Top Sports Stories of 2021
The year 2021 marked a return of athletic events and competitions, and a resurgence of the spirit surrounding them. If anyone had previously taken hard bleachers, trail runs and crowds at the bottom of ski courses for granted, they absolutely did not this past year.
The Steamboat Marathon was back after being canceled in 2020 for the first time since the event began, and anyone watching on Lincoln Avenue bore witness as a woman finished second overall for the first time in the race’s history. While some old traditions returned, some new programs, like Go Skate Steamboat, took off and made a sudden impact on the community.
After eerily quiet nights in gymnasiums, spectator limits were lifted at indoor high school sport events. Crowds witnessed historic seasons for teams across the Yampa Valley.
As part of the Out of the Shadows series, local athletes and coaches broke down stigma by discussing hard topics, such as suicide and mental wellness.
A well-known local Olympian retired to focus on her mental well being, while others began chasing their next Olympic dreams.
Here’s a summary of the sports stories that welcomed fans back and inspired communities.
Historic prep sport seasons
As high school athletics started to resemble normalcy again, athletes and fans fostered a feeling of school spirit and pride not seen in years. Those fans got to witness historic seasons, starting with the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team. Coach Michael Vandahl and seven seniors led the Sailors to a 16-0 record before falling in the eighth round of the 4A playoffs.
Around the same time, Soroco High School freshman Larhae Whaley made history by becoming the first Ram and Routt County wrestler to place in the first Colorado High School Activities Association-sanctioned Girls Wrestling State Championships, keeping Soroco on the forefront of the sport.
In a year that presented fewer opportunities for athletes, Sailors Alpine head coach Mike Farny made a new one. With lots of help, he led an effort to throw together the first Ski Meister Championships at Howelsen Hill Ski Area.
In the spring, the Sailors girls golf team benefited from the late start of the adjusted seasons, playing on grass more often than ever before and sending a pair of players to state for the first time.
Dozens of Routt County athletes competed at state track, and Hayden Valley High School junior Alison Rajzer won her second straight triple jump title.
At the same time, the Soroco volleyball team made itself known as the best on the Western Slope. The Rams blazed through regionals and made their historic first appearance at the CHSAA State Volleyball Tournament.
The Out of the Shadows series showed that mental strength is not mental wellness, and while physical activity may help improve mental health, it’s not a substitute for therapy. Ben Glassmeyer opened up about the nonprofit that helped him mourn his brother, who died by suicide eight years ago. Sarah Coleman and Phoenix classes stepped up to provide community and activity, crucial tools in combating addiction, and former Nordic combined skier Bennett Gamber offered a glimpse into how long-term effects of concussions altered his mental health, and life, for years. Sharing their stories shreds stigma surrounding mental health issues in athletes and nonathletes.
In 2020, Steamboat-raised Olympic snowboarder Arielle Gold used her platform to talk about body image, mental health and sexuality in a series of Instagram posts and conversations with Steamboat Pilot & Today.
In July 2021, the 25-year-old announced she was formally retiring from snowboarding, in which she hadn’t competed since 2019 due to lingering effects of a concussion. She decided it was more important to focus on her physical and mental health, and pursue her career rather than try to improve upon her Olympic bronze medal from 2018.
Aiming for Beijing
Meanwhile, Arielle’s brother, Taylor, started making his way to his second Olympic Games, nailing a run he’s been attempting for over a year to take second at Dew Tour in December. On Christmas Eve, Steamboat’s own Taylor Fletcher secured a spot in his fourth Olympic games by winning the U.S. Men’s Nordic Combined Olympics Trial in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Land managers and policy makers started cracking down on recreation, as use turned into abuse across the region, state and country. More people than ever before were looking to get outside to hike or bike.
The U.S. Forest Servic, the Steamboat Springs Chamber and other members of the Routt Recreation Roundtable’s Management Discussion group partnered to establish a know before you go landing page, providing trail users with an arsenal of information to make them the most educated and respectful users possible. Adjusting with the growing popularity of the vehicles, the city expanded where e-bikes are allowed but kept them off Emerald Mountain.
Woman finishes 2nd in Steamboat Marathon’s return
In June 6, Denver resident Kali Cavey became the first woman to finish second, and possibly the first in decades to break the 3-hour mark, in the history of the Steamboat Marathon.
Go Skate Steamboat leaves significant mark in 1 year
Marking the first year since its somewhat accidental inception, Trevor Mekelburg and Go Skate Steamboat purchased 50 new boards for local elementary school physical education classes. The group also cleaned up the Howelsen Hill Skate Park after a vandalism incident and is lobbying for lights at Howelsen park.
The new organization and all its efforts goes to show that a pandemic cannot stop creativity, generosity and charity.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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Colorado Parks and Wildlife has named Travis Black as the agency’s Northwest regional manager.