High Country Running: Flagstaff’s early multi-sport athletes

High Country Running: Flagstaff’s early multi-sport athletes

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Scott Baxter and Donny Perry

Scott Baxter (left) and Donny Perry joined the running craze in the 1970s but excelled at multiple sports.

Many of Flagstaff’s early local runners were multi-sport athletes for whom running provided a base. I have written of Scott Baxter, who organized the first running club in about 1974. To add a little more to his story, Scott became famous in the Arizona climbing community. Several Arizona climbing routes and a promontory are named after him.

About 1977, Scott and fellow hometown runner Donny Perry qualified to enter a TV show called “Fittest of them All.” They finished in sixth place, just out of the money, but walked away with the experience and a $1,000 check. As a runner, Donny finished second in the first Big Brothers Big Sisters full marathon (it was a full marathon for the first two years, but is now a half). He went on to be competitive in master’s swimming competition.

Donny introduced Scott into cross country ski racing, at which they both excelled. Donny is very Norwegian-looking, with his curly, reddish-blond hair and bushy, red beard. He reminisces about times he competed in Colorado. He’d walk up to the starting line speaking Norwegian gibberish and looking like an Olympic champion. It raised a great deal of anxiety among his competitors.

Soft-spoken Nick Martin, now a local physician, was another homegrown runner who excelled at multiple sports. I remember one time when Nick was in high school or maybe just starting at Northern Arizona University. We decided to take a long run during winter vacation. We started at Lowell Observatory, where Nick’s father worked. Our run followed U.S. 180 to the original Agassiz Lodge at Arizona Snowbowl and back again.

Nick was an accomplished downhill skier. He often would hike the rest of the way to Humphrey Ridge and ski east to State Route 89. I haven’t verified this, but the rumor is he once climbed to the top of the Walkup Skydome and skied off the roof.

While attending medical school in 1983, Nick entered the Tucson Marathon. He won in 2:17:28, a good time for an amateur even now. But that’s not all. In 1987, he participated in the Ironman triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. That’s a 2-mile ocean swim, a 100-mile bike and a full marathon. He finished seventh overall, the highest amateur finish in the race.

Gabriela “Gaby” Andersen-Schiess, a fearless, no-turn downhill skier, arrived in Flagstaff from Switzerland, on her own, to train for a marathon. She was referred to me to be a training partner, and a stronger female athlete I have never met. We ran many long miles together and competed in the Phoenix Marathon.

Gaby lived in Flagstaff for several years and was married here. She represented Switzerland at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the marathon, for which she became world famous. A YouTube video captures her finish. Staggering into the stadium, suffering from complete dehydration, she refused any help and completed the lap before collapsing across the finish line.

As these examples show, northern Arizona runners then and now continue to represent the essence of true athletes, thanks to our independence, mental tenacity and willingness to take on physical challenges, not for recognition, but for the personal satisfaction of doing our best with what we have.

Since arriving in Flagstaff in 1969, Nat White has logged more than 30,000 miles, running these environs for the love of it and the great outdoors.

Do you have a column, tip or idea for High Country Running? Send it to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds at runner@juliehammonds.com.


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