Starting Over

Nathan woods Insists to Keep Standing

Woods Overcomes a Life Changing Injury and Finds a New Passion in Paddle Boarding

Photo by Evan Gilges
Photo by Evan Gilges

Standing tall and proud upon his board, 6″ of wood and fiber glass separates Nathan Woods from the Willamette River, where he paddle boards about once a week.  “Keep standing,” is the slogan for his paddle boarding career, but the phrase means much more to Woods than just the sport. He is a professionally sponsored paddle boarder who also happens to be legally disabled.

Woods grew up in Coos Bay, Oregon, a town famous for its high school football. Woods played quarterback for Marshfield High School, a team that led as one of the best in state every year. However, in the second game of his senior year, he took a life-changing blow to his knee. He was hit in such a way that the force hyperextended his knee, ruptured an artery, and severed nerves. His muscle swelled to the point of mass pressure releasing, a trauma known as compartment syndrome that requires immediate surgery.

He spent the next month of his senior year in the hospital. Only a few weeks previously he was aiming for the state championships in football, basketball and track and field, but he now had a long road to recovery ahead of him and was striving for the ability to walk. In a matter of seconds, Woods’s life had been changed forever. The possibility of amputation loomed over him during his time in the hospital, but rather than worry about his athletic dreams being ruined, he found peace in the situation. Woods decided not to let this injury define him, no matter the outcome. While he recovered in Coos Bay, his friends, family, and community members continued to visit and act as a support system. However, he visited Portland frequently for more procedures, and spent much of that time alone; he would think about the pressure of his work to recovery. He decided to face his injury like a challenge and push himself to see how far he could go with his new limitations.

Woods had been in contact with University of Oregon coaches while he was in high school, with frequent recruitment visits and his brother playing for the football team. It didn’t take long for coaches to contact him after the accident. While still in the hospital, Coach Mike Bellotti called Woods asked him to work with the football team and do rehabilitation with the UO trainers in the football facility. Woods hadn’t decided to attend University of Oregon at that point, but he took up the offer and joined the team. He spent much of his first two years focusing on rehabilitation, as well as spending time with the football team and assisting the equipment managers. He incorporated rehabilitation into everything he did; walking to class across campus acted as rehabilitation because walking was still difficult and strenuous. When he reached the point in his recovery where he could run around the field and toss a football around, he took on the responsibilities of a student manager as well as a scholarship.

Photo by Evan Gilges
Nathan Woods seen here paddle boarding the Willamette river

Paddle boarding was introduced to Woods in the summer of 2010, after his graduation from college, when he was vacationing with his family in Sun River. He was given the opportunity to do a free paddle-boarding demo, and Woods said the idea of standing on the water was very attractive to the eye. He fell a lot in the beginning, but began to enjoy the sport. His leg injury did not limit him at all; once he was able to balance and get standing, his ankle did not cause any issue or restriction. Woods did not realize how much the sport would benefit him physically. He said he felt muscles firing that he hadn’t felt in over eight years. “For so long I searched for an activity that I could take ownership of and really fall in love with it; it was the first time since my injury that I was able to do that,” Woods said.

“I hope my story impacts what standup paddle boarding is and I hope there’s a reason for what I have done and the injury I’ve gone through…I want to use this sport as a way to serve others and give them the ‘keep standing philosophy’,” Woods said.

He started to borrow boards and do other demos and realized that this would be something that he would pursue for a long time. In 2012, his wife, Cecilia, bought him his own board and this jump-started his passion for the sport.

The ending of a long day of paddleboarding for Woods
The end of a long day of paddle boarding for Woods

Woods said that this is a tough sport to get into because it is fairly new; when people see him paddle boarding on Willamette River, they often ask what he is doing because they have never seen paddle boarding before. Owner of Oregon Paddle Sports, Ken Rodgers, said, “We have wonderful environment and plenty of places to paddle board. There’s no shortage of places to take part I that. It sure is growing and it sure is popular, and it’s a great way to get out there and enjoy the environment that we live in.”

On Labor Day weekend 2013, Woods challenged himself further by doing a 165-mile paddle from Riverwood Park in Eugene up Willamette River to Portland. This took course over three days, and was not a race, but rather a challenge for himself. “This was my way to show that after 10 years of dealing with my injury that I am going to keep standing and not let this injury define me,” Woods said.

Professionally, Woods majored in business and pursues a career in event management with TrackTown USA. He was involved in organizing and hosting the 2012 Olympic Trials at Hayward Field and is currently planning the World Junior Championships, which will host 2,000 athletes from around the world on the UO campus.

“‘Keep standing’ is so fitting for him because he’s been knocked down a lot,” said Jeremy McLaughlin, Woods’s best friend. “His injury was a huge blow to his life, but he keeps standing.”


Eugene Paddle boarding

As a college student or prospective college student in the state of Oregon, finding time to paddle board could be tough. With the help of these programs renting and scheduling can all be done for you and you can be on the water as of tomorrow. For strictly paddle boarding needs please visit Oregon Paddle Sports. There you can rent or buy a board or contact for deeper interest. For larger needs in the outdoor sports realm in the Eugene area please visit or contact UO Outdoor Program.



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