Vic Howie ’83 was a decidedly dry-behind-the-ears executive at Bank of America when corporate headquarters asked him to handle the bank’s sponsorship of the USA Canoe/Kayak team for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“I knew nothing about kayaking,” says Howie, who accepted an invitation to hang out with the team at its training facilities in western North Carolina. “I knew nothing about rafting. I knew nothing about paddling sports other than what I’d done in a canoe on a lake.”
The minute his kayak hit the water, Howie was hooked.
Over the next few years, Howie helped launch a popular whitewater kids program for at-risk youth and dragged every CEO of every major corporation he worked with out to the river. He also grew closer to the Olympic team and coaches and knew he wanted the sport to be a bigger part of his life.
During a dinner party at the training facility before the 2000 Olympic games, one of the team members was talking about an amazing new artificial river that had been built in Sydney, Australia. It was circular, meaning that a stadium crowd could watch the runs from beginning to end.
Howie was convinced that the team needed to build one of these new stadiums in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C. He grabbed a napkin and drew a sketch of the Charlotte skyline with a circular river beneath it.
"That was the easy part," admits Howie. He also had to amass $20 million and secure the public land on which to build the park. Eventually, the U.S. National Whitewater Center was established, which covers nearly 307 acres near the Catawba River.