GOLD HILL — While much of the world was tuning in to the start of the 2012 Olympic games in London this weekend, two former Olympians spent a sunny afternoon hosting the first-ever training session at a site they hope could produce an Olympic kayaker for the 2016 games.
Beneath the towering trees on Gold Hill resident Steve Kiesling's 17-acre property, the two men and the land along the Rogue River seemed well-suited to the task at hand.
Kiesling, a member of the 1980 Olympic Rowing Team and winner of three gold medals in the 2006 FISA Masters World Rowing Championships, and 1996 Olympic men's kayak gold medalist Oliver Fix worked with two local teens on rowing and recovery techniques.
In a 30-foot pool, Ashland High skier Chase Ganim and Kiesling's son, Tim, an Ashland Rowing Club member, listened carefully as Fix explained rolling, the method kayakers use to right themselves after flipping over.
After nodding in understanding, Ganim asked Fix, "Can I try that?"
Going under a half-dozen times, the 15-year-old successfully flipped back upright nearly as many times. Righted each time with Fix's help, he smiled and nodded as he processed what he had just been taught.
Kiesling, an avid kayaker in his younger years but who turned to rowing due to his height and stature, points out with a grin, "When you get really good, you can roll over and back up just to cool off on a hot day. That's called rolling. When you flip upside down and don't come back up, that's just capsizing."
While newer to kayaking than their preferred sports, Ganim and the younger Kiesling are the kinds of candidates the school would cater to.
Over the past half-dozen years, Kiesling has amassed an array of gently used equipment to jump-start the process before a more permanent set-up is designed. A railcar-turned-boathouse brims with helmets, oars and an assortment of more than a dozen kayaks.
On two boards fastened to the boathouse, one flap holds an Olympic flag, autographed by Medford native and 1968 Olympian Dick Fosbury, 1988 Olympic kayaker Norm Bellingham, Fix and Takelma elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim.
A second board is yet an empty canvas on which Kiesling will soon hang a world map.
"I actually bought the map quite a long time ago," he said. "I just never hung it up because I figured, 'Once I do that, then this is real.' "
Kiesling says the plan could not only be real, but also a boon to the local economy. He cites a regional study on recreational opportunities for the area that says a full-fledged kayak attraction near Gold Hill could bring in $7 million annually to the region.
Both Fix and Kiesling's son agree: If it can be done, Kiesling can pull it off. A local author and magazine editor, he built the Ashland Rowing Club from the ground up.
After he purchased the land a dozen years ago and learned that his property was the site of a village for the Takelma people, Kiesling worked with tribal elders to resurrect sacred salmon ceremonies once held on the site.
In his kayak training endeavors, he wants to maintain respect for the land and the river. And he hopes to put the school on the soon-to-be-hung world map.
Realistically, Fix and Kiesling say, an Olympic contender could come from the school in the next four to six years, depending on how fast momentum builds.
They may get a sense of that on Aug. 11, when they will hold an open house at 11 a.m. at the site to show people what they have planned and to gauge local interest. The property is on Upper River Road near the east entrance to Gold Hill.
"This is a great spot for this. We've got the waves, the river and a lot of sites nearby. There isn't a lot of activity on the entire West Coast for whitewater slalom even though there are a lot of whitewater paddlers and a lot of great rivers," said Fix.
"You'd think out of all of the many whitewater paddlers we have in the Rogue Valley, we would get some good kayakers to work with."
Tim Kiesling said it was exciting to see the school's first training session take place.
"With Oliver here and with my dad, both of them with the backgrounds that they have, it would be awesome to have an Olympic training center," he said.
"In just the couple hours we spent with Oliver in the pool and on the river, we definitely both really learned a lot."
Despite the hurdles yet to come, Kiesling says that most days he sees more potential than obstacles.
"I spend half the time thinking, 'Boy, this is really going to be great,' and the other half of the time thinking, 'This is the craziest idea I've ever come up with.' "
Regardless, he figures it's worth a try.
"Maybe it is finally time to hang the map."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.