Kevin Dombey's life has become a highlight video set to the tune of cascading waterfalls and the alternative band Weezer.
Between footage of teenagers cliff diving or studying pre-Calculus on the beach, there is image after image of Dombey kayaking. He boats down a raging river in South America. He freewheels off a waterfall in Chile. He flips in the air and disappears underwater only to come back up for air before repeating the move.
Doug Dombey, Kevin's father, shakes his head in disbelief and envy while watching the video. He would jump at the opportunity to have Kevin's life. Mary Dombey, Kevin's mother, shakes her head in disbelief and concern, shielding her eyes because she can't watch her youngest son risk his life.
But there is the smile that never leaves his face and his perfect report card that no one has seen since elementary school, and it becomes as clear as the South American rivers Dombey spent the winter on, that the decision to send him to the World Class Kayak Academy was the best one Doug and Mary Dombey could have made for their son.
"I think every parent wants their kid to be happy," Mary Dombey said. "I think it's a real blessing that we can do this for him. I think Kevin, when he's old, might look back and say this was the single best experience of his life."
Kevin Dombey, 17, is pretty sure of that now.
"I am doing what I love," he said.
In mid-January, Dombey left behind friends and family to enroll in the World Class Kayak Academy, a school with extremely high expectations for its students academically and athletically. The school sought out Dombey because he is one of the nation's best young kayakers. He applied and accepted the challenge to immerse himself in another culture, learn a new language and become a better student and kayaker. The academy has redirected his life.
"It was so obvious he was an integral part of the school," Doug Dombey said. "When he came back to Steamboat and could speak Spanish and hold conversations about political and economical things that he could never have held before he left -- that to me is more important than the kayaking."
Dombey and his classmates spent the spring semester touring Chile and the West Coast of the United States training and
competing while taking classes. With so few students -- World Class Kayak Academy accepts no more than 15 each semester -- Dombey essentially was taking Spanish, British literature, pre-calculus and government with his own teacher. Those same teachers also are kayak instructors, mentors and friends.
Andrew Holcombe, the 2003 freestyle silver medallist at the World Championships, was Dombey's head kayak coach and government teacher. Holcombe went to a similar type of school growing up and said the students who come from every corner of the country understand the uniqueness of their opportunity.
"Kevin went through a pretty significant change," Holcombe said. "He was actually probably one of the more enjoyable students I had as far as kayaking goes. He never has a bad day on the river. He's really responsive to learning new things, and he's easy to coach. He's a super talented kayaker."
Dombey's first semester with World Class Kayak Academy was so enjoyable that he is returning for his senior year. He said it was an easy decision. This fall, Dombey will be in New York training and competing before the school leaves for Africa, where the kayakers will boat through Uganda and Zambia and take in a Kenyan safari.
In the spring semester, Dombey will be back on the West Coast and in Ecuador. Academically, Dombey couldn't be more pleased with the education he is receiving through the academy. It is mid-June, but he is already excited to return to school.
"You have to get used to having class on a river, in the library or in a broken-down van," Dombey said. "But this semester I learned more -- not just because I wanted to or enjoyed what I was doing, but there are two to a class, and the teachers hold you accountable because they live with you."
With regards to the kayaking, Dombey is eyeing a spot on the national junior team. He competes for that spot later this year.
"Whenever you start a sport, you have to take small steps," he said. "I'm going to learn this or I'm going to run this. It's been constant progressions. Your goals change as you keep improving. My ultimate goal is to make the U.S. Junior Team. ... This semester, I'd do it all over again, and that's why I'm not staying in Steamboat."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org