Navigation - BiographyChuck Lyda Home PageChuck Lyda Newspaper ArticlesChuck Lyda RemembrancesChuck Lyda Memorial FundRiver Runners MonumentArlington FuneralChuck Lyda Memorial Album

Chuck Lyda's Life, an Informal Biography
by Friend and Teammate, Charles Albright
with contributions from friends and family

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." -- Annie Dillard

According to Aunt Martha (his father's sister), Chuck's ancestors included an adventurous Blackfoot woman
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
was evident in his bold, courageous, nature-loving spirit.

Charles Clinton Lyda 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.

Chuck 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, California.
Flying Toads
At 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.

When 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.

Los Angeles Times
"For 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."

He's a Jack of All Sports and Master of a Few, Too
By Alan Greenberg, Times Staff Writer

COLORADO 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?

To 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 article)

1968 Kern Festival Winners
Kern Festival 1968
Back Row:
Lynn Gaylor, Walt Harvest, Ben Parks, Art Vitarelli, Dick Sunderland, Chuck Lyda (age 16)
Front Row:
Gail Minnick-Gaylor, Kay Harvest, Nancy Lemon, Tammy McCullem, Johnny Evans, Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson 2010Chuck 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.

Chuck 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.

Buy Whitewater Art Sign
Art in the FamilyChuck 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.

Boat LoadSpending 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 driveway.

DeliveranceMany 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 )

Wild Goose ShipOnce, 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.

Wild Goose ShirtOne 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 in all.

President William Jefferson Clinton with Captain Charles Clinton LydaFirst 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.

Right 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 WCAP, 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.

Another 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.

Dan and Chuck 2003While 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.

Chuck 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.

Desbien MedalAs 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 there.

Iraq Sandstorm
John 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.

Bill 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.

Chuck at Tahoe 09Chuck 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.

Chuck 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.

Chuck and Charles 2He 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!"

TEXT MESSAGE from Chuck's sister, Laramée, to her brother Grady
i got a call from carol 1 hr ago. chuck passed away 2 day
From: Laramee 11:45pm 6/12/10

Contributions: 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
Laramee 1958Chuck 1958Grady 1958
Pony pictures from San Diego, November, 1958: Laramée (age 8), Chuck (age 6), Grady (age 4).
Photos provided by Warren J. Hartmann. If you have an Ancestry.com account, you can find us here: Lyda Family Tree
River Footer ARiver Footer B
HavasupaiMarietta and ChuckBiathlon CoachRiver Start Contact