CHUCK LYDA, IT'S BOTH PLEASURE AND PAIN
a Jack of All Sports and Master of a Few, Too
Angeles Times, 1979
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.
won NBC's "The Fittest of Them All" competition while Olympic decathlon
champion-turned-announcer Bruce Jenner, his hero, watched agape.
car makers tested their vehicles like Lyda has tested his 6'2", 175-pound
frame, we'd still be riding in horse-drawn buggies. After a
the pain and the memories blur. That's a blessing. Were they etched in his consciousness,
he couldn't go on.
There was the time he ran in a 72-mile race around Lake
Tahoe in 14 hours and finished fourth, then paddled his kayak in a 1-hour
race the next day. Or the time he came in 10th in a 220-mile bicycle race after
not having raced for a year. Or the time he and some fellow canoeists paddled
for 43 hours and were the first to finish the 420-mile Texas Water Safari.
go to competitions to compete against myself. If there are other people in the
race, well, that's just the way it is."
let us not forget the events which took place over four days last October when
Lyda jumped off cliffs, ran up mountains, paddled through vicious whitewater and
hauled himself across chasms and rivers with ropes and pulleys and won NBC's "The
Fittest of Them All" competition while Olympic decathlon champion-turned-announcer
Bruce Jenner, his hero, watched agape. For this, he won $12,000, which he turned
back to the United States Olympic Committee in order to retain his amateur standing.
But fear not. Lyda will receive 90% of that money in the form of extra USOC subsidies
this year. Besides that income, he gets free room and board at the USOC's Squaw
Valley training site where he has lived the past two years, and has all his travel
expenses paid for in winter by the national biathlon (cross-country skiing and
riflery combined) team for which he competes, and in summer by the kayak-canoe
team. He couldn't be happier. Or saner. Well, happier.
"I don't think
I do anything that someone else couldn't do," Lyda said. "I don't think
there's anything special about it. Anyone can do whatever they want if they're
willing to work at it. I go to competitions to compete against myself. If there
are other people in the race, well, that's just the way it is.
reason I don't like the sport is the people are all aggressive. Basically, they're
all assholes. It's line up and beat the other guy and they carry it over onto
lies the paradox. Lyda, a bearded 27-year-old who grew up in Newport Beach, is
here competing at the National Sports Festival to hone his skills in flatwater
kayak and canoe. But flatwater is his least favorite kind of racing. He resumed
competitive kayaking in 1977 after an eight-year hiatus, just because it was a
"Another reason I don't like the sport is the people are
all aggressive," Lyda said. "Basically, they're all --. It's line up
and beat the other guy and they (his competitors) carry it over onto the shore."
his disinclination toward such competition, canoe and kayak racing is Lyda's best
chance to make his first Olympic team, which is his dream. His forte is whitewater
(slalom) and not flatwater racing, but whitewater, save for the 1972 Munich Games,
has never been an Olympic event. Lyda didn't make the Olympic team that year because
he couldn't afford to travel to Maryland, site of the Olympic trials. He had been
consistently beating most of his rivals who made the team and went on to win two
gold and two silver medals in subsequent world whitewater championships.
convinced that variety is the spice of life, which is why he wants to maintain
a hold on umpteen sports and "eight to 10" girlfriends worldwide.
preference for whitewater competition also had a lot to do with his not making
the United States national team which will be competing soon in Germany for the
world flatwater title. Lyda hadn't been back five days from winning a silver medal
at Quebec in world whitewater competition when he had to try out in flatwater.
For him, flatwater is merely a means to an end, and he says he'll give it up after
the Moscow Olympics, regardless.
He's convinced that variety is the spice
of life, which is why he wants to maintain a hold on umpteen sports and "eight
to 10" girlfriends worldwide.
It wasn't always this way. In junior
high school and high school, Lyda tried out for every interscholastic team. He
didn't make one. Kayaking and canoeing were his outlet. He made his first national
team at 16 when he was a junior in high school. With his parents' approval, he
took off the second semester to train. "It wasn't legal or kosher,"
he said, "but I did it."
should go through life enjoying what you're doing rather than just supporting
yourself. It seems like people have gotten stagnant, but I've been there, too."
late father was a technical illustrator, and Lyda was building his own boats before
he was out of high school. Before 1974, he worked at various times as a boat builder,
landscaper, gas station attendant, truck driver, construction worker and coach
to support himself. To him, the world of 9 to 5 is anathema.
there's got to be a lot more than that," Lyda said. "You should go through
life enjoying what you're doing rather than just supporting yourself. It seems
like people have gotten stagnant, but I've been there, too."
Lyda moved into an apartment with his then-girlfriend. Her cooking was so good
he ballooned to 205 pounds. But cycling and a newfound desire to compete in some
way other than sitting in a boat quickly melted away 40 pounds. And while he admits
that the 72-mile Lake Tahoe run may be the closest he's come to testing his outer
limits, he's planning to run the 100-mile Western States endurance race next year.
a compulsive extremist," he said. "If I get on a bike, I might ride
100 miles. But if I'm lazy, I'm really lazy. I'd call myself a lazy person. I
don't consider that I've got any deep dark secrets that have to be knifed out.
I just do what I do." And he's done it without serious injury, extensive
weight training, transcendental meditation or Kickapoo joy juice. He's never quit
you invented a new game," Bragg said, "he would be the best at it. Chuck
is the Jeremiah Johnson type."
it's hard to say whether your body knows what your mind is doing. But it has to,"
Lyda said. "Athletics are 70% mental. 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."
a team, the American canoeists and kayakers can't say the same. The American men
traditionally finish behind East Germany, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Sweden
and Spain and would consider it a victory just to qualify for the Olympic finals.
The American women, who won a silver and bronze medal at Tokyo in 1964, figure
to do somewhat better. Still, they have only an outside shot for a medal in kayaking.
Women do not compete in canoeing.
1976, there were only 200 kayaker-canoeists in the United States. Now there are
600. But they work mostly on their own. Bill Bragg, coach of the Ventura Olympic
Canoe Club, which has won the national title four years in a row, said he is the
only qualified club coach west of the Mississippi River. Since most any calm body
of water will do for practice, the United States' problem is not facilities, but
coaching and manpower. And nobody sees that improving dramatically anytime soon.
Which doesn't affect Lyda too much. If he doesn't win at one sport, there's always
another. And another. "If you invented a new game," Bragg said, "he
would be the best at it. Chuck is the Jeremiah Johnson type."
the most versatile guy I've ever seen," marvels fellow kayaker David Jones
of Atlanta. "He's the last of a breed." Lyda is too busy to contemplate
his athletic past. You see, he's never been hang gliding. Or...
Lyda Addicted to Olympic Experience
Diego Union - May 8, 1987
Lyda was cut from every football, basketball and baseball team he tried to join
as a youth in Newport Beach. "I was a natural athlete, but not at those sports,"
Lyda said. "I really tried, but I was lousy at it."
took Chuck on paddling trips to keep him out of trouble," Tom Johnson said.
"He had potential to be good, and we recognized it right away."
turned to the Boy Scouts at age 13 and was welcomed with open arms. In pursuit
of merit badges, he met Tom Johnson, then a member of the U.S. Olympic Canoe and
Kayak Committee. "I took Chuck on paddling trips to keep him out of trouble,"
Johnson said. "He had potential to be good, and we recognized it right away."
exceeded Johnson's expectations. He earned a spot on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team
in flatwater canoeing and competed in the Montreal Games. He also won three gold
and three silver medals for kayaking in six World Championships between 1969 and
Lyda suffered his greatest disappointment when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Games
athletes would have supported it if it would have done any good," Lyda said.
"All it did was spoil the Olympics for years to come. The athletes were the
35, Lyda now is aiming for the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea. He took a big
step toward that goal yesterday by winning the 1,000-meter kayak event in the
Western Regional Qualifying Trials at Miramar Reservoir. The victory qualified
him for the U.S. Olympic Canoe and Kayak Trials June 9-12 at Eagle Creek Park
Montreal Games were the highlight of my life," Lyda said. "It was an
addictive experience." Lyda's addiction brought him to the U.S. Olympic
Training Center at Lake Tahoe after the '76 Games. He paddled
in the summer and trained for the biathlon in the winter, and was a biathlon-team
alternate for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
But Lyda suffered
his greatest disappointment when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow.
"Most athletes would have supported it if it would have done any good,"
Lyda said. "All it did was spoil the Olympics for years to come. The athletes
were the easiest victims."
not going to talk about a medal because that's unrealistic. I think the goals
should be realistic, because if they're not, you can dream your life away without
who continued to train after the boycott, joined the National Guard in early 1984,
serving on weekends and training on weekdays. "The basic training screwed
up the Olympic opportunity," said Lyda, who failed to make the '84 biathlon
team. "I was left with only six weeks to train for the kayak trials, and
I missed by a quarter of a second. There wasn't enough time. I blew it."
was so upset that he quit paddling and concentrated on the biathlon until 1986.
He then decided to give paddling another try, and set his sights on Seoul. But
his quest is not an easy one. "In the last few years, the other paddlers
have made quantum leaps," Lyda said. "Now, I not only have to get back
to my 1984 speed, but the challenge is to get faster while I've gotten older.
My goals are to make the kayak four-man team and finish in the top six. I'm not
going to talk about a medal because that's unrealistic. I think the goals should
be realistic, because if they're not, you can dream your life away without accomplishing
more on Chuck's legacy, see Master
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