Bunny Johns became a paddler mostly by accident.
As a college freshman in the early 1960s, she’d lined up a summer job in her hometown outside of Atlanta but returned to discover the position had fallen through. Then a friend of hers called to say she’d been offered a job teaching swimming at Camp Merrie-Woode in Sapphire but didn’t want to go — maybe Johns, who had been a competitive swimmer in high school, would want to take her place?
Since the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Michal Smolen has been hopping continents to finish out the post-Rio racing season, but The Smoky Mountain News caught up with him for an email conversation about paddling, Olympic dreams and the value of American citizenship.
Much of America spent Aug. 5-21 with eyes glued to a television, cheering on athletes from all corners of the country as they represented the red, white and blue in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
SEE ALSO: A conversation with Michal
For the community of paddlers whose nucleus is the Nantahala Outdoor Center, one Olympic dream demanded especially rapt attention — that of 23-year-old kayaker Michal Smolen, a whitewater slalom favorite who cut his teeth on the waters of the Nantahala River. William Irving, president of NOC, well remembers his first experiences watching Michal paddle. At the time, Irving was the high performance director for USA Canoe/Kayak and Smolen’s father Rafal was the newly hired national team coach.