Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
It's as much a part of being human as the thumb on your hand.
Give a group of people a few minutes of leisure, and it's a matter of time before the competitive instinct takes over. The constant, innate tests of fitness pop up all over Steamboat, from Howelsen Hill to Charlie's Hole to the pool tables at the V.F.W. Maybe it's the small-town effect, but the thing I keep noticing is that competition here has a much friendlier face.
The Steamboat Marathon brings the state's top runners right down Lincoln Avenue to the courthouse lawn. People mingle and introduce themselves, but immediately search out the family members they came with, check their results, grab the swag bag and lunch and hit the road. It's great to see the competition, but in retrospect, the thousands of runners turn into a faceless blur and the locals seem to get lost in the crowd. The race just doesn't have the same inclusionary feel as the rest of the Running Series events.
What do I mean by, "inclusionary?" It's the same inviting competitive field you get at the Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series. It starts at the top.
Pro rider Barkley Robinson is defending his title as last year's overall series point winner. Yet, after each race, there's a communal exchange not only between Robinson and the immediate pro/open challengers in the lead pack, but all the way down the ladder of race divisions.
Robinson's "our neighbor and he's just so humble and encouraging - always asking me, 'how was your race?'" said Kristia Hill, who kicked off a seventh season of Town Challenges on Wednesday in a women's sport division. "It's competition, but it's fun and still encouraging - a guy goes down and everyone's there, stopping their race to help out."
The paradox here is that the competition is the "team" - the people you're trying to out-do are the ones providing the support network that gets you outside to compete in the first place.
In Denver, partaking in individualized outdoor competitions such as ski or bike racing isn't exactly an option. I always played on teams, but even that's different here. I play on a weekly men's lacrosse team, but due to geography, our only game-time rivals are, well, ourselves. And although I try to encourage more trash talk and punishing hits to replicate the intensity of a NCAA game, in the end, it's counterproductive - you're just hurting the people you're trying to nurture to get them out there.
After the Paddling Life Pro Invitational, I talked to more than one pro kayaker heading straight to the Teva Mountain Games, lamenting leaving Steamboat for the Vail Valley. Is there a different kind of pretentiousness surrounding their games? I think it's because Steamboat - from the Town Challenge to the Running Series, the Triathlon Club and this week's Yampa River Festival, the list goes on - has a unique breed of enthusiast more interested in encouraging participation than ego-inflation by trouncing the unknown opponent.