It took a sledgehammer for Steamboat Springs kayaker Rich Weiss to make it to the Summer Olympics.
The memory drew a chuckle from Tom Steitz as the longtime Winter Olympic coach recalled the determined kid who willed his way from the snowy wonderland of Steamboat Springs to two Summer Olympic appearances.
Steitz was paddling in Steamboat one afternoon when Weiss showed up on the river’s shore, looking for a coach to help him achieve his goals.
“We paddled year round,” Steitz said. “That actually meant we’d go out there with a sledgehammer in the winter to keep a little piece of water open on the river.”
They’d slip into the Old Town Hot Springs after hours on other winter days and work in the pool there — back and forth, back and forth, doing anything possible to ensure nothing as trivial as 400 inches of snow and -20 degree temperatures would freeze out Weiss’s grandiose Olympic dreams.
The flat pool water bore little resemblance to the rushing courses Weiss encountered at the 1992 and 1996 summer games. It looked even less like the treacherous Pacific Northwest river that took his life in 1997.
“If you ever asked, ‘What are we doing here?’” Steitz recalled, “he’d just smile and point to his bicep. That was his way of saying we were getting in shape for whitewater.”
Smiling and pointing to his bicep — sign language of the athletic set — was often as talkative as Weiss got. He was quiet, but focused, out of place but determined to join the ranks of Steamboat Olympians, doing so far differently than any of the skiers or snowboarders the town has produced.
Now, nearly two decades after his death, Weiss’s imprint on the town endures, as does his status as one of the few Steamboat summer Olympians….
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