By Scott Willoughby
At the tender age of 26, Jackson Kayak’s Factory Team manager Emily Jackson is bringing new meaning to the term "Team Mom." Already a mother to 3-year-old Tucker Troutman, the reigning women's freestyle kayak World Champion entered this weekend's GoPro Mountain Games in Vail once again while paddling for two.
"Three years ago I finished my last event here three weeks before I had Tucker, and I won that one. So it went pretty good," said Jackson, who entered both the Coors Light Kayak Freestyle and Coors Light Kayak Sprint while seven months pregnant with her second child this week. "Right now, about seven months, is kind of a funny time, when your ribs are moving a bit more to make room for the baby. So that's been bothering me a lot and I haven't been able to train much, but I've definitely been able to pull off the competition rides to keep moving forward. I'm just trying to enjoy my time on the water."
The Jacksons have long been considered the First Family of whitewater kayaking, certainly among the freestyle ranks. Led by former Olympic slalom racer and four-time World Champion freestyle paddler Eric "EJ" Jackson, daughter Emily, son Dane and son-in-law Nick Troutman have literally grown up at the Mountain Games, with Dane beginning his competitive career at age 9 and Emily winning her first freestyle championship in Vail at age 13.
Dane, now 22, picked up his third consecutive freestyle title at the Mountain Games on Saturday. Meanwhile, Emily, who qualified third in the semi-final round and finished just off the podium Saturday in fourth place, was busy introducing the next generation of Jackson-Troutman kayakers to the family sport.
"I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to be doing right now," said Emily, who also placed sixth among the field of 20 women in Saturday's 4-mile downriver Kayak Sprint. "Running the business of Jackson Kayaks occupies a lot of my time, but for me with competition it's just really important for people to see that it's not always about being the very best, but just going out and having fun. Most people forget why they are kayaking and wind up too focused on wanting to come out on top instead of enjoying their time on the water. Having fun and enjoying yourself on the water is really a competitive edge."
That's the voice of experience that the Team Mom has been able to share with other Jackson paddlers on the competition circuit, paying off at the GoPro Mountain Games with team paddler Clair O'hara of Leeds, England, finishing first among the women and Greg Parker of Denver paddling his Jackson Rock Star kayak to a second-place finish behind top scorer Dane Jackson.
"Emily was definitely a little bit more restricted in that she had — well, she's six and a half months pregnant. That's mental," said two-time freestyle kayak World Champion O'Hara, noting that her team manager managed to beat her in a contest when she was eight months pregnant with Tucker. "I think it showed a little bit, but really, to be honest, through the course of the competition she threw the same tricks that the rest of us did. She's an insane athlete and her ability to do that is just incredible."
While the family patriarch was absent for the first time in the 15-year history of the Mountain Games (EJ is focused on bass fishing competition on the FLW pro tour these days), it's evident that the younger Jacksons have picked up the torch as ambassadors of the sport ready to help the next generation of paddlers move forward — whether it's youth competitors like 14-year-old Katie Frankhouser who was one of eight freestyle semi-finalists in the women's pro division in Vail, a 3-year-old named Tucker or a little girl named Jackson we haven't even met yet.
"My dad kind of paved for making kayaking a way of life, rather than just a hobby. As for the next generation, I mean my sister won an event when she was nine months pregnant with my nephew and now she's doing it again with my niece coming," said Dane Jackson. "So we're definitely going to keep this lifestyle moving. It's not like it's going to end with this generation. We know what it's like to grow up together in this sport, what it's like to travel and have this be your full-time job, and it's just great. I want the next generation to experience what we've been able to experience for sure. We're pretty lucky."
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