LEAD Ambassadors, Leading the Way

In 2021, NRS shifted the focus of our athlete ambassador program to prioritize community engagement and activism. We introduced the NRS LEAD Program—Leaders in Environment, Access and Diversity—and welcomed the inaugural group of influential changemakers into our community.

Over the past two years, we’ve redirected a portion of NRS resources to welcome new participants to paddlesports, recruit volunteers, bombard lawmakers, award grants and scholarships, protect our wild places and so much more.

Through those ambassadors, we’re helping make the world a better place, and our ambassadors are helping to make NRS a better company.

In 2023, we’re continuing to grow the relationships with most of the original LEAD Ambassadors, while expanding the program and welcoming a few more changemakers.

NRS LEAD Ambassadors

Image of Zorbari Nwidor

Zorbari Nwidor

A former Chicago Adventure Therapy youth participant, Zorbari brings a decade of coaching experience and British Canoeing certifications in stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking to her work with CAT and the West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association Symposium. Zorbari is dedicated to creating a world where every young person, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, can experience the transformative power of the outdoors and adventure sports.

Logo of the Ríos to Rivers organization

Ríos to Rivers

Ríos to Rivers facilitates place-based educational experiences to empower the next generation of river stewards in Indigenous river-based communities in North, South and Central America. As a program within a program, ‘Paddle Tribal Waters’ is focused on training Indigenous youth to kayak, so they can become the first people to paddle the Klamath River from source to sea. The dam removal on the Klamath will be the largest in U.S. history, restoring free flow for the first time in more than a century.

Image of Jaimie Richards

Jaimie Richards

Jaimie Richards is the Director of Programming and Operations at Project Canoe. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Project Canoe uses the outdoors, including local canoe outings and wilderness trips, to create a transformative environment where youth develop life skills, social competencies and resiliency.

Image of Naomi Elyard

Naomi Elyard

Naomi Elyard is the founder and director of Columbia Gorge Junior Kayak Club, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the number and diversity of youth paddlers in the Gorge. Through weekly paddles, flatwater fundamentals, pool sessions, and community events, the CGJKC is breaking down barriers, building community, fostering personal development and connecting youth to the outdoors.

Image of Andrea Knepper

Andrea Knepper

Chicago Adventure Therapy founder and executive director Andrea Knepper has long valued the transformative power of water and time spent outside. CAT uses outdoor sports to build life skills and access outdoor space for Chicago’s marginalized youth and young adults, especially black and brown communities and queer folk.

Image of Jessica Matsaw

Jessica Matsaw

Honor. Protect. Restore. Heal. These are the four values River Newe educator, co-founder and Shoshone Bannock citizen Jessica Matsaw instills in Indigenous youth by connecting them to the traditional wild spaces of the Shoshone Bannock people, using Shoshone Bannock Traditional Knowledge and Teachings to create an educational space that celebrates Indigenous ingenuity, customs and traditions.

Image of Sammy Matsaw

Sammy Matsaw

Sammy is a pipe carrier and Sundancer with both the Shoshone Bannock and Oglala Lakota Tribes. A US Army combat veteran, Sammy brings ten+ years of experience with the Shoshone Bannock Tribes’ Fish and Wildlife Department and a Ph.D. in Water Resources to River Newe, using the traditional wild spaces of the Shoshone Bannock to educate and empower Indigenous youth to be peaceful defenders of land, water and culture.

Image of Ann Gillard

Ann Gillard

Ann Gillard is a volunteer and board member for The Venture Out Project and founder of Pride on the River. The Venture Out Project envisions a world where queer, trans, and LGBTQ+ youth and adults create community, develop leadership skills, and gain confidence through the shared experience of outdoor adventure and physical activity.

Image of Ian Smith

Ian Smith

Ian Smith is the founder and executive director of The Watersmith Guild. Through his work as a guide and director, Ian shares his passion for stand-up paddleboarding, filmmaking, and conservation to inspire positive change. He designs and implements programs like First Waves to empower underserved communities with the knowledge, access, and opportunities to improve and enjoy local waterways.

Image of Russell Davies

Russell Davies

Returning to civilian life after five years in the US military left Russell feeling adrift until he rediscovered a childhood passion for whitewater kayaking. After one of his closest friends lost their battle with PTSD, taking his own life, Russell created PTSD Veteran Athletes to help other veterans experience the healing power of the outdoors and the positive passion and lifestyle of outdoor sports.