In Memory of Ryan (“Rynam”) Seumptewa

By Madeline Friend

Rynam rowing on a private trip in Grand Canyon in fall 2020. Photo by Ansley Roberts.

Ryan (“Rynam”) Seumptewa, the funniest guy I ever did know, died on December 1, 2020 in Flagstaff, AZ. What a year.


Yet Rynam embraced it in his singular way: full moon bike rides, pride in his FedEx work and excitement to return to river guiding, respite and healing in the grandest of canyons. He did it all with a laugh, a social-distance high-five, and his classic non-sequitur text messages.


My first memory of Rynam was on a Grand Canyon Youth (GCY) Partners in Science trip in Grand Canyon. I hiked in with a slew of youth for the lower half. He and I developed a quirky bond, jamming out to real and imaginary metal music, chugging coffee all day long, and being the kind of cool nonsensical fools that GCY trips give you a space to be.


Like many river folks, we spent a lot of time laughing. 


As friend and fellow guide Bec Kates said, “You could be in a crowded room and just hear it and know who it’s coming from.” He’d bring you into these moments, holding it acutely and inclusively. 


Rynam and I solidified our friendship on a training trip on the Verde River, bumper-boating sit-on-top kayaks through a slalom course of our own making. I just remember laughing the entire time, without either of us saying a complete sentence. We were buds. 


He could have fun doing anything – to him, anything was fun. Another friend and fellow guide, Justin Gallen, shared how he taught Rynam to drink a seltzer water (fondly called “fuzzy waters” in GCY cadence) through a sand stake.


“You would just luge the seltzer water down the sand stake and into your mouth,” Gallen said.


Good-natured hijinks and cheer-you-up dance parties were his calling card. Once, Gallen shared, after a “particularly long, hard, and exhausting commercial trip,” they came down the straightaway to Diamond Creek, ready for the slodge of take-out. Rynam, Bec, and a GCY crew were there for a Diamond Down trip, having a dance party on the snout. Instant joy.


He was a teddy bear of a pendulum for us guides. Each one of us felt precious to him: we were. He loved himself and we loved him. He was proud of himself. 


Rynam had fun wherever he went, loving humans and animals. Photo by Ryan Seumptewa

“I always feel very in the moment with Rynam, because that’s how he lives his life,” Kates said. “I have looked up to him for the past four years.” 


May we live each day in the deep-rooted joy of choosing each day to step forward and heal with humor and clarity.


Rynam is survived by his family, his friends, his youth mentees, his fellow NAMDORs, his crew, his coworkers, his partner, but also by the glint of red rock, the introspective joy, the thrash-the-quads bike ride, the slamming big waves, the celebratory Sour Patch Kids, the burritos as big as your face, the absurd jokes you text to your friends, and through all the hope and love of building a better life.


What a guy.


A scholarship fund in Rynam’s name has been established at Grand Canyon Youth. This fund will connect Indigenous youth with GCY’s river programs and has raised over $5,000 so far, thanks to the generosity of all those who loved Rynam. 


You can donate at where you can choose the option to make a donation in memory of Ryan Seumptewa, or by check to Grand Canyon Youth, 2131 N First St, Flagstaff, AZ, 86001. Please be sure to include Rynam’s name in the memo line. Thank you.

Madeline Friend is a proud GCY alum and guide. Her first GCY trip introduced her to river science and the special connections whitewater brings. Above all, she loves to share the joy of special places with everyone.

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