Attendance is mandatory at HillClimb |

Attendance is mandatory at HillClimb

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
SPT sally clair 2 KA 7-8-07

VAIL ” With hiking poles in her hand, Sally Clair made her way up Vail Mountain Sunday at the Vail Recreation District’s Teva HillClimb.

Clair couldn’t run up the grueling 7.5-mile course that ascended 2,400 feet as she’s lost cartilage in her knee and endured four surgeries.

But it didn’t matter because the HillClimb is Clair’s race.

From the very first year the HillClimb started, Clair has competed in all of 31 races.

“My goal in life is to do this until I’m 80,” Clair said. “I can’t run anymore, but I’m still out there.”

When she ran in the first HillClimb, Clair, 57, had competed in a few running races, but the inaugural Vail race marked the beginning of her running career.

Through the years, however, the Vail race became the focal point of Clair’s season.

“I’ve kind of planned vacations so I don’t miss it,” Clair said.

While the number of participants and the course have fluctuated, a few of the names on the bib list have been constants. Clair was quick to point out a face she always sees at the start race ” Bruce Kelly.

“It’s like, Oh, you’re here ” Oh darn,” Clair joked.

Kelly says he has participated in all but one of the races, but can’t pin down which one he missed. He does remember his first race, though.

“I read about it in the paper,” said Kelly, 55. “I wasn’t a runner … and said, ‘I’m just going to do it and see what it’s like.

“It was extremely painful.”

Much like Clair, Kelly kept racing year after year, and eventually he figured it was his race.

“Once I got into the 20’s, you sort of can’t stop,” Kelly said Saturday night. “It’s kind of like, (Sunday) morning, I’m going to run it. There was a period of eight to 10 years where I really trained for the hill climb. I’d be doing special workouts.”

Kelly, who runs between three to five times a week and bikes often, came in at 1 hour, 12 minutes and 13 seconds, good for eighth in his age group and 72nd overall. Clair powered her way in at 1:45:38, 11th in her division and 256th overall.

Andy Ames, 44, won the men’s division in 53:12, ahead of Bernie Boettcher, 44, at 53:56 and Alex Willis, 19, at 54:45. Willis, who rode from Leadville with Kelly, nearly missed the race as his alarm clock didn’t go off and awoke to Kelly knocking at his door.

Helen Cospolich, 30, took the women’s title at 1:02:06. Anita Ortiz, 43, was second at 1:04:03 and Susan Nuzman, 40, was third at 1:05:25.

Clair’s streak has not come without some close calls.

“Ohhhh yea,” Clair said. “I had torn my rotator cuff one race and ran with my arm in a sling. Another year I just gotten off crutches and had six weeks to train. It’s one of those little things where you say, ‘This is my race and I’ve done it so many year ” it’s a tradition.”

Kelly raced last year one day after the Leadville Half Marathon

“When I showed up for HillClimb, I thought it wasn’t that bad, but I got one mile in and really felt it,” Kelly said.

Kelly is thankful that he can keep coming back to the HillClimb.

“I appreciate the different recreation directors over the years who have continued to keep it going, and tried to make it a little better,” he said.

Both Kelly and Clair have had their share of solid performances.

“I did break an hour years ago,” said Clair, who used to hold the record for most wins. “It’s gotten very competitive and the times are dropping rapidly.”

Kelly enjoys running well, but doesn’t always focus on how he finished.

“When you put a lot of time in and focus on something and have a good race, it’s not exactly about having a good race ” it’s that journey that got you there and you feel like you have a feeling of self-satisfaction.”

Although Clair says the post-race atmosphere has changed a bit from the days when they had beer parties at top, the main theme has been the same.

“It was always getting up and having girlfriends cheer you on,” she said. “It’s the camaraderie of getting out to a local running race.”

And sharing in the pain and pleasure.

“I used to hang around and see people who were taking two to two-and-a-half hours (to finish),” Kelly said. “It’s always fun to watch them and how gratifying it is for them to accomplish something like that and see what they are going through … and know they are going through the same thing you are.”

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or

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