Meet Meredith Merkley and Laura Cortez. These two young women are doing something special in Denver. They’ve committed to launching a summer trail running camp for the underserved youth called Run Wild Trail Camp. The mission of RWTC aims to empower the youth participants and their families to get EXCITED about the environment, staying active, and investing in lasting change.
This is going to be such an amazing and fun summer camp for the kids involved! I am so proud to be friends with people like Meredith and Laura who are using their talents to give back and serve the communities they live in.
Q: Tell me a bit about what each of you do professionally and what led you into your current career.
Meredith: I am a General Pediatrician within the Denver area and I have followed this career path because I enjoy education and community involvement. During my high school and college training, I really found a passion for the human body, it’s functionality and how we can really influence that personally and then communally. Also, I had experience working with my mom as an early childhood educator, so I developed the love for reaching out to patients in the community and being part of health education.
Laura: I work in marketing for JackRabbit and Boulder Running Company. It’s one big running strong community that I just fell into once I got to Colorado. I found my place there in terms of advocating for more representation on the trail and translating my thoughts and feeling on that. I want to create a more inclusive space into the work I do there since I have the privilege of working on the creative of the message and brand we send out to the community.
Q: How do the two of you know each other?
Meredith: It’s kind of funny. I heard about Laura through a dietician in Columbus, Ohio. She had told me about running coaching as I was starting the transition of moving to Denver. It was something that I never considered before because I wasn’t a competitive runner and always associated running coaching with competitions. Her recommendation was before moving out from flatland Ohio to a mountainous Colorado to gain some experience and expertise from a coach. She recommended Laura and we connected while I was still out in Ohio. It turned out as a got involved in a running community here in Denver that Laura was part of that same community, at the Berkeley Park Running Company. We built a friendship and I transitioned well without any injury!
Laura: Yeah, the stars aligning was basically at Berkeley Park. So, very thankful for them to keep us together and build a friendship.
Q: Meredith, what’s your favorite thing about Laura?
A: I actually hate answering favorite questions, but I asked them all the time(ha-ha). I can never come up with what I feel is a good answer for them. If I had to pick one thing about Laura, I would say that I appreciate her authenticity the most. She’s confident in her skills and who she is, and she presents that to her work community, her running community, and her friends with a lot of grace.
Q: Laura, same question, what’s your favorite thing about Meredith?
A: I think my favorite thing about Meredith is how different we are and the perspective and insights she brings to what we do. It’s always great to see how reflective she is toward her work and what she wants to be. She’s very empowering.
Q: What is you favorite trail running race or event?
Laura: Definitely the Stumptown 50K in Portland. It has a soft spot in my heart and that trail is just so much fun. When I raced there it was actually one of the worst experiences in my life, I had a really bad plantar fasciitis inflammation. But, it was a beautiful trail and is arguably the best trail in America!
Meredith: My first ultra experience was Farmdaze, that’s put on by a really good friend, Victor, through Berkeley Park. It was a very fun, well organized race that is very community engaging. It’s all about building community as you go through this loop race on a flat, flat farm in Georgia. It was a lot of fun and brought me a lot of happiness.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for RWTC and/or what motivated you to create it?
Meredith: The running community has meant a lot to both of us. Through it I’ve learned so much from the people whom I’ve met and from the experiences with them. I’m always thinking about how we can engage and encourage our youth to become involved with what’s going on. Seeing the lack of youth participation within the trail running community and run groups in general made me start to wonder why this was and how can we really advocate for bringing in more of that youth participation. I loved being outside as a kid, but I never knew about running on the trails until I became an adult. So, the idea of the camp started from the desire to get the word out to youth about trail running and the environment. We then started to grow the idea to focus on youth in higher risk areas within Denver. We noticed that there wasn’t great access to open spaces and access through transportation to the trail systems that we have a plethora of, so we began to focus on those communities and to provide proper representation and support for them.
Q: Who is RWTC for and how do they sign up?
Meredith: Right now, our trail camp focuses on youth 8-11 years of age in specific neighborhoods based on lack of access to open spaces and trails. We will be contacting local schools and organizations for recruiting the campers this summer.
Q: What resources does RWTC need most? (Or how can people best support the two of you in this program?)
Meredith: We are actively recruiting volunteers, partners, and donations. You can reach out to us through the website to gain more information on all these areas. We are also looking for equipment as we would like to be able to offer the kids shoes and clothes they might need to enjoy while at the camp. Monetary donations are also appreciated to help cover administrative costs. There are links on our web page to volunteering and donating. (https://www.runwildkidscamp.com/)
Q: What are your favorite places to run in/around Denver area?
Laura: In Denver I love running City Park. I think that’s my favorite city loop. In terms of proper trails, it has to be Green Mountain because you can’t get lost. Ha!
Meredith: I love to find a coffee shop and start running from there, taking me through different neighborhoods. I then have a good motivation coming back to a warm cup of coffee! For trails around the area I think Green is also one of my favorites because of its convenience, it’s close to my house. White Ranch is also great because it has a lot of varying terrain.
Q: Favorite running store and why.
Meredith: Berkeley Park has been a place not just for very good quality advice about running equipment, especially trail equipment, but also for the community it’s formed. I think it has been by far my favorite running store.
Laura: Yeah, I definitely agree about Berkeley Park. They have done such a good job of having an inclusive space for people of all levels to come and hang out. You can join in a nice 5K around the lakes and come back, hang out, and talk. Even when you’re new you never feel alone because everyone is so inviting.
Q: What hopes and visions do you have for RWTC? Is it something you foresee growing over the next 3-5 years and what does that look like?
Meredith: Our vision is to make this a sustainable camp for the community and a really great addition to a lot of other efforts that are going on within the communities that we’re reaching. Our hope throughout this is to not just have camp time in the summer, but also have events throughout the year to keep the excitement and community feel together. One of the big things that has been on my heart throughout this year is just the lack of connection that kids are feeling from things like virtual school. The need and desire for the community is very strong right now. We would like to be able to build a place where kids can really feel like they’re welcomed and connected, are learning, and are engaged and proud about their community. Overall that’s the big umbrella vision. There will be a lot of lessons as we go forward and learning how we should move in the next 3-5 years.