Jim Zorn Whitewater Kayaks
"I just could not be more thrilled that the new coach of the Washington Redskins is a whitewater kayaker," said the message on my voice mail. The message was left by a former Olympic gold medalist. Named Joe Jacobi.
It's been that kind of week, during which a bit of cursory Internet research has revealed new head coach Jim Zorn to be a viola-and-ukulele-playing, mountain-climbing, three-dimensional-art-making, speed-skating, rock station-DJ'ing, model-ship-building, coyote-skinning Renaissance Man, assuming the Renaissance was a Wes Anderson construct starring Bill Murray, Jim Zorn and some kid wearing a headband. Out of concern that a few of these stories might be "exaggerated," in the sense of "completely made up," I e-mailed a Redskins spokesman for help. "Pretty much accurate," although "somewhat in good fun," was his general response.
In the meantime, I talked with Jacobi, a Montgomery County native and two-time Olympian who teamed with Scott Strausbaugh to win gold in whitewater canoe slalom at the '92 Games. He told me about the time he was at a Colorado race in the mid-'90s, a race contested on a "very fast-flowing and cold class 3 whitewater river" in Vail.
Whitewater slalom racing, he told me, is a pretty intimate sport in which everyone knows everyone else, and newcomers stick out like a maroon-and-black shirt in a roomful of burgundy-and-gold, and so the two new guys paddling around in a doubles canoe were noticed pretty quickly. The day before a slalom race, the slaloms (basically gates hung from wires above the river) are removed and contestants are given a course map for preparation.
Most veterans walk the course repeatedly, trying to visualize the gates and their proper strategy and commit both to memory, only then hitting the water. But the new guys did something Jacobi and one of his veteran teammates had never seen before: they got right in the water, attaching the course map to the front of their boat with waterproof tape and attempting to navigate the whitewater while glancing down at the map for assistance.
The race was held the next day, and Jacobi and his friend saw that one of these newcomers was named "Zorn."
"Do you think that was Jim Zorn?" they asked each other, deciding that taping the course map to the boat was sort of the whitewater equivalent of a quarterback writing the playbook on his wristband.
The competitor's name, they discovered, was indeed Jim Zorn, but they left Colorado still unsure whether they had just competed against the former Seahawks star. Then, a few years later, Jacobi saw a TV piece that showed Zorn on the river, with the coach talking about how he uses kayaking to get perspective on things, to get away from the daily grind of football.
So when Zorn was hired as the Redskins' offensive coordinator last month, Jacobi--who now lives in Tennessee but still frequently comes back to D.C.--immediately dared to dream.
"I just kept thinking, 'Maybe I'll be able to go kayaking on the Potomac River with the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins,' " he told me.
Jacobi, not surprisingly, has endured a lifetime of "you don't look like an offensive lineman" jokes, and he actually met Joe Jacoby once. The lineman told the kayaker that his daughters were swimmers and Olympic fans who kept telling him about Joe Jacboi the kayaker, and that was the closest previous link between the Skins and whitewater.
"But this is much better; this Jim Zorn thing is great!" Jacobi told me. "That was the only thing I was a little bummed about when I heard he was the head coach. As the offensive coordinator he probably wouldn't take much heat for being caught on the river one time. As the head coach...."
But the offer still stands. The two-time Olympian, who will provide canoeing and kayaking commentary in Beijing this summer for NBC, is determined to show Zorn some of the fabulous paddling spots available on the Potomac, and to offer his expert guidance. His parents were both born and raised in the D.C. area, his dad's been going to Redskins games since 1937, and he's been a fan his whole life.
"I will take care of the coach," Jacobi promised me. "I won't let anything bad happen to him."
Ok Redskins, let's make this happen.
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