Combining his passion for running and a desire to offer outdoor experiences to kids, Pagosa Springs runner Morgan Murri created GECKO (Give Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors), a nonprofit that provides scholarships for children to attend outdoor leadership programs.
Morgan's inspiration for creating this organization came from the transformation it had in his daughter's life.
"I was blown away by what it had done for her," said Morgan, referring to her participation in a national outdoor leadership program several years ago.
In the fall of 2008, the Mountain Chili Cha Cha became the inaugural race to launch GECKO and was so successful that Morgan decided to create a series of races this year, beginning with the Turkey Track Trail Full and Half-Marathon in June, the Devil Mountain 50K and Half-Marathon in July and culminating with the Mountain Chili Cha Cha in September, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the scholarship.
"GECKO has given about $8,000 this year locally in Pagosa Springs, working regionally with the High Mountain Institute in Leadville and nationally with the Outdoor Leadership School," Morgan said.
He would like to see the program transition from him raising awareness to getting more runners involved.
"Now that we have some kids who have been through the programs, they can be spokespeople for us. By having some success stories, we hope the interest will grow," Morgan said. "Participating in the race series is our biggest fundraising driver. We hope to spread the word by having runners form teams and represent GECKO at other events and get sponsorships."
Five Durango runners made the trip in July for the Devil Mountain races with John and Susan McAward and Jamie Kouse running the 50K.
Jessica Walke and I ran the half-marathon.
It was great meeting other area runners and racing on some different trails with the added bonus of supporting a worthwhile cause.
For Jamie, this was her second 50K. "I wanted to try a more challenging course, and since it was in Pagosa, I only had to drive an hour," Krouse said. "The course was beautiful, although it had a lot more climbing than I was expecting. I love doing ultras. I don't know if it's the challenge or being out in the woods for an extended period of time, I kind of like the feeling of pushing yourself."
Ross Kontz from Fort Collins was the first 50K finisher in his first-ever race of this distance.
"The course was unbelievable," Kontz said, "from that powder field that felt like you were in water to the crazy climbs and the wildflowers up to your armpits."
Jenna Gruben, the first female finisher in the 50K, appreciated the variety of the terrain.
"There was a little bit of everything - doubletrack, singletrack and some road which was actually nice for a little bit," she said.
Sept. 26 is the date for the final 2009 race in the series, the Mountain Chili Cha Cha, which offers three different distances - 3 miles, 7 miles and 15 miles.
Racing is one means of supporting GECKO, but volunteers are always welcome and donations are greatly appreciated.
For more information, check out the Web site at www.joingecko.org.
Reach Marjorie Brinton at email@example.com