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Meet Trailblazer Merilee Maupin

Today we’d like to introduce you to Merilee Maupin.

Merilee, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The year was 1982. Leadville’s primary employer, the Climax Mine suddenly closed its’ doors. 3,250 men and women lost their jobs. With the loss of wages, there was also a loss of identity. These were people who made their living walking through solid rock. In a community of 5,000, this was absolutely devastating. It affected everyone in the community. Leadville, overnight, became the city with the highest unemployment in the nation. All the horrible side effects that you can imagine accompanied that closure. Our community saw families having to walk away from their homes. There was drug and alcohol abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse; all came like we had never seen before, coupled with the unemployment. We knew the cavalry wasn’t coming. Then Governor, Dick Lamm, came to our community. His advice, “You’ve got two things going for you: Your mining heritage and history and your beautiful mountains. You’ve got to bring visitors into town to spend money. The key to getting them to do that is to get them to stay overnight”. My burro racing buddy and eventual business partner, Ken Chlouber, was a County Commissioner at that time. He was the one to come up with the idea of a 100 miles trail race across the highest, toughest, baddest mountains around. His thought,—if they’re gonna run 100 miles, they’re definitely going to have to spend the night! With that, the Leadville Trail 100 was born. He asked for my help since he knew my small travel agency was struggling (people were only going one way—out of town and usually in a pickup packed with personal possessions). His words to me, “I can’t pay you anything, but I’ll double it every year”. The first race was in August 1983, with 45 starters and ten finishers.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Anytime you try something that hasn’t been attempted before, you’re probably assured of a somewhat rocky road. We were passionate about what we were doing and the fact that it hadn’t been done before didn’t stop us. I had no idea that being the first woman ultradistance race director was anything out of the ordinary. Whatever needed to be done in order to make this race happen and give a much needed boost to our community’s struggling economy, we did it. There were many, many things we tried for the first time, but we just did what we had to do to in order to make “The Race Across the Sky” a success for our community. I will say that we always learned a whole lot more from our mistakes than we did from our successes. You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have.

We’d love to hear more about Leadville Trail 100/Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation.
We began our journey trying to grow our economy and save our beloved community. We’ve successfully accomplished that. The latest economic impact study indicates these events contribute approximately $20 million annually. We’ve come to the conclusion that, perhaps, our greater contribution has been in changing lives. Running or biking 100 miles on trails at 10,200’ feet (and up) —they said it couldn’t be done. When you hit that red carpet and cross that Leadville finish line, you are a changed person. You’ll know that there is nothing you can’t accomplish; nothing you can’t do. That is a truth you can take home with you and use with your family, your work and in your community. What sets us apart from any other athletic event is a story unto itself. Ken came to me after competing in other events and stated that we were going to treat our entrants as customers. My reply was that no, we’re going to treat our entrants as family. That has made all the difference. These races, annually, are the greatest family reunion on the face of the earth.

Even in the early years, when money was more than tight, we found ways to give back to our community. We made purchases to benefit the local hospital, the Senior Center, the Fire Department, Search & Rescue. We started a tradition still going today, a Christmas party for our youngsters with Santa in attendance and wrapped gifts for all. In 2002, we created the formal 501 (c)(3), the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation. This provided an avenue for our family of athletes to give back to the community they have come to regard as home. Since 2009 we have provided a scholarship for every single Lake County graduating high school senior; not need based, not GPA based. We just want to bust open the door of opportunity for each and everyone, whether it be truck driving school or research university. In 2019, we were able to increase that amount to $2,000 per scholarship. The Legacy Foundation is our passion and focus. We’ve been able to do so much good in our small, close knit community. I would encourage you to check out our website at www.leadvilletrail100legacy.org.

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman just starting her career?
I would tell young women who are just starting their journey, the same thing we tell our racers. You’re better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can. Believe in yourself; if you don’t, no one else will. Dig deep; — inside each of us is an inexhaustible well of grit, guts and determination. When the going gets tough, as it surely will, have the courage to reach inside. The power will be there. Motivation will get you to the starting line but will leave you when you need it the most. Commitment is the key. Commit, don’t quit. You’re worth it!

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Image Credit:
All photos courtesy of Glen Delman Photography

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