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By Jesse Coombs

Ben Stookesberry and I were first approached by Dan Duane of National Geographic Adventure Magazine. He spoke with each of us for close to an hour with question after question regarding our expeditions to Colombia, Brazil and Chiapas. Not knowing the intent of his inquiry, and being wrapped up in the excitement of talking about our adventures, I spoke with him like a friend interested in the trials we faced. I gave him more information than he could use, but it was fun to see how his responses often tended toward the subjective such as ‘Wow! what was it like when you guys were…’ Not too long after that the National Geographic Society invited us to Washington DC to celebrate our nomination as a National Geographic Adventure Magazine Hero of 2007. We were allowed to bring a guest, so Ben and I were excited to share the honor with our moms.

I arrived a couple hours before the event and my mom had taken the train down from Philadelphia earlier in the day. Ben and his mom both arrived earlier in the day as well. After checking into the beautiful Hotel Jefferson provided by the National Geographic Society the four of us headed to the event. Neither Ben nor I really understood the magnitude of the honor until we arrived. There were large poster boards with pictures of the Heros of 2007 and the Adventures of the Year: Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei. Colin and Julie spent two years circumnavigating the globe on human power alone. Amazing!

Two of the most impressive aspects of the event were how well it was put together and the list of attendees. South Africa and Johnny Walker were major sponsors and both made impressive presentations. The President of South African Tourism, Dr Felicia Suttle, presented a compelling portrait of South Africa and we were entertained with two moving musical performances by South African singer Khanyo. We were all clapping and dancing as Khanyo got the house moving. Johnny Walker provided the toast and drinks for the event and I was truly impressed with Johnny Walker’s Brand Manager: Claire Hadden. She had such a clear vision of Johnny Walker’s brand image as promoting personal improvement and achievement in life that it certainly hit home for me. Claire was also very generous in providing a bottle of Johnny Walker Black with our name in the label. I am saving this bottle for the achievement of a major personal goal.

The attendees of the event were every bit as impressive as the event and I am only sorry I did not get the opportunity to interact with everyone. Boyd Matson of Wild Chronicles was the gracious host. There were many executives and editors of the National Geographic Society and National Geographic Adventure Magazine. As the recipient of last year’s Adventurer of the Year, Ed Viesturs was there and I had the opportunity to have a great conversation with him. Ben and I met Jim Whittaker who was the first American to summit Everest, representatives of the US State Department, fellow Heros of 2007 Bruce Beehler, Olave Heyerdahl and Greg Stone and so many more. It was an honor in every sense of the word. Dr George Schaller was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award and the video presentation of the work he has accomplished so far in his life was moving. I encourage everyone to learn more about Dr Schaller.

The National Geographic Society truly rolled out the red carpet for us and the magnitude of the award sunk in for Ben and me as we were constantly whisked from here to there for photos, introductions and presentations. We officially received our awards on stage and enjoyed the applause and encouragement of the accomplished attendees. There were many other tremendous sponsors and guests as well and the overall sense of inclusion is what made for such a special event.

The celebration party was wonderful with great food and drinks. Ben and must have each met 50 people as they were kind enough to introduce themselves and ask many great questions about our experiences. One of my roles for clearh2ofilms is to collect the contact information we make and continue the relationship and based on this event I have my work cut out for me. It is good work though as the number and caliber of people we met opens many many doors for the exposure Ben and I would like to provide for kayaking and stewardship of the world’s rivers. One of the unexpected outcomes of this event is that the National Geographic Society has invited Ben and I to do a speaking and film engagement at their headquarters on May 16th.

With the event winding down Ben and I could see that the future opportunities were only starting to open, and this is one of the best parts of such an award. Life is a tremendous journey with many unexpected twists and turns. Ben and I look forward to building on the honor presented by the National Geographic Society and National Geographic Adventure Magazine and doing everything in our ability to bring continued exposure to our love of kayaking and the importance of stewardship of the world’s rivers.



Hotel Charley Section


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