NRS, like just about every other major action sports brand, recruits elite athletes to rep our products. We’ve always selected NRS ambassadors as much for their character off the water as for their accomplishments on it (or their talent for GoPro edits). Still, events in 2020 made us ask how we, and our industry, could do better.
Beginning in 2021, NRS will shift the focus of our athlete ambassador program to prioritize community engagement and activism. We’re also introducing a new group of influential changemakers in the paddling community—the NRS LEAD Ambassadors. LEAD stands for Leaders in Environment, Access and Diversity. Through the LEAD program, we’ll redirect a portion of NRS resources to support the work of community builders and activists in outdoor participation and conservation. Our aim is to help our ambassadors make the world a better place, and for them to help make NRS a better company.
We’re proud to welcome our inaugural class of LEAD ambassadors and look forward to sharing their work with you in the months and years to come.
2021 NRS LEAD Ambassadors
Sammy & Jessica Matsaw
Dr. Sammy, Jr. and Jessica Matsaw 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, 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.
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-runnerswith roots in river systems around the world, facilitating place-based educational experiences to empower the next generation of river stewards.
Elyse Rylander is the founder and executive director 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.
Andrea Knepper, LCSW, 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.
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.
Russell Davies is 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. He is working to encourage veterans to work towards discovering hope and possibility in post-military life.