Sunday, February 10, 2008

Joellen Dickey is in the Chattanooga Olympic Zone

It’s autumn, 1992 and the giddiness was beginning to wear down. The world of whitewater canoe/kayak slalom had just enjoyed a tremendous “re-launch” back on to the Olympic program after a 20-year hiatus. But just around the corner, there was concern. The Olympic Games were headed to Atlanta but with no guarantee of whitewater on the 1996 program. Additionally, this “un-established” sport carried a hefty price tag as a whitewater venue can be quite expensive to build.

The emerging sport was in need of a spirited leader, diplomat, and lobbyist who could sway Atlanta’s Olympic organizers to take a chance.

Enter Joellen Dickey.

Fresh off of winning the gold medal at the Olympics in Spain a few weeks earlier, I traveled to Chattanooga to meet Joellen and assist with the campaign that was called the “Whitewater In '96." I was immediately impressed with how quickly and effectively Joellen had organized and settled into her new role – she had raised money, recruited volunteers, engaged politicians, rallied the community, and energized canoe/kayak athletes across the country and around the world, including myself.

Much transpired between this period and the start of the 1996 Olympic whitewater competition on the Ocoee River in Polk County, Tennessee – challenges that helped a sport and community grow stronger and relationships formed that brought people closer together. But here’s the rub – I can’t say I know of any friend/colleague/associate within whitewater paddlesports that took on a bigger challenge than Joellen did and won. Probably more fair to say we all won when you consider the gift that the Olympics on the Ocoee River left behind – namely the signature landmark of Polk County in the form of the Ocoee Whitewater Center and an endless playground of outdoor adventure enjoyed by tens of thousands every year.

The Ocoee Whitewater Center is the setting for this week’s “Chattanooga Olympic Zone” profile. As the beautiful stone and wood building behind the sparking rapids of the Olympic whitewater course fills our background camera shot, I am reminded of the power and momentum of one person’s focus, determination, and vision for a better future of for our community. Thank you, Joellen.

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