One hundred forty years. When the town of Durango was formed two miles south of Animas City in 1880 to serve the San Juan mining district, it would have been impossible for those settlers to imagine the sports town it would become more than a century later.
In 1971 when Tom Mayer made a candy bar bet to his brother Jim, a brakeman on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, that he could ride his bike from Durango to Silverton faster than Jim’s steam engine locomotive could travel the tracks through the southern San Juan Mountains to the town north of Durango, neither Mayer brother could have conceived it would inspire the famed Iron Horse Bicycle Classic that would draw thousands of cyclists now for nearly 50 years.
Fast forward one more time to 1990 and the first International Cycling Union Mountain Bike World Championships held at Purgatory Resort. It sparks a movement in the world of cycling and within the Durango. Suddenly, world champions named Juli Furtado, Greg Herbold, Ruthie Matthes, Ned Overend and John Tomac called Durango home. Within four years, Fort Lewis College started a cycling program that brought athletes from around the world and helped turn them into world-class athletes, too.
Those events combined with Fort Lewis College, Durango High School, the Animas River and high altitude mountains that foster elite athletes of all varieties have helped create a town in 2020 that has boomed with a next generation of elite athlete to add to a legacy of summer and winter Olympians and national and world champions in a litany of activities.
But Durango is often overlooked for its accomplishments. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Colorado 337 miles by road or 486 miles by way of the famed Colorado Trail away from Denver, its professional sports organizations and the surrounding NCAA Division I colleges, it’s a rarity for Durango athletes – either born or raised or simply longtime Durango-based – to be recognized in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
No, not just a rarity. It’s never happened. World champions. Olympians. Game changers. Legends of their sport, yet no Durangoan is in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame dating back to its inaugural class of inductees in 1966.
It’s time Durango had its own athletics hall of fame.
Durango Athletic Hall of FameSpearheaded by former Durango city councilman and mayor Dale Garland, a teacher at DHS and the race director of the world-famous Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run ultramarathon, and IHBC race director Gaige Sippy, committees were formed to establish the requirements for induction, guidelines for nomination, what a hall of fame ceremony would entail and a physical location for where a hall of fame could be built.
Garland and Sippy spoke together during a memorial service for Ed Zink, the IHBC co-founder who died suddenly at 71 in October 2019. Zink, a lifelong Durangoan who was a pillar in the cycling and outdoor community, had wanted to establish a hall of fame. Garland and Sippy took on the calling after his death.
“I remember that Ed would say that sometimes a town needs a pep rally,” Sippy said. “We view this hall of fame as a way for the town to come together and get excited, just like a pep rally.”
Garland and Sippy organized members from various realms of the Durango sports community as well as local media. After a few months of careful planning and research into various hall of fames across the country, the Durango Athletic Hall of Fame is ready to receive nominations for its first induction class for the fall of 2020.
No doubt, hall of fame organizers anticipate crowning a Mount Rushmore of Durango athletics in the inaugural class. Nominees should not only have worthy athletic accomplishments to their name but have also represented Durango in a positive and significant manner and served as role models.
“We want this to be not only a recognition of athletic accomplishment but also a way to show the youth of Durango what athletic excellence looks like and that they can accomplish excellence here,” Garland said. “It’s about developing the next generation of Durango athlete, as well,”
Athletes from all walks of sports will be considered for induction. Naturally because of Durango’s demographics, it is likely cycling and outdoor mountain athletes may outnumber those from team sports within the hall of fame. That does not mean they will be considered more highly than participants in any other sport.
Those who have made important contributions to the sports community, whether through administrative work, officiating, philanthropy or the development of programs, also can be nominated.
The goals are simple: to recognize excellence in all areas of athletics within the Durango community and to promote further development and potential within the town’s athletes.
The date is set for the inaugural banquet for Oct. 26 at the Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall. The Durango Athletic Hall of Fame is respectful of other hall of fames existing within Durango such as those at DHS and FLC as well as the Durango Winter Sports Foundation and picked a date that does not overlap too closely with those events. The date also was selected in hopes many athletes who compete abroad would be able to attend.
A website will be online within the week, and the Durango Athletic Hall of Fame can now be followed on Facebook. The nomination form is also available online and will be open until April 30.
For more information about the Durango Athletic Hall of Fame or for any questions regarding the nomination process, selection criteria and more, the hall of fame can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is an exciting time to be part of Durango athletics, and now is the time to bring the entire sports community together once a year to recognize the list of growing accomplishments. Let’s honor the inaugural class this fall and celebrate the town’s past, present and future.
“Athletes tend to get siloed into their own sports,” Garland said. “Our goal is to make this a vehicle for athletes in all disciplines to come together and appreciate what is common amongst them.”
John Livingston is the sports editor of The Durango Herald and a member of the Durango Athletics Hall of Fame selection committee. He can be reached at 375-4514 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.