Athletes on the rise |

Athletes on the rise

Izzi Gomez |

Vail’s GoPro Mountain Games are a perfect place to see some of the best outdoor athletes compete in a rare arena. It’s also a great opportunity to spot some of outdoors sports’ fastest rising stars. Meet these three burgeoning talents who will be competing at this year’s Mountain Games — and take a look at the paths that brought them there.

addie Brenneman, 25, learned to fly-fish at age 15 thanks to the influence of her boyfriend, Nick Kelley. Today, she’s not only a fly-fishing guide at a resort ranch in Granby but an Instagram starlet with 60,000-plus followers.

What exactly is so fascinating about her fly-fishing account? For starters, Kelley captures Brenneman’s catches through stunning images. Brenneman’s travels take her to rivers around the world, and she’s often shown grinning, knee-deep in crystal waters and showing off an impressive, speckled trout.

Most of her time is spent guiding and traveling, but she’ll be making a rare competition appearance at the GoPro Mountain Games fly-fishing tournament.

Brenneman’s fishing career began in college, when she worked for a travel company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She realized how much she loves fishing, and her enthusiasm landed her a sponsorship deal with a company looking for a female representative on social media. That led to other sponsorships, and her account gained traction.

“I remember I had something like 100 followers, and it bumped up to 2,000 to 3,000 in a short time, and I thought that was huge. In a couple months it jumped up to 6,000, and it was up to 40,000 a year after that,” she said. “I was just surprised — there are a lot of amazing fishing accounts out there. But sometimes weird things happen on the internet.”

She hopes her Instagram presence encourages more women to get into the sport. And she seems to be doing just that — on the photos she posts, for every few comments from males professing undying admiration, there’s a female who posts, “This will be me someday!”

“I try to create beautiful images that people would want to look at. My goal behind it is that it will inspire women, and really all people, to enjoy fishing and get out there,” Brenneman said.

Follow Brenneman on Instagram @maddiebrenneman.

mmy Rotich – from Kenya to Colorado

Sammy Rotich, 29, has come such a long way from his hometown of Eldoret, Kenya, that the half marathon he’ll run up Vail Pass during the GoPro Mountain Games seems negligible in comparison.

Rotich comes from an area of Kenya known for its distance runners, and he discovered his gift for running in elementary school. In an odd turn of events, Rotich turned to pro running when his family ran out of money to put him through school. He dropped out of high school, deciding to focus on running instead.

“I got a sponsor, who was our neighbor,” remembers Rotich. “He asked me what my future was. I said, ‘I cannot not go further in my education, but what I love is running.’ He offered to support me.”

In the years that followed, Rotich worked his way up through the ranks, competing in Kenya, then in Asia and Europe and eventually — a dream come true — in the United States. Today, he lives and trains for half the year in Des Moines, Iowa, where he has become a half marathon specialist. The rest of the year is spent at home in Kenya with his family for high-altitude training.

“Coming to the U.S. is a big deal, and it’s not something easy. You need to be internationally recognized, and you need to be very focused on training. In Kenya we have a lot of athletes, so you need a lot of discipline to stand out,” he said.

While 29 isn’t considered young in most professional sports, it is in distance running, where athletes often don’t hit their prime until their 30s. He plans to begin competing in marathons in the future.

“I think it’s true my fastest years are still to come,” he said. “I have a lot of goals and a lot of work to do. I’d like to switch to marathons, and maybe compete in the world championships and Olympics in the marathon in three or four years.”

In the meantime, catch him running the Vail Pass Half Marathon. He’s one of the few runners unconcerned about effects of competing at high altitude. Coming from a region sitting at nearly 7,000 feet, he says his performance doesn’t suffer when he competes at high altitude.

“I think it comes natural to me. My body is used to high altitude. The only difference I notice is that when I go back to Kenya at high altitude, I have to lose a couple pounds, and in Iowa, I can keep on a few pounds and not notice,” he said. i When Izzi Gomez started stand-up paddleboarding, she was one of the few paddlers on the water, and definitely one of the only girls. Her parents, who owned a swim shop in Jupiter, Florida, were the first in the area to buy stand-up paddleboards. Izzi, who was 12 at the time, and her brother had grown up surfing and took naturally to SUPs.

“Everyone would always say, ‘What is that thing?’” said Izzi, now 16 and among the top women paddlers in the country.

Most people are familiar with SUPs now, but few have seen anyone ride a board like Izzi does, hitting big waves and expertly carving through the water at insane angles and high speeds. Last summer, the two-time world SUP champion brought her big wave talents to the rivers at the GoPro Mountain Games, where she competed in most of the SUP events. Rivers, she discovered, are an entirely different challenge.

“You definitely have to have faster reaction times, because the water in the river is pulling you down so fast. If you’re surfing, you kind of wait for waves and pick one you want,” she said.

Last year, she ran into a bit of trouble adjusting to the rules of competition, getting penalized for mistakes like taking too many strokes on her stomach. However, this year, she’s ready to make some waves her second time around, especially in the SUP Cross competition, she says.

With such an auspicious start to her career, Izzi has much to anticipate in the coming years, and she lists off her future goals as only a 16 year old can.

“Definitely look out for me in the upcoming years in the surfing world. I want to make the tour for surfing. I also want to pursue music a bit,” she said with barely a pause. “When I was younger I was singing a lot. I have a Jack Johnson-type style, and I perform here and there. I’ve been recording some stuff on my own at home, and I went to Nashville to record some stuff in April. We’ll see where it goes.”

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User