On The River Of Uncertainty, you are beginning to see the broader framework for paddling the river of life.

This podcast conversation with executive coach, Sunday Morning Joe reader, and friend, Tara Nolan, goes much deeper into our theme.

We get specific and technical about relating elements of navigating rivers and the high performing teams that navigate these rivers to perform better at work and in life.

This is one of my most favorite podcast conversations to date and Tara is an outstanding host. Please take a little time today to enjoy our conversation.

Listen to The Game Of Teams podcast → HERE

The Beauty Of Unlikely is a part of my continuing Sunday Morning Joe series, The Pursuit Of Contentment On The River Of Uncertainty.

Subscribe to Sunday Morning Joe HERE.

Connect with Joe:

5 With Joe Performance Coaching

I coach seasoned professionals, who feel stuck in place, to thrive in transition and bring focus to what matters most without compromising their lives.

My personal experiences winning an Olympic Gold Medal, serving as CEO of a national sports organization, and my current “Simple, Slower, and Less” lifestyle in the Catalan Pyrenees help to form accountable and transformative collaborations that see my clients create their next and most impactful chapter.



Joe Jacobi

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