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You hear that phrase a lot. It’s cliche. Trite. Hackneyed. Whatever word you want to use for it, it’s almost universally agreed that it’s a phrase so often repeated that it has lost its meaning.
But not here. Not with Dane Jackson.
The paddling prodigy isn’t just the latest Blenders Entourage athlete. As a water kayaking/kayak freestyle professional, he’s not only at the top of his game—he’s altogether different.
A proud Tennessee native, Dane Jackson was born in July 1993 to father, Eric, and mother, Kristine. In case you recognize the name, yes, his dad is that Eric—Eric "EJ" Jackson, world-champion freestyle kayaker and founder of Jackson Kayak, one of the top kayak brands in the world.
Needless to say, when your pops has been the world freestyle champion four times (1993, 2001, 2005, 2007) and has left such an indelible imprint on the sport, there can be some major expectations for any son or daughter. But for Dane, it’s never been about unseating his father on the kayak throne. It’s been about living his passion and delivering his gifts to the world in a way only he can.
You would think having such an accomplished father would automatically mean smooth sailing for Dane Jackson, but no matter who you are, life is never without its challenges.
Dane was born premature and weighed in under two pounds in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). Like so many others in that unit, he wasn’t expected to survive. At least, not by most.
In speaking to Sports Illustrated in 2015, Eric Jackson explained: “I was ‘clearly in denial’ as I didn’t accept the chance that Dane might not live, and while other little babies were dying around him [in the NICU], I knew he’d be fine.”
Dad was right. Dane would be more than fine. He traded the NICU for the loving confines of his family’s RV, where he would spend more than six months out of the year traveling to kayak competitions with his dad and benefiting from his tutelage. In the early years, that meant finding new play spots in various rivers and streams, but as time passed, Dane would take up his father’s mantle in the kayaking world.
But while it became clear Dane would inherit his dad’s will and passion for the sport of kayaking, he would share something else with him, too: hearing loss.
Dane describes himself as “about 70-percent deaf,” and he has suffered severe hearing loss his entire life (his decorated kayaking sister, Emily, and younger brother KC also suffer from hearing loss). But instead of focusing on the downsides of his condition, Dane has developed ways to successfully adapt, even within the confines of the sport.
Dane told CNN: “Because I’m able to read lips, a lot of times what happens is there’s one person above a rapid that’s looking down at the rapid trying to tell us what’s coming up and the people with me can’t hear them … but read their lips and convey the information to the group.”
“Being able to read lips has allowed me to not miss information that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to hear.”
With the way Dane’s career has progressed, it’s clear that early life challenges have gifted him an unerring perseverance. He crushed virtually every junior world title he participated in and, in 2011, quickly began notching his belt with professional victories, including the Whitewater Grand Prix and the IFC Freestyle World Championships.
Now a 3x Freestyle Kayak World Champion and one of the most accomplished paddlers in the world, Dane has amassed more than 80 first-place finishes in kayaking competitions. He’s also no stranger to absolutely sending it, having launched some serious descents of waterfalls throughout the world. That includes accomplishing a lifelong dream—becoming the first person to survive a 134-foot waterfall drop in the mountains of Salto del Maule, Chile.
Perhaps what best sums up Dane and his journey thus far is what he explained to CNN in February 2020 following the stunt in Chile. When asked to describe when he realized he would make it out of the fall alive, he simply quipped, “Before.”
If that doesn’t represent unshakeable confidence in a life dedicated to Living in Forward Motion, nothing does.
**NOTE: Available video to embed of the 134-foot waterfall event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smXWt9XLOiA