Community mourns death of expert kayaker, local attorney Adam Mayo

Local attorney and expert kayaker Adam Mayo died Friday, Dec. 17, while paddling the Upper Rio Jalacingo in Mexico. He was well known for his paddling skills, work in the courtroom and passion for preserving local waterways.
Sallie Holmes/Courtesy photo

The local paddling and legal communities are mourning the death of kayaker Adam Mayo, who died Friday, Dec. 17, while paddling Mexico’s class V Upper Rio Jalacingo near Veracruz, Mexico. He was 43 years old.

Fellow kayaker Nathan Werner, of Fort Collins, was also severely injured in the accident, suffering multiple spine fractures and a clavicle fracture.

According to reports, the incident occurred when the two expert kayakers accidentally ran a mandatory portage on the classic, basalt-lined Mexican river in the Veracruz region and were ushered over an unrunnable waterfall.

“It was just a terrible accident,” said kayaker Emmett de Maynadier, who helped affect the rescue, when reached in Mexico.

Steamboat Springs attorney Adam Mayo surfs a wave while kayaking. Mayo was an expert kayaker and advocate for the Yampa River.
Matt Helm/ courtesy photo

Mayo was a high-level kayaker who was experienced with the run, having run the river multiple times over the past few years, including once just a week prior to the accident.

“He was a great paddler and friend who did a lot for the community,” said Mayo’s longtime friend and fellow kayaker Marty Smith, who runs Mountain Sports Kayak School in Steamboat Springs and had boated the river in Mexico with Mayo before.

“He’s going to be sorely missed,” Smith said.

Mayo was an attorney in both Steamboat and Hood River, Oregon, two areas he loved. He also was a well-known and loved local who enjoyed snowmobiling, camping and other mountain pursuits in his hometown of Steamboat.

Additionally, Mayo was a longtime board member for Friends of the Yampa, helping protect a river system that he cherished.

“Adam not only played on the rivers and creeks of Colorado, but he was also dedicated to protecting them,” said Kent Vertrees, former board president. “His legal guidance helped the Friends of the Yampa become a legit 501(c)3 in 2011, and almost every year since then, Adam was an integral part of the Yampa River Festival, organizing the Fish Creek and slalom races. His enthusiasm in protecting the Yampa led him to participate in several strategic planning efforts and help with the Yampa River Awareness Project.”

Steamboat Springs attorney Adam Mayo was an expert-level kayaker in addition to being an advocate for local rivers and a strong presence in the courtroom.
Matt Helm/ courtesy photo

Mayo held equal status in local legal circles, too.

“He was a real zealous advocate for his clients. He hated losing and loved winning,” said Kris Hammond, who has practiced law in Steamboat for more than 35 years and hired Mayo when he first moved to town nearly two decades ago.

Hammond, who worked with Mayo when Hammond ran his own firm, Hammond Law Offices, added that Mayo practiced the kind of law that’s almost analogous to his passion for expert-level kayaking.

“He was a courtroom lawyer, doing all kinds of criminal law,” Hammond said. “You’re there with no safety net, and you don’t get a do-over. It’s high risk and everything’s riding on the line — you either win or lose.”

Friends and family have been quick to show their outpouring of support for both Mayo and Werner.

“Adam was the best kind of friend; he always had his friends’ backs, no matter how much trouble they got into, was kind, humble, wise, kept you accountable and was always up for or planning the next adventure,” longtime paddling friend Chris Fleming said. “He was pursuing the sport he loved in one of the most amazing places on Earth. He showed a lot of us how to live a great life, be better people, and I am going to miss him immensely.”

Longtime kayaking friend Dan Piano added, “We shared a lot of great adventures, laughs and times together — some of my best memories in life. The crazy thing is how much he packed into his life. He honestly lived it like he knew he wasn’t going to be here forever, squeezing everything out of every day.”

Mayo, originally from Chapmansboro, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee and the Denver School of Law, was preceded in death by his sister Emily Claire Mayo. He is survived by the love of his life Sallie Holmes, mother Connie Fort Mayo, father Barry Wayne (Dawn) Mayo, brother Matthew Fort (Ann) Mayo, nephew Rowan Manning, sister Lauren (Don) Bischoff and niece Charlotte Bischoff.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help defray Werner’s recovery at Services for Mayo are pending. For more information, go to!/Obituary.

Steamboat Springs attorney and expert kayaker Adam Mayo also enjoyed snowmobiling, camping and other mountain pursuits in the Yampa Valley.
Matt Helm/ courtesy photo

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