Meet Trail Ambassador – Brandon Stapanowich

Please welcome the 13th American Trail Running Association (ATRA) Trail Ambassador presented by CamelBak, and our first of 2018. We’re proud to introduce you to 33-year-old Brandon Stapanowich.

Brandon is an accomplished trail runner with myriad athletic achievements to his credit, a community volunteer, a role model. Humble to his core, Stapanowich, who grew up in North Carolina, has lived in Manitou Springs, Colorado for the past eight years. During that time, he has touched the lives of countless individuals.

Achilles Pikes Peak’s 3rd birthday.

“Brandon has emerged as a leader in our trails community,” writes nominator Tim Bergsten. “He helped start – and remains active in – the nonprofit organization Achilles Pikes Peak, which works to help disabled athletes enjoy the trails. Brandon has also served multiple times as a guide for runners in races of all distances and is a key part in the team that hosts the Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race, which helps support Achilles Pikes Peak. His love of trails and trail running has emerged in his creation of multiple trail and climbing challenges including:

  • Setting the Fastest Known Time (FKT), for a northbound self-supported thru-hike of the 485-mile Colorado Trail in July, 2016, finishing in 9 days, 14 hours, 28 minutes.
  • Completing four consecutive round-trips from Manitou Springs to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak – covering 100 miles with 31,000 feet of elevation gain – in a little over 30 hours in August, 2016.
  • Completing the insane 24 Hours of the Inclinathon – amassing 22 ascents of the Manitou Incline in one day, ascending 44,000 feet in the process.
  • Completing Nolan’s 14 (ascending 14 of the state’s 14ers on a point-to-point course while bushwhacking across Colorado’s backcountry), in less than 60 hours.

“More than anything, Brandon is a good friend who takes true interest in the lives of many, who pours his time and energy into his nonprofit work and participation in the running community.”

What brought Stapanowich to trail running was a trajectory shared by many in the discipline – team sports as the stepping stone. “After playing a year of soccer in college, I burned out on the sport and transferred to Appalachian State University. Soccer had been such a huge part of my identity and without the structure that it provided, I realized that I needed something to replace it,” recalled Stapanowich. “Fortunately, Boone, NC and the surrounding area offered some terrific trails. I remember going on a hike in the snow one day and realizing that if I ran, I could cover more ground and see more things in a shorter amount of time. That realization still inspires a lot of my running today.”

Brandon guiding Achilles athlete, Kevan Worley at the Colfax 10k (photo by Karen Kantor).

Stapanowich participated in his first trail race in 2004, the Shut In Ridge Trail Race in Asheville, NC. “The point to point course climbs through George Vanderbilt’s old stomping grounds to Mount Pisgah and is one of the most iconic races in the area. I remember immediately collapsing in the fetal position after crossing the finish line and telling myself, ‘Never again!’”

Of course that statement didn’t hold true as Stapanowich has covered a huge amount of ground over the past 14 years. As for his next trail adventure, “There are so many ideas floating in the ether of my mind,” he said. “As far as Colorado adventures go, a northbound Nolan’s 14 or traversing a line of the Sangre de Cristo Peaks has tickled my brain for a while. I’ve also recently toyed around with the idea of completing the Mountains to Sea Trail which spans well over 1,000 miles in North Carolina. It runs from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge along the Outer Banks. That one comes with a lot of sentimental and nostalgic appeal. I would also like to return to the Barkley Marathons if that chance presents itself again one day.”

Asked if he had a favorite trail race, Stapanowich offered, “There are so many trail races to choose from now and it’s exciting seeing the sport grow. I don’t really have one favorite but appreciate how racing has given me an excuse to travel and explore some of the most beautiful parts of not only Colorado, but other states like Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Hawaii.”

The 2018 race calendar for Stapanowich includes Running Up For Air, an endurance mountain challenge that was created to raise money in support of the fight for improved air quality for those who live along the Wasatch Front. The route consists of a 5.8-mile laps that climb 2,560 feet to the top of Grandeur Peak and back. Stapanowich has registered for the 24-hour adventure, but there are 12- and 6-hour options as well.

A physical therapist by trade, Stapanowich spent the first five years of his career working in an outpatient pediatric clinic before switching to the school setting. He presently works for an organization that serves the Manitou Springs, Woodland Park, and Cripple Creek school districts. “As school-based physical therapist, I provide related services that help students with mobility impairments access their curriculum,” said Stapanowich. “I’ve been working for this organization for two and a half years now and absolutely love working with children in their ‘natural environments,’ helping them more independently participate in school activities.”

It’s clear that Stapanowich’s vocation and avocation collided in a very positive outcome, that of Achilles Pikes Peak, a non-profit he founded in Colorado Springs. “I think I was at a place in my life where I hit a plateau with some of my running goals. I learned that one of my friends had helped start an Achilles Chapter in Denver and I was inspired. The mission of Achilles International is to help empower athletes with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics and I saw this as a perfect blend of my professional and athletic passions.

“Our volunteer-based chapter started as a free weekly workout that initially had one person, or sometimes no one else show up. But, thanks to the efforts of a devoted core of talented and caring people in our organization, Achilles Pikes Peak has blossomed into the largest Monday group run in Colorado Springs,” said Stapanowich. “Athletes with visual, motor, or cognitive impairments are partnered with other athletes and everyone comes together to walk, run, or ride recumbent trikes. While impairments may present as barriers for some Achilles Pikes Peak athletes, our organization chooses to emphasize goals over disabilities. Athletes of all ages and abilities come to our free workouts with aspirations that range from being able to walk one mile without stopping, to competing in the senior games, to finishing a 100-mile trail race. Listening to what our members want, we’ve been able to offer additional experiences like climbing 14ers, hiking to and spending the night at Barr Camp, practicing yoga, and rock climbing. The organization has brought a lot of people together and has grown beyond what I ever could have imagined.”

In addition to his role with Achilles Pikes Peak, Stapanowich has been a member of the Barr Trail Mountain Race committee since 2015. “It’s been a lot of fun being a part of a committee of friends that is dedicated to keeping the spirit of the race alive,” he said. “We’re preparing for the 17th edition this year and though the faces behind the scenes have changed since the inaugural event in 2000, I’m really proud of the fact that it continues to emphasize donating to local high schools and non-profit organizations that support trail running and environmental stewardship.”

As to event volunteerism, Stapanowich said, “I love the fact that there are so many roles to fill. Volunteering at races gives you an appreciation of just how much work is involved. Whether you help mark a course, check runners in, staff an aid station, or even help direct parking, being a part of the production offers a unique sense of ownership and belonging to your community.”

It’s clear that trail running has become an integral part of Stapanowich’s life. “Trail running has taught me so much,” he said. “I’ve learned that my best ideas are produced when I’m moving, that spending time outside can be powerful medicine, and that our bodies can accomplish incredible things when our minds allow them to. Perhaps best of all, trail running has also taught me the importance of seeking regular experiences with awe and curiosity.”

When the student becomes the teacher, it’s time to ask for advice.

Be consistent: “The best runners will tell you that the secret to success is consistency. That doesn’t mean no days off, but it does mean defining what you want from trail running and committing to a schedule. Plan a race calendar for the year ahead if you have some races in mind and follow through with a plan that has you healthy at the start line. That means listening to your body and managing discomforts before they turn into more serious injuries.”

Find running partners: “While a solo run can be incredibly therapeutic, there are other times when a group run is the only thing that can get me out of bed on a cold, dark morning run before work. Look into the group runs in your area as they can be a valuable resource for running knowledge and social support.”

Know when to regroup: “If trail running ever feels more like an obligation than a joy, you may need to back off. That may mean leaving the watch at home, only doing social runs, or even giving yourself permission to sit down in the middle of a run to admire the view. Realize that there should be no pressure if that’s what’s getting in your way.”

Brandon carrying the Google camera for ATRA’s Pikes Peak Trekker project. (Photo by Peter Maksimow)

The ATRA Trail Ambassador program is presented by CamelBak with support from adidas Outdoor, OrthoLite, and CEP Compression.