For these Wyomingites, 2014 brings with it New Year’s resolutions that reflect their love of the outdoors.
For these Wyomingites, 2014 brings with it New Year’s resolutions that reflect their love of the outdoors.

New Year’s Resolutions – Wyoming style

It’s that time of year. The time of fresh beginnings where all things seem possible. This year take a cue on resolution-making from several Wyoming athletes who are already focused on their goals for 2014 and beyond. Figure out what’s important to you and why, and think beyond “eating healthier” and “losing weight.”  This week’s Peaks to Plains features short stories on four Wyoming athletes who share their goals and tips on how you can try their sport in 2014.

Read on for inspiration and tips for picking up a new sport and feel free to share with us what your outdoor plans are for 2014.


Aaron Pruzan

Gore Canyon is a short, rugged canyon on the Upper Colorado River known for its class four and five whitewater sections. Once believed unnavigable, it is now an alluring challenge for expert paddlers made even more difficult with the addition boulders and other hazards with the construction of the railroad. Each summer since the 1980s, intrepid paddlers gather for the Gore Canyon Whitewater Festival, drawn to the long stretches of rapids with steep ledges and drops.

Last summer, Aaron Pruzan, 45, of Jackson, found himself stuck sideways against a rock wall on Gore rapid in the canyon during a race featuring boats 10-feet or longer. He’d entered the rapid wrong and felt the seconds tick by as he struggled to maneuver his boat. Once freed of the spot he dug in and paddled harder than before. He knew the course was so challenging almost every racer would make a mistake somewhere. It wasn’t over yet.

Pruzan came in second, three seconds behind the winner.

This year he plans on winning.

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Kayaking is a sport of experience, where age is an advantage. Growing up in Washington, he started canoeing at 8 years old. In college in Durango, Colo., he was introduced to kayaking by friends and hooked by the instant decision-making forced by rapid after rapid.

Aaron Pruzan kayaks in Gore Canyon in Colorado in a race he’s come close to winning. This year his goal is to finally win it. (Photo courtesy Aaron Pruzan – click to enlarge).
Aaron Pruzan kayaks in Gore Canyon in Colorado in a race he’s come close to winning. This year his goal is to finally win it. (Photo courtesy Aaron Pruzan – click to enlarge).

Pruzan has attended the festival intermittently through the years. The canyon attracts some of the best paddlers in the country and is one of the hardest courses a long boat can run. Pruzan enters the 10-foot and longer division, and last year raced in a 13.5 foot boat. Longer boats are faster, but if you get offline the results are more disastrous, and the longer the boat the harder it is to maneuver.

The course itself is complicated with line after line to memorize. Last year Pruzan arrived the day before, did a practice run, then raced in the stand-up paddleboard division. The next day was the kayaking race.

Pruzan was back on track after his earlier mistake, and zeroed in on the boat in front of him — the race is staggered with 1 minute interval starts — passing the paddler above the last rapid and heading right. He looked behind him to watch the man — a local who knew the river — go left. It was a minor mistake for Pruzan, one that likely only cost him a few seconds, but also a win.

Training for the next competition starts in the spring, beginning with Jackson’s Pole Peddle Paddle, a race that combines skiing, biking and paddling. Pruzan will spend the summer paddling every day while working at Rendezvous River Sports in Jackson.

This year he’ll head to Gore Canyon a few days early and take in a few practice runs before the race. And if he doesn’t win, he has another goal to focus on – he also wants to ski three, not yet chosen, mountains higher than 11,500-feet that he’s never skied before.

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Get into kayaking: Take a lesson. There are paddling schools throughout the state — in Jackson, Cody, Casper and Laramie — that offer beginner instruction in flat, moving and whitewater. Many communities offer winter and spring clinics inside local pools. Once you are comfortable with the basics of paddling and river safety, check out easy stretches of water with other paddlers. Pruzan recommends stretches of the Snake, Shoshone, Green and North Platte as places with easy sections of river for aspiring kayakers.

Sam Lightner Jr.

If nothing changes in Sam Lightner Jr.’s climbing this year, it will be a success.

Lightner, who turns 47 in February, wants to consistently rock climb 5.13 rated routes when he’s 50.

“I don’t care what I get done in 2014, provided it helps me in 2017,” he said.

Lightner grew up climbing in the Tetons — his best friend’s dad was an owner of Exum Mountain Guides — and discovered he was naturally built for the sport with a light frame and strong fingers.

Decades ago, Lightner read about a climber who, at 50 years old, climbed a route rated 5.13 — difficult climbing for anyone today, but especially hard in that era. The story faded from his memory as he went on to pursue climbing in Laramie, Lander, Moab, Utah, and Banff, Canada, tackling crack, sport, sandstone and ice routes.

But then in his early 30s he started noticing something. His fingers stayed swollen longer after a hard day of climbing. An elbow injury took longer to heal. It could take days to recover from a strenuous workout. Lightner was getting older.

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When he moved to Lander last spring from Moab, he remembered the climber he’d read abut years earlier and decided that’s what he wanted — to climb 5.13s consistently at 50.

That means listening to his body when it’s hurt. It means focusing on injury prevention in the gym and maintaining his strength by climbing most days of the week. It means watching younger climbers and reigning himself in.

Sam Lightner Jr. climbs on “Drink and Wickedness” at Wild Iris near Lander. Lightner is working on a long-term goal that will have him consistently climbing routes graded 5.13 when he turns 50. (Photo courtesy Sam Lightner Jr. – click to enlarge)
Sam Lightner Jr. climbs on “Drink and Wickedness” at Wild Iris near Lander. Lightner is working on a long-term goal that will have him consistently climbing routes graded 5.13 when he turns 50. (Photo courtesy Sam Lightner Jr. – click to enlarge)

“The hardest thing is keeping yourself governed when you are hanging around people that aren’t governed who still believe in ‘push harder,’” he said.

Lightner recently entered his first bouldering competition in two decades where he competed against high school students. Egged on by the cheers for the “old dude,” Lightner awoke the next day sore. He saw other competitors back in the climbing gym only a few days later, knowing he wouldn’t be on the wall for at least a week.

It’s hard knowing he might not be the climber he once was and that he can’t always keep up with the younger athletes, so he jokes about his age and embraces being “the old guy at the crag.” He reminds himself of the benefits of experience. What he’s lost in strength he’s made up in technique perfected throughout the years.

He’s also learned the valuable lesson of respecting injuries. Lightner edited the book “One Move Too Many,” about climbing injuries. Some young climbers go three moves too many, he said.

“I know when to quit and a 25-year-old doesn’t know when to quit,” he said.

Despite his care, Lightner’s pushes too hard at times. Last summer his middle fingers swelled so large he couldn’t climb for about three weeks.

Lightner knows he’ll keep climbing for years. It’s too much a part of him to not keep climbing. The question is how hard. If he meets his goal the answer is simple. He’ll climb 5.13s when he’s 50.[/wpex]

Get into climbing: Hire a guide and tell them you don’t want to be taken up something, you want to learn how to climb, how to use the equipment and how to move on rock. Climbing in a gym is not an adequate substitute, Lightner said.

Joseph McGinley during Wyoming’ s Cowboy Tough Adventure Race. (Photo courtesy Joe McGinley)
Joseph McGinley during Wyoming’ s Cowboy Tough Adventure Race. (Photo courtesy Joe McGinley)

Joseph McGinley taught himself to open-water swim by reading a book on the topic. About 10 years ago he jumped off a boat to swim from Alcatraz in what is considered by many one of the country’s hardest triathlons, using his already acquired basic swimming skills, the book and a little practice in the San Francisco bay. Since then he’s competed in the Escape from Alcatraz eight times and has yet to finish in less than three hours. This June he plans to meet that challenge.

McGinley, of Casper, used to race motocross until he started medical school and decided it was too risky. He switched to mountain biking, marathons and triathlons. Then he heard about adventure racing. He entered sprint events, which are  shorter races, and within a few years he was signing up for full races, which can mean days with little sleep on the course and transitions from kayaking to mountain biking to long-distance running and require navigating skills. He now enters three to four adventure races a year and is part of a professional team based in California.

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McGinley has left behind most traditional running and triathlon races, except for the Alcatraz race. It’s a beautiful race featuring a 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz to shore, then 18 miles of biking and a 8-mile run through Golden Gate Park. It’s also an adrenaline-pumping race with a swim that’s difficulty depends on the water’s currents that day.

The race is limited to only 2,000 individual athletes and teams, but a lottery system and the fact that few people sign up from Wyoming, helps McGinley nab a slot.

Joseph McGinley competes in an adventure race in California. This year, McGinley’s goal is to shorten his time in a triathlon. (Photo courtesy Joeseph McGinley – click to enlarge).
Joseph McGinley competes in an adventure race in California. This year, McGinley’s goal is to shorten his time in a triathlon. (Photo courtesy Joeseph McGinley – click to enlarge).

In adventure racing the goal is often to simply just finish. With Alcatraz, McGinley’s focused on his time. He’s come within two minutes of breaking the 3-hour mark. That’s his focus in 2014.

He’s coming off a big year of adventure racing in 2013, which included his team competing in the professional division of the REV3 Cowboy Tough race — Wyoming’s first adventure race. He’ll sign up for a few races as they come up, but he’s already looking ahead to 2015 which he expects to be another big racing year for himself.

He’d like to participate again in Cowboy Tough this year, even if it’s only in one of the smaller events and not the main race. It’s one of the best races in the world right now with the scenery, terrain and challenges.

Last year a storm caught his team crossing Seminoe Reservoir. Once they fell behind, it was too hard to catch up and they finished middle-of the pack.

“That’s why they call it an adventure race,” McGinley said.[/wpex]

Get into adventure racing: Try a sprint race first. These are usually shorter, less intense and don’t require navigation. If you really want to start slowly, start with an Xterra race, which is like a rugged triathlon. All you need to know his how to paddle, run and ride a bike. When you are ready for a full-on adventure race, pair up with a veteran competitor. Often people are willing to help new-comers into the sport.

Carolyn Gilbertson

This year when Carolyn Gilbertson, 64, races in the 28 kilometer Teton Ridge Classic in Teton Valley, Idaho, and the 32 kilometer Boulder Mountain Tour in Sun Valley, Idaho, she will care less about her time and more about simply finishing each skate ski race.

Four months ago Gilbertson underwent a stem cell transplant to treat multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer.

Last year Gilbertson was dry-land training for cross country skiing and struggling to complete parts of the workout she’d done for years.

Gilbertson grew up downhill skiing in Oregon, but took up cross country skiing in the 1990s when her daughters started competing in the sport while growing up in Lander. To see them on the course Gilbertson had to ski to viewing points. A marathon runner, she found skiing easier on her joints.

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She started classic skiing and eventually picked up skate skiing out of necessity on race courses that weren’t groomed with classic tracks. She preferred skating. She could go farther faster.

Entering races was a natural progression. It forced her to improve technique and train harder. She started entering three to four races a year.

When she wasn’t feeling well last year, her husband, a doctor, told her she needed blood work. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed the cancer in January. They caught it before tumors and lesions formed on the bones, but there isn’t a cure. She started chemotherapy shots in January. While she technically could have kept racing she didn’t have time for the training, needing to visit a doctor daily for fluids and antibiotics. Instead she went on regular five mile walks and even walked the floor of the hospital in Denver where she spent almost three weeks after getting an infection. She continued biking all spring and summer.

The stem cell transplant, in which she used her own stem cells, and the chemotherapy will hopefully keep the disease at bay for 10 to 15 years before it reappears — and by then Gilbertson hopes there is a cure.

It’s been about four and a half months since the transplant and she’s been cleared for exercise, with the caveat she has to be careful to avoid infections. Her immunizations for measles, chicken pox and tetanus, were wiped-out in her treatments.

She’s not at the same fitness level she was before her diagnosis, when she biked about 30 miles every other day. Doctors said she might feel fatigued for a while, but the other day she finished a 20 kilometer ski, and she feels great.

This year she’ll care less about her time and more about entering the upcoming races.

“It will prove to me I’m back where I need to be,” she said. “I’m going to be so proud of myself to just be able to finish it coming off a transplant.”

But first she needs to get in a few more long skis.[/wpex]

Get into cross country skiing: Local ski clubs and ski shops often offer lessons. Most Nordic skiers are also willing to give tips. Find a friend that already skis and follow them. Weight shifting is important for both skate and classic skiing so practice gliding one ski and then shifting your weight to the other ski to get a feel for it. Add poles later.
 
Correction: This story was corrected on January 2, 2014, regarding the ownership of Exum Mountain Guides.
—“Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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