Jimmy Austin: A Family Victory

Jimmy, (from left) Olivia, Erin and Emalia Austin. Photo courtesy Jimmy Austin

I often joke about how I reintroduce myself to my wife and children each October following the regatta and long-distance paddling seasons. The exchange goes something like this: “Hi, I’m your daddy, I know it’s been awhile.”

For anyone who participates in a sport or activity that requires a ton of training, you know we can’t do what we do without the support of our families. We may do the training, but our families also are making tremendous sacrifices and are very much part of the commitment.

Just ask newly crowned OC-1 (Outrigger Canoe-1 person) world champion Jimmy Austin. He appreciates his family’s commitment – so much so that, less than an hour after winning the prestigious race, he posted this comment on his Facebook page.

“So stoked. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. You know who you are. Especially to my wife for allowing me to train and be gone through a pregnancy and birth of our second child. I am speechless.”

“Definitely I pictured them in my mind during the race, and I said I’ve got to do this for my wife and girls who have put up with so much,” says Austin.

Austin was quick to credit wife Erin for her unconditional support and allowing him to chase his dream. The sacrifice is even more noteworthy when you consider that Erin gave birth to their second child, Olivia, March 27.

“For my wife to endure all the morning and afternoon training sessions, six days a week, then having a baby a few weeks ago, she is amazing,” says the proud dad of Olivia and 3-year-old Emalia.

After a runner-up finish in 2010 and two third-place finishes in 2009 and 2011, the April 15 victory was sweet. It was even sweeter knowing this race wasn’t won until the final sprint home. After more than 30 miles, he and Karel Tresnak Jr. were in a dog-fight less than a mile from the finish line at Koko Marina.

“Just when I thought I had this won, Karel surges up on me and we end up catching the same wave,” says Austin. “It took everything I had in me to hold him off. He’s a seven-time world champion and that runs through your mind.”

Austin says this was by far the most pain he’s ever endured.

“I threw up from the bridge all the way to the finish line but I wasn’t going to fold, I was going to keep pushing,” he says. “Words can’t describe what I was feeling. I was absolutely ecstatic.”

Austin believes everything happens for a reason. Besides the recent birth of his daughter, he points out his winning time of 3:31 (a new record) are the same numbers as his birth date, March 31. There also have been other recent victories in his life including the Maui Jim NS Air Koa Nui Championship in early March and being on the winning crew of the Olamau race in mid-March.

“Good things are happening, so maybe the long-awaited call from Hawaiian Airlines is next,” laughs Austin, who was a pilot with Aloha Airlines for several years. He says he’s tried to get a job with the local carrier ever since Aloha went under. “I’ve been trying to get back into flying for four years with Hawaiian, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Leaving Hawaii is not an option.”

Austin now sells canoes, coaches paddling and works on his family’s ranch on Molokai. He says Erin also works in the jewelry business. The couple is looking forward to spending more time together and taking a brief break from all the training.

Brief, because the summer regatta and long-distance paddling seasons are just around the corner. The new world champion knows the sacrifices will resume, and he’s grateful the three women in his life believe in him.

“My wife is extremely understanding,” he says humbly. “In paddling, it often comes down to how much pain can you handle mentally and physically, and how you deal with that pain. It also comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice. I know my family sacrifices a lot, and I’m thankful.”