Please welcome our tenth 2017 American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassadors presented by CamelBak. We’re proud to introduce you to Soleil Gaylord, a high school senior who builds community by sharing her passion for trail and mountain running in her hometown of Telluride, Colorado, and beyond. This dynamo ran her first trail race in the fifth grade and has never looked back.
During the past eight years, Soleil has amassed an impressive athletic resume. She has won five state titles in track and has led her Telluride High School cross country team to two state team champion titles. In 2017 she has competed at the World Mountain Running Championships as a junior team member, the WMRA International Youth Cup, and at the North American Central American Caribbean (NACAC) Mountain Running Championships.
Snow does not stop Soleil from running at 9000 feet in the winter. She simply straps on her snowshoes and hits her favorite local Bear Creek Trail, often coming home in the dark with a headlamp and in single-digit temperatures. She trained on those trails so avidly that she won the World Snowshoe Championship junior title in 2017 and National Snowshoe Championship junior titles at Ogden, Utah in 2016, and Bend, Oregon in 2017.
Soleil is an inspiration to others. In the San Juan Basin League and in her hometown, girls who meet Soleil tell their parents they want to be like her. Writes her mother and nominator Ramona Gaylord, “Soleil meets with these girls and tells them ‘summer miles bring autumn smiles,’ encouraging them to hit the trails in the summertime and be fit and ready when cross country season starts.
“Soleil dreams of sharing her love for mountain running with her future teammates and college friends and hopes to start a mountain running club or join an existing one depending on which school she attends,” adds Ramona. “The experiences Soleil has had through sport have enriched her high school running experience, given her confidence, opened doors to outstanding opportunities and given her a lifetime of strong and enriching friendships coupled with a healthy vibrant lifestyle.”
Soleil adores trail and mountain running so much that she made two short video poems that are a tribute to the emotional, spiritual and physical joys of the sport. One was accepted to the Ouray Chick Flicks Film Fest. She is also a budding fundraiser. She recently came up with an idea to ask local artists to donate art that she could sell at a busy local restaurant. Her SNAP project, (Student Non-profit Art Project,) was a success. The money she raised by selling donated wildlife photography, was donated to the American Trail Running Association earmarked for the US Mountain Running Team.
Soleil shared what she has learned from the sport, “Trail and mountain running have been my lifelong companions, my soulmates and my unconditional friends. Mountain running has been a school, gym, and a church for me, by enriching my personal, physical, emotional and spiritual being. Like a Zen master they instruct me through the rich display of the natural world that I am able to absorb on my runs. I take notes; sometimes in a journal, sometimes with a camera, sometimes through my rock, seed and feather collections, but most often with my memories of the wildflower strewn basins, or the dipper gleaning insects in the San Miguel River, or the lightening that stood my hair straight up on Red Cloud Peak.
“Trail running has gifted me an appreciation and great understanding of the natural world and I am encouraged to study biology/natural sciences in college and to run there as well,” continued Soleil. “As my mind has expanded so has my physical strength, and I have been honored to represent the US Mountain Running Team the past two summers and to express my love for the sport and my ability to mountain run in a most honorable way through these internationally bonding competitions. Combining the beauty of the mountains with the exhilaration and challenge of running through them, provides me a spiritual and emotional fulfillment like no other experience in my life. I consider it my church where the run is my sermon and the cool down my daily prayer. Mountain running brings me grace through the gratitude that I feel for being alive, healthy and living in such a beautiful place.”
Her advice to others, “I LOVE to encourage people to get out and just hike first. Run the flats or downhills and slowly build to slow jogs on the stretches of uphills. I also advise folks to bring a lunch and find a spot to take a lunch break. Also, bring a flower or bird guide book and start a check list of species that you see on your runs. Do stop and smell the rosehips!
“Once people start mountain running, they will start to find the coolest, grooviest network of others that are interested in this sport,” continued Soleil. “The mountain running trail has led me into such beautiful friendships. Trail running is a lifelong sport that will lead you to lasting friendships, unparalleled journeys, and unforgettable sights.”
Soleil’s shares her favorite day on the trails.
Sunrise. My pack has camera, bird book, rain jacket, lunch and water. Within five minutes I am at the Bear Creek Trailhead. It starts steep and stays steep. I cross Bear Creek at the Ballard cutoff and ascend towards peak one. Jogging slow, but steady. Hermit Thrush are bugling in the subalpine fir and I emerge at treeline to a couloir covered in deep pink Indian paintbrush, sky pilots, gentians and alpine phlox. I can’t help but run. It is so Colorado gorgeous. Ballard Peak smiles upon me. Six peaks follow, and I glide along talus-strewn ridges with views of Ophir, Silverton, and several iconic fourteens of the San Juans. A 10-mile downhill through deserted mining towns, brilliant wildflowers, the largest waterfall in Colorado, and turquoise lakes. Run right down Main Street and stop at Brown Dog for a slice of pizza.