Hearing the dry dirt beneath their feet on the trails in and around the beautiful red rocks and national parks surrounding Cedar City has brought many students at Southern Utah University peace. The visceral crunch as their feet hit the ground and the fresh air around them as they walk, run or stroll past bristlecone pines or sagebrush is soothing
Students shouldn’t be surprised to find Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Eric Kirby running these trails alongside them.
Before he began trail running, Kirby thought running was saved only for sports practice while he was growing up. He started running roughly five years ago, not because he enjoyed it, but because he hated it. For him, running has always been a form of punishment.
After some deliberation, Kirby decided to challenge himself to learn to love the thing that he hated. With that goal in mind, he signed up for his first 5k. Following his triumph over this challenge, he moved on to conquer a half and then a full marathon.
“I went, ran, and I hated every minute of it, but I did it,” Kirby explained. “All of this was on the streets–it was street running.”
While conversing with a friend, he was encouraged to try a new extreme challenge: trail running. He was assured that his love for hiking would make the experience that much more enjoyable, and this sparked something in him that Kirby wasn’t expecting.
“I started looking into it, and I found all these different trails and events. So I agreed to sign up for a 50k, which is about a 31-mile trail run, did it, and absolutely loved it…being out on the trail and being out in nature and in clean air. It mixed all the things I loved and still had that challenge.”
During this time, Kirby began to encourage co-workers and students to join him in this new sport. For Kirby, getting out and pushing himself is an excellent way to develop his endurance and focus.
As more people began joining Kirby, this group of ragtag runners started organizing their own events. Just this year, this unofficial SUU club has planned a full marathon, a 50k and a 50-mile race.
This club isn’t for people looking to become running athletes. He stated that SUU already has a running club on campus that pushes students to develop their street and track running skills headed by Jenn Leard.
This unofficial club led by Kirby is focused on finding students that want to overcome hard things and learn to push through physical challenges.
“A lot of these students haven’t been exposed to things that really challenge them other than academics. There are other things you learn by challenging yourself in other ways.”
The goal, according to Kirby, is to have like-minded people come together and challenge themselves while having a good time. This organization and these events are for walkers, hikers, and supporters and runners to be able to enjoy the outdoors. They frequent locations such as Red Cliffs, Three Peaks, and the mountains around Santa Clara.
“We are interested in getting out in nature and breaking down barriers. There is no official membership. We just have a GroupMe of about 43 students [that] let each other know when we are going out on the trails.”
Trail running isn’t about how quickly you run. The challenge and purpose of this group are to give support to individuals that are wanting to push themselves while connecting with nature.
Life is hard, but with persistence and patience, a person can develop mental fortitude. SUU has a rich history of finding individuals that are willing to overcome the odds, which is what this club is about.
Although unsure of how to make this organization an official part of the many clubs on campus, Kirby wants to continue pushing students to overcome their obstacles.
“I’ve kicked around the idea of starting a club, but I don’t know what that club would be…It’s more a group that wants to challenge themselves and who they are and what they want to be. So as long as I am here at SUU… We’re going to continue to push students to experience more, to get outdoors in whatever fashion that looks like, and challenge themselves.”
The group will only be limited by students not being able to see their potential. But Kirby feels that the future is looking bright for the team.
“Every year, I find more and more students that are willing to break down previous barriers in their mind, and they are willing to break down previous barriers in their mind, and they are willing to try new things and new challenges for no other purpose than to just do it. The only barriers that exist in life are the ones we place on our own minds.
For those interested in joining and breaking down some barriers of your own, talk to Eric Kirby or head to the Nest in the Sharwan Smith Student Center room 178 to speak to an ACE.
Story by Alex Greenwell
Photos Courtesy of Eric Kirby