By CHARLENE PAUL
Moapa Valley Progress
The sky was blue, with not a cloud in sight on Saturday, November 16. Runners waiting for their race to be announced gathered around the campfire or meandered with one another talking about the race. The Valley of Fire Backcountry Races began just before dawn, with runners competing in the 50K heading down the trail. Soon after, runners competing in the marathon headed out.
As each race was called, Triple Dare Running Company owners Heidi Dove and Aubrey Stadler welcomed the competitors and asked if there were any active military or veterans in the group. Cheers went up as hands were raised. “We appreciate all of those who serve,” said Dove. “My sister is a Navy vet, so we know how much these people give in the service of our country.”
When the 5K race was called, my husband Ken, daughters Emily Leavitt and Heidi Higgins, grandkids Wyatt Leavitt (7), Annie Leavitt (5), Elsie Leavitt (5), Evie Leavitt (3), and Connor Higgins (5), and I all took our places at the starting line. We were there in memory of Heidi’s husband, Jeremie who passed away the day after Thanksgiving last year. Saturday would have been his 36th birthday.
When I told Dove why we chose to run that day, she and her sister were thrilled to be part of our celebration of Jeremie’s life. “We wanted to make this a special day for Heidi and her son,” she said. “The kids were so cute, and it was a joy to have them with us.”
We were warned that the first three-quarters of a mile was about as technical as a trail run could get. And they weren’t kidding. As Ken, Emily, Heidi, and four of the grandkids took off, three-year-old Evie took my hand, and we carefully traversed the terrain. I knew it was going to be a long 3.1 miles with Evie’s short little legs doing their best to keep up.
We soon lost sight of the rest of our group, but Evie wasn’t discouraged. As the last runner passed us, she looked back and said, “Everybody is beating us, Grandma Bubbles. But we aren’t losing.”
Walking this backcountry course while holding the hand of a three-year-old was something I will forever cherish. She noticed everything: little rocks, big rocks, pointy rocks, giant rocks, the pink ribbons marking our path, snake holes, and footprints.
The 5K run was an out-and-back race. At one point, the runners would turn and head back to the start/finish line. I was surprised when the first people we saw on their way back were Ken and Wyatt – and Wyatt was leading Ken!
As racers began passing us on their way back, they complimented us and told Evie how cute she was. With each compliment, she thanked them and said “They were so nice. They need to be our next neighbors.”
When Emily, Heidi, and the rest of the kids got to us on their way back, they tried to convince Evie that we didn’t need to go all the way to the turn-around. They even bribed her with candy to cut her race short. But she was having none of it. We thanked them for the bag of Sour Patch Kids and continued on.
About a mile before the finish, Evie started to get tired. She kept talking, but her legs were getting sore.
“You got this,” I assured her. “When we finish, you are going to get a medal.”
That was all it took. She kept chatting and walking and holding my hand.
As we climbed the steep hill leading back to the start/finish line, family members saw us and began cheering for Evie to keep going. She got so excited and squeezed my hand.
At the bottom of the last hill before the start/finish line, someone shouted Evie’s name through a loudspeaker. Racers along the side of the path cheered for her and yelled her name. It was like a shot of adrenaline for that little gal. She dropped my hand and said, “I got this!” And away she went as fast as those short, little legs would carry her. My eyes teared up at her sheer determination to finish her race.
At the top, Dove and a few others held a long pink ribbon for Evie to run through as she crossed the finish line.
When the times were tallied, Wyatt became the youngest to win the 5K with a time of 32:08. Ken came in second. Emily, Heidi, Annie, Elsie, and Connor finished seconds apart from one another. Evie finished with a time of 1:33:56 and I finished dead last with a time of 1:34:09. I have never been so happy to finish last.
On behalf of my family, I would like to thank Heidi Dove, Aubrey Stadler, and their staff for making this such a special and memorable day. I can’t think of a better way to honor my beloved son-in-law than to join his little family in a beautiful autumn run through this amazing landscape.