The GoPro Mountain Games have always been known for the family-friendly atmosphere. And nobody knows that better than the First Family of kayaking, the Jacksons.
Led by former Olympic slalom racer and World Champion freestyle paddler Eric “EJ” Jackson, daughter Emily, son Dane and son-in-law Nich 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. Now 26, and seven months pregnant with their second child, Emily is already introducing the next generation of Jackson-Troutman kayakers to the family sport. She qualified third among the women in Friday’s semi-final round of the Coors Light Kayak Freestyle competition. And if history is any indication, she’s on track to finish even higher in Saturday’s finals.
“I finished my last event here three weeks before I had Tucker (now age 3), and I won that one,” Emily said. “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.”
For the Jacksons (and Troutmans), “moving forward” is pretty much the name of the game, whether it’s in the competition ranks or the sport of kayaking itself. Even as the reigning ambassadors of their sport, they are already looking forward to the next generation of paddlers — 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, a 3-year-old named Tucker or a little girl 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, 22, the top qualifier in men’s freestyle headed into Saturday. “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.”