(By Tracy Hines)
When one thinks of the ideal vision of a superhero, a caped crusader fighting for justice and rescuing damsels in distress comes to mind, one who has a secret identity that camouflages his or her real persona.
The following is an account of a real superhero, Nate Lord, who passed away in April but actually did rescue a damsel in distress — me — a frustrated young woman in her final semester of college who needed a job and was unsure of her career path. We met at a kayak race and he gave me a job at the small private Alexander Dawson school on the Front Range, which had a great slalom kayak program for kids.
Over the course of that season as Nate’s assistant coach my biggest challenge was to match his boundless energy and fervor. The head of the English department, Nate also had this way of finding people that could be bettered by the sport of whitewater canoeing.
The kids Nate recruited for the canoe and kayak team were the kids that might not enjoy a typical sport environment. The team was composed of the most eclectic group of youth. The school was a private school that seemed to cater to provide a learning environment to gifted and bright students. The coursework that many of the students would preform in middle school would typically not be taught until later in hi school. Many of the kids were bona fide geniuses, who do not always immerse themselves in physical pursuits. Canoeing a lifelong pursuit one can pursue until old age. Racing teaches a fundamental skill set that the person can use to enjoy the sport through out life.
Nate was a lifelong sportsman. He had won national marathon canoe racing titles and he had learned to race a variety of crafts with proficiency that involved a single blade in order to bring the skill to the children that were on the team. I never saw Nate get in a kayak for the entire time I worked for him. I am quite sure he would have paddled one with ease. Nate loved being in a canoe, particularly an open boat. His ease and skill paddling open canoe had been refined over a lifetime not only of enjoying his own journeys into the outdoors but by mentor, leading and teaching youth.
My time at the school inspired me not only to learn to paddle a canoe which I had to learn to do out of necessity. I had dislocated my shoulder paddling the year prior in the Fibark race and a canoe was all I was able to paddle until my strength regained. Nate even made sure I had proper physical therapy to make sure my shoulder stayed in tact and I was up to the task of doing my job at the school.
After, enough time had passed I began paddling c1 during the practices and I was able to go train/monitor the kids that were a part of the team that had offsite practices. The rules at the school were that every kid had to be involved in a sports program. The canoe and kayak team had a group of young people that were learning fundamentals and a group that had progressed to having a more elite level of racing skill. Some of the kids even made JR and senior national teams. The school quickly became the foundation of a strong regional racing program for youth.
For me, I learned to coach paddle sports and gained a venue for using my sport science degree. I created strength and conditioning programs for the kids on the team and facilitated workouts. I was up at 6 am running with kids that desired to be on the wild water team.
Nate also had a unique method of conducting important planning meetings. He did it at the archery range. Nate was an avid Archer, and he owned several compound bows. We’d go to the range to shoot, conversing on the way there and back regarding plans for upcoming events.
Nate used shooting to teach me to calm down and slow my role a bit. He taught me things like thinking about the future of the program long term not just meeting the short term objectives. He made sure the school’s leadership understood the value of having a canoe team and its impact on bettering the student population. It was simple, the canoe and kayak team had more kids that ended up attending prestigious colleges and being successful post college. The canoe team had the highest percentage of entrants into schools like MIT and Columbia than all of the other sports programs combined.
Nate utilized canoe racing as a tool to visually teach concepts often missed in the classroom — elements of physics, geometry and even cultural appreciation. Nate took the kids to Hawaii for a course in outrigger paddling. Nate would always refer to me at the end of the practice for auxiliary comments and there was simply nothing for me to add because Nate covered all the bases. He was that thorough.
Later, Nate tried to convince me to take over the canoe and kayak team program. At the time I wasn’t aware of the disease that he had that was beginning to lurk in his body. Every superman has kryptonite and Nate’s was cancer.
Not feeling I was the right person for the job, I went and learned to race at the elite level, making the US National Slalom team. I took the skills that I had learned from working with the kids in Nate’s program and cultivated them. I was the last person anyone would have ever expected to be selected for a National team, but I relocated to Charlotte to the USNWC and even finished a graduate degree in Leadership Science.
Nate continued to build an excellent racing program in Colorado, eventually hiring a coach who ended up coaching both the US National Women’s Canoe team in the 2015 World Championships and the Brazilian National Team in the 2016 Olympics. Nate had this amazing way of finding talent and cultivating it. Nate not only trained youth but he trained people to lead youth paddle sport programs.
The US National Team just did not support women in the C1 category enough to yield success at the international level. This was the final subject of the last conversation that I ever had with Nate, who ended up being appointed to the slalom competition board. He had noted the high turnover rate of the Women C1s at the National Team level. Nate was a great supporter of women’s equality and was mortified that conditions like this existed. He agreed to get the situation addressed and this gave me hope.
When I found out that Nate had passed on earlier this week it was a big surprise. I never expected that a man like Nate would ever succumb to the effects of any disease.
He never let on at all that he had any sort of condition the entire time I knew him. His mission in life was to leave the world a better place than he had found it. Nate used his gifts and his experiences as a sportsman to better the youth in his community. He gave someone like me a chance to see the possibility of exploring an uncultivated talent and where this could lead.
There were many accomplishments I would have never had if not for the fact I met Nate on that day in Colorado at the race. That was the thing about Nate that was truly his superpower: his desire to better humanity step by step focusing on the fundamentals. He made the best of a person rise to the surface.
I know I’m not the only person in the paddling community that owes Nate Lord a thank you for helping them refine the best of themselves so they could rise to the occasion and make their own societal contribution.
Nathan (Nate) Lord passed away peacefully in the presence of his cherished wife Brenda Lord and with loving thoughts of his son Bryant Lord in Longmont, Colorado, on April 12, 2021.Read full obituary here: