By Mike Kord

How about a never-too-late shout-out to NBC for broadcasting the women’s K-1 event at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Viewers nationwide saw American Rebecca Giddens take home the silver medal, and her sheer joy and beaming smile made the moment all the more memorable. But for Giddens, there was more to it than glory.

“Believe it or not, you would think my best memory from Athens would have been the silver medal, but it was just the experience of participating in the Games and having my husband [Eric, a 1996 U.S. Olympic team member] and all my family there,” Giddens said.

Her success has given her some serious pull, too. After returning home, Giddens gave a pro-environment speech at the White House (let’s hope the Commander in Chief was listening) and visited schools she attended in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

She then got back on the water and continued tearing up courses. She celebrated her 27th birthday by spanking her opponents at the Whitewater Slalom National Championships on the Potomac River, then joined Eric to win the mixed C-2 event.
In competitions, Giddens doesn’t focus on her opponents. “I think, ‘Be fast, be clean, but have fun with it.’ It takes so much pressure off me.”

She used to think missing a day in her boat “was a sin or something.” That’s changed now. Surgery to repair a torn labrum in 1998 sidelined her for a year. Determined to come back strong, she began a vigorous cross-training regimen that now includes high-altitude cross-country skiing, trail running, and rock climbing to strengthen her shoulder muscles. She and Eric recently bought a fixer-upper in Kernville, California, where she also puts those strong shoulders to use on remodeling projects.

Giddens is uncertain whether she’ll compete in the 2008 Beijing Games. If she retires from competition, you’ll likely find her running some section of Kern River gnar, beaming smile and all. Given the choice, she prefers natural rivers but concedes, “I have to admit, it’s pretty fun to run the course and then take the escalator up to the start.”

Boat: Optima, by French manufacturer Zig Zag
Favorite music: Country
Off the water: Remodeling projects, cross-country skiing, surfing, mountain biking, rock climbing
Favorite river: The Kern
On fellow U.S. Olympians: “Most of them tend to be down-to-earth.”
On U.S. Olympic basketball players: “They were standoffish. You’d walk by and they’d act like you were going to bother them.”
If she were president for a day, she would: “Probably focus more on environmental stuff. No more logging roads. No more oil drilling.”