On the Trail: Dillon man hits trail for charity
DILLON – Tom Schnitzius is about to embark on one of the toughest challenges of his life – the Hardrock Hundred, a renowned 100-mile ultramarathon this weekend in Silverton.Schnitzius, who lives in Dillon, has run many ultramarathons dating back to 1999, but he has yet to attempt what is widely held to be the granddaddy of them all.”It’s considered the hardest race in the world,” Schnitzius said. “The cutoff is 48 hours.”Despite the sleepless torture that the Hardrock Hundred requires – climbing more than 32,000 vertical feet, including one Fourteener and at least six Thirteeners – during the two-day race, it’s one of four ultramarathons Schnitzius plans to participate in this summer.Schnitzius will be raising more than just blisters and his heart rate over the coming months, however. The Chicago transplant is also raising money for people in need, specifically homeless children and abused women.The local car salesman founded Children of the Universe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping charitable causes, in 1999. Every time he sets out to conquer another 100-mile race, Schnitzius seeks sponsorships – a process in which he has raised more than $45,000 over the last seven years.”Every penny goes to the kids and the women,” Schnitzius said. “There are no administrative costs.”Many of the funds generated through Schnitzius’ efforts benefitted Leadville.”Leadville is one of the poorest communities in the state,” he said. “You have hungry children showing up to school there in the middle of January with no shoes and not enough clothes. The principal takes care of them, but the school can’t afford it, and the community can’t afford it.”Schnitzius made his first connection to the old mining town when he ran the 1999 Leadville 100 – his first ultra marathon.While living in Chicago, he saw a nationally televised program by Bryant Gumble about the storied race. Schnitzius had grown bored with running marathons (he completed 20 Chicago Marathons) and was looking for something new, so he came to the High Country to find out what 100-mile races were all about.The longtime distance runner liked the way he felt after completing his first Leadville 100 and has been an ultra marathoner ever since.”Ultra marathons are a spiritual and deepening process,” he said. “You go through various doors at various parts of the race that allow you to see yourself naked without ego or boundaries. It has helped me to become a better person.”Ken Chlouber, the Leadville 100’s founder and race director, knows Schnitzius, both as an athlete and as a humanitarian.”Tom is one of those people who is dedicated to making things around him better,” Chlouber said. “I think helping people is how he improves his own life. It’s a great lesson for all of us.”The longtime Leadville community figure first became acquainted with Schnitzius when the ultra marathoner took an interest in the Leadville Legacy, a nonprofit organization founded by Chlouber nearly six years ago.According to Chlouber, the Leadville Legacy was initially created to target the community’s annual Christmas party for homeless children. Last year more than 150 kids received presents at the party.”That’s the only present most of those kids get all year,” Schnitzius said. Although the details have yet to be finalized, Chlouber has expressed an interest in covering Schnitzius’ $220 entrance fee for this year’s Leadville 100, which is set for Aug. 19-20.”Anyone who’s out there trying to make it a better Colorado and a better world, I want to bust my crank to help,” Chlouber said.This summer, Schnitzius will attempt to become the sixth person ever to complete the series known as the Rocky Mountain Slam.Achieving the Rocky Mountain Slam requires a participant to complete four of five designated ultras – the Bighorn 100 (Wyoming in June), the Hardrock Hundred, the Leadville 100, the Wasatch Front 100 (Utah in September) and the Bear 100 (Idaho in September).Diane Van Deren is among the five who have completed the Slam since its inception in 1999.”The series includes some of the hardest 100-mile courses I’ve been on,” said Van Deren, who races professionally for North Face. “And I’ve raced all around the country.”Schnitzius’ goals are different from those of Van Deren, who won the Bighorn 100 in June with a time of 27 hours, 43 minutes and 50 seconds.”It’s not about beating someone else,” Schnitzius said. “You’re out there competing with yourself and helping others get through it. We all get to those places in the race where we think we can’t make it, and that’s usually when someone else comes running along to offer support.”Schnitzius, who finished the Bighorn 100 with a time of 32 hours and 19 minutes, will be halfway home if and when he completes the Hardrock 100.Of the 120-member race field, less than 65 percent are expected to finish.”Hardrock makes Leadville look like a cake walk,” said Salida’s Rickie Redland, who has three Rocky Mountain Slams under her belt. “If he finishes Hardrock, he’ll finish the Slam.”
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