The road to the Olympics® is one that involves a lot of training. Many athletes train in a number of areas and the Nantahala Outdoor Center is the nation's largest outdoor recreation company in North Carolina We sat down with Olympian and spokesperson/ambassador of the NOC - Joe Jacobi. In addition to winning gold in Barcelona during the summer 2008 games, he served as the CEO of the USA Canoe/Kayak and TV sports commentator for NBC. We asked about NOC for guests coming to enjoy nature as well as a place for future Olympians to train and those heading to Rio this summer.
ATHLEISURE MAG: What is the Nantahala Outdoor Center?
JOE JACOBI: The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) is the nation's largest outdoor recreation company. Over a million guests visit NOC annually to embark on a diverse collection of more than 120 different river and land-based programs such as learning to kayak at NOC world-renowned Paddling School, test the latest outdoor gear, and shop at its LEED-certified flagship retail stores, or enjoy resort amenities such as its three restaurants and multi-tiered accommodations.
We are also one of the largest employers in Western North Carolina and 23 Olympians, including two Olympic Gold Medalists, have called NOC home.
NOC has been recently recognized by The New York Times as the “Nation's Premiere Paddling School,” “The Best Place to Learn” by Outside, and as “One of the Best Outfitters on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure.
AM: Is this center open to the public?
JJ: Not only is NOC open to the public, it was the mission of our founders, Payson Kennedy and Horace Holden, Sr., to get our guests outside and experiencing the best that the outdoors has to offer. Whether on rivers, trails, or in the air, everything that happens at NOC is geared towards showing path into the outdoors for EVERYONE.
AM: In addition to enjoying water sports, NOC also contains opportunities to lodge here - how is that beneficial to the overall experience?
JJ: I grew up in the Washington, DC area so the noise and bustle of a big city was always present. I remember the first time I visited NOC as a teenager - that full experience of peace and quiet isn't just on the river but the way you experience evening, downtime, and rest. NOC is very accessible to many cities around the southeastern US making day-trips to our headquarters on the Nantahala River or one of the other 7 rivers which are rafter feasible but the full experience at NOC is the day AND night experience at NOC.
AM: How many Olympians have trained here and what is it like?
JJ: So we can't guarantee that every NOC guest or staff member will become an Olympian but our track record is pretty impressive. To date, 22 Olympians in the sport of canoeing have come from NOC and this summer, we are excited to send our 23rd Olympia to the Games, whitewater kayaker, Michal Smolen, is Team USA's leading prospect for a medal a the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
NOC is an outstanding venue in which to live and train in competitive paddlesports. There are incredible rivers that run year-around make the perfect practice courses for training; there is a deeply-committed and supportive community of high performance athletes; NOC provides flexible employment opportunities for athletes; and, you have 5-10 competitive events staged each year in your backyard, ranging from local and participatory events to national and international events such at National Championships or a World Championships.
AM: Are there any Olympians that you are currently training that you are sending to Rio this year?
JJ: I guess I jumped ahead on this one! NOC is so excited to send our 23rd Olympian to the Olympic Games - whitewater kayaker, Michal Smolen, is Team USA's leading contender for a medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio this summer. Born in Poland, Michal learned to paddle at NOC when he was 9 years old. Today, our aspiring young paddlers (my own 15 yo daughter included!) look up to Michal as a role model on and off the water. Michal is very giving of his time, incredibly humble, and so excited to be representing the United States.
AM: How did your relationship with NOC take place and what is your role there?
JJ: I grew up training on the Potomac River in the Washington, DC area - a Malcolm Gladwell/Outlier story of sorts with the some of the most fortuitous circumstances in paddlesports. I grew up close to the training site on the river where the world champions and world medalists practiced every day with the legendary coach in the sport. When I was just 13 years old, they welcomed me into their group.
As I progressed and the Whitewater Slalom was added to the 1992 Olympic Games program in Barcelona, my canoe partner, Scott Strausbaugh, wanted to make a full-time commitment to our training. The DC area was very expensive so we chose to move to NOC where we could extend the length of our practice sessions, add more training sessions per day, and simply engage even more deeply in our Olympic pursuit.
When we stepped up on to the podium at the 1992 Olympic Games as the first Americans to win gold in Olympic whitewater competition, we did so as part of the NOC community, which provided with the ideal setting, support, and leadership to excel on and off the water.
That's what makes my current role with NOC so much fun and rewarding. I am a NOC spokesperson and ambassador. I love telling the story of our organization, our founders, the outdoors, and of course our next generation of Olympians like Michal.
AM: Will you be in Rio with your athlete?
JJ: No Rio for me this year, but we have a lot of Guest and Employee engagement opportunities with the Games here i the States, including a celebration of "Olympic Day" at NOC on June 18th of this year.
AM: Are there any milestones that NOC will enjoy in 2016 that Athleisure Mag should know about?
JJ: Not sure there is one so much as an Olympic year tends to spotlight ALL the elements of the outdoors that we serve (we were founded in an Olympic year, 1972.) On specifics, we have number of phenomenal events coming this year serving people from the high performance community to families who just want to compete together - you can check out our events here.
AM: What activities are offered at NOC?
JJ: We simply love rivers and boats in which people can propel with a paddle. Our guests choose from 8 different rivers in which paddle, raft, SUP, or float. Our Paddle School has an absolutely world class roster of instructors. On land, at our headquarters on the Nantahala River, we have a mountain top, over-the-trees zip line adventure include on zip that is about a 1/2 mile long - more on that right here.
Also, we prepare people via our our outdoor school for every kind of outdoor experience imaginable - not just paddling, but swiftwater rescue and wilderness medicine to name a few.
AM: Although people come to NOC for the activities, what takeaway do they get from North Carolina as a state?
JJ: North Carolina's diversity is amazing. From our shores and beaches to our mountains and rivers, the DNA of the outdoors lives in NC. My role with NOC takes me all over the state. When people see the NOC logo on my shirt, they smile, reflect, and typically share a family story about their experiences with their family and friends. It's very special to see the way NOC has touched and contributed to North Carolina's outdoor story.
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