The Troutman family is heading home for GoPro Mountain Games kayaking competitions |

The Troutman family is heading home for GoPro Mountain Games kayaking competitions

GoPro Mountain Games is a second home for this kayaking clan

The Troutman family has been coming to Vail for many years. Emily (left), even competed while pregnant at the Mountain Games.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

When you live out of a 32-foot RV for 9-10 months every year, saying “home is wherever we’re parked,” sounds cliche. When Emily Jackson and her husband Nick Troutman describe their annual pilgrimage to the GoPro Mountain Games as a “homecoming,” though, an authentic, poetic syntax rings true.

“When we go home for the holidays, it’s like a special feeling. When we go to the Mountain Games, it’s a very similar feeling,” Nick said. Emily, who has 12 wins in 18 years of Mountain Games competition — dating back to when she was 12 — has an intimate connection with Vail. If the carpet in the Sitzmark Lodge — where the workers now know them by name and reserve the same room each year — has been changed, she notices.

“There’s a lot of places in Vail that are like that and the community’s a lot like that,” she said.

“People come up and say, ‘we just came to see your kids because we watched you when you competed when you were pregnant here.’”

Those kids are getting older, now. Tucker, timid but internally competitive — just like her mom — finished third grade this spring and little sister Parker has grown into a bold, fierce 35-pound “princess” who is full-steam ahead in a different direction every day.

“How many days til we get to go back to the Mountain Games and have those waffles in the hotel?” is the “are-we-there-yet?” question echoed from the back of the truck as the family traversed from Buena Vista to Durango and back to Salida for consecutive weekend competitions in advance of the Mountain Games.

“I grew up there and now they are, too, and I don’t want them to miss having that opportunity of having that home base,” she said of returning to Vail.

The Troutman family balances life as pro athletes with parenting and homeschooling, working for Jackson Kayak and starring in a TV show about their adventures.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

While her childhood was also a life spent chasing rapids full-time, the daughter of 1992 Olympic kayaker and Jackson Kayak founder Eric Jackson has flavored the non-stop, high-mileage family adventuring lifestyle with her own spices. Nick and Emily’s marital synergy, creative ambition as a team and philosophical grounding as a parents have allowed them to thrive as athletes — and more importantly — as a family.

Getting ready for Mountain Games

Emily Jackson and Nick Troutman are preparing for the Freestyle World Championships in Nottingham, England on June 27.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

The Troutman family, who own property in Tennessee, compete from March to October. Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire and Montreal, Canada were early-season eastern stops. They skipped over to Wisconsin and Iowa before heading to Colorado, where competitions typically begin early May and conclude at the Mountain Games.

“All this competition is training for a big platform coming on June 27,” said Emily, referring to the Freestyle World Championships in Nottingham, England, where they’ll fly out the Tuesday after the Mountain Games. She added, “winning the Mountain Games has brought me just as much pride as winning the worlds.”

An 18-year veteran of the U.S. team, Jackson was the 2009 and 2015 world freestyle kayak champion, the 2012 world cup champion and a 2007 junior world champion before that. The activity addict dabbles in everything from ultra-running and cycling to crossfit.

“But nothing prepares you for kayaking like kayaking,” she stated. “With two kids, the training has changed a little bit in the sense that I notice I perform my best when I just spend more time on the water — which is pretty standard for everyone.”

Nick Troutman will compete in every whitewater event at the 2022 GoPro Mountain Games this week.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

She paddled 201 days last year — some of the best volume she’s had — traveling to Uganda to hone in her playboating on the warm waters of the Nile. Opposite of River Radamus chasing on-snow time in June, the couple hunts down warm water winter spots like Ecuador or Mexico, depending on their desire to either creekboat or freestyle, the sport’s two disciplines.

“(In) one, you’re in a short boat performing tricks and the other you’re on a long boat running waterfalls and stuff like that, so it depends on what you’re looking for,” Emily explained of the logic behind off-season destinations.

At the Mountain Games, Nick will do all five whitewater events and Emily will do everything except Wednesday’s Tincup Steep Creek Championship. The whole family partakes in the Mud Run and the couple likely will do their obligatory Pepi’s Challenge.

“I don’t know if Nick is chickening out this year,” Emily laughed.

“Last year I didn’t sign up and then I felt bad that you were doing it and I wasn’t, so I signed up the moment before and I did it,” her husband humorously defended himself.

“This year, I’m wondering if the exact same thing is going to happen.”

Emily Jackson is a two-time World Freestyle Kayaking champion (2009, 2015).
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

One great family adventure

Emily Jackson hugs her daughter, Parker, after a kayak ride.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

Kayaking’s ‘first family’ relies on the strength of a complimentary marriage, an adventure that has lasted 13 years. Emily, Jackson Kayak’s brand manager, is the CEO of the house, balancing work calls with homeschool lesson plans, the grocery list and her daily training regimen.

“I think I’m busy and then I look at Emily and … I don’t know how she does it all,” Nick said.

Emily’s the realist, the organizer — the heartbeat of the family. Nick is the ‘dreamer,’ as his wife says.

“And so for me, I want the kids to have something that when they’re in it, they’re not worrying about what their hair looks like,” Emily Jackson said.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

His entrepreneurial spirit and drive to be the best at everything he does manifests itself in the family’s ‘Great Family Adventure’ TV show, as well as his podcast, rental property management and a photography side-gig, pivotal enterprises which have sustained the family’s kayak/RV life far longer than the industry average.

“Hitting 30 and having kids usually means you’re done with the sport,” explained Emily, who remembers sensing financial strain growing up on the road, something her and Nick have worked to eliminate for Tucker and Parker.

“We made it … we were homeless a few times, but we made it work,” she said of her childhood.

“I had a fantastic childhood. There was nothing wrong with it, I think it actually fueled my drive to try to handle all of it … My parents could do all of this, so I can add a little more to it and make it all happen because I grew up with it.”

The advent of social media and more direct access to bigger brands has made the Troutman lifestyle increasingly tenable, especially if you have the creativity, willingness and drive to make it happen.

“Things are a lot different. There wasn’t social media or anything else. Anytime we saw anyone at all they thought we were crazy. My mom got a lot of people telling her it was a very poor choice of parenting to take us into a van down by the river,” Emily explained.

“She dealt with a lot more — she was a lot more of a trailblazer and I respect her for that.” Nowadays, Jackson said people are more apt to recognize the value of being able to simultaneously achieve career goals and maximize time with their kids.

“It’s so much more common now with everything going on.”

The couple’s synergy keeps all their proverbial “irons in the fire” piping hot.

“For us it’s been, how do we pay to make this dream a reality and how do we keep it going,” Emily said. “So, he’s on the creative front and then I reign it in and together we make something that’s logical and can really work.”

Truly alive

Nick said he hopes his kids don’t take their family adventures for granted but cherish all of the unique places they get to visit.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

Emily and Nick have given their kids a unique outlook on life, a bevy of outdoor memories and a belief that living life to the fullest is all about immersing yourself in a child-like, passionate pursuit.

“The underlying goal is simply to make our kids realize there’s 10 billion different ways to live your life,” Emily said.

Nick and his son, Tucker, hang out at a campsite during the season.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

“We hope they look back and cherish the moments and the adventures and the fun that we’ve had,” Nick added, noting his desire for both Tucker and Parker to not take their adventures for granted.

As their children age and begin to investigate the reason their parents chose this particular route, the couple remains secure in the values they’re passing on.

“It’s waking up every morning and having a drive to do something and do something that makes you really happy,” Emily said of her cornerstone motivation. For her, being on the water has a meditating effect.

“I’m at peace with myself and my inner judge goes away; it’s a big reason I love kayaking. It’s a place I feel most at home, proud of myself and (I’m) content. But also driven,” she commented. “I have some place I want to go with it — an inner fire — being in the water provides me. And I think that’s the meaning of feeling truly alive. And so for me, I want the kids to have something that when they’re in it, they’re not worrying about what their hair looks like.”

At every cross-country stop, she relishes watching her kids engage with different people and activities.

“I think the traveling and doing everything helps us give the kids different opportunities to maybe find what really pours gasoline on those little fires,” she said.

“Helping them find their ‘why’ is half the reason we travel around the world. My kids are at the age where every day is a different passion or pursuit, and that’s great.”

For Nick, it’s about passing along his ever-evolving principles of ambition.

“Now, it’s the best I can be as a father, a provider, a husband, an athlete — every aspect of life,” he said. Comparing himself to a hamster trapped in a spherical wheel, he’s aware of the daunting nature.

“I can try to be better than I was yesterday,” he said of his approach.

For mothers prioritizing their kids while navigating the professional world, Emily approaches the balance with grace, knowing she can’t be everything for everybody every time. As her kids explore the couples’ sport, she’s learned to let them define their journey.

“When you have your own kid and you’re doing anything with them, often we have the idea of what we want them to get out of it and how we want them to behave and the enthusiasm level we want them to have,” she said.

“And, it’s really important that we remember that they’re their own person and we have to let them approach the scenario as their own person. So, I have to remove all my expectations and just go with whatever’s unfolding in front of me and try to encourage them as much as possible.”

A special place

Emily Jackson has competed at GoPro Mountain Games for 18 years.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

When she’s in the water, Emily wears her joy on her sleeve.

“For me, sharing that passion is really important, and I really can’t think of a better platform to do it than the GoPro Mountain Games,” she said. The infectious character is one reason they lock in Vail on their busy calendar. The eager anticipation for the June weekend, though, ultimately goes back to family.

“There truly is something for everyone and it’s very family-friendly,” Nick warmly stated, noting the variety of events to watch and compete in.

“It’s a very unique and special place.”

Kayaking is a family affair for the Troutman family.
Nick Troutman/Courtesy photo

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