After the Glory

They train for years and sometimes decades for that one chance to perform at an Olympics. But what happens after they finally get there, and then the moment has passed? We catch up with several Olympic athletes living in the Bethesda area.

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Davey Hearn kayaks with his wife and son  occasionally, but focuses on the business  side of the sport now. Photo by Erick GibsonDavey Hearn

Whitewater Slalom, 1992, 1996, 2000

These days, you can find one of whitewater kayaking’s foremost pioneers at a warehouse in Bethesda, packaging and shipping orders of fiberglass, Kevlar, graphite, polyester and epoxy resins. For a man who once treated the raging currents of the Potomac River as his personal, competitive playground, it’s a rather mundane job.

And Davey Hearn is loving every minute of it.

Hearn, 53, an eight-time world champion in various canoeing disciplines and a three-time Olympian in whitewater slalom, is now the co-owner of Sweet Composites, a business he and his wife, Jennifer, took over in 2006. They sell materials to canoe and kayak manufacturers over the phone out of their Brookmont home.

“It’s a way for me to have a business with what I did competing for so many years,” says the Walter Johnson High School alum, who still kayaks recreationally with his wife and their 13-year-old son, Jesse.

Hearn during his competition days. Photo by Christopher SmithFor the better part of two decades, Hearn was the crown prince of American whitewater kayaking, second only to Jon Lugbill, an­other former paddler from Bethesda. Hearn finished as the runner-up to Lugbill at five World Championships from 1979 through 1989, but he won in 1985 and 1995.

Their epic rivalry and good friendship—which included creating innovative boat designs and paddling techniques that revolutionized the sport—even reached the pages of Sports Illustrated. In 1989, one of the magazine’s writers said Hearn was “to Lugbill what [racehorse] Alydar was to Affirmed.”

Hearn competed in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics (whitewater slalom wasn’t an Olympic sport between 1972 and 1992), but he was never able to replicate his success at the worlds. His best Olympic performance was ninth at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Still, for Hearn, who was inducted into the International Whitewater Hall of Fame in 2005, the Olympics served as a strong motivating force for a remarkable 26-year international kayaking career.

“I probably wouldn’t have competed as long as I did if it wasn’t for the Olympics,” he says.

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