Las Vegas #3
Carter Mitma says he’s not an “everyday runner.”
But after volunteering at the Las Vegas Ragnar Relay in 2009, he and his troop jumped at the chance to join the runner’s they’d cheered on the year before.
Mitma said he plays volleyball but never liked the conditioning necessary for team sports.
“That’s one of the things I didn’t like doing,” he said with a little laugh.
But when one of his scout troop leaders, Jon Wayne Nielsen, said the Ragnar Relay race director had offered them the chance to run in exchange for volunteer work, Mitma was among the boys who signed on for the two-month training program.
“It was pretty cool to see these runners doing the race last year,” he said. “They were doing it for fun and some were doing it for charity. It was kind of like an inspiration.”
Mitma finished his last leg on an arduous uphill climb.
Sleep deprived and sore, he struggled with the incline and his own desire to give up.
“That last uphill was the hardest run,” said the 17-year-old Las Vegas teen. “It was pretty tough. My leader got out and ran with me for the last mile…I did think about walking. I was like, ‘I’m not going to do it anymore.’ But then I just kept going.”
When he finished, most of his teammates were asleep. He went with Nielsen to say hello to the other van and then, while Nielsen climbed into van 2, Mitma left to go back to his van. His van driver, however, thought he was riding in the other van and left the exchange.
The second van left after Mitma told them he was returning to his own van.
“I was tired, and I kind of felt sick,” he said of discovering he’d been left. “I was kind of nervous.”
Without a phone – or phone numbers of those in the vans – he stood at the exchange watching other runners finish.
Then he saw some familiar faces – The Motley Shoes.
“We’d seen them at the dinner on Thursday,” he said of one of the many ways the scouts of troop 460 volunteered for the race. “They gave me some water and some food.”
He told the team he’d been left, and they offered a simple solution.
“They told me to just hop in their van,” he said. “I was relieved. I wasn’t really scared.”
He said the camaraderie among runners is one of the reasons he wanted to participate, one of the reasons he endured the tedious training, and one of the reasons he said he’d do it all again.
“I love that everyone cheers for runners who aren’t on their team,” he said. “It’s so amazing to hear that.”
Mitma said the race is just an extension of what scouts has taught him, which is what Nielsen was hoping when he told the troop Ragnar officials had offered to sponsor them in the race. He said the troop, which is affiliated with Mormon Church’s Tropicana Ward Paradise Stake in Las Vegas, could never have afforded to pay the $1,080 entry fee. In fact, despite numerous fundraiser each summer, the scouts have only been able to afford scout camps that are funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Nielsen, who is an Eagle Scout, said scouting offers them the chance to learn how to love the outdoors, but also how to interact with adults and accomplish goals. Running the Ragnar Relay fit in with everything the scouting organization hopes to teach the boys.
The opportunity, Nielsen said, can be life-changing for the scouts, many of whom can’t afford to participate in events like the relay.
“Emotionally, right away, they felt empowered,” said Jon. “They started to feel like they fit in. The adults were cheering them on, supporting them. They felt like they should be there.”
Nielsen, who gave up his spot on the team because so many boys completed the training, ran with many of the scouts at night, but he couldn’t run with Michael Wells, who was the troops smallest scout at 80 pounds. Because the 13-year-old had trained so diligently, he was also its fastest runner.
“I beat all of the older guy so (my leaders) let me choose,” said Michael. “I thought (runner 12) was one I could do, one that was challenging. I didn’t want it to be easy. I wanted it to be a really good experience.”
He chose the leg that had the longest night run – a mostly uphill trail run for 7.8 miles. It was classified as very hard by race organizers, but heavy rain ate away the dirt trail leaving what looked – and felt – more like a rocky river bed for runners to navigate in the dark.
“That wasn’t a fun leg,” said Wells. “The one thing I was thinking was that I wanted to finish because I was hungry and thirsty.”
So when the terrain was tough, he just kept moving.
“I just thought, ‘Let’s get this over with’,” he said. “It felt like forever. I only saw my team twice, so when I saw them at the end I was really, really excited.”
Nielsen said he was worried about the trail but not Michael.
“I only saw him twice the whole leg,” said Jon. “I was concerned about that leg. Really concerned. But he was the one runner I wasn’t concerned about.”
The fact that six miles of the terrain was rough might have been a concern, but at least the 13-year-old wasn’t running on a busy street.
“He thought it was funny because everyone else was cussing it,” said Jon. “Michael’s light was at two feet high.”
Nielsen said he doesn’t know if the scouts will be able to run again. They’d likely have to find another sponsor or trade volunteer work for an entry fee again. He said all of the boys have expressed a desire to run again, and some have even talked about running as an ultra team.
“With this activity, they had to hear the accomplishment,” said Jon. “What racing offered them was them was a chance to see themselves get better really quickly.”
“The Ragnar offered them accolades, cheering the adults gave them,” he said. “They need to know all by themselves, that they can go out and do things.”
RUN WITH THE SCOUTS…Troop 460