Watching each other's backs
In 1998, before I started running seriously, a runner named Charlie Wertheim began putting together a team to compete against the Vail squad in the Colorado Relay, a 170-mile race from Idaho Springs to Glenwood Springs. It was a benefit for Outward Bound. He was desperate for runners, which is why I imagine he asked me to join the team. I showed up and ran in high-top basketball shoes. I didn’t even own running shoes, but I was happy to help support Outward Bound with my entry because they taught people about getting outside.
Our Glenwood group finished behind Vail, in second place, but I made new friends and got hooked on trail racing. From then on, I always felt a connection with the runner tribe, particularly the people from Glenwood.
Since that event, I’ve raced hundreds of benefit races and never really given many of them a second thought. I turned myself into a racer, and my primary focus was to try to win or at least place.
Then last year I was in a motorcycle crash, and the Vail Recreational District and La Sportiva organized a benefit auction, attached to a planned race, “The Evergold,” on my behalf.
As I lay at home in bed, recovering but depressed, I wondered how many people at the race would just ignore the benefit aspect, as I had so many times. I’d become jaded with stories I’d heard of people lining their pockets from so-called charity events. Sometimes it seemed like everyone had a hand out. I expected nothing.
The result was a changed perception. The runner tribe came through for me with a helping hand. All the well wishes, advice and donations I received lifted me up during an awful time.
Anita Ortiz, who’s known for coming back from injuries, told me the accident might make me a better person. At the time I didn’t know what she meant, but the crash changed me. I felt more compassion for others after I realized how vulnerable I was.
Then, three months into my recovery, I picked up a newspaper and read that an old running acquaintance, a Glenwood high-school teacher, had suffered a terrible loss. He was in Denver when his wife and two teen- age sons left their Glenwood home and drove to meet him. His younger son was behind the wheel when he lost control and flipped off the highway. The wife was killed. The older son, a cross-country runner, sustained serious injuries and was nearly paralyzed.
The community called upon the town’s cross-country coach to organize a race in support of the family. I was still recovering, but knew I had to participate.
The race offered no prizes, no schwag and no profit for the organizers. It was 100 percent benefit for the family. In a small town like Glenwood, you can trust in that.
The local grocery store donated coffee, cookies and donuts. Volunteers donated their time setting up and helping out. Runners gave what they could financially but, most of all, gave the family their love and appreciation. The close-knit tribe got together on a frigid day, when the rivers through town rippled with slush, and runners poured their hearts out on the been making me smile at running races around town for as long as I can remember. Sarah Shepard was there. She topped a stacked field in a race up Vail Mountain once. Jordan Chavez was there, and won the race. He’s the grand- son of a legendary Glenwood basketball coach.
The benefit’s recipient finished the race in seventh place, smiling. His injured son was seen on the sidelines watching, wearing a neck brace and using a crutch to navigate the icy paths.
I hoped the two of them saw what I saw. I saw a community full of good people and good friends using running as a way to help lift everyone’s spirits. Sometimes there’s more to running than just racing and winning. We are there for each other.
Bernie is grateful for small towns and big hearts.