Please welcome the twenty fifth American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak, and the first in 2019. A lifelong Michigan resident Jim Engel, age 64, inspires others through coaching and volunteerism and shares words of wisdom for athletes new to trail running. In 2011, Engel was inducted as the 34th member of the Upper Peninsula Road Runners Club Hall of Fame.
Nominator Jeff Crumbaugh wrote, “I have known Jim since our first Keweenaw Trail Running Festival in 2000. He attended with his family and camped out in Copper Harbor State Park. Jim ran all the Keweenaw races, including the 25K, Hill Climb and 10K while his daughter Bethany, who was then just 7, ran in the Kids’ Trail 2K. His enthusiasm for the sport was contagious. His support for other runners may have been the coach in him or his undeniable generous spirit.”
“Jim has been instrumental in helping to make the Grand Island Trail Races what they are today,” continued Crumbaugh. “Jim has run all of our Great Lakes Endurance events and he is still helping, coaching and encouraging other runners from packet pick up until the finish line. And then, after he has finished his ice-cold cola and Snickers bar, he can be found helping unload gear as the aid station crews return to the finish. On Grand Island he stays for hours, even helping us load up all the equipment on the boat for the trip back to the mainland. Jim exemplifies the true spirit of trail running – passion for the sport, generosity, durability and a helping spirit that endures regardless of the conditions.”
Engel hails from the “Great White North,” as he affectionately refers to his home state having grown up in Bay City, and since 1985, living in Wakefield. He and his wife Denise will celebrate 40 years of marriage this May, and the pair has three grown daughters – Bethany, Chelsea, and Janelle.
A retired school teacher with a portfolio including high school health, physical education and art and math and science at the middle school level, Engle started running in 1987 taking up trail running a year later. “I train in the Porcupine Mountains which are just 16 miles north of my home,” said Engel. “I just wanted to get off the highway and out into nature. I learned that running truly is play especially out on the trails. Hop, skip, jump, thru ‘da mud, water, bugs, sand,..can’t beat the trails.”
Engel’s advice to those thinking about hitting the trails is this simple,“Try it, you’ll like it!” He added, “It’s much more relaxing, more fun, gives you a much better feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction when done. And mentally it’s cleansing and reviving.”
Engel’s favorite trail marathons are the Grand Island Trail Marathon (he believes he’s the only crazy enough to have run them all) and the Two Hearted Trail Marathon (he’s done all those too). He especially loves the difficulty of the latter and said, “It has a tough course and a tougher bug population which adds to the challenge!”
Because of his Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) – enlarged aorta – and aching knees, Engel no longer races the trail marathons so he’s planning to “sweep” the GLE marathons this summer which is his way to help out during the race, a job he eagerly looks forward to. “The best part of volunteering is hearing the runners say, ‘that was a great event!’ when it is over,” said Engel who has helped out at the GLE events for 20 years. “And…just the satisfaction of helping in many ways.”
In addition to helping out at races, Engel has organized several trail runs the longest of which will be the 20th annual Lake Superior Trail Run on Memorial Day Monday. “It’s an 18.2-mile training run; no aid stations, just the most rugged and remote trail in the ‘Porkies,’” he said.
Engel is equally committed to trail maintenance. “About four years ago we started working on trails here in Wakefield and formed the Split Rock Trail Association,” said Engel who is the group’s president. “These are mountain biking trails, which also serve as running and snowshoe trails and our work is progressing…slowly…but progressing. It is tough to get volunteers out in the woods workin’!”