The Put-In

Joe Jacobi
4 min readJan 10, 2021
Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell Catalunya (Joe Jacobi photo, December, 2020)

I had never experienced uncontrollably shaking legs like this before.

Before paddling a challenging river for the first time, I try move myself into a good headspace for what’s ahead. While preparing for North Georgia’s Tallulah Gorge, I had not considered the descent to the river’s launch point, or as we say, the “Put-in.”

Beautiful steps built into the mountainside lead far down to the canyon’s bottom point… I just didn’t realize how many steps… while carrying a heavy kayak and gear. As the cold moisture floating above the water meets my tiring legs, one step after pounding step at a time, my legs feel ready to collapse at any moment.

Not every river has a challenging and descending put-in. But when you think about our central life challenges and unpredictable circumstances, such a put-in precedes many of them.

For most of my four-plus decades on and around rivers, I rarely overlook the nature of put-ins. The problems of the day or “what if” thought loops do not meet me here in these moments of presence.

From my teen-age years on the way to a competitive training session on the Potomac River, I’d walk down the steep hill on Valley Road preparing to dodge DC-area car commuters speeding along the Clara Barton Parkway before making my way to the riverbank. On another day and different situation, perhaps it is a long walk down railroad tracks in rural West Virginia before dropping off, sliding, and stumbling down a hillside to the start of a challenging river-run.

On the walk to the put-in, my mind is distinctly between two critical points:

The Pursuit of Contentment


The River of Uncertainty

Contentment here is accessing our current skills, experiences, and beliefs to take on the challenges that help us grow, feel joy, and find purpose.

The River of Uncertainty simply acknowledges that no matter what we do, have, and understand about the world, parts of our experience are beyond our control.

There is a sliding scale between these two points. Anywhere between these two points can work… provided you take the time to notice where you are on this scale upon entering the water. My rule is simply not to be 100% on one side of the scale or the other as I want to have at least some perspective of both sides.

My most popular writing over the past six years has focused on the river as the teacher. I have shared many river lessons and experiences but less about the chaos and its origins. There is a deeper and more aligned thread to explore between what we control and what can not.

So, for the next six months, Sunday Morning Joe will focus on a single theme:

The Pursuit of Contentment on the River of Uncertainty

With five chapters designed to move us closer to flow:

The Paddler’s Energy
River Strategy
Relationships Bound By Water
Course Correction
The Practice Of Transition

Each Sunday Morning Joe post supports the corresponding chapter and transfers a particular idea to the way we nuance our choices and decisions… that hopefully improves the likelihood of a desired outcome.

While the writing will feature my own experiences, lessons learned, and perspectives formed over more than four decades on the water which include winning an Olympic Gold Medal, coaching Olympians, challenging myself on difficult river-runs and paddling expeditions, or just surviving hard river situations for which I am fortunate to be here writing this today, my true sweet spot is giving voice to water. I offer a perspective of life from the water’s view in a way that helps you reflect upon and choose the pursuit of contentment on your river uncertainty. We begin at the put-in.

Back at the bottom of the gorge on the Tallulah River, I settle my wobbly legs into the kayak, take a few deep breaths, and push away from the put-in.

I glance at the long line of paddlers who wait their turn to put in. Then, I turn my attention to the only force that matters now… the tiny part of this forceful river that touches my kayak and paddle as I head towards the first rapid, which is just a few paddle strokes below the put-in.

No more leg shakes. Present and here. Between content and uncertain. And not a thought of turning back.

With gratitude, — Joe

PS — With today’s post serving as the start of a series that will continue for quite a while, now is a great time to subscribe to Sunday Morning Joe. Subscribing is easy and free. I made this video to explain a little more about the concept and them (the afternoon sun over the Douro River in Porto, Portugal makes watching the video worth it!) Watch the video HERE.

And subscribe to Sunday Morning JoeHERE.

View and share today’s post, The Put-In on Medium by clicking HERE.

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5 With Joe Performance Coaching

I coach established and experienced 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.