The man ordering margaritas at Mango’s, at the finish line of the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run’s Stage Four, looked happy. As a man should be when ordering margaritas on the sun-kissed patio of a high-mountain bar in Colorado. He was happy despite hobbling around with a cast on his right leg.
“Didn’t get that during the race, did you?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said, hefting his armload of Vitamin C and tequila, “It was during training.”
Rick Thurston, 58, had planned to run the race with his wife Karen, but a stress fracture two and a half weeks ago left their entire trip in question. The couple lives in St. Maries, Idaho, which happily happens to house the headquarters of one of the sponsors of this very race: Peete’s Feet shoe dryers (“I’ve known Gene Peete for years,” said Thurston. “It’s a great product. He used to be a plumber.”)
Stumped for a teammate, Karen’s thoughts turned to a candidate both natural and unlikely: her daughter, Stephanie Hackbarth. Stephanie, 26, is an avid runner – a collegiate cross-country runner, but Karen hadn’t seen her in two years.
Stephanie hasn’t exactly been in the peak of fitness over the past two years, and hasn’t seen her mother, mainly because she has been in Mongolia. Serving in the Peace Corps. In an orphanage. For two years.
Stephanie had been back only days before getting the call from Karen about her dad’s foot injury. She and her husband, Ryan (who served alongside Stephanie in Mongolia), were decompressing at Ryan’s parent’s home in Bend, Oregon and the two of them hadn’t even seen the Thurstons yet. With little hesitation, Stephanie agreed to join her mother at the race. Mom and daughter dragged both Rick and Ryan with them. They were all sitting in the sun at Mango’s enjoying the margaritas; the race has served as a great way for the family to catch up, according to Karen, “I hadn’t even seen Stephanie and Ryan until we all met up in Buena Vista before the start.”
Stephanie came in as prepared as you can be, if you’re living in Mongolia. She even won the Gobi Marathon (granted, she was one of three women in the field). Training did bring some issues, however, “Running was a little weird,” said Stephanie. “A few times, I’d be running, and a taxi would follow along behind me, honking and waiting for me to stop. They just didn’t know what I was running from.”
Ryan and Stephanie’s time in the Peace Corps was so recent, so profound, that the couple still seems to be assimilating its impact, and describing it is difficult.
“Just getting to know the people was the biggest part of it for me,” said Stephanie. Added Ryan, “Just getting to know what’s outside of the bubble we all live in, that was a big point for me.”
Stephanie and Karen are doing great together in the race. During Stage Three, Stephanie grabbed her mom’s hand and helped pull her up one of the soaring inclines common to the race.
“I needed it,” said Karen, and added “She said it reminded her of when she was six and Rick and I held her hand during the Bloomsday running race in Spokane. She said she owed me a tow.”
And what did Karen think about seeing her daughter head off, at age 25, to Mongolia for two years?
“I was proud, and glad. As a parent, I like to see my kids do hard things.”
In choosing to run the GORE-TEX TransRockies as a family, they’ve certainly chosen something hard, and a perfect venue for a family reunion.