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MOUNTAIN GAMES: WORLD-CHAMPION KAYAKER NICK TROUTMAN THRIVES ON ADVENTURE

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Carving his paddle blade into the rapids of an angry whitewater river, Nick Troutman relies on his instinct and reflexes to navigate the fast-approaching boulders, steep drops and narrow passages he encounters along his wet, turbulent journey.

But for Troutman, a professional athlete and world-champion kayaker, the reward for winning one of these heart-pumping races isn’t just in capturing a podium finish. He also loves the challenge that the sport presents along with the sheer fun and adrenaline rush that come with it.

“Running Class 5 rapids has its inherent risks, which I try to mitigate as much as possible,” says Troutman, 31, who has competed since he was a teenager and has incurred his share of injuries along the way. “The rapids are always changing, so you’re constantly reacting and having to make split-second decisions. But that’s my favorite part.”

Since turning pro at 18, Troutman has traveled the globe, going up against the very best kayakers, where his skills have helped him earn a boatload of wins and accolades through the years — including an international men’s freestyle championship in Switzerland and a gold medal at the renowned GoPro Mountain Games (sponsored in part by GMC) in Colorado. He is also a five-time national champion. 

NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Troutman’s passion for the sport began while growing up in Ottawa, Canada, where as a teenager he attended a kayaking school one summer with his best friend.

“Within 10 minutes, I was addicted,” Troutman exclaims, adding that the Ottawa River — only a short distance from his boyhood home — happened to be one of the best places in the world for kayaking, thanks to a variety of waves and whitewater rapids that provided young Nick with the perfect place to hone his skills.

“I soon became obsessed with the adrenaline aspect of it, as well as the connection to wilderness and the camaraderie of my fellow paddlers,” he says.   

Whether freestyle, creek or other forms of racing, Troutman enjoys it all. Freestyle is where kayakers utilize the water and the waves to help execute the best tricks, such as dazzling twists, loops and spins (think aquatic gymnastics). Creeking, on the other hand, is all about finishing with the fastest time. Here, Troutman strives to achieve a “flow state,” which he describes as a heightened state of awareness that helps him make better decisions and react more instinctively in the moment. Troutman, though, also knows that in order to gain an edge in a given competition, it can require pushing the envelope on occasion.

“To win a race, you also have to take risks from time to time,” he says. “The key is knowing the difference between the right risks and wrong risks. But that comes with instinct and experience.”

A SHARED PASSION

Troutman isn’t the only gifted paddler in the family. His wife, Emily, is a three-time champion and a dominant force in the women’s field. And because of their mutual love for outdoor adventure, the couple and their two children, Tucker and Parker, hit the road for about 10 months each year. They live in an RV pulled by their Sierra AT4 off-road truck , which carries them comfortably to their various events across the country.  

On average, Troutman participates in about 20 competitions a year, including the GoPro Mountain Games — a favorite event of his and one in which he’s participated for the past 10 years or so.

In the future, Troutman plans to participate in the GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge (UMC), where athletes from all over the world strive to become the champion by competing in a designated number of events, such as running, bicycling, rafting, kayaking and others. To help prepare for the UMC, Troutman kicks up his fitness routine, devoting more time to bicycling, trail running and the like.

When he’s not competing, the affable Tennessean can usually be found coaching kayaking, conducting exhibitions, speaking at events and doing various TV gigs. Troutman is also active in philanthropic work, including teaching kayaking to underprivileged youth and assisting at a health care center in Africa.

To anyone interested in taking up kayaking for the first time, Troutman warns against learning it on your own.

“I would recommend finding an instructor versus simply jumping in a kayak and seeing how it goes. You can get scared of the river if you go in not knowing about it. A proper instructor will make it safe and fun,” he says.

For more experienced kayakers, Troutman advises to only paddle within your skill level, use a boat that you’re comfortable with and always be prepared with the right gear, such as having a dry suit handy in colder weather to help prevent hypothermia.

Not surprisingly, as one who thrives on adventure, Troutman is always dreaming of that next big challenge. 

“I’d love to kiteboard or skydive someday,” he muses. “And maybe climb Mount Everest. Or, maybe I’ll just paddle the rivers around it,” he adds with a smile.

GOPRO MOUNTAIN GAMES

Combining adventure sports with art, music, food and a host of other activities — all amid beautiful, rugged scenery — the GoPro Mountain Games is a don’t-miss for outdoor enthusiasts.

Held annually in Vail, Colorado, this exciting, adventure-packed event brings families, athletes and spectators together from around the globe for four days of challenging competitions, games, entertainment, outdoor yoga classes and more.

The competition portion of the event includes everything from running and fishing to disc golf and rock climbing. Last year, about 80,000 spectators were on hand to watch 3,000 athletes participate in the games.   

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