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Remembering Chuck Lyda
"People want to know how much you care
before they care how much you know."

James F. Hind

Memories from Teammate
John Hefti

I met Chuck Lyda in Kernville California in January 1973. At the time, I was 16 years old and Chuck was 20. Kernville was a national slalom training center in 1972 for athletes hoping to make the Olympic team that year. In 1973, Kernville attracted a smaller but no less dedicated group of slalom racers who were intent on preparing for the World Championships in Switzerland that summer. Not a month before, I had made a life-changing decision to leave home and school and head West to train with some of the best athletes in the sport... more

Memories from Teammate
Sue Norman

Chuck had a very important impact on my life, that I do not believe I ever really communicated to him. It occurred over a brief but very important time in my paddling career. The year was 1981, and I was competing for the US World Championship team in whitewater slalom. In the preceding two months leading up to the team trials, Chuck had become a friend, often offering me encouragement and support during training camps, workouts and races as he was training and competing for his events in whitewater and slalom. As a westerner and relative newcomer to the established east coast racing world, he was clearly supporting me... full text below

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Remembrance by Friend and Teammate, Sue Norman


Chuck had a very important impact on my life, that I do not believe I ever really communicated to him. It occurred over a brief but very important time in my paddling career. The year was 1981, and I was competing for the US World Championship team in whitewater slalom. In the preceding two months leading up to the team trials, Chuck had become a friend, often offering me encouragement and support during training camps, workouts and races as he was training and competing for his events in whitewater and slalom. As a westerner and relative newcomer to the established east coast racing world, he was clearly supporting me as the “underdog.”

That year the USCKT was trying out a new and particularly grueling team selection process. Four separate races, over two consecutive weekends, in two different states, the winner of each day, earned a berth on the team. It was an emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting experience. The first 3 races were predictably won by the established top women in the field, but there were about 8 of us “best of the rest” still left hoping to snag that 4th place spot.

After first run, I held the lead by a good but not great run. With several penalties and a few time mistakes, everyone knew that second runs would certainly decide the race. As we warmed up for our second runs it became clear an afternoon thunderstorm was brewing, raising the level of tension and anxiety for us all. The storm broke at the very end of my second run, and I had to bob and weave to get my head and boat through the last 5 wildly swinging gates on the course, as the storm unleashed a torrent of rain, thunder and lightning. I decided not to hang around to see my official score. Even with the wind on the last few gates, I knew my second run was much faster and had fewer penalty gates, and I assumed they would hold the rest of the competitors until the storm had passed. I had done all I could do, and I just wanted to get warm and dry. I paddled quickly down the river the ¾ of a mile from the race course to the cabin I was staying in. After changing into dry clothes I succumbed to a state of complete and utter exhaustion. I felt tremendous relief that regardless of the outcome, after nine days of not being able to properly sleep or eat, the horrendous team trial process was at least over.

I then heard an urgent knock at the door, and opened it to see Chuck dripping wet from head to toe in a cheap poncho and soggy tennis shoes. I was surprised to see him, and thought maybe he had tracked me down to tell me my second run was good enough to qualify for the team, but instead he told me that they were not able to stop the race when they should have, and the race organizers had decided, because of the impact of the storm on the paddlers behind me, to eliminate ALL the second run scores and have the entire women’s class redo their second runs. I felt like crying. I just could not face the thought of crawling back into my cold wet paddling gear and get my boat and myself back on the starting line, with those nauseating butterflies in my stomach… again.

I told Chuck I couldn’t do it, I was just too exhausted. It was then that Chuck's military leadership potential became clear. In a calm but decisive manner, he let me know I really had no choice. He was going to drag me up there if he had to, to make sure I did not blow this decisive moment in my life. I had never experienced anything like this in my life to this point. He was not my boyfriend, he had no personal gain from this, he just was able to recognize when a friend, and relatively inexperienced competitor, needed help to not make a decision they might regret for the rest of their life. He just couldn’t let me give up. He gathered up my soggy paddling gear from where I had strewn it, handed it to me and told me to suit up. As I came out the door he already had my boat on his shoulder and my paddle in his hand. His face broke into a wide grin, and he said “Lets go!” He jogged the entire ¾ of a mile to the race start with my boat and paddle. As I was struggling to keep up, and the blood and oxygen started flowing throw my body again, I realized how grateful I was that Chuck had helped me get back in the fight. I did not want to give up and leave my fate to chance, I wanted to make sure I gave it my best effort.

As it turned out, my first run score held up through all the re-runs, by a thin margin of a few seconds. But Chuck enabled me to qualify for the team with dignity. I would have qualified even if I had not taken the re-run, but I would not have fully “earned it” -- to know that I had put in as much effort as the rest of my peers.

It wasn’t until later that I fully understood how important that simple act of support was to me, not just in that moment, but as a way to present myself in the world. What I learned from Chuck that day was the importance of achieving your goals through your best effort, and that effort is often more important than the ultimate outcome. I also learned the value of being able to recognize when a friend needs help to face a challenge they find overwhelming, and what a difference it can make when that support is offered… and accepted.

Chuck was a not only an accomplished athlete, he was an athlete with class. It was something I always admired about him, and I will miss him.


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