Student Spotlight: Undergrad Senior James Wade

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James Wade, a senior majoring in industrial engineering, recently returned from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he won the men's National Championship in whitewater kayaking. This achievement puts Wade closer to his dream of securing the coveted single spot for his event on the U.S. Olympic Team and representing the United States at the 2012 summer games in London.

From rafting trips with his family, Wade developed an interest in kayaking around age fourteen or fifteen, and in his freshman year in high school, left his home in Boise, Idaho, to attend a kayaking school in Vermont. As part of their education and training, the students would spend cold-weather months in countries with warmer climates (for example, Costa Rica in the winter and New Zealand and Australia in the spring). It was here that Wade began competing and developed the goal of joining the Junior National Team, which he did in 2002, followed by the National Team in 2006. When asked the significance of representing his country, Wade shared that "international success in this system is a statement of the American mentality: dedication and determination to reach the highest of goals."

ISyE: Why kayaking?

JW: Training in kayaking is fun and highly technical. Quite a lot of the training involves improving your technique, and I like that a lot. I like things that are technical. My style is a more technical style, more precise. It's also a pretty creative sport. You can do things a lot of different ways. You have to be in touch with the feel of the water. All of the best guys have this sort of feeling, but not everyone uses it the same amount. There are guys who are really strong and go toward the being powerful side. Then you have the people who use the feeling more to get their speed.

ISyE: Where do you fit in?

JW: I'm in the later category, but I am definitely strong. I have a body type that lends itself to being stronger. Still, I go toward the feeling side. Hopefully, the two will come together and I can find the happy medium that will pay off. People tell me they like watching me, which is always a compliment. One of my goals is to be both fast and pleasing to watch.

ISyE: What is unique for you during competition?

JW: In competition, the hard part is not thinking. During a race, the best runs you don't know what's going on. You're not consciously processing anything. Everything is just kind of happening, and you're feeling what's happening, and you see what's happening, and you know what is happening, but you're not consciously seeing it, you're not consciously thinking about it, you're not consciously feeling. You're just reacting. It doesn't even feel like you're reacting, though you are, because it's so fast. You're just doing what is supposed to be done. Really good runs, personally, I don't even remember anything very specific about them. I remember what it felt like, but don't remember very specifically what I did in terms of how.

ISyE: Can you see being able to translate that kind of experience out of the water, in the present moment?

JW: I definitely want to be present. In life, you can't do everything in the here and now, but staying present is vey good, and staying balanced. Between sports and academics, being balanced is important. If you do all one or all the other, it doesn't go as well all the time.

ISyE: Have you found that balance?

JW: It's a dynamic system. I do okay, I think, most of the time. It gets hard to switch back and forth. You get in one mode, then it's like having a hill to get over to get back into the other one, but I seem to be able to do it, more or less.

ISyE: You say that competition is a process of self-discovery. How?

JW: You learn about how you work and the things you need to do to perform. It's like an inward self-discovery. If you're willing to look, you get a very clear picture: Am I what I think I am? It's like a looking glass. You go around saying that you can beat everybody. I'm good at this; I'm fast. But, in the start gate, I'm asking, "Can I prove it? Am I really who I say I am?" You***re testing yourself.

ISyE: Is every start gate new?

JW: Yes. You change every time. Every race is important, but the biggest races have more implications and more challenges. There's more pressure, more competition. More people are watching. More things are going on that you have to be able to cope and deal with. I don't know if it's easier to learn about yourself then or you learn more about yourself because there's more things going on that you have to deal with.

ISyE: How is this similar to academics?

JW: They're both tests of "What are you really?" Are you actually what you think you are? Are you as smart? Are you as good as you think you are? Are you what you say you are?

ISyE: Has there been a competitive kayaking experience that stands out as being transformational?

JW: The 2007 U.S. Team Trials, which is the race that determines the national team. Basically how selections work is that you take your best two out of three days. After two days, I wasn't in the top three, which is required to make the National Team. I could still do it, but I had to win or be close to winning, and I had to beat one other guy by quite a lot. There was a lot of pressure on me, and not so much on him. After the second run, I ended up being second place, but very close to winning, and I beat him by enough that I made the team. The thing about National Team selection is that it is pretty much the highest pressure race there is. That was the first time I really stepped up to the pressure in a big race like that. Obviously I'm much better now than I was then, so all of that coming together was pretty cool. I wouldn't say magical, but it was definitely an empowering feeling.

ISyE: How do competition and academics mix?

JW: Training and school are definitely not easy to do. When you're training full time and going to school full time, you really don't have any time for other things.

ISyE: Your Senior Design Project focused on the World Food Programme. What impact has working on that project had on you?

JW: It was the first big project I worked on, and I definitely learned a lot. For me, Senior Design is the difference between Tech and a lot of other programs. You learn so much, and we challenged ourselves significantly with the project. You learn things scholastically. You learn how to write reports. You have to interact with people. You have to do public speaking. Since then I've had to give more presentations, and I've definitely gotten a lot better.

ISyE: Who has been your most inspiring teacher?

JW: My dad. He's teaching me how to grow up, how to be a man. Honestly, if I could do as well as he has done in life, I'd be more than happy. If I can raise my kids as well as my parents have done, I'd be very happy. I understand enough to know it's not a simple or easy thing. He's a good individual; he's instilled a lot of good values in me.


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