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August 30, 2008

I am in Europe, in my fourth week. Kristine is not here. She was pregnant, and had complications, and was in bed rest since June. Emily and Dane are here and I am really enjoying my time with them. Nick, Emily’s fiance’ is also here with us along with much of Team JK (Jessie, Devon, Clay, Ruth, Stephen, Jason, LP, Jonathan, Jez, Dustin, and more). I have been on the road to do clinics, competitions, demos, visit dealers, train, film, do photo shoots, teach, coach, do business, and be with my family since April. We left the house in Rock Island in early April and headed West. You may or may not know that my priority list goes as follows:

1. My Wife, Kristine
2. My Kids, Emily, Dane, KC
3. My Paddling
4. Business
5. My Friends and family
6. The rest of my life

This doesn’t mean that I am not focused on business, or any other priority. It just means that when push comes to shove, you know where I stand at all times. I believe that nobody lives a happy or fulfilled life that can’t prioritize and assure the success of their most important parts of their lives.

My Paddling is something that is so important to me that many people think it is the most important thing. Clearly it defines me in so many ways in the public eye. Today, however, when I dropped off the podium, and lost my position as the person to beat at this World Cup, I get a chance to take an inventory of who I am.

I am not the 2008 World Cup Champion, while I came to be just that. I won the 2004 pre-worlds, the 2005 World Championships, the 2006 World Cup, the 2007 World Championships, and was trained up and ready to win the 2008 World Cup but today failed to make the Finals placing 8th. It has been a hard pill to swallow, as I felt I competed better than my score reflected, but like all things in life, you either accept it as a learning experience and plan on moving onward and upwards, or you dwell on the past and begin to die.

My first instinct after my Semi-finals rides that scored a 270 in a full 45 seconds of what I thought was throwing moves, was to call my lovely wife, Kristine, who was absent from this world cup. I have had Kristine by my side for all major events since before we were married in 1988, 20 years, just 5 days ago. Kristine was the last person I talked to before I did my rides and the first person I talked to after.

I have a laundry list of things that were less than ideal for this season. Most importantly is that while I was on the Grand Canyon with Dane, Tony, and family, Kristine had to go to the hospital to prevent KC from being born early and her bleeding to death. She had “placenta previa’ among other complications that took her off the tour with me. I was on a non-stop tour that started in April, with a two week vacation on the Grand Canyon with my partner, Tony, that Kristine was originally booked on but had to bail out of. She asked that Dane and I go without her. We did, but then she was taken to the hospital while we were on the trip. I was an absent husband.

I went straight to the Ottawa River to teach and coach with Emily, Nick, Clay, and Dane from the Grand Canyon by passing Rock Island and Kristine. It was painful, but we kept close contact by phone and email. She was doing better and at home.

Before flying to Europe for the World Cup I went home to Rock Island and visited Kristine, who was home on bed rest and had her mom and Aunt looking after her. It was awesome to be home with her and after 20 years of spending almost every single day together, it occurred to me just how much I missed her and how much better I am with her than without her.

I flew to Europe and within a week Kristine was taken to the hospital with bleeding and contractions again. She might have KC at any time! KC was due on October 20th, plenty of time for me to go to the World Cup, win, and return to her and be there when little KC was born. This was not to be. 5 Days ago, on August 25th, 2008, KC was born at 5:40pm central standard time. Kristine was having massive high blood pressure issues and kidney and liver failure and unless KC was born, it would only be the end of both of them. They did a C-Section at 32 weeks and KC is now 3 pounds 12 ounces. I am in Switzerland. At the moment he was born, I was surfing the competition wave, which was orchestrated by me and the other competitors. It was me paying my tribute to Kristine and KC from another continent. Yesterday, my canine companion, Target, who has been a part of the family since 1993, died as well. I got the news today, from Kristine. Target was more than a dog, but a friend who listened and obeyed every command and was always there for Kristine, Emily, Dane, and I.

Any regrets? I certainly would never plan to be in Europe when Kristine is giving birth to one of my children. I have a 5 day old son that I have never seen. I have a wife who has 22 staples holding her together and barely functional at home now, and I am here. I also didn’t even medal in the 2008 World Cup. I was a participant who paddled well for most of the competition but didn’t even make it to the finals for the World Cup final event.

So much to chew on. When you are always winning it is easy to justify what you do as well as what the value of it is to others. When you lose, or at least not win, it opens your mind and heart up to questions. Why are you doing this? If you knew you wouldn’t win, would you do it anyway? If you knew all of the things that were going to happen with your family would you have still have gone?

I truly enjoy being “the unbeatable”. However, I have been beaten so many times that I can’t count. I certainly wouldn’t trade my record for anyone else’s, but I have had some dry spells that lasted for years. I won the World Championships in 1993 and then didn’t win again until 2001 8 years later! Most people don’t last on the international scene for 8 years.

What is going on in my head right now is the intense desire to be at home, today, with Kristine, and to become a dad to my new son KC. I am nothing to him yet. He has never even seen me and he is 5 days old. The guy in the green scrubs giving him his IV is more his dad than I am. This irks me like you wouldn’t believe. I will fly home on Tuesday morning, three days from now and will see KC on his one week and one day birthday. I will also have a burial at the ranch for Target, next to Pebbles, our first family Dalmatian pet who died a few years ago at the same age.

One thing that is very special to me that gives me some reprieve for sitting out the finals is that so many Jackson Kayak boats are competing for the World Cup tomorrow. It is like a piece of me is riding in each one.

The Women’s Class will be won by a Star, regardless of how they finish tomorrow. The Men’s Class has three of the five boats in the All-Star. Nick is destroying the wave here and Dustin Urban and Stephen Wright are making the All-Star a hero. An incredible amount of the top paddlers from each country are making the switch as they see the boat do better in every situation it has been put in so far. Even if I don’t get to pilot the winning boat tomorrow, the All-Star will take me there in spirit. I am sure that David Knight, the genius behind the final design, will also get to ride along.

The moral of the story is that no matter what you accomplish in life, no matter what your position, you will always need something to hold onto that is more important than your circumstances.

For me, it is Kristine, my kids, my paddling, and my business, and my friends. As my business grows and becomes the livelihood for more and more people I have to keep it high on my list. It isn’t OK for an employee to lose their livelihood due to my lack of priority. It also isn’t OK for me to lose my wife, kids, or paddling due to my business.

Where I am right now is that I have eaten a really big humble pie and have a terrible stomach ache from it. Until today I have been undefeated for nearly 5 years in the “big ones”. While my stomach aches today, I am already fine with the situation as I have so much more to be excited about. I will be wrapping up the “Fun Tour” on Tuesday and heading home. The Fun Tour is just that, it is really fun. My best analogy, however, would be that playing a game of basketball is really fun. Playing for 24 hours straight would get tiring and you would be ready to do something else, like sleep!

Emily and Dane are also ready to go home. Both of them are excited about having a little brother to take care of. Dane really wants to baby sit KC so I can take Kristine to the Foglight Foodhouse for dinner. (that would be the world’s coolest restaurant in Rock Island , TN)

I am smiling. I am relaxed and not angry. I am not upset or feeling regret in any way. I have just failed to accomplish a goal that I have been working towards for a year, miserably. My analogy for this is to be a Daddy Long Legs. Have you ever seen a Daddy Long Legs? One of those spiders that don’t bite but have really long legs and you can pick them up and play with them? If they lose a leg, they can still run and climb and function like they had all of the their legs. The key to their success is to have extra legs to run on. I am like a Daddy Long Legs. I can fail at the World Cup and win with my wife, kids, business, and my personal paddling for fun. This empowers me to be a happy person under less than ideal situations.

I am super lucky that my wife, Kristine, is simply the best women ever made. Dedicated, and super intelligent, she creates a situation that brings out the best in me.

It is after midnight here in Thun, Switzerland and time for me to go to bed.

Tomorrow Dane competes in both C1 and Junior Men’s Kayak and Emily competes in Pro-Women (both in finals). I’ll be there to cheer them on. Gillette World Sports was here to film a documentary on me. It will be interesting to see if they choose to find another person to do it on.

Tonight I had a great Fondu’ dinner with Jessie Stone, Jurge, Nick, Emily, and Dane. It was my first Swiss Fondu since Kristine and I in Lusanne in 1989. Awesome!

Time to call Kristine and head to bed!