On April 5, American Trail Running Association advisor Tom Sobal was inducted into the 2017 Colorado Running Hall of Fame during an evening ceremony in Denver. This tall and lean, soft-spoken athlete sporting a full beard and long braided pony tail said from the dais when receiving his award, “I’m honored and humbled and I thank the Hall for recognizing what I put into the sport.”
Sobal’s many contributions were outlined in a heartfelt address by long-time friend Hal Walter who introduced him at the ceremony in Denver, the script of which follows.
“What really sets the greatest athletes apart from the just really good ones is what they do off the field of play with the skills they developed through sports.
After graduating from Earlham College with a degree in biochemistry, Tom Sobal headed west. In 1985, like many other explorers before him, he rolled into Leadville over Mosquito Pass.He pitched camp in the highest valley in the Arkansas River drainage, arriving with only a mountain bike, a tent, sleeping bag and a few clothing items. In only a short matter of time,Tom Sobal would become a household name among mountain athletes.
As a mountain and trail runner, Tom won more than 85 races ranging from 3 to 35 miles, and was a three-time member of U.S. Mountain Running Team. With his burro Maynard, and a couple other long-eared beasts, Tom racked up 11 titles at Fairplay’s World Championship Pack-Burro Race. He won more than 55 races in his burro-racing career and once won 27 straight. He holds records on every Triple Crown pack-burro course — including performances at Fairplay and at Leadville that will likely stand the test of time.
Tom also left his mark on the sport of snowshoe racing, winning more than 130 snowshoe races. He won the 100-mile Iditashoe snowshoe race in Alaska one winter, set the record for the marathon on snowshoes running 26.2 miles in 3:06.
Just for grins, he placed eleventh in the inaugural Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike, carrying his bike at a run for several miles due to a mechanical issue.
I often write and speak about a concept I call “Endurance for Life.” It’s when an athlete takes lessons like resilience, patience, humility and empathy and alchemizes them into something greater than their own performances. In this realm, the heart of a true champion beats deep inside Tom’s chest.
Many know that Tom also organized and served as race director for the Turquoise Lake 20K Trail Run and Turquoise Lake 20K Snowshoe Run, as well as other local events. His races were known for their low entry fees, equitable prize structures for women athletes, incentives for runners who carpooled to the event and the great post-race feasts.
Many don’t know Tom was instrumental in developing the snowshoe racing program for the Special Olympics, paving the way for hundreds of neurodiverse and intellectually different people from all over the world to participate in this sport. For 20 years, and over the course of five World Games, Tom worked to provide this opportunity to 25 to 30 delegations of athletes from the far-flung corners of the world.
Through in his work with the Quiet Use Coalition, Tom has also been a champion advocate for hikers, mountain bikers, trail-runners, equestrians, hunters and fishermen and others who enjoy non-motorized trail activities. His efforts have helped to protect hundreds of miles of trails throughout Colorado’s National Forests.
In the final analysis, Tom Sobal is an exceptional athlete and human being. It’s a truly high point of my own life journey to present him to the Colorado Running Hall of Fame.”
We thank Tom for being part of the American Trail Running Association (ATRA) since the days in 1995 when our organization was just an idea, to the present day. Tom’s input has been invaluable and has helped us develop Rules on the Run and ATRA’s Event Standards Program, among the many other facets of our organization.
Also inducted into the 2017 Colorado Running Hall of Fame class, Judy Chamberlin, Kara Goucher, John Lunn, and John Tope.
Read more about Tom in a story published in his hometown (Salida, Colorado), newspaper, the Mountain Mail.