Jamie McEwan

Jamie McEwanJamie McEwan
(Photo: Devin McEwan)


Birthplace: Olney, Maryland

Residence: Lakeville, Connecticut

Occupation: Writer

Years Paddling: 49

Paddles: C-1 Slalom, C-1 Wildwater, C-2 Slalom, C-2 Wildwater, River Running.

Favorite Paddling Spot: “Right now, slalom gates on the Housatonic at Falls Village. Used to be the Upper Yough.”

Memorable Paddling Experience: “Running the Dean River in British Columbia with Doug Gordon and Mark Clarke in the summer of 1996. Then there’s the Tsangpo…”

Off Water Pastime: Reading, skiing, cooking.

Comment / Advice: “Stay alive. Feed the inner self before the public image. Build in extra time to be lazy, relaxed, contemplative. Be wary of advice.”

Olympic Paddling Medalist & Slalom Advocate

As America’s first Olympic medalist in whitewater slalom, Jamie McEwan’s bronze medal finish in C-1 in 1972 inspired a new generation of paddlers to strive for excellence in whitewater competition.  As a veteran competitor, he has been at the forefront of recent efforts to encourage and support the participation of American youth in whitewater competition.

At the age of 19 in 1972, James Patrick (Jamie) McEwan became the first American to win an Olympic medal in Whitewater Slalom.  Although Jamie had competed in the Slalom World Championships the previous year and had won the 1972 U.S. National Championships in C-1, earning a place on the medal podium at the Munich Olympics was a complete surprise to most insiders in the sport.  At the time, American racers were just beginning to gain respect from their more experienced European counterparts, who benefited from more organized training opportunities, better access to knowledgeable coaching, and regular availability of slalom facilities, as well as typically from greater national support of whitewater slalom competition.

However, Jamie’s surprise bronze medal in C-1 on the Augsburg “Eiskanal” during the Munich Olympic games would help change that situation by inspiring a generation of up and coming young American paddlers.  As Cathy Hearn, the only paddler to ever win three gold medals in a single Whitewater Water World Championships (1979:  K-1W Slalom Individual, K-1W Slalom Team, K-1W Wildwater Team) would later note:

“In 1972 we were on a dirt road in Montana, driving along in a big International Scout truck, listening to the radio.  We heard this news flash say that Jamie McEwan of the Washington, D.C. area had just won a bronze medal in the slalom Olympics.  I decided right then and there that’s what I wanted to do, too.”

However, Jamie’s influence wasn’t limited to providing inspiration.  He instructed and coached other paddlers at the camp the McEwan family ran in the Washington, D.C. area and continued to push the boundaries of whitewater paddling through participation in river expeditions in Mexico, British Columbia, Bhutan, and Tibet, sharing his love of whitewater with countless other paddlers.  Never one to tout his accomplishments, Jamie also set a strong example for others through his unique blend of personal excellence with self-effacing camaraderie and good sportsmanship.

Remarkably, twenty years after his Olympic debut, Jamie again surprised the world with his astonishing longevity as a competitive athlete in his second Olympics.  Having made the U.S. Team in C-2 with partner Lecky Haller, Jamie once again represented America as an Olympic athlete in Barcelona in 1992, just missing the podium with a strong finish in fourth place.

Recently, Jamie has taken a leadership role in organizing efforts to revitalize whitewater slalom competition in the U.S., and particularly in strengthening support for the development of young competitive paddlers.  Toward this end he has been instrumental in the organization of U.S. Team Whitewater Alumni, in creation of the Whitewater Slalom Foundation, and in the development and solicitation of financial support for a network of Regional Junior Teams to encourage youth participation in the sport.

Jamie McEwan, Devin McEwan (photo: James Subido)

From a public notice posted on a family member’s facebook page:

Jamie McEwan, passed away on Saturday, June 14, 2014, surrounded by his beloved family. He fought the bravest fight anybody could fight, but in the end the cancer was too much for his body – even though his spirit was strong to the end.

Obituary Notice: James McEwan

SALISBURY: James McEwan, 61, passed away on June 14th surrounded by his family. He was the loving husband of Sandra Boynton.

James was born on September 24, 1952, in Olney, M.D., to Robert and Mabel (Vierling) McEwan. He graduated from The Landon School in 1970 and from Yale in 1975. A lifelong outdoorsman and athlete, McEwan won the National Prep Wrestling Championships as a senior in high school and was a two­time Olympian in Whitewater Slalom, winning a bronze medal in the Canoe Singles category in 1972 and placing fourth in the Canoe Doubles category (with partner Lecky Haller) in 1992. His whitewater legacy also includes expeditions throughout the world, including British Columbia, Bhutan, and Tibet. McEwan is the author of five children’s books, two of which were illustrated by his wife of thirty ­five years, Sandra Boynton. He is survived by Sandra, their four children, Caitlin, Keith, Devin and Darcy, his brother Tom, and his sisters, Mary and Evelyn. A memorial service will be held in October; details to follow. Donations in Jamie’s memory can be made to American Whitewater (www.americanwhitewater.org).

Besides his wife, he is survived by his four children: Devin, Caitlyn, Keith and Darcy.


Article about Jamie published in “Valley Life” August 2014

Nomination and article content by:
John Coraor a.k.a.  jcoraor

NPMB encourages you to contribute your thoughts about this Paddler Spotlight by adding a comment below:


  1. Nice article about an inspiring athletic competitor and community leader.

    Thanks to John Coraor for getting this new feature off with a great start.

  2. It should also be noted that Jamie initiated the Tariffville (now New England) Triple Crown competition in 2008.


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