Please welcome the eighteenth American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak, and sixth in 2018. Forty-two year old Emily Wheeler, a former wellness director for the YMCA, builds community through running, volunteering, organizing events, and club management.
Nominator Nicole Craig wrote, “Emily helps out many of the local running clubs and trail systems by serving on their boards and volunteering her time to make them the best they can be. Her attention to detail is awesome! As a trail runner herself, she knows what runners enjoy…and what they don’t. She anticipates the needs of everyone involved in a race….she’s helped clean up aid stations in races (during the race she’s been a participant in), because she didn’t want the volunteers to get overwhelmed. No detail goes unchecked to make sure that the runners get the best experience they can have!”
For the past 30 years, Wheeler has called Rapid City, South Dakota home where she lives with her husband of 20 years, Mike, and their two children, Ben and Hannah.
She started trail running in 2004. “As the Wellness Director at the YMCA, I had a volunteer that wanted to start a training program for the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon through the Y,” said Wheeler. “He challenged me and my best friend, who also worked for the Y, to try a half marathon. We were group exercise gals, definitely not runners. We decided to take the challenge and go through the training program. I’ll never forget looking at the schedule and seeing ‘10 miles’ on the calendar…. I thought no way will I be able to run 10 miles in 12 weeks! But we followed it and we did it, and after a few days of recovery, my friend thought maybe we should try something longer. Now 10 miles is a short run.
“I love both trail running and road running,” added Wheeler who runs five or six trail races each year. “They are both so different, trail running takes so much to stay focused on what’s ahead, the time just flies by. My favorite distance is 30K or marathon. Because I can’t run my own trail races….my favorite trail race is the Big Horn Mountain Trail Run. This year will be my eleventh time running it. I like to say it’s the only race where you can gain weight because all of the aid stations have such amazing food choices!”
Ironically, in 2010, Wheeler took over as race director of the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon (founded by Jerry Dunn in 2002), and shortly thereafter, formed Wheeler Event Management. “I started my company as a way to be able to work from home,” said Wheeler. Also in her portfolio is the Run Crazy Horse Marathon (founded by Dunn and Wheeler in 2010), and the Black Hills 40, a mountain bike race she recently added. Prior to 2011, Wheeler’s professional career included 12 years as the Wellness Director at the Rapid City YMCA, where she still teaches group exercise classes and has for the past 19 years.
Wheeler has volunteered with the Black Hills Runners’ Club for over 15 years, eight years as a board member. She is one of the founders of the Black Hills Trail Running Series, which now includes eight races held over the beautiful black hills and has given many runners the opportunity to start trail running. Additionally, she serves on the board of directors for Black Hills Trails whose mission is to maintain and enhance the trail experience in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. The ultimate goal of Black Hills Trails is a future Black Hills where a diverse network of studiously designed, judiciously constructed and expertly maintained trails connect every city, town and point of interest in the region.
“We are just getting into our season of trail maintenance,” said Wheeler. “So, swinging tools will be a new thing for me! I’m looking forward to it. Black Hills Trails has recently partnered with the Black Hills National Forest with provides an agreement for ongoing meetings about trail priorities, including maintenance and development of new trails. We recently led the development of a new trail system in Sturgis South Dakota called the 7th Calvary Trail System.”
Wheeler’s volunteerism includes helping out at trail races. “My ‘crew’ always runs the Mystic Aid Station at the Leanhorse 100,” she said. “We have such a great time with it, and we are the self-proclaimed best aid station ever! We even have a bicycle waitress that rides out and takes orders from the runners so we have what they want, hot and ready when they arrive.
“I love helping out with trail races because I enjoy hanging out with runners,” explained Wheeler. “No one can have a bad day when they get to go play in the forest, right? It brings people together from all walks of life and all over the world.”
From trail running, Wheeler has learned, “That I am capable of doing more than what I think my body can do. The best part of trail running is the friendships I have made.”
Her advice for someone considering getting into the sport, “Try it! I especially love the soft surface of the trails as it is easier on your legs. Find a local running group, or friends to go with, Don’t be intimated to go ahead and register for a race. It’s a great way to learn a new trail, water is usually provided, and there are people that participate at all levels, so you’ll likely find some new friends that go your speed.”
Wheeler has plans to complete a marathon in all 50 states and is up to 19, with 20 and 21 already scheduled for 2018 – Dances with Dirt Marathon in July, and the Marine Corp Marathon in October. She’s also registered for this month’s Big Horn 30K and will be a volunteer for the Hisega Half/ Stoneman Marathon and the Iron Creek Xterra Triathlon in August.