Kevin Dombey's decision to forgo his senior football season at Steamboat Springs High School and enroll in an elite kayak school was reinforced when he won the 2004 Junior National Championship this fall in Tennessee.
After a series of preliminary and semifinal runs in the water near Rock Island, Tenn., Dombey was crowned the overall champion by more than 20 points. On his winning run, Dombey completed an aerial backstab and a McNasty, a 28-point move that no one else in the field landed.
A McNasty is a move where the kayaker goes into the feature backwards, which sends the boat up in the air. The kayaker then does a front flip out of it and lands in the front surf.
The national championship capped off a summer that began with some disappointment for Dombey when he missed making the U.S. junior freestyle team by six points. Making the junior team had been a goal, and when he barely missed out on it, he said his attitude changed.
"Once I stopped caring I started doing so well and had a good time," he said. "I could not have cared less the day before (the national championships). I came in and took three or four warm-ups and won. I beat everyone from the U.S. and Canadian junior teams."
Dombey left in mid-August to compete and ride on the East Coast, and he returned briefly two weeks ago to wash some clothes and say hello to his family and friends before boarding a plane for Africa.
He said it was tough to stand on the sidelines of Steamboat's Oct. 8 homecoming game in street clothes and watch his friends and former teammates play football without him. But there are no regrets about his decision. He had wanted to kayak since he was a small child, and he couldn't have maximized his potential living in Steamboat.
At the World Class Kayak Academy, Dombey said he has grown as a kayaker, evidenced by his junior national championship, and as a person, evidenced by his newfound appreciation for foreign lands and their cultures.
"My kayak ability has doubled," he said. "You get to kayak every day with the best kayakers in the world. I'm getting more out of life. I'm so fortunate for what I have."
Dombey spent the spring semester of his junior year in South America. He will spend the remainder of the fall semester in Africa, riding the waters of the Zambezi River and the White Nile River near the famed Victoria Falls. Dombey is expecting the Zambezi to be flowing in excess of 200,000 cubic feet per second, and the White Nile could be flowing as heavily as 1,000,000 cfs.
He will be enrolled in school, and he is looking forward to both.
"It's the biggest water I will ever see," Dombey said. "It will be a little scary for sure. There is a limit and when your ability meets nature's power, if you screw it up, you can die."
But his respect for the world he rides in and the different worlds he lives in should serve him well during his remaining time in the academy.
"It's been a really good year," he said. "I love what I'm doing, and I'm going to keep doing it."