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Up the river

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  • | 11:15 a.m. January 8, 2016
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Executive: Jason Jensen, principal at Wannemacher Jensen Architects. Jensen, 38, started with the firm 13 years ago as an intern and worked his way up to partner seven years into his career. He's led the firm to receive 17 American Institute of Architect design awards, among other recognition, and was personally awarded the Dean Rowe Award for design excellence. His firm was recently awarded the design contract for the $20 million Pier Approach Project, linking the New St. Pete Pier to downtown. Jensen was a Business Observer 40 under 40 recipient in 2015.

Diversion: Rafting. Jensen has been rafting at least 25 times on 10 rivers nationwide. He started when he was less than 6 years old, before there were age restrictions or regulations.

Family affair: Jensen's grandparents were born in the Appalachians, so rafting has been a part of family reunions since he was young. Last summer Jensen took his oldest son, 9-year-old Jameson, on his first rafting trip. “It's exciting to start the next generation,” Jensen says. “He loved it; he's fearless.”

At a break in the trip his son was brave enough to jump into the 55-degree water. Jameson was fine, until a snake went flying across the water toward him. “He practically walked on water to get back on the raft,” Jensen says. “It's an impromptu experience like that to get children out of the house” that can't be replicated outside of nature, he adds.

Jason Jensen (lower right) started going on rafting trips during family reunions. He has carried on the tradition with his son Jameson's first trip (behind Jensen) last summer, which his father Wayne attended as well (next to Jameson).

Romantic river: Jensen's favorite rafting jaunt was with his wife on their first trip as a married couple — they rafted seven rivers in one vacation through the Appalachians and West Virginia. Jensen says he's lucky that his wife enjoys being active. Says Jensen: “She's up for zip lining, rafting... anything outside, she's game for it.”

Rafting scares: Over the years Jensen has had his share of scary experiences on the river. During one trip, his aunt fell off the raft and was caught in a whirlpool. She was tossed up and down in the whirlpool seven times before they were able to get a rope to her to pull her out. Another time Jensen's mother fell out of the boat and suffered a severe asthmatic reaction from the temperature shock. “There's an implicit danger, even when on a guided trip,” Jensen says. “But all's well that ends well.”

Mountain view: “What's unique about getting on rivers is the adrenaline rush then the calm periods to take in nature,” Jensen says. “You hit the exhaustion phase and then you get to relax and take it all in.”

During these times you experience a number of senses at once, he says, from the sound of the water, to the feel of passing through the mist and fog and cold water, to watching the mountain landscape. That's what Jensen loves most. It's also reminiscent of the sensory experience Jensen likes to create with a number of his architectural designs.

Bucket list: Jensen is hoping to rally his friends from college to get together for a two-week rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. For now the trip is on hold until his 15-month-old baby is a little older, so relatives can babysit during the long trip. Until then, he'll keep doing rivers that are a step up for his oldest son, maybe taking him to Ocoee River in Tennessee in 2016.

Rock it: To prep for rafting, it's “just a matter of being in shape,” Jensen says. He does some rowing activities that require similar motions such as paddleboarding. He also plays soccer, runs and does some rock climbing at area rock climbing gym Vertical Ventures, designed by Wannemacher Jensen. He's hoping to build rock climbing into his next trip - “but I've got to get my skills up in a controlled environment” to start, he says.


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