AFTER THE WHISTLE

A Rich legacy

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— A statue will be unveiled today in Steamboat Springs.

To some the work of art will stand as just that, a nice piece of art to be looked at and admired.

And why not?

The bronze captures a whitewater kayaker at the peak of action at one with himself and the river. It's perfect for a park that stands along the banks of the Yampa River.

But to many others in this small mountain community the statue will have a much deeper meaning. They knew the young man who is memorialized by the form and the things that he accomplished during his life which was far too short.

The kayaker, Rich Weiss, rose to the top levels of the sport as a member of the U.S. Canoe and Kayak team. He attended the Olympic Games in Spain in 1992 and returned to Atlanta in 1996.

Unfortunately, his life was cut short in a tragic whitewater kayaking accident in June of 1997 on the White Salmon River in the state of Washington.

Local kayaking guru Peter Van De Carr knew Weiss well and when describing him uses words that describe many of Steamboat's greatest athletes.

Modest, dedicated and kind are common words Weiss' friends use when describing him.

Weiss was the type of guy who would chip the ice off of a frozen river to practice and would get up with the sun, stand along the river's shore and visualize exactly what he was going to do that day before a competition.

He was the type of guy who could whip his competition on a slalom course and then complement them on their race afterwards.

Van De Carr said Weiss didn't compete to win money or glory. He competed because he truly loved the sport.

It's a life artist Tyler Richardella captured in his statue. It shows an athlete embroiled in a competition with himself and the river.

For those who knew Weiss it is very fitting. The memorial isn't about beating the other guy or capturing a fleeting moment of glory. This statue, like Weiss, makes a statement about a sport that has long been embraced in Steamboat by athletes who are not out to get rich or famous; but athletes who reach for their own personal goals most of the time outside the spotlight that greets most other national-level sports.

"For Richie kayaking was about having fun," friend Peter Van De Carr said. "He wasn't in it to get rich. He just wanted to be the best he could be in his career and in his life."

I never got the opportunity to meet with Rich Weiss face-to-face. That will be an unfortunate footnote in my career.

By the time I got to Steamboat, the local paddling legend had moved on to whiter waters in other places more suited for his Olympic dreams.

However, I did talk to him on the phone from time-to time for stories and I would agree with his friends and their descriptions.

"He never met anybody he didn't like," longtime friend Tom Steitz said.

He said Weiss wasn't the kind of guy to tell you everything he had accomplished without a little digging and many times his accomplishments outside the arena of sports were just as important as his triumphs on the slalom course.

During telephone interviews Weiss would always take time to talk about his wife and family, his new business or his accomplishments in the classroom. He was polite and courteous, but also very private and unassuming.

The stories I wrote about him were normally sparked by calls from friends or his wife. I asked him several times to call me after events, but he preferred not to call the paper to report his own top results. He would only talk about what he had accomplished when asked.

"I think he only called me once to tell me about one of his finishes," Steitz said. "That's when he finished second (the first American to ever medal at a World Championships) in Italy. But even then it wasn't a big deal."

This athlete's legacy will not be about boastful words, but more about his accomplishments on the water and in his life.

Like so many Steamboat Springs athletes who have gone before him, Weiss enjoyed a true love of the sport. His satisfaction was not gained from headlines or paychecks like many of the professional athletes we see today.

He gained satisfaction from the knowledge he had competed, and was among the world's best at what he did. Now, nearly four years after his death, his friends in Steamboat will finally honor him in the most fitting way. The statue will be placed overlooking the Yampa River where Weiss learned so many of his talents and in a place he must surely have loved.

Personally I can't think of a more fitting statue, or example, to be placed on the shores of the Yampa River.

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