‘Solemates’ top the podium at ultramarathons in Chile, raise more than $190,000 for Challenge Aspen
Every year, the Challenge Aspen “Solemates” running team trains for grueling trail races in scenic destinations, like the lakeside mountains of Italy or the steep hills of Catalina Island.
This fall, they traveled to Torres del Paine National Park, in the Patagonian region of Chile, for “Ultra Paine” races ranging from 14 kilometers (about 8 miles) to 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles).
The running teams take part not only to test their physical and mental limits, but also to raise money for Challenge Aspen, a nonprofit based in Snowmass Village that offers adaptive recreation programs year-round. Challenge Aspen helps people with disabilities get out on the snow and trails too, often using equipment like sit-skis and all-terrain wheelchairs; programs range from a local ski team to outings for veterans to a musical theater camp. This year, the Solemates team raised more than $190,000 for the organization.
Solemates racer Carson Campisi, from Basalt, won the women’s 50K, covering more than 30 miles in just 6 hours, 21 minutes and 17.8 seconds. Campisi said the connection to Challenge Aspen gave this run more purpose — and she’s now planning to volunteer for the nonprofit this winter.
“A lot of the Challenge Aspen staff came on the trip as well, which is really cool to hear about some actual personal stories that they've had with participants,” Campisi said.
“And definitely on the run, I was thinking about those stories and those people as a way to motivate myself to keep going,” she said.
Solemates coach Jennifer Mendez, from Carbondale, joined Campisi on the podium, finishing third in the 50K about 25 minutes behind Campisi.
And many other Solemates runners had strong races in their divisions, too, ending up on the podiums for their age and gender groups. Olivia Niosi, from Aspen, even won the women’s 80K race overall (and was, in fact, the only woman to complete the grueling course).
Reflecting on the race, and the success of her team, Mendez can get a little sentimental.
“It makes me tear up just now. It makes me really proud. Very happy, very excited for them,” Mendez said. “You know, this is a huge accomplishment for so many of them. … Everyone was just thrilled.”
Niosi, the 80K winner, completed the course in a time of 14 hours, 29 minutes and 4.9 seconds. While there were several other women at the start line, she was the only one to make it all 50 miles to the finish while meeting all the race cutoff times.
“When I knew I was the only woman left on the course, I tried to finish strong to represent us out there, because everyone that started and did what they could did a really great job,” Niosi said.
You can hear more about Niosi’s journey using the “Listen” button above, or read the transcript of her interview with Aspen Public Radio below. This interview has been edited and condensed.
I think that that practice of putting ourselves out there and doing something that's really uncomfortable or makes us question our abilities is a great way for anyone, abled or disabled, to learn about themselves.Olivia Niosi, Challenge Aspen "Solemates" runner, on "redefining limits"
Olivia Niosi: It was a really challenging course. The first 20 miles, there was no trail. And we were just following sticks with reflective tape on the top. I dodged over these, I guess the Chilean equivalent of like a sagebrush, and there was two really big climbs. I just felt like I was going straight up and down Aspen Mountain, twice, and that — it was brutal, and I was getting real beat up.
And then afterwards, it was much more smooth, on more of a two-track, very similar to Richmond Ridge, but my legs were just so tired after some brutal ups and downs and a lot of route finding, that I really slowed down and it hurt.
My last 15 miles, I was by myself, and I knew that all of my teammates had run this course before me — maybe an hour or maybe 30 minutes — I don't know, I was, time was no longer a concept.
But you know, I was running and I was picturing all of them powering up these little hills that just felt huge. And I was like okay, you know, “Kara’s with me she's telling me to push harder, OK, I'm going with her,” and “all right, Connor’s flying down this downhill, I’ve got to fly with him.” I definitely wasn't hallucinating, but I was kind of being silly with myself pretending that they were with me while we ran.
But I powered through, and there was another runner who came up to me and warned me that we were getting close to some of the cutoff times, which surprised me because I thought I was going to crush it. And I definitely was getting crushed. So I was like, “Oh, my gosh,” and I picked it up, and I let my legs go. And I ran fast. And it felt amazing.
I love that it doesn't matter what race you're running. Everyone's race is equally cheered at the finish line. And that gives me the power to take pressure off of myself and feel proud of myself when I come in. Because I did really well, I crushed it. I'm like, so proud of myself, but in those moments, I definitely felt weak, multiple times.
When I was out there running, I definitely was thinking of the participants with Challenge Aspen that I've had the pleasure to ski with, and thinking about what they would do if they were with me, you know, like readjusting goals, not beating themselves up for being slower than they wanted to be, you know, accepting that, “Alright, today we're slower, but we're still going to finish, and how can we change our goals so that we're feeling proud of ourselves instead of beating ourselves up?”
One of Challenge Aspen’s missions that really speaks to me is like, “redefining limits.” I don't know what my limits are. And signing up for these big, long, crazy races really makes me kind of find them. And I think in this race, I realized I didn't have a physical limit. But man, was my mental game hurting. Like, I just felt so defeated the last 10 miles.
And I think that that practice of putting ourselves out there and doing something that's really uncomfortable or makes us question our abilities is a great way for anyone, abled or disabled, to learn about themselves.
I definitely want to continue with the Challenge Aspen Solemates group. We have such a strong support system for people doing crazy races like me, but even if you're running the half marathon, you are celebrated. It's a great community that I want to continue to be a part of for as long as I can.