Northwest River Supplies (NRS) is disrupting influencer marketing in the outdoor industry with a new kind of athlete-ambassador network called the Leaders in Environment, Access and Diversity (LEAD) Program. LEAD is aimed at supporting activists in the outdoors, promoting positive change and growth and making the world a better place.
“With the momentous and important changes we’ve seen in our industry and society, we felt it was time to flip the script on influencer marketing in the outdoors,” says Mark Deming, director of marketing, NRS. “Handing out gear and cash to have pro paddlers rep our products felt hollow and insincere. We thought, ‘What if we redirected those resources to support the work of athletes and activists who are doing important work in the outdoor community?’”
NRS says it has changed how it evaluates its athlete roster to prioritize contributions to conservation, participation, and diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors. The employee-owned Idaho-based company has added this new team of activists to the ranks of NRS ambassadors, including: Elyse Rylander; Andrea Knepper; Naomi Elyard; Russell Davies; Jessica Matsaw and Dr. Sammy Matsaw, Jr.; and Paul Robert Wolf Wilson.
Through the LEAD program, NRS is dedicated to promoting positive change in the outdoors, generating inspiring stories to share with the community and advancing worthy causes. “Our aim is to help our ambassadors make the world a better place, and for them to help make NRS a better company,” says Deming.
Here’s a look at the newly appointed LEAD Ambassadors
“Out There Adventure’s mission at its core is to shatter the notion that being Queer is “unnatural” by intentonally and strategically connecting Queer young people with community and connection to the natural world that demonstrates time and time again that Queerness is all around us, and in fact perhaps one of the most natural experiences in the world.” — Elyse Rylander is the Founder and Director Emeritus of OUT There Adventures (OTA). Through outdoor adventures and professionally facilitated experiential education activities, OTA is committed to cultivating leadership, building community and empowering queer young people through their connection with the natural world.
“My little sister and I came home from our first Ríos exchange and started putting together the Chiloquin Kayak Club. Following other exchanges, I’ve watched participants go back to their rivers, found kayak and rafting clubs, and get their communities more involved on their rivers as well. It excites me to know that the momentum we have cultivated so far will only continue to grow.” — Paul Robert Wolf Wilson is an enrolled member of the Klamath and Modoc Tribes, photojournalist, and the chief storyteller of Rios to Rivers. Ríos to Rivers is a group of committed river-runners with roots in river systems around the world, facilitating place-based educational experiences to empower the next generation of river stewards.
“Chicago Adventure Therapy works with marginalized youth across Chicago to build life skills and help them become healthy adults. More and more, we emphasize access and leadership. We find these two things, in the context of a supportive community, have unexpected clinical results. We focus on strengths, opportunity, community, and support.” — Andrea Knepper, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is the founder and executive director of Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT). Using outdoor adventure sports, CAT works with Chicago youth to have a lasting positive impact on their communities, helping them become healthy adults and leaders with a sense of possibility, empowerment and personal responsibility.
“Creating safe spaces where individuals can acquire knowledge as well as skill to mitigate those risks is key in increasing diversity among watersports and the outdoors. As members of the outdoor community we are called to create a safe open space for those who do not have the same skills or background as us.” — Naomi Elyard is the founder and director of Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club, a nonprofit with the goal to increase the number and diversity of youth paddlers in the Gorge. Naomi recognizes that whitewater kayaking can be an exclusive sport, and is working to break down barriers to make kayaking accessible and inviting to all local youth.
“I created PTSD back in 2017 after losing one of my best friends to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when he unfortunately took his own life. Outdoor action sports helped me tremendously after serving in the military and I knew it could help so many others. It’s amazing to see the transition that veterans make in the two weeks they are here and I’ve had many veterans inform me that this program undoubtedly saved their life.” — Russell Davies is a combat veteran and the founder of Professional Transformation Sports Development (PTSD). Russell believes the outdoor sporting community holds a unique fellowship, similar to that which is experienced while serving in the military and is working to encourage veterans to work towards discovering hope and possibility in post-military life.
“River Newe works to increase representation and create spaces of equity through learning experiences on homelands with Shoshone-Bannocks, Indigenous and minoritized communities on and off river. This place is all the things I want for my kids, and all the things I want for the young people of my Tribe.” — Dr. Sammy Matsaw, Jr. and Jessica Matsaw, Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Members. Jessica and Sammy are the co-founders of River Newe (pronounced new-uh, meaning “peoples” in Shoshone). River Newe offers free trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River to connect Indigenous youth with Mother Earth, their culture and themselves. Jessica, an enrolled Shoshone-Bannock member, has found her calling as an educator to tribal youth. Sammy, Shoshone-Bannock/Oglala Lakota, earned his Ph.D. in Water Resources in 2020 and is a U.S. Army combat veteran.
The NRS team along with the new LEAD Ambassador Program is committed to promoting positive change in the outdoors generating and creating a forum of talented and engaged people to help enrich the lives of others, lead the way for a new generation of ambassadors and help grow and develop NRS to be a better brand. For more information about the LEAD Ambassador Program visit: nrs.com/lead.