Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs is a community where many residents enjoy testing their physical limits. Steve Maloney epitomized the lifestyle. In many cases, he blazed trails for other endurance athletes to follow.
Friends and family gathered here during the weekend to remember the quiet, often understated man who never stopped running. Maloney died at his home here on April 4 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was 61.
Dick Curtis, who ran ultra-marathons with Maloney, tells a story that sums up his friend's drive.
"We were training for a 50-mile race from Laramie to Cheyenne, Wyo., and were going out on 20-mile training runs," Curtis recalled. "We'd get to the end of 20 miles, and I'd be so relieved. But Steve often said, 'Well, I think I'll run another 10 or 15 miles.' He would end up running 35 miles."
Curtis said that to the best of his knowledge, Maloney was the first Steamboat athlete to complete the Leadville 100 and Wasatch 100, both 100-mile mountain races. In the time since he set the standard, many others have followed.
Climbing and trekking buddy Mike Kent recalls his first climb up the Maroon Bells with Maloney. The two men met in 1980 while employed with Dismuke and Dismuke, Maloney as an engineer and Kent as a surveyor's assistant. Kent had grown up hiking Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks and agreed to take Maloney up the Bells.
Together, they climbed North Maroon Peak as planned, then spontaneously agreed to undertake the high traverse to South Maroon Peak.
The climb went well, Kent recalled, and he proposed they take a more difficult descent to avoid the long slog across steep tundra coming down the south peak. He proposed instead that they take a steep, snow-filled couloir.
"I thought the benefits out-weighed the risks," Kent said. "But it wasn't a place where you could afford to make a mistake. When the couloir began to widen and become (less steep), I stopped and waited a couple of minutes for Steve."
"I said to him, 'Pretty epic day, huh?'"
Maloney's understated response was, "Yeah, it was pretty nice."
"He was always ready for anything, and he was a good climbing partner," Kent said.
Fifteen years later, Maloney led Kent on a trek through Nepal.
Maloney was raised on a soybean and grain farm outside Des Moines in Bondurant, Iowa. His siblings, Mike Maloney and Molly Nemetz, agreed that the routine of farm chores instilled a work ethic in Steve that stayed with him throughout his life.
"It was an important part of Steve's life," Mike said. "He had a connection to the land, first on the farm and later to the mountains out here. And he did his share of walking beans."
For the uninitiated, the term "walking beans" implies strolling down the rows of a soybean field and hoeing weeds and unwanted corn stalks.
Maloney graduated from Iowa State University in 1968 with a degree in civil engineering. Like many young men of his generation, he faced a difficult choice.
Maloney was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, his sister said. But his sense of duty would not allow him to evade the draft.
So, against the advice of his mother, he enlisted in the Army and found himself in an infantry platoon.
"Our Mom wanted him to go to Canada, but he refused," Molly said.
"He never talked about it, but he saw fighting and killing," Mike said. "It changed him."
There remains tangible evidence of Maloney's strong philosophical underpinnings in a letter written to his mother, Helen Ann Maloney.
"His captain wanted to explain why Steve came home without a medal," Molly said. "He wrote to my Mom that of all the men he served with, Steve most deserved a medal. But he'd already told the captain he would not accept one."
Maloney worked for 30 years as a civil engineer, most of them with Civil Design Consultants in Steamboat. If you want to admire his work, just take a walk along the Yampa River Core Trail or ride your bicycle over the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge on your way to a peaceful ride out on Twentymile Road.
Maloney competed in more than 44 distance races in his life, the Boston Marathon among them. But it's impossible to do justice to his racing career in a newspaper column. He served as the course director for the Steamboat Springs Marathon from 1983 to 2007. Often, he would fire the starter's pistol, then jump into the race.
Maloney did something many of his friends were resigned to accepting he might never do when he married his wife, Maureen "Mo" Maloney, almost five years ago. They had been a couple for 10 years.
"He was just an incredible man," Mo Maloney said. "When we first started dating, I told his sister, Molly, that he seemed like an ordinary guy, but in an extraordinary way. She replied that you could look at it another way. That he seemed like an extraordinary man, but in an ordinary way."
Mo said one of the reasons she was attracted to her husband was that he lived his convictions. He was not particularly enamored of material possessions and lived for 18 years in a cabin in the south valley that had no running water.
Curtis said there were times when Maloney preferred his old, wooden cross-country skis and a leather backpack to modern outdoor gear.
Maloney tried to live a healthy lifestyle - he was a vegetarian. So, it's tragically ironic that his family is convinced his cancer resulted from exposure to chemical agents while in Vietnam. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is on the list of diseases that can be connected to those chemicals, his brother said.
Maloney was originally diagnosed a decade ago, and the disease went into remission. He continued his active lifestyle, traveled widely and ran six marathons in that time, Mike Maloney said. But it wasn't out of some heightened sense of his own mortality. It was just the way he lived.
He made his last trip in January to watch his niece run her first marathon. She used her experience to raise funds for cancer research.
Molly said that in the last meaningful conversation Mo and Steve shared, Mo asked him what he wanted to do. It didn't occur to him that she was asking how he wanted to live out his final days.
"I want to get over this," was his simple reply.