Better together: Participating at the 2021 GoPro Mountain Games with friends feels like a party
Photo: Zach Mahone

Better together: Participating at the 2021 GoPro Mountain Games with friends feels like a party

Posted by: Shauna Farnell

Everyone seems extra full of love to be back at it at the GoPro Mountain Games, but having a buddy at their side this time around ‘takes it to a new level’

By nature, the majority of GoPro Mountain Games events are solo endeavors. Running, biking, kayaking, yoga … they all come down to every one for oneself, going one’s own speed and pushing one’s own limits. And this year more than ever, whether athletes have spent the last few months ramping up their fitness to new heights or embracing their pandemic couch potato, the resounding consensus is that everyone is thrilled to be back on the trail, mat or river and surrounded by like-minded individuals.

Regardless of the independent, self-fulfilling nature of athletic feats here at the 2021 Mountain Games, nobody can argue that experiencing an event – or at least starting and finishing one – is better with a friend. This rings especially true after the isolation and social distancing we’ve all faced over the last several months.

“Honestly, all I wanted to do is come here and see faces,” said Kynan Waggoner, who reconnected with his running buddy and former work colleague, Mike Neustedter, at the Rocky Dog Trail Run on Thursday. “It’s just a bonus to get to do this. It’s symbolic, kind of a celebration event, for getting back to doing what we love.”

The Mountain Games rendezvous is a 10-year tradition for the pair, both of whom live in the Denver area, but this year feels especially meaningful. The two hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic.

“We’ll start going for runs on the Front Range,” Neustedter said. “This will kick that off again.”

Rocky Dog Trail Run, GoPro Mountain Games, Brooks Laich, Chris Davenport, Zach Mahone photo
Brooks Laich, left, enjoys some camaraderie with the competition Thursday at the Rocky Dog Trail Run, including Chris Davenport. Athletes from all walks of life are enjoying participating in the 2021 GoPro Mountain Games together. Laich is a former NHL player, and Davenport is one of world’s most accomplished big-mountain skiers and mountaineers. Photo by Zach Mahone

Neustedter claims that he and his dog, Mauna Kea, both “got fat” during the pandemic and while they started the race with Waggoner and his dog, Wally, they were not planning to keep pace with them on the trail. Still, the much-missed social component of the before and after experience was something to relish.

“Dude, I was looking like a loser standing here alone,” Neustedter joked.

Local running buddies Danielle Salinsky and Mitch Baxter had never entered a Mountain Games event until they decided to sign up for the Rocky Dog a few days ago over beer and nachos.

“It’s just a good time with dogs and friends,” Salinsky said. “We are already talking about doing the 5K or the 10K.”

“It’s definitely more fun when you have a crew,” Baxter added. “We love doing this kind of thing anyway. In this setting – in a race – especially after not having this kind of thing around for so long, takes it up to a new level.”

Speaking of crews, Boulder residents Mary Rios and Jennifer Fawcett have a 20-year tradition of “chick trips” involving competitions and athletic events. In years past, for running races, members of their pack would form a human tunnel to welcome and cheer on the slower friends as they crossed the finish line.

This year at the Mountain Games, it’s just the two of them and while Fawcett is the only one signed up for racing (Friday’s Nature Valley Aprés 5K and Sunday’s adidas Terrex 10K Spring Runoff), the two are partaking in Mountain Games’ yoga events together and loving every second of it.

“She called me up and said, ‘Do you want to do GoPro Mountain Games?’ She knew I needed it so bad,” Rios said. “We all needed this. People all around here are so giddy. You can tell that everyone is thrilled to have this after what we all went through with the pandemic.”

Side-by-side on their yoga mats, surrounded by fellow athletes, the energy of instructor Yvonne Schwartz and the morning sun magnified by house beats from DJ Kirby K, the Boulder duo were clearly back in their best element.

“This kind of thing is what we love,” Fawcett said. “It’s what we do.”

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