Lyda's Life, an Informal Biography
Friend and Teammate, Charles Albright
contributions from friends and family
we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." -- Annie Dillard
to Aunt Martha (his father's sister), Chuck's ancestors included an adventurous
who teamed up with an errant member of the famed Lewis and
Clark Expedition in the early 1800s.
Chuck was proud of his Native American
heritage, and the legacy of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery
in his bold, courageous, nature-loving spirit.
was born on July 23, 1952, in San Diego, California. He was the son of Charmian
Marie Wilimovsky (born 1927), and Lu Lyda
(Grady Luther Lyda, Jr. - born 1927, died 1974), who was a former Marine. Lu was
an accomplished artist, wood carver, sculptor and technical illustrator for the
Aerospace & Defense Industry. Chuck had a sister, Laramée,
who is 2 years older, and a brother, Grady, who is 2 years younger.
was an extraordinary athlete who was an honorable person in every way, and a physically
impressive individual at 6'2" and 180 pounds. As a child, he was a distinguished
Boy Scout, and a decent student at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach,
around age 14, he became a Sea Scout and was introduced to paddling kayaks in
Newport Harbor. His group called themselves the "Flying Toads." Through
the Sea Scouts, he was exposed to sailing and paddling and soon fell under the
influence of Tom Johnson, a Los Angeles Fireman who was already heavily involved
with canoes and kayaks. Chuck, through Tom and others, was soon paddling in Newport
harbor and going on frequent trips to run rivers. He was steadily getting better.
Even during high school he did not do other sports with his classmates but instead
focused on paddling.
Tom Johnson moved to Kernville, Chuck would go there to paddle with him. With
Tom's move there, Kernville soon became a Mecca for folks wanting to train for
whitewater slalom and wildwater racing. Tom also helped make the Newport Harbor
a site for flatwater training.
me, everything in life is so great, it's impossible to imagine not being able
to arrange things the way I want them to be. There's nothing I thought of doing
as a kid that I haven't done."
CHUCK LYDA, IT'S BOTH PLEASURE AND PAIN
a Jack of All Sports and Master of a Few, Too
Alan Greenberg, Times Staff Writer
SPRINGS, Colorado -- Chuck Lyda hasn't worked since 1974. He sleeps at least 10
hours a day. He doesn't own a stereo, TV, or any store-bought clothes. Last year
he won $12,000 and gave it away. But then, what would you expect from someone
who attended one high school and two community colleges and didn't graduate from
any of them?
look at his soft blue eyes and unscarred body, to listen to his calm voice, you'd
never guess that the common denominator in Lyda's life is pain. Self-inflicted
pain. The kind that would make the Marquis de Sade blanch. (see complete
Kern Festival Winners
Lynn Gaylor, Walt Harvest, Ben Parks, Art Vitarelli, Dick Sunderland,
Chuck Lyda (age 16)
Gail Minnick-Gaylor, Kay Harvest,
Nancy Lemon, Tammy McCullem, Johnny Evans, Tom Johnson
moved very quickly to being an excellent slalom and wildwater paddler. Tom Johnson,
who saw Chuck's potential, gave up his own spot on the US team so that Chuck could
compete. At 16 years old, Chuck raced for the US in Wildwater at the 1969 World
Championships in Bourg St. Maurice, France. During this time, he was also riding
motorcycles and testing his ability for endurance in other ways.
was proud to be part Native American. He was Blackfoot and Cherokee and he admired
the way the Indians lived off of the land. Being a Boy Scout as well, he really
strived to be self-sufficient. When he was 16 or 17, he actually had his dad drop
him off in a remote area of Southern California with no real supplies and spent
3 days on his own. From the time he was 17 to about 19, he worked at Sea Schwinn
Cycles, a bike shop in Newport Beach -- he called himself a "cyclonic engineer,"
which he liked better than "bicycle repairman." He was on Sea Schwinn's
first racing team. He trained with the Orange County Wheelmen and raced regularly.
also learned to scuba dive. He and his best friend, Murray, would do ocean dives
at night to find lobsters and abalone. They took many motorcycle trips. One was
to San Francisco, and when Murray's bike broke down in Santa Barbara, they doubled
up for the rest of the way. It got crazy when, well after dark while doing Highway
1 through Big Sur, Murray fell asleep on the bike and started falling off while
Chuck, sensing something wrong, kept control of the bike and somehow kept Murray
from losing his face on the road.
Late one night, after Chuck had picked
up his friend Wendy Carpenter from her job at Burger King, they returned to their
apartment in Costa Mesa and saw what appeared to be a fire in the fireplace of
a neighbor's apartment. Wendy actually said, "Hey, how come they have a fireplace
and we don't?" They soon realized that it wasn't a fireplace and that the
apartment was actually on fire. After trying unsuccessfully to rouse the occupants
by banging on the door, Chuck used his motorcycle helmet (one that his artistic
brother Grady had recently painted a gorgeously elaborate Minoan-style octopus
on) to break out the glass and go inside and get the family out. This wasn't easy
because the glass had metal mesh imbedded in it. It took Chuck a lot of banging
to finally make a hole big enough for him to get through. The octopus paint job
was completely destroyed.
all his spare time training and paddling, as well as all his other activities,
meant that Chuck was constantly looking for quick jobs that allowed freedom for
more training, racing, or road trips. Both Wendy and Murray, as well as others,
have said that Chuck was always driving cars that were extremely worn out. In
high school he had two cars, an old purple one he called "Eggplant,"
and an older green one he called "Fegula Tomatsa," which he said meant
something rude in Spanish. He also had a Norton 750 called "The Snortin'
Norton," a BSA 500 Goldstar, and a Suzuki 250 dirt bike. Chuck liked to name
things. His green kayak was named "Chicken Pickle." He even gave Wendy
the Indian name of "Little Square Foot" because of her wide feet. In
those days, kayaks were typically made from fiber glass molds, and one of the
first kayaks that Chuck ever paddled on a whitewater river was borrowed -- and
he ended up breaking it in half. He quickly learned how to make new ones and do
constant repairs as well. He spent a lot of time building boats in Tom Johnson's
of the folks that I have talked to with regard to this bio have said that Chuck
never got into serious trouble. He would do the usual practical jokes but was
never criminal or mean-spirited in his actions and life. He did some crazy stuff
like riding a motorcycle to Flagstaff in the middle of a snowstorm to visit Wendy,
who was going to school there. When he got to her dorm, the bike slipped on the
ice and he fell over. He was wearing 32 pieces of clothing in an effort to keep
warm. In 1973, when Josef Sedivec was just getting his Seda Boat Company started,
he had Chuck and Wendy drive a load of his boats to a sporting goods store in
Atlanta. Having seen the movie "Deliverance," Chuck (an expert archer)
would certainly have identified with the resourceful Burt Reynolds character in
the film. He promptly put on the Chattooga River with some friends during a full
moon and did Section 4, a particularly notorious area of the river. (
see Kim Goertner Darling's memories
of this trip )
while paddling in Newport Beach, he came near a big boat that was cruising the
harbor. Because kayaks were so unusual in the area at that time, the owner of
the boat called to Chuck and invited him to come aboard, which he did. The boat
was the "Wild Goose," and the owner was legendary movie star
John Wayne. The Duke gave Chuck a t-shirt with the boat's logo and name on it.
of the stories that Chuck's brother Grady recalled was that one day Chuck called
and said, "We are going skydiving tomorrow." Grady was taken out to
Perris where they took a quick class and were then taken up to do 3 jumps. On
the first, all Grady could think about was how to hit the ground safely. Unknowingly,
he landed right on the drop zone target. Chuck was nowhere to be found. After
a while, and just before they took off to jump the second time, Chuck showed up.
He was pissed that his brother had hit the target, and he himself had come nowhere
near it. After the 3rd jump, Chuck kept getting closer to the target and Grady
was always further away. Days later, Chuck revealed that in his first landing
he had crashed into some farm equipment and broken his ankle. Not wanting to miss
his opportunity, he soldiered on in terrible pain to make 2 more jumps. (
see Skydiving Adventure )
With paddling now as his biggest passion, Chuck spent time both at Newport
and Kernville, and continued along with many others to train under the tutelage
of the legendary Tom Johnson. He was very focused and spent time doing all the
options available. Flatwater, slalom, wildwater and just river running, both in
canoe and kayak. Quickly, his list of national teams grew and he became a regular
on the racing circuit in the U.S. and Europe. I know only of the teams I heard
about and it is impressive. Ultimately, he was to be a member of 28 national teams
France, then 1973 in Switzerland in C-2 Mixed Wildwater, then 1975 when he and
Marietta Gilman took their first World Championship in C-2 Mixed Slalom in Yugoslavia.
Switching boats and partners, he competed with Andy Toro in C-2 Sprint at the
1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. He was back again with Marietta in 1977 in
C-2 Mixed for a second World Championship in Austria. 1979 found him with Johnny
Evans as well as Kent Ford earning a Silver Medal in the C-1 Wildwater Team. In
1980 he qualified for his second Olympics in K-2 Sprint with Bill Leach. Unfortunately,
the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics as a protest against the Soviet's war in
Afghanistan. He met President Jimmy Carter at an event that was held at the White
House to honor the athletes. Chuck was outraged that the Olympics had been used
as a political weapon in this case, and it spoiled a big highlight of his paddling
career just when he was reaching his peak. In April 1998, Chuck was to visit the
Pentagon and White House as an Olympic Coach, and he met President Bill Clinton.
back to rivers, Chuck was racing at the World Championships in Wildwater C-1.
You can bet there was plenty more racing in that period of time. Chuck kept meticulous
records of all his races including finishes and times. He also listed all the
rivers around the world that he had ever paddled, and the tally was 179 rivers
in his career.
While out running at Tahoe one time with Carl Toppner,
they got to where Carl decided to hitchhike back to Truckee, and the person who
picked him up was the current Biathlon Team Coach who was conducting a training
camp at Squaw Valley. When Carl mentioned their run that day, he told Carl to
grab Chuck and be at Squaw the next day. That led to them both training to compete
in Biathlon. Chuck was an excellent shooter but was slower on skis -- nonetheless,
he made several biathlon teams. Chuck did compete on a world cup level for the
Biathlon Team for several years. He was in the California National Guard and was
allowed to compete as an athlete while fulfilling his service to the Guard. His
great passion for training and endurance had now led him to being offered the
job of head coach for the National Biathlon Team. Under a program called
Chuck moved to Vermont with Carol, and from 1996 to 2002, he coached for the athletes
who were attempting to be on the U.S. and Olympic Teams. After the games in Nagano,
Japan, he once again was their coach for the Salt Lake City Olympics. Chuck and
Carol again hit the road, buying a home in the Salt Lake area while again being
the head coach for the team hopefuls. Again, as in Nagano, many of the athletes
that Chuck coached made the Salt Lake Games. His coaching over, he and Carol returned
to the California National Guard to live in Truckee, and the Lake Natomas area.
Back to his personal and athletic life: Early on, Chuck was exposed to Outrigger
paddling. Probably the best known Outrigger Race is in Hawaii and called the Molokai.
It is over 40 miles of open ocean, typically with large swells and unrelenting
heat, it at best takes around 4 hours. Teams number nine paddlers and switches
of three paddlers take place about every 20 minutes. Switches involve steering
towards three paddlers who have been dropped off by an escort boat. Just as the
outrigger comes to the three swimmers, three others bail out and the swimmers
grab the gunnels and swing in. All this happens hopefully without missing a stroke,
often in big, turbulent seas. With this program, one can be expected to paddle
very hard for 40 minutes before you get a chance to rest. Some rest, actually
you have to be picked up by the escort boat, then you can eat or drink before
you have to be placed in front of the outrigger again. Chuck was a member of the
first non-Hawaiian team to ever take first place. The team was known as "Blazing
Paddles." The native Hawaiians were very upset. That was 1978, and Chuck's
team won it in 1980 and 1982 as well. So they won 3 times, and finished 2nd 3
times, in 7 years.
After Bruce Jenner won the Olympics in Decathlon, he
hosted a program called "The
Fittest of Them All" which was produced by NBC Sports in 1978. This was
an early reality show that subjected top athletes to a variety of physical challenges
and obstacle courses. Chuck entered and was the first place winner, not simply
because he was stronger and faster, but because he was more clever. One challenge
required contestants to fill up a 5-gallon water bottle, then run up a hill and
empty the water into a big tub, and keep doing that until the trough was full.
Chuck beat everyone by filling and carrying two bottles at once -- they never
said he couldn't do that. Throughout his life, Chuck had a talent for breaking
rules nobody had thought of yet.
notable competition in the Sacramento area was Eppie's
Great Race. It was the first triathlon, and had bike, run and paddle phases.
Chuck and his team won "The Great Race" in 1986. Chuck also, over the
years, competed on other teams that did very well. I remember that they used to
have a survival event around the Stanislaus River called the "Survival of
the Fittest." I believe Chuck won that one 3 times.
talking with Dan Schnurrenberger, he revealed that when Marathon Racing first
had its ICF debut,
Chuck and Dan went to Europe to race. Both were in great shape to race a Sprint
K-2, but Dan woke up that day feeling extremely sick. Chuck and Dan tried to hang
with the lead pack but eventually Dan weakened and cramped up. Chuck still tried
very hard to finish the grueling race. Long after the others had finished, they
finally arrived. After the race, Chuck, thoroughly exhausted, slept while Dan
recovered to enjoy the after-race party. The next day Dan was again very sick
from having run out of water during the race, which had forced him to drink from
the polluted, vomit-inducing lake water.
As for skiing, Chuck excelled
in all forms of it. He coached cross country, skate skiing, ski jumping, and was
a very accomplished downhiller and back country skier. When he competed in Biathlon,
he was regularly the best sharpshooter on the team. His skills on skis were considerable,
but he was a bit slower than some of the others. However, if you are a great shooter,
you spend less time doing penalty laps and make up for being slower. A mentioned
before, Chuck was the Director for the Auburn Ski Club on Donner Summit for many
years. He did much of the grooming for the trails, as did his wife Carol.
and Carol spent many days doing running on mountain trails as well as orienteering
with clubs, and in races as well. When we were competing in Wildwater C-2, we
made a side trip to what was left of Sherwood Forest so they could do an orienteering
course. They both did very well in these events, placing at several Nationals.
For some of the more crazy things he did (and there were many), Carl and Chuck
once did a complete lap of Lake Tahoe in a marathon canoe in just 10 hours. Tahoe
has about 70 miles of shoreline, of which they made two small shortcuts. They
once drove from California to Texas, non-stop, then entered the Texas Water Safari
Race (about 225 miles long), sleeping for 1 hour per night, and finished 2nd.
Having barely slept, they then drove non-stop back to California. He and others
did many full moon paddles on Tahoe over the years. At Disneyland, Chuck and his
team of expert paddlers commandeered one of Frontierland's Explorer Canoes and
furiously raced around Tom Sawyer's Island several times. The attraction's guides
could only sit back, stunned and unwilling to interfere. While Chuck was coaching
the Biathlon Team in Vermont, he somehow found time to earn a degree from Liberty
University, Lynchburg, Virginia.
for myself, I heard of Chuck long before I met him. He was already a legend in
the sport of kayak and canoe. I met him in the early 1980s and do not remember
where. We did some paddling, and since I was a duffer canoe and kayak racer in
many forms of racing, we became friends. It helped that I was also a very good
friend of Carol's. They exposed me to marathon canoes and outriggers. I was already
a slalom C-1 and C-2 racer and Chuck actually enjoyed paddling with me. That led
to doing some races and a lot of traveling together. We trained regularly in one
of Reno's pools in winter, and hit the roads to Colorado for Mid-American and
Champion Series races. We also spent time at Slalom team trials as well as Wildwater
team trials. With Chuck, I started my quest to always be the first C-2 to NOT
make the team in slalom
now up to 5 times. We did several trips to be on
Wildwater teams alone and together. We actually made it once and raced at the
Bala Worlds in 1995. Carol also competed in K-1 that year. I will always remember
paddling the Team Race and being passed by the Czech Team in the last eddy, and
having 6 C-2s charge off the last falls all in a row. Together, we raced at 3
Olympic Sports Festival Team Trials and raced at two in San Antonio, as well as
Denver. Placing in Denver allowed Chuck to be the only male to have gotten both
a sprint and slalom medal at a sports festival. He had competed before our two
at other sports festivals.
Another big event for both of us was the 1998
Nike World Masters Championships. Carol and Chuck met me at the slalom and Wildwater
events in Bend, Oregon, as well as the sprint events at Lake Vancouver in Washington.
With all the classes we could race we cleaned up. My only problem was that Chuck
was in my age group for many of the singles events. We did share 2 gold medals
and he was the cause of 3 silvers I got. She had at least 5 Gold medals. He and
Carol also did marathon C-2 mixed. He was, I am sure, the most medaled competitor
Pinyerd, who competed with and against Chuck for many years on the US Wildwater
Teams, had this to say: "He was a no-nonsense, very practical guy with a
dry sense of humor, and an amazing athlete." John describes how Chuck could
hop in a C-1 with no outfitting and use a rolled up PFD
for a seat and instantly start racing. John also mentioned hopping in a C-2 on
a river they had never paddled together and racing and "turning out a blistering
run." John mentioned that Chuck had been on 13 World Championship teams and
competed in over 100 World Cup races in just Wildwater Racing alone. Prior to
when USACK took control of paddlesports
in the US, the ACA was
the governing body for canoe and kayak racing. They used to have something called
the "Triple Crown" which was a combination of Wildwater, Sprint and
Marathon -- and according to John, Chuck won it twice.
Endicott, the "Guru" of all US Slalom Team Coaches, called Chuck
a "great intuitive athlete." He was also praised by many as being not
just a really good athlete but for being an athlete that was always analyzing
racing, courses, gates, eddies -- all the pieces he had to deal with in a very
rational manner, and then getting as much as he could out of himself and his partners.
Bill also called Chuck "a great patriot" for several times when he prominently
displayed the flag. In 1975, in an athletes parade, the team was displaying a
Bicentennial Flag in the former Yugoslavia. Local communist supporters took the
flag and later, where the US Team had a tent, Chuck showed off a flag and banner
that said "USA Home of the Brave." Along with his teammate Marietta,
Chuck was the first of many Gold Medal winners who Bill coached, and he has many
great memories of their years together.
enlisted in the California Army National Guard on January 18, 1983, and eventually
achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. As stated before, he was heavily involved
as an athlete as well as a coach for much of his military career. He did one tour
in Iraq in 2006/07, where his official title was: Charles (Chuck) Lyda; MAJ, EN;
Chief of Operations, GRN; Gulf Region
Division, US Army Corps of Engineers; COB
Speicher, Tikrit, Iraq. Among his many achievements in the Corps, he identified
a notorious TCN and was instrumental
in his capture.
was probably the healthiest human being on the planet who never touched alcohol,
tobacco, or drugs of any kind. His only vice was ice cream. Lots of ice cream!
He was scheduled to leave for another tour of Iraq in March, 2010, and in preparation
for that, he underwent a complete physical and received a clean bill of health.
So it was totally unexpected when -- after suffering from what appeared to be
a severe case of acid reflux around Thanksgiving 2009 -- he was discovered to
have advanced stages of esophageal and stomach cancer. Being a true positive thinker,
an incredible athlete and a fighter, he battled for more than 6 months before
passing away at age 57, about 9:PM on Saturday, June 12, 2010.
leaves behind his mother, Charmian, sister Laramée and his brother Grady,
as well as his very loving wife Carol Schick-Lyda who was by his side constantly
since his diagnosis. This man touched a lot of people's lives and affected them
all positively. On Friday, October 8, 2010, Chuck's ashes were laid to rest at
Arlington National Cemetery with
full military honors.
As Coach Bill Endicott has been quoted as saying
(in Latin), "May he rest in peace, the victor of the games!"
MESSAGE from Chuck's sister, Laramée,
to her brother Grady
got a call from carol 1 hr ago. chuck passed away 2 day
Laramee 11:45pm 6/12/10
Folks who helped me with info and stories were John Pinyard, long-time wildwater
and slalom guy, Bill Endicott, former US Slalom and Wildwater Coach, Dan Schnurrenburger,
wildwater champion and C-2 paddlers with Chuck several times as well as one of
Chuck and Carol's best friends. Billy Whitford, sprint coach and outrigger paddler.
Carl Toppner, fellow slalom and wildwater paddler as well as marathon paddler
who again lived in Truckee and was a great friend and the person who met the Biathlon
coach hitchhiking. Also, Wendy Wallace and Chuck's brother, Grady, added more
stories and photos. -- Charles Albright