Sophomore Maddie Hart of Boulder and junior Gordon Gianniny of Durango were named to the United States team to compete at the third annual Youth Skyrunning World Championships in L’Aquila, Italy, on Aug. 3-5.
Hart and Gianniny plan to compete in both events at Youth Skyrunning Worlds. The first of two races is the Gran Sasso Vertical Kilometer on Aug. 3, featuring a 3.5-kilometer course that gains 1,000 meters of altitude. The second race is the Gran Sasso SkyRace on Aug. 5, featuring a 21.6-kilomter course with 2,226 meters of climbing.
“I’m very honored to have been selected for the U.S. team,” Gianniny said, “and I can’t wait to race in Italy come August. Trail running is definitely a niche sport in the United States, especially in the youth category. Events like the Youth Skyrunning Championships help bring the sport into the public eye a little more, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Hart shared the enthusiasm for the international event with her teammate.
“I am still not sure the whole concept has sunk in,” Hart said. “Having never run in high school and having only been running for about three years, the fact that I am going to represent the United States at the Youth Skyrunning World Championships is insane. It is a great reminder of how far being passionate about something can take you. I am so lucky to be able to go to Europe and experience the country and the amazing trails!”
Hart and Gianniny are members of Western’s Trail Running Team. Coached by former Western track/cross country standout Josh Eberly, the team is part of the university’s innovative Mountain Sports program, which has offered organized training, travel and competition in skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, road cycling and, of course, trail running to student-athletes since 2013.
“My favorite part about the Trail Running Team is all the amazing people I have met as well as the amazing places we have been able to run in,” said Hart, an Environment & Sustainability major with a minor in Biology. “I think running allows some of the closest friendships to form, and the trail team is filled with genuine, kind, excitable runners who I am lucky to be able to call my friends. In addition, being able to go on trips to the most amazing places—such as the Grand Canyon and Ouray—and run with these amazing people is my favorite part of the team.”
Gianniny echoed the sentiments of his trail teammate.
“I think my favorite part of the Trail Running Team is the atmosphere it creates around running and training,” said Gianniny, an Honors student who is majoring in Geology and minoring in Biology. “Throughout most of my running career, I’ve always had teammates who complain about having to go on an ‘over-distance run’ or do a hard workout. The trail team is different. Members of the team aren’t there because of scholarships, competitiveness or parental influence; they’re there because they love to run. This creates a constructive, fun atmosphere that is conducive to hard, focused training, exploration and awesome racing opportunities.”
Gianniny races not only for Western’s Trail Running Team, but also its Nordic Skiing Team, which claimed the USCSA national championship in March at Lake Placid, N.Y. (The women’s team finished second overall.) The double duty in part explains his status as a two-time Mountain Sports Athlete of the Year.
“The Mountain Sports program was one of my main reasons for coming to Western,” Gianniny said, “and it is without a doubt the largest contributor to my decision to stay here. The Trail Running and Nordic Skiing teams offer a fun, supportive and competitive environment that is truly unique in my experience. On top of that, they offer an easy way to explore the many amazing recreational opportunities in the Gunnison Valley, from skate skiing in Crested Butte to long runs in the West Elks.”
Behind many an accomplished college runner is an accomplished coach. Neither Hart nor Gianniny is an exception. Each credits Eberly for contributing to their success both on the trails and off.
“It’s been really fun having Josh as a coach because he comes from the NCAA side, so he knows all the structure and training,” Gianniny said. “And he's super into trail running. That's a really unique thing about the team is having a coach who is not only a very accomplished runner, but also very into trail running so he knows what to do to make us all faster and better or improve on whatever our goals are.”
Eberly was a nine-time All American and 10K national champion at Western who later ran professionally. Since returning to Gunnison, working as an assistant for Western’s track and cross country teams, then becoming the trail coach in 2015, he has even run two ultras to familiarize himself better with the needs of certain runners. He has had an equal impact on Hart.
“Josh Eberly is an impeccable coach,” Hart said. “He knows his athletes well and is great at working with each individual on the team to help everyone achieve their goals. He knows when to inspire us to push and when to remind us to pull back the reins to avoid injury. He is a kind and genuine person as well; I am never afraid to ask him for help or advice about matters unrelated to running, which not many people can claim about their coaches.”
The respect is a two-way street.
“Gordon is a very committed and disciplined student-athlete,” Eberly said. “He has amazing patience and focus. His leads with his actions and not his mouth. Gordon sets his goals high and then pursues it, regardless how big the goal is. His attitude and personality always seem to be positive and forward. Great student-athlete to be chosen to represent the USA!
“As for Maddie, she lives and breathes endurance sports. When you talk with Maddie, you can feel her passion and discipline that she has with trail running. She is very much respected, and she embraces a mothership bond with our team. Her potential in this sport has not even been touched yet. I am very excited to see the journey she takes to become what she wants to be. Her team leadership will be a great addition to help Team USA in Italy.”
Story by Bryan Boyle, Marketing Communications. Photo by Taylor Cull.