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My Dad and My Teacher

So going into 2001 we were already thinking about our next step, moving into a house, but this time, we would pick the best place we could think of, with no consideration to jobs, etc. since I was dedicated to the concept of being a lifetime kayaker. I would go back on that decision in a heartbeat if it was no longer what turned me on, but I still describe it the same way I first described it in 1984, and I quote myself, “My dad always told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grow up. He also said I should do what I love to do for a living, which is the only way to be happy. Well, my favorite thing to do in the world is kayak. So, that is what I should do for a living.” My dad is an engineer. He began working in the 50’s. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that I would conjure up such a whacked idea as becoming a career kayaker. I must say that the words I live by were spoken by a man who, in the first 10 years of my kayaking career, wished I would just finish my degree and get a job. After the Olympics, he had a change of heart that I would imagine sounded in his brain like, “Maybe all this time he has actually been on to something.”

On this subject, but going back 14 years to 1987, the year I met my wife Kristine, things were on the verge of being quite different for me. I had just met Kristine in May of 1987, she was 17 years old, I was 23 (she told me she was 19, so it is OK). I had my own insurance agency and my other goal, I forgot to tell you, was to be a millionaire by the time I was 30. Well, there wasn’t a person I knew, that didn’t think that was an admirable goal. My kayaking, well, most people wanted to know when I was going to grow up and show some sense of responsibility. I was so close to quitting my kayaking plans and going full on into business exactly at the time I met Kristine. In fact after I failed to make the U.S. Team for the fourth time in a row (the weekend I met Kristine) I committed to my business objectives. In the following few months of dating Kristine from 500 miles away, she came up with this one liner that changed my life forever; “Eric”, she said, “you are only happy when you are kayaking.” She went on to say, “Why don’t you just quit this silly insurance thing and get a job as a waiter so you can kayak all day.” Oh my God, the first person, the only person in my life that actually put in words exactly what I wanted to hear. I had nobody in my life that felt that way, in fact, everybody in my life was wondering when I would do just the opposite, get a real job and quit kayaking. But my 17 year old girlfriend was the only genius among my peers. She was the only one who actually KNEW what makes me happy. I latched on to her words like Moses did to his stone tablet.

Kristine the day I met her

This was my one commandment- You are only happy when you are kayaking. I showed up to my office the next day and gave my 17 insurance agents notice that the office was being closed. In two weeks I took my first job as a waiter at the Inn of Glenn Echo, and I became a “kayaker first” all else is secondary. That was in September of 1987. I was engaged in February of 1988 and married in August of 1988 to the woman I could never let get away. I was a guy who wasn’t going to get married until I was 30 or more, wasn’t looking for a long term girl. Kristine was only 17 but hit me harder than any super model could ever (not that she isn’t, in my opinion, supermodel sexy) hit me. She was the first girl to put my happiness in perspective. The only thing I think I had over the majority of people I knew at the time was the simple idea that you only live once and every day can be measured as a success or failure by how happy you were and ultimately whether you, in general, increased the overall happiness of others, or decreased it. That is the simple measuring stick I use, and Kristine expected me to stand by it.