As he neared the finish line at the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field, Jacob Johnson stepped out of his wheelchair Monday and used a walker to complete the 2019 Bolder Boulder on his own two feet.
The 22-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, was pushed in his chair by his mom, Susan Johnson, for the rest of the 10K race. It was his first time participating in the Bolder Boulder, which celebrates its 41st anniversary this year.
Susan Johnson said she and her son did the race “just for fun,” but she could tell Jacob was happy because he meowed, something he usually does to show he’s enjoying himself.
She also said she thinks it’s important to celebrate those with disabilities, as well as the athletes and military members who took part in the Memorial Day race.
Jacob Johnson’s dad Mark Johnson, who also is the voice of the University of Colorado Boulder Buffs, said he wore sunglasses to the race because he knew he would tear up while helping his son cross the finish line.
“The fact that Jake, with all his challenges … to have Jake cross that line is pretty amazing,” he said.
Jacob Johnson had fun during the race, his dad said, and he plans to do it again.
A family tradition
Outgoing University of Colorado system President Bruce Benson, the official race starter this year, was honored for his service to CU and the state. The chilly Memorial Day morning, alternating between blue skies and gray clouds, didn’t stop the roughly 50,000 participants from running across the finish line. Some have been returning to the course, which ends with a lap around Folsom Field, for years.
Beth Menezes, of Broomfield, started running the Bolder Boulder 20 years ago. She said she loves the people along the way who cheer on the runners from band tents, Dorito stations, and slip and slide detours.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “It keeps you laughing.”
Will the 38-year-old keep going for another two decades?
Other runners have made the race a family affair. Scott and Catrina Bubier now run with their children, Kelsey and Kyle. This was the first year they all ran separately, and the kids are now catching up on their dad.
“It’s just a fun tradition, with all the things along the course,” said Scott Bubier. “It’s a family tradition now.”
The race is also a chance to remember those who died while serving in the military. At the end of the races, the Bolder Boulder honored Gold Star families this year. To end the ceremony, skydivers landed on Folsom Field carrying flags representing each branch of the armed services.
“No other race like it”
Runners from all walks of life came to Boulder for the event. Alan Ritter, 71, traveled from Nebraska for the third time, hoping to beat his previous ranking.
Ritter only started running when he was 50, he said.
“I was a cyclist, and I wanted to see how a cyclist would do against a runner,” he said.
Jim Kappen, 57, traveled from Wyoming for the challenge. He likes the race for the competition and its size.
“You can be a small-tier runner and it makes you feel like you’re in the big times,” he said, adding that he also likes “to beat guys younger than me.”
Kappen took up running about eight years ago while going through a divorce.
“It made me feel like I could be alive and actually accomplish something,” he said.
Tara De Reuck, an 11-year-old who lives in Boulder, takes after her parents and has run since she was 3. This was her fifth year at the Bolder Boulder, and she achieved her goal of getting a faster time.
For some, it’s also a time to come home. Sarah Wilson, 26, returned to Colorado from Boston, where she now lives.
“It’s just a good atmosphere,” she said. “There’s no other race like it, really.”
Patrick Brennan, 81, finished the Bolder Boulder for the 29th time, “trying to beat my age,” he said. He’s been running since he was 12 and lived in Dublin, Ireland.
“I like the crowd, I like all the kids, I like the music,” he said of the 10K. “There’s nothing like it that I’ve experienced.”
“Fun to go out and be weird”
The Bolder Boulder is a runners’ favorite, not just for the adult beverages, Elvis impersonators and belly dancers that line the street, but also for the camaraderie and costumes.
From tutus to bacon to a blow-up pig suit, this year’s race had plenty of variety. Karen Rees, 33, wore a patriotic tutu styled after the American flag.
“I didn’t train, and I figured I can do anything in a tutu,” she said.
Others, like 11-year-old Tomas Iturbe, said they dressed up “because I could.”
Iturbe, who ran with his dad Eduardo, wore a colorful unicorn robe, and said the race is just “plain fun.”
Ryan Sullivan, 24, has been going to the race since 2006. It’s the best place to wear weird costumes, he said.
This year, Sullivan made a Roman legionnaire’s costume, complete with a galea, or Roman soldier helmet. While the look was cool, the armor was “hot,” he said.
Bryan Ford, 33, ran his third race in a head-to-toe shark costume. To combat the heat from the fluffy material, Ford just runs through each slip and slide, letting his fins drip on the pavement at the finish line.
“It’s just an event that everyone gets into,” Ford said. “It’s just fun to go out and be weird, and have a good time.”