Saturday, April, 16, 2022 kicks off the eleventh edition of the Born to Run Ultra Running Extravaganza, a four-day trail running festival, held in Los Olivos, CA. This year’s event will include a new race, Born To Adapt, the first-ever adaptive athlete specific trail race. It will be a three-hour race on a 5-kilometer trail loop designed for adaptive athletes and runners of all abilities.
Zachary Friedley, adaptive athlete and above the knee amputee, will be directing the event and he explains how it will be unlike any other trail race and what makes it so special, “We’re putting adaptive athletes first. This is for people who have maybe never thought of themselves as trail runners before. My goal is to get someone who has never run a mile, or maybe only done a couple laps around the track and give them an invitation into trail racing. Running of all forms is welcome, including blades, crutches, ninja-sticks (forearm crutches), wheelchairs or crawling. Adaptive and disabled athletes don’t have many racing opportunities, especially when it comes to trail running. I want to start small to give athletes in my community a taste of trail running.” Although the race is timed for three hours, runners will have the option to run for as long, or short as they like.
Friedley is no stranger to competition. From 2007 to 2014 he trained for the Paralympics. However, it was only in the last year that Friedley discovered trail running and how it could improve his life and the lives of other adaptive athletes in his community. “My best running has happened in the past year. Trail running is magical. It gives me an experience of liberation and freedom. My whole life, being born missing my leg, I never really felt comfortable in the outdoors. Running on trails has given me the confidence that I can go anywhere I want in the wilderness around me. The experience of running trails changed my life and I want to give others the same opportunity.”
Friedley’s long-term plan is to host Born To Adapt races in conjunction with other races around the country. His goal is to increase inclusion of adaptive athletes in the trail running community and give more race opportunities to these athletes. “Born To Adapt will be a series,” said Friedley. “This upcoming race is Born To Adapt at the Born To Run Ultra Running Extravaganza, but there could easily be Born To Run races at other events. The opportunities are limitless. My goal is to get this done in a way that gives others a blueprint for how adaptive-athlete specific races can happen at other events. It’s not challenging.”
Luis Escobar, event director for the Born To Run Ultra Running Extravaganza shares his “why” for partnering with Friedley and joining their two events, “We’ve been throwing around the phrase diversity and inclusion in the outdoor industry in the last couple of years and we’re starting to see progress and forward motion. Socially, it’s the correct thing to do. Everybody should be more than welcome to feel included in everything we do. From a business perspective, it makes no sense not to include everyone. It adds new dynamics, record-keeping, scoring of results, etc. There are added things we’re not used to but as a group we’ll learn.”
Trail running is one of the leading sports in the outdoor industry when it comes to inclusion, yet there is still much progress to be made for adaptive athletes to feel welcome in the trail running space. Friedley and Escobar share their thoughts on some of the barriers that have kept adaptive athletes from running trails:
“There’s not enough education about what an adaptive athlete is. There is a disconnect and people don’t realize that adaptive athletes want to run on trails. There’s a lack of awareness and visibility, which is what I aim to change in 2022. With Born To Adapt, my goal is to generate awareness and conversation so race directors can get interested and want to learn more about the adaptive athlete community.” -Zachary Friedley
“Lack of knowledge is the main issue. Race directors just need an introduction. We need a pioneer to bridge the gap between the adaptive athlete community and the rest of the trail running world. Right now, that pioneer is Zachary Friedley. He’s not only advocating for adaptive athletes but he’s the guy out there doing things as an adaptive athlete himself. He has one foot and one knee and he’s running trails. He wants to do this and he has friends that want to do it too.” -Luis Escobar
Runners who want to support the event, but can’t make it can sign up for the Born To Adapt virtual 5K. Proceeds go towards the Mendocino Movement Project and future Born to Adapt Projects. Learn more about Friedley’s backstory in my recent interview with him or visit his website at Mendocino Movement Project.