Black Cloud on a Way-Too-Sunny Day

The Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) races fill me with excitement and dread every summer since Mike started competing in them ten years ago. We all have our vice(es), and for Mike, it’s training for and completing ultra-distance races. I’m not sure how many others can claim being a four-time “Leadman” (Google it), but Mike has earned every belt buckle now littering his bureau top.

hug2

The Lead Ass Inn (our home, dubbed by my Dad) has been a gathering spot for countless racers over the eight years we’ve lived here, and both friends and strangers from the US and overseas have slept in our beds and on our floors and have been grateful for the availability of our three bathrooms. When we updated the bathrooms in our 120-year-old Victorian—the first update I insisted upon—I told Mike we’d be purchasing the American Standard Champion4 toilets because they advertised the ability to flush a bucket of golf balls. Although I never tested that claim, I’ve also never needed a plumber or a plunger since the installation, and believe me, racers can stress a system!

Group

After so many years of participating in the 100 mile mountain bike event, we’ve fallen into an exciting(ly stressful) routine which leads up to my favorite time of all—race day morning. We’re up at 04:45 because we know our regulars and some tagalongs will be ready for their pre-race prep at 05:00. We’ve unofficially adopted the First Descents team (http://firstdescents.org/), and one of their key leaders, Brent Goldstein, and their supporters—Gary Morris, Kevin Kane, and celebrity Ryan Sutter (among hordes of others over the years), begin their arduous day in our home. The vibe is always electric.

This year our group was smaller than average, and from the moment we awoke, we knew this year’s race day would be different. Sure, it was chilly before the sun rose, but it was not nearly as cold as it’s been in years past. Mike handed me his jacket as soon as he got settled in his staging corral (and yes, the similarity to sheep being herded was astounding). He didn’t even start the race with arm warmers. This did not bode well for him.

At mile 40 he was looking great and spent little time at our Twin Lakes support crew station. A refill of fluids and a brief comment about the heat and he was off for the climb up Columbine Mine. But by mile 60 on his way back through, I could tell the heat was whipping him. He actually took a seat, something he’s never done, and was in no great rush to get back onto his bike. It was not the Mike who came blazing through six years ago sans bike saddle (which had torn off on a fall coming down Columbine) and who finished the raced in mere minutes over 9 hours still looking strong. Nope. The heat was draining support crew people. It was brutalizing the racers. Mike was not looking good.

I was worried about him (always my greatest stressor), but I knew he’d finish the race. Mike’s training focus since his first hip replacement surgery three days after last year’s 100 mile mountain bike race has been on biking. He was going to earn the coveted BIG belt buckle for a 10th-year 1,000-mile finish, which is not to be confused with the turkey-platter-sized belt buckle he’ll earn when he finishes his 20th race ten years from now. And let’s face it. Who (besides me) wouldn’t want to sport a belt buckle the size of Texas? My one fear is he’ll need his other hip replaced by then just to carry the weight of it.

Anyway, the day grew hotter and I grew more anxious as time passed at the finish line until finally, I heard them slaughter his name. “And from Leadville, let’s hear it for Mike McChhaaargyouway!” Really? Not only has he completed this race 10 times and completed the whole Leadman series four times (and I won’t even talk about how much money these races cost to enter), as the Lake County Emergency Manager, he has also provided trail support for all of the races for years now. I suppose I should be used to people not being able to say our name, but this really irked me.

The time was 10 hours 38 minutes and Mike looked like death—not even warmed over. I Mike finishtried to coax him into the medical tent, but he chose instead to dry heave the whole way home. “Grit, guts and determination.” I knew we would not make it to the VIP party at 6:30 p.m.

He was showered and in bed by the time the other racers made their way back to our house to retrieve their belongings. And this was when the dark cloud passed over. Outside on the sidewalk, two women—a racer and her friend—sat looking morose. I went to offer assistance not knowing what was wrong and found out their friend had died during the race.

Mike and I met Scott Ellis and his wife years ago when they were staying at the B&B two houses down from us, their LT100 routine. This would have been Scott’s 19th LT100 finish. “He was in great shape” and was an avid racer. But his heart gave out about 20 miles from the finish. His wife was not here for this race. He was only 55. Mike’s age.

We attended the awards ceremony early this morning because getting the BIG buckle was a big deal and we wanted to be there to support the other racers. I left the ceremony upset for two reasons. The first reason was petty. Yup, they tortured Mike’s name again (they got “Mike” right) and did not have his buckle ready to take home. It bothered me more than it bothered him, so I really should follow his lead on these things.

But I was truly upset because there was not a single mention of the man who perished in a helicopter after falling at mile 80 on the race. Not a mention. Not a brief moment of silence or acknowledgment of the fact that “Grit, guts and determination” can sometimes be fatal.

And so it is that this year’s LT100 race is over. For Mike, it’s another goal attained before an upcoming week of coordinating support for the US Pro Cycling Challenge coming through Leadville this Wednesday/Thursday and for the LT100 mile running race on Saturday (I’m thankful he’s not competing in that one anymore). For me, it’s a sigh of relief that my friends and husband made it through this race with stories to tell.

I wonder about Scott’s wife. I wonder if she’s feeling angry that her husband died doing something he didn’t have to do, or if she’s feeling some sense of gratitude that he died doing something he had to do. Either way, I want to cry for her.

More on this at: Report of fatality and Another story about Scott

Footnote: On 8/17/15, the Leadville Race Series Facebook page posted a tribute to Scott: LRS Tribute to Scott

Leadville Today posted this tribute on 8/19/15: Tribute to Scott

…and while I may be vilified in the press for being so “demanding,” I maintain my belief that Scott’s accomplishments should have been recognized before any others at the awards ceremony the following day.

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter

 

37 thoughts on “Black Cloud on a Way-Too-Sunny Day”

  1. Thanks for sharing and writing this, I saw Scott receive more CPR in the white truck ambulance and then air lifted out of the trail. So sad. Maybe by this blog we can all go give his wife a hug, and bury Scott and show our support as a leadville family, we should come together and have a word of silence, we should mark that Powerline spot…with bright flowers, it was near the descends, in memory of Scott ellis. I felt like My first leadville what a sad memory, I couldn’t dig deep after seeing that. I finished and still can’t stop thinking what if’s.

    1. Thank you for responding, and yes, I agree that something must be done. Even last night there was no “news” on the Internet about the fatality. I do not understand the secretiveness behind this tragedy.

  2. “Not a brief moment of silence or acknowledgment of the fact that ‘Grit, guts and determination’ can sometimes be fatal.”

    Inexplicable. In thinking about this since last night I cannot imagine a reason for such a lapse. Indifference? Concerns about liability or bad publicity? Nothing makes sense. If, however, the way something as simple as teaching the volunteers how to deal with local traffic across the race route is any indication of how other issues were handled, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

    But congratulations to Mike. I’m always amazed by such accomplishments.

    1. You’re right, John, nothing makes sense. Whether indifference or liability or bad publicity, there’s no excuse in my book good enough for such a disrespectful lapse.

      1. I agree with you. There is no rational excuse for not addressing this tragedy at the awards ceremony the next morning. It’s not going away so the sooner you get in front of it the better for everyone. And to pay respect for the fallen warrior and his family. And what about the “leadville family” mantra which is readily used at every opportunity to promote and sell this event? How about walking the talk? It’s a real disappointment.

        1. You are among many who feel as you do. Thank you for posting. I hope Scott will be remembered at some point during this weekend’s last LT100 race.

  3. My prayers are lifted for Scott’s family and friends. I can only hope that the correct recognition will be given soon. There is a likelihood that the reason there was no mention of Scott is because they wanted to make sure family was notified before the general public. Thank you for your letter.

    1. You are most welcome, and thank you for responding. I believe there could have been mention of a fatality even if they did not use his name…and I know his wife had been notified the day before. There were many ways this acknowledgment could have been handled. To keep it hidden from the public was, in my opinion, the most disrespectful thing they could have done.

  4. Thanks for this post, Laurel.
    Co gratulations to Mike.
    We looked everywhere for information about Scott Ellis, but nothing. I am in shock about how The LT100 MTB race handled this death. We have friends in Texas that used to race, knew Scott and we’re very disappointed as well.

    The way this was handled will definitely reverberate around race circles.

    1. Thank you. They cannot come up with any “legal” mumbo jumbo that will satisfy me. This race has a cult-like following, and those who support it should know that its leaders at the Lifetime Fitness Corporate HQ do not respect their racers enough to give credit and respect where it’s due. I could not be more disappointed. The ultra-racing community is like a band of brothers and sisters who suffer together and who “get” one another. They should be furious that they were not given enough credit to be able to handle news of the fatality on a day devoted to recognizing and rewarding “Grit, guts and determination.”

  5. Thank you SO much for writing this. I am a co-worker of Scott’s, and it’s a very dark day here in the office. At times like this, we search for answers and crave information, and even on Monday morning, this is the only write-up I can find on Scott’s passing. So I sincerely thank you.

    I’m also so sorry that this event has become a distraction from your own husband’s incredible achievement. Though I don’t know you, I know Scott was an incredible athlete, and to do what he and Mike have done takes an incredible degree of determination and pain, and I have so much respect for Mike. I am truly happy for him!!!

    God bless you and your husband for your efforts and for opening your home and hearts to so many people. You are a blessing!! I see Jesus in you!!

    1. Nathan, I am so very sorry that you have lost a friend and co-worker, and please do not apologize for thinking Scott’s tragedy took away from Mike’s accomplishment. He is as angry as I am that a fallen brother was not honored. Mike and I both served time in the Army, Mike retired after 20 years and I gave 9 years to active duty and 3 to Reserves time, resigning to raise our sons. When a soldier falls, you give them the honor and respect they have earned and deserve. They are part of your family. Those who participate in these ultra-races are also family. Racers–competitors–help one another on the course when they see a brother or sister struggling. From my perspective, and my husband’s, it is unconscionable that the Lifetime Fitness Headquarters chose to disrespect not only Scott, but his band of brothers and sisters who raced with him. Again, I send my warm regards to you and Scott’s co-workers on this sad, sad day, and I still feel pain in my heart for Scott’s wife. I struggle with the thought that I could someday be in her situation, and I honestly do not know if my anger might overpower any other emotion. I will keep Scott, his friends and family in my prayers during what will surely be a trying time ahead.

    1. The racing community–this wild and wonderful band of brothers and sisters–deserves to know about this tragedy, and Scott Ellis needs to be recognized and honored for his achievements.

  6. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family. I can say with certainty that many were grieved during the race on Saturday. I was working at the Carter Aid Summit and numerous people came in and shared the story. So many deeply concerned and one gentleman that was crying. There were loads of folks that stopped their race to help do CPR and/or call 911.

    I will pray for his wife.

    1. Thank you, Chip. Our friend Gary Morris was on the course and saw the group providing CPR and knew he could offer no better assistance. We all had heavy hearts at the end of the race. Scott’s name and accomplishments must be recognized and honored.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this Laurel. I also passed the group doing CPR, who just requested that I make sure help was on the way. I will never forget that moment and Scott will always be a part of my race. My heart was heavy from that moment on. The final 2 hours were incredibly emotional–excited and proud to finish, yet sad for the fallen rider and his family. I held out hope for him, not knowing the outcome until some time after I finished. He absolutely should have been recognized and honored during the awards ceremony on Sunday. I was disappointed and left feeling somewhat empty. My thoughts are with his wife and family–he will not be forgotten.

    1. Thank you, Lisa, and congratulations on your race…I saw you at Twin Lakes inbound but you were focused on making up that tiny hill at the end of the dam road. Many people were pulling for him. I’m sure “they” will say something soon. I only hope what they say will be appropriate, but I cannot imagine how they can explain what I believe was a poor decision.

  8. Thank you for the write up. This is one of the only small pieces of information that I could find concerning the tragedy on Saturday. Your blog post was linked from an article at Velonews. I raced on Saturday for the 4th year in a row. I am part of the Team First Descents group (thanks for your support). I agree with you that the heat was debilitating. I was trying to break sub 8:30 this year and barely finished under 9:00 hours. All of the racers suffered.

    With that said, I was very disappointed that there was no mention of the Scott’s death, or at least a moment of silence. This is inexcusable. To put this gaff in perspective, a rider died last month at an Enduro Race (Enduro World Series) in Crested Butte. This was a nationally coordinated race with riders from around the world. The rider tragically passed away during the second of three days of competition. The race organizers immediately cancelled the event and then held memorial ride for him the following day. The organizers quickly responded and did the right thing. The entire community rallied behind the death. This type of reaction is a stark difference to the non-reaction from the Leadville organizers.

    I am questioning my desire to continue to race in this series.

    1. Hi Derek. Thank you for supporting the wonderful work First Descents does for cancer patients and survivors. We feel honored to help in the small way we are able. First Descents Board Member Brent Goldstein was also on track to finish under 9 hours until the heat got to him as well.

      I have not heard a single person argue that the news of Scott Ellis’s death should have been silenced, and although the LT100 mountain bike race could not have been cancelled, those who finished the race certainly deserved to hear about it. Deaths in races like these endurance races happen, and to avoid mentioning them is, as you say, inexcusable. I believe Lifetime will suffer for this gaff. The race series brings a much needed boost to the struggling economy of Leadville, but as each year becomes more about the money, I become increasingly more disenchanted.

  9. Can’t believe there was no mention at the awards. Someone told me a rider had passed away and I said, “I don’t think so. Surely they would have said something at the ceremony or had a moment of silence.” Nothing…not a word. Shameful really.

  10. Clearly, the race organizers are not recognizing Scott’s tragic loss (and his family’s loss) which is completely unacceptable and disrespectful. Is there a way the rider community can come together and somehow acknowledge Scott’s incredible accomplishments?

    LT100 was fantastic, however, they need to remove the corporate aspect of the race and embrace the human aspect.

    1. I completely agree, Troy, and I hope that the corporation will make amends, perhaps this upcoming Saturday before the LT100 running race, the last race of the Leadman series.

  11. I, like many others, had been suffering on the powerline climb, but felt a surge of strength in knowing that the finish line was in reach.

    Shortly after beginning the descent off of powerline I came upon a group of racers administering CPR to the man I now know was Scott. Knowing there was nothing I could do that wasn’t already being done I stopped and prayed for a few minutes and continued on in a daze. I finished, barely. The elation that I usually feel in pushing myself to overcome the suffering that I went through that day was not there. Instead my thoughts remained with him, his family, and not knowing what had happened.

    Thank you for sharing this. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to those who fought for his life on Saturday.

  12. It’s sad to me that the corporation behind this race series has taken a bit of the allure and charm from me. No mention at all of Scott’s passing? So very sad. My thoughts are with Scott and his Family. Lifetime has turned this race into something I no longer desire to do again. On a side note Laurel, I love your blog.

    1. Thank you, Sean. My understanding is that they’re working on it, so we’re hopeful they’ll do the right thing. In this age of instant social media, tragedies like this must be addressed quickly. I was not the only person who knew of the tragedy, and bad news only gets worse with age.

  13. I just heard about Scott Ellis’ death through an AP story on a newpaper website. I did not know Scott, but I started my first Leadville in 1995 and have thirteen finishes, so I’m sure our paths crossed at some point. I can’t imagine how the family feels. I feel terribly myself.

    It is utterly inexcusable that Lifetime did not even take ten seconds at the awards ceremony to honor an 18 time finisher who died on the course of their race the day before. Unbelievable.

    I quit riding Leadville the year after Lifetime took over. I just didn’t like the vibe, and the race was clearly being run by people who had no clue. When I was reading stories about the race on Sunday, I had thoughts that I should jump back in next year. The stories didn’t even mention Scott Ellis’ death! This is Lifetime’s fault, THEY PUT OUT THE PRESS RELEASES. To ignore the death of ANY competitor is beyond comprehension, let alone the death of someone with EIGHTEEN FINISHES.

    Screw Lifetime. They’ll never see me at one of their races again, and they’ll never see me set foot in one of their facilities.

    RIP, Scott Ellis. You and your family deserved better.

  14. I told myself if I didn’t see a front page posting of what happened Saturday by this morning (2 days later) on the corporate website that I would never again attempt entry or talk up this event — I have seen many veteran past racers moving away since the passing of the control to lifetime fitness. The awards ceremony was the perfect place to honor the 18 years he did compete so to make the choice to not even have a moment of silence for one of our fellow competitors is disgusting!!

    And all of the pre-race talk of it being family —I believe fully that Ken and Merilee consider the racers to be like family but the new owners need to fire whomever was/in charge of media relations before Leadville the event everyone dreams of doing at least once in their lives turns away from that great town, people and race..

    I just know this silence on their part has to be killing Ken!

    1. Hi Dean, You’re right about the LT100 racing family changing under the new ownership. Mike and I have experienced this change and have heard complaints about it from other racers like you, and it saddens us. The races are such an important part of our identity as a tiny, struggling town, and we once were proud of being members of that racing family. Not anymore.

  15. Thank you for your words…we have been wondering what happened!
    We were staying at the same Bed and Breakfast as Scott. We met him on Wednesday at breakfast. We had some lovely chats and eats with him for the next several days. My husband and daughter were racing on Saturday and he offered kind words of encouragement. After a quick, early breakfast on Saturday we were off. We were so heartbroken to learn that evening that he was no longer with us. We offer our sincere condolences to his wife Connie. He spoke such kind words, had soft concerning eyes, a determined spirit and was a dedicated athlete and man.

  16. Did you stop to think that perhaps the race organisers acknowledge that this is a very important event for the participants and that they didn’t want to mar the experience by burdening the riders with the knowledge that they survived while one of their own fell. Perhaps they contacted Scott’s wife and she knew knew how much it meant to the riders and didn’t want them to suffer as she was? I’m not claiming this as fact, but I really do think you should entertain the possibility that this is what Scott’s family would have wanted. When I die, however it happens, I certainly don’t want people feeling morose and lamenting my demise, especially if it happens at such life changing event. That’s just my opinion, I don’t claim to know what Scott’s family want, but neither do you, so it might be a good idea to entertain the possibility that the event organisers were acting on the wishes of his wife. Just try and get some facts about people’s motivation for doing things before you start slamming them from behind your screen. My sincerest condolences to all of Scott’s family and friends in this trying time

    1. Hi Dan. Thank you for your post. I have certainly entertained the many possible reasons for not acknowledging the death of a racer. Perhaps my opinion is filtered through my years of military service and the expectation I have that when we lose someone, we honor them. In my book, it’s about respect. We are offered the opportunity as survivors to feel the impact, the burden, and the suffering before moving on. I don’t see a moment of reflection as something that will “mar the experience” of those involved. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to feel true awe in our accomplishments…and in our mortality. This is my opinion.

  17. Brian P. sent this comment to my email and said I could share it on this blog. It is a beautiful tribute to the “Leadville Family” and a heartfelt reflection on people like Scott who are driven by what they love and are compelled to do.

    Laurel,
    I had the great fortune of riding my first race in the Lifetime Leadville Race Series this past July by completing their Camp of Champions and racing in the Silver Rush 50 the following weekend. These were three of the best days I have ever spent on a bike in my life, my family was able to be there in support of my race, and I was humbled and grateful for the entire experience.

    I was unable to get in to the LT100 this past weekend but read your post and feel great disappointment in the corporate nature of how they handled the death of one of their participants by failing to even mention this loss of life. Having met Ken Chlouber and many others on the Leadville Staff back in July I was instantly impressed with how they treated us like part of the “Leadville Family,” unfortunately, it appears some Lifetime Lawyers/Publicists directed them to do what they likely did not feel was right in their hearts by not mentioning Scott or his death following the race. I find this failure on their part to be inexcusable and Lifetime should be embarrassed for themselves.

    My time in Leadville was exceptional, possibly the highlight of the trip(other than the great bike riding) was when I inadvertently locked myself out of my still running rental van in the Safeway parking lot and several Leadville locals went out of their way to help facilitate my attempt to get the door unlocked, which thanks to their help I was able to do in about 20 minutes. I know in most towns people would have just continued on their way and not offered the same service. I am impressed by Leadville and it’s people and hope the Lifetime Executives realize what a black eye this could become to such a great community of hardy individuals who are quick to lend a helping hand.
    Brian
    PS-I really like how you expressed, “…Should we be angry a man dies doing something he didn’t have to do, or grateful he died doing something he had to do?” For my part, and I imagine Scott felt the same way, and that is, I feel called to do events such as this. No one makes me do them, but I am drawn to them much like a moth to flame. If I had to choose how to go it would be doing an event like this rather than some drawn out stay in a hospital, but I know we don’t get to decide when or how we expire, so we should just listen to that inner voice that compels us to do what we are purpose driven to do and keep a healthy perspective on how we prioritize our participation in them, but that is an ever adjusting balancing act.

Leave a Reply to Dan Spring Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*