BENZIE COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) – An Eaton Rapids man who died during a canon race in Benzie County on Saturday is being remembered by friends and family across Michigan.
Our CBS affiliate in Cadillac reports Nick Walton was taking part in a canoe race between Point Betsie and Peterson Beach when he and others were struggling as strong winds and air temperatures in the low 50s hit racers.
Friends in mid-Michigan are remembering Walton for his competitiveness and strong will.
“Nick burned with a fire that was kind of unmatched with anybody you’ll ever meet and I’ll probably as equal. He attacked everything in life in the same way with everything he had. I mean with an intensity that was unbelievable to watch and witness,” said friend Sam Fortino.
Fortino said he’s known Walton since childhood.
The 49-year-old was born in Lansing and lived in Eaton Rapids, according to his brother Dave.
Fortino said spending some time in Grayling introduced Walton to canoe racing. He said around his twenties, Nick joined the sport by signing up for a marathon.
“He went and bought a boat and they were in the au sable training and he had no idea what he was doing and he turned out to be, any of the canoers you ask, he came out to be one of the top five,” said Fortino.
That passion took Walton to a race in Benzie County on Sunday. The winds were strong as racers battled cold air in the 50s. The Michigan Canoe Racing Association said in a Facebook post that racers along with Nick were being knocked out of their boats. They said race organizers saw them struggling and called first responders and the Coast Guard.
Coast Guard officials said Walton was pulled out of the water by a helicopter and transported to a hospital in Traverse City where he was pronounced dead.
Fellow canoers, family and Fortino remember his passion for the sport.
“He loved canoeing more than anything besides his daughter and you know that was about it. And he was good at it, really good at it,” said Fortino.
He said one lesson Nick leaves behind, is getting the job done right – the first time.
“The biggest lesson is don’t do something unless you’re going to do it right. And that’s what Nick did.”
Outside of the water, both men worked for Michigan State University as part of infrastructure planning and facilities. Fortino said Nick worked as a maintenance mechanic and recently moved up to inspection details.
Members of the Michigan Canoe Racing Association said Nick will be missed.