The Athlete of the Month is our way of acknowledging a BC-located athlete who has displayed outstanding performances in their sport and deserves recognition. Athletes chosen monthly to be the face of Canadian Sport Institute Pacific will receive a celebration feature on our website and a gift from 2XU.
Each athlete selected as Athlete of the Month receives a small token of congratulation sponsored by 2XU. CSI Pacific would like to thank 2XU for their generosity and support of the program.
Nate has also been featured on the July 2019 PodiumCast podcast! Find out even more about what makes Nate tick and the background that got him to World Record status!
Nate Gray Wolf Riech
Feb 5 1995
Place of Birth:
Mike Van Tighem and Heather Henningar (Active CSI Pacific coaches)
Hi everyone, my name is Nathan Riech. To fully understand my story, I will start at the beginning: I grew up in an athletic family. Both of my biological parents were world-class athletics athletes, and I grew up right in the middle of all that. I played every sport I could growing up until a sunny day in July (2005) when I was struck by a golf ball which would change the trajectory of my life drastically. The impact of the golf ball caused internal bleeding and a skull fracture in the motor strip section of my brain. The result injury was paralysis on the right side of my body. I slowly regained movement in my leg, and experienced even slower recovery with the upper body of my right side. I spent about a month in the hospital recovering and starting extensive rehabilitation. This event was life defining, but in a positive way which may seem weird to many. I recall this event as the best thing that has ever happen to me. In my opinion, the struggle which I faced in 2005, which still impacts my life today, has taught me so many lessons and has brought so many incredible individuals into my life.
Post injury, I tried to play ball sports, but I struggled and I decided to give this running thing a try. One race led to another and I started to have athletic success for the first time after my accident. These successes eventually led to me finishing runner-up at the high school cross country state meet in 2012, and I received a partial scholarship to run at Furman University (in Greenville, SC). I ran at Furman for two years, then I transferred to University Of South Alabama (in Mobile, AL) for my remaining college athletics eligibility. Honestly, throughout the rest of my college running career, I feel like there is only one highlight worth mentioning; I finished all conferences in the indoor mile my senior year. After reflecting on my college career, I knew I wanted more from the sport, and I had remembered my mother mentioning the Paralympics growing up. After some research and some phone calls, I jumped feet first into Para Athletics and I ended up getting classified as a T-38 (category is motor impairment for athlete TBI’s and Cerebral Palsy). A month after I was classified, I flew to Berlin, Germany to run in the Berlin Grand Prix where I broke the WR’s in both the 1500m and 800m for my classification. For the first time post injury, I felt as if I was “Elite” in something, which is a feeling I had been chasing since my injury. Now that I am going full force ahead within the Paralympic Movement, I have set two big goals for myself; win Paralympic Gold for Team Canada and to help further the Paralympic Movement within Canada and around the world. Both of these goals are daunting to me, but I am looking forward to racing after them head on.
- 2018: Broke both 800/1500 T-38 World Record in Berlin, Germany; Athletics Canada Ambulatory athlete of the year
- 2019: Broke the 1500m (3:57.8) World Record
The Reason Behind Being Nominated for the Athlete of the Month:
Breaking the 1500m World and Canadian Record at the Portland Twilight meet
“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.”
– Muhammad Ali
What does it mean to you to set a World & Canadian record?
Honestly, World Records aren’t a huge thing for me. I have tremendous pride being Canadian, so the Canadian record means more to me. I think the records are a reflection of how hard I train and the standard that I hold myself to. Records were never something I set as a goal. My two goals that I set for myself when I began competing in Para-Sport was to become Paralympic Champion and to further the Paralympic Movement in Canada (and around the world) because sport has had such an impact on my life and I want to make sure kids, no matter their circumstances, have the same opportunities.
What has been the biggest struggle of your athletic career?
I would have to say finding the coaches that are right for me, especially in college. The coaches I had in college like to run excess mileage which affected my CNS quite a bit and my movement quality became very poor. This eventually led to poor performance. I feel as though I underachieved quite a bit in college. I completely lost the love for running in college and I knew after that experience I needed a change.
After college, I knew that I could pick my coach, and I asked Mike Van Tighem to coach me. I have always wanted to be coached by him, ever since I was 12 years old. He’s coached many Olympians (Malindi Elmore, Jessica O’Connell, and Maria Bernard) and was someone I knew I could have complete trust in. Then this year I ended up joining Vic City Elite and now I’m co-coached by Heather Henninger, who is here every day to watch my training. It is quite nice to have two coaches that you can completely trust, and they both play slightly different roles that helps me perform at a high level.
How do you strive to inspire other athletes hoping to enter the para-sport world?
I hope my success in the sport will motivate and inspire athletes to be their best no matter what their situations might be. I want athletes to see that just because some hardship has happened in your life, that doesn’t mean you cannot fight back to achieve your goals and be apart of high performance sport. Also, I want to make myself as accessible as possible so I can share my experience with other kids.
How has your family’s athletic background motivated you to get back into sport after your injury?
I don’t know if motivation is the correct word. There was just nothing else that I knew besides working your butt off to reach your goals. Laying down and giving up was never an option for me and anyone who knows my mom understands that. I think my mentality and how I look at sport is directly correlated to my athletic DNA though. I’d say being a big brother (to four siblings) is the biggest influence on my motivation. I never want them too give up on their dreams, and I want to show them that I’m going after mine. I have no plan B, I’m all in on becoming a Paralympic Champion.
Which family member, friend, mentor, etc. supported you the most throughout your athletic journey, and how?
I can’t pick one so I’m going to pick three: My mother: Ardin Tucker; My Step-Dad: Ben tucker, and My Uncle: Trevor Harrison
My Mom drove me to every physio appointment when I was recovering from my injury and is the strongest person I know in my life. She always told me “it may take you longer, but you can do ANYTHING anyone else can do.” That gave me the confidence to go out and be a fierce competitor. My mom also coached me for most of my high school career and always had a little say in my training even when she wasn’t coaching me. She is such a great motivator and knows how to get the best out of me.
My Step Dad is my best friend! I would be no where close to the athlete that I am today without him. Early in my career, I had a problem with not performing well when it mattered and he really helped give me the confidence to get past that. He also wrote my performance program my junior/senior of high school (which were my best two years in high school) and got up with me at 5:30am three days a week to train. Honestly, he was always there when I needed him most and I knew I could count on him.
My Uncle is the one who has kept me healthy and on the track for as long as I can remember. His company, Athlete Health First, sends someone out to most of my meets to make sure I’m moving correctly before I race. Being an athlete that has movement problems/permanent imbalances (on my right side) due to my injury, it is important that my body is moving correctly. The records that I set last and this year would not happen without him and his team. His company is one of the most impactful components of my training and performance.
What does being a Canadian Sport Institute Pacific athlete mean to you?
I am very new to being a CSIP athlete, but so far, I’ve been so grateful for all the perks that we get on the island. Our group is very lucky to have all the facilities we need in one location, as well as all the partnerships we have with local companies which help make things more affordable. I think we have the perfect set up here in Victoria, and I wouldn’t want to train anywhere else.
What is a piece of advice for other on the road of being a high performance athlete?
I would say it is so important to enjoy and have a passion for the sport in which you compete in. My parents never pushed me into a sport or forced me to do extra training. They allowed me to create this passion and love for a sport by myself, and they only pushed me when I asked to be pushed. Lastly, enjoy the process and don’t take yourself to seriously.