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At home on the water

Former Division III lacrosse athlete Lecky Haller went on to become one of the nation’s top competitive canoers

Jacob “Lecky” Haller: Washington College (Maryland), Class of 1981

Lecky Haller wielded a busy stick as an all-American lacrosse student-athlete at Washington (Maryland).

He said in an interview that he was “consumed by lacrosse,” playing for a season at Johns Hopkins, then transferring to play three seasons with the Shoremen. Haller won the college’s top athletics award, the Athletic Council Award, as a senior and also won recognition as the lacrosse team’s most valuable player while helping lead his team to two NCAA lacrosse championship appearances.

He threw himself into the game with legendary passion, dedicating himself to intense training.

“I remember one day in the fall I asked Bryan (Matthews, then the Shoremen coach) what more I could do to prepare for the spring,” he told Washington publicist Phil Ticknor  in a 2010 feature story on the college’s athletics website. “He said, ‘How ‘bout, take a break? I don’t want you to get burned out by spring.’ Fat chance of that – for me, if you loved lacrosse, you wanted to do it all the time.”

Indeed, Haller has pursued passions full-time his entire life.

He ultimately won worldwide fame for another pursuit that had its roots in his learning how to handle a canoe at age 7. After graduation, he traded the crosse for a paddle, and over the next two decades, he became a 15-time national champion in competitive canoeing, nine-time World Championship medalist, and two-time Olympian.

Today, he coaches year-round at The Asheville School in North Carolina – assisting with cross country in the fall, wrestling in winter and boys’ lacrosse in the spring. He also still puts a paddle in the water as an instructor at the same summer camp where he first learned canoeing.

He credits Washington with putting him on the path to international success.

“I do believe that having competed at the highest level in one sport enabled me to climb the ladder in another a lot easier,” he said in the 2010 interview with Ticknor.

Haller first teamed with his brother Fritz, a world-champion singles canoeist, to win a world doubles championship in 1983. After Fritz retired in 1985, Lecky teamed with and ultimately qualified for the 1992 Olympic Games with James McEwan, placing fourth in Barcelona. He then returned to Olympic competition with another partner in 2000, finishing 15th at age 43.

During the past five years, he taught social studies and language arts, as well as outdoor education, for a couple of years at French Broad River Academy in Asheville, and has coached at Warren Wilson College in addition to his work at The Asheville School.

And if he hadn’t already proven his zeal for competition, he made a convincing case for himself last year, after suffering a broken neck in 2012 when he was hit by a truck while training on his bicycle for yet another passion – triathlon.

After recovering, he competed last July in the Asheville Triathlon, finishing 10th overall among 140 participants and ahead of all entrants in the 20-24, 25-29 and 45-49 age groups – in addition to leading the 55-59 group.

He retains his love for team competition, serving last year as captain of Team LAW (Lecky Against the World) and manning the canoe alongside cycling and running teammates in a team triathlon competition. The threesome combined to post the fastest time at the French Broad Challenge Triathlon.

“I loved being on a team,” Haller told the Asheville Citizen-Times after the race. “I picked guys who were fun guys but also fast guys. Our strategy was just to go fast and leave it all out there. But it’s all about having fun.”

Fun, fueled by passion.

Nominated by Phil Ticknor, assistant to the athletics director for communications and academic support at Washington College (Maryland).