Garfield County Outdoors program receives $250,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado

The Garfield County Outdoors (GCO) program was awarded a $250,000 grant by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) on Sept. 21.

With its vision firmly set, GCO is driven by a commitment to nurture personal growth and confidence through diverse outdoor ventures, ranging from neighborhood strolls to vast backcountry journeys.

This grant is a milestone within GOCO’s Generation Wild campaign, instituted in 2015. Its core objective? Pushing the boundaries and inspiring Colorado families to delve deeper into nature, enhancing their overall well-being.

Aligning forces with Aspen Valley Land Trust (AVLT) and Colorado State University Extension (CSU Extension), GCO has charted a comprehensive blueprint for utilizing the grant. The primary focus will be broadening their community initiatives with a keen lens on inclusivity and sustainability.

The Garfield Re-2 School District stands central to their vision. By infusing additional personnel and resources, this district, often cited as the linchpin of GCO, is poised for an elevated synergy with community and youth figures. Among the slated projects are the formulation of a youth advisory council, spotlighting 10 dynamic leaders from GCO’s affiliate schools, and a slew of youth-centric leadership programs, all aimed at deepening the ties with the educational community.

The four pillars of GCO’s community outreach — New Castle, Silt, Rifle, and Parachute/Battlement Mesa — are set to undergo a transformative phase. Community leaders from these zones will be integrated more profoundly into partner deliberations, ushering in a more holistic and diverse decision-making landscape.

In tandem, GCO is also primed to embark on a meticulous strategic planning phase, aimed at refining their overarching goals and outreach modalities.

Since its foundation in 2017, GCO has unfurled an eclectic range of programs tailored for the youth of western Garfield County. Their collaborations with the Garfield Re-2 and Garfield 16 school districts, and CSU Extension, have yielded innovative solutions to combat outdoor access impediments. Their portfolio boasts a vibrant mix, from agriculture and snow sports to climbing and beyond. 

This year, the program has gathered 3,900 youth and 360 adult participants in various programs for the 2023 year.

“We have really been working hard on developing this program for the past few years,” Partan said. “With this new funding, we are going to be able to not only shift gears, but we will also be able to start providing more programs as well.”

GCO’s Program Director Scott Partan shed light on the current program framework, emphasizing its dedication to students within the two affiliated districts. However, an exciting twist is on the horizon with the imminent roll-out of family-centric modules.

“Our weekly offerings are diverse, ranging from hikes to ski trips to extended outdoor escapades,” Partan said.

Partan said the GCO program aspires to enhance outdoor education outreach across various schools within the district.

“We are fortunate enough to live in this really awesome place that provides a lot of places to explore and activities to do,” Partan said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have the means to do that, so we want to bridge that gap and make sure everyone has access to those opportunities.”

GOCO Generation Wild Program Officer Chris Aaby mirrored the enthusiasm. 

“This is a program that is focused on making sure that we are able to get our future students and generations outdoors,” Aaby said. “We are excited to see this program expanding and can’t wait to help make a community-wide change to see more kids outdoors.”

For more information regarding the program, visit the Garfield County Outdoors website.

PHOTOS: Strides for Giving — a glimpse into the 5k run honoring Christy Walters

Centennial Park in Rifle was the backdrop for the second-annual Strides for Giving 5k Run/Walk on a picturesque autumn Saturday. Sixty-two runners participated, honoring longtime Rifle teacher Christy Walters and raising funds for holiday meals for families in need.

Geo Mendez dominated with a 16:26 finish, followed by Brody Evans, 13, who finished second overall with a time of 22:26. Desi Kirkpatrick led the women, finishing with a time of 25:11.

Cindy, right, Daniel and Elsie Adams run side by side during the Strides for Giving 5K at Centennial Park in Rifle on Saturday.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
A total of 62 participants gathered at Centennial Park in Rifle on Saturday to compete in the second annual Strides for Giving 5K run.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
Strides for Giving organizer and daughter of Christy Walters, Taylor Walters, gives an introductary speech before participants take off on Saturday.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
Mary-Anne Fulton makes sure to stretch before the Strive for Giving 5K run on Saturday.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
Rifle resident Mariana Rodriguez pushes her son, Benjamin, during the Stirve for Giving 5K run.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
Geo Mendez checks his stopwatch as he crosses the finish line. Mendez finished first-place overall with a time of 16:26.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent
Brad Palmer nears the finish line during Saturday’s run.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

Grand Hogback Extravaganza returns to Rifle for third year

The Grand Hogback Extravaganza is set to take over Rifle Oct. 7, as local and regional mountain biking enthusiasts gear up for a day of fun, games and community connection.

Organized by the Rifle Area Mountain Bike Organization (RAMBO) for the third year, the annual fundraising event is being held at the popular Grand Hogback Trail System, located just five miles north of Rifle at the Rifle Arch. Known for its high desert riding trails, the Grand Hogback is a hotspot for riders seeking a distinct biking experience.

Rather than a competitive race, the event emphasizes enjoyment. Adult participants can join in for $35, while the entry fee for kids is just $10. The 6-mile course is dotted with multiple stations where riders can play games like tube toss and dice rolling.

“Some of the events are based more on luck than skill,” RAMBO President Lindsey Williams said. Riders winning at these stations will earn tickets, which can be exchanged for raffle prizes at the event’s conclusion.

Recalling the event’s beginnings, Williams highlighted its emphasis on community fun. 

“We figured the racing aspect of mountain biking could certainly turn a lot of people away,” Williams said. “We wanted to make this as enjoyable as possible for the mountain biking community.”

The trail’s design is the product of Aaron Mattix from Gumption Trail Works. Through his work, Mattix has transformed the landscape into a biker’s paradise.

“Aaron Mattix is nothing short of an artist,” longtime Rifle resident and mountain biking enthusiast Gary Miller said. “What he did with the trail, the high banks and steep ravines, is something I never thought we would see in Rifle.”

Although the 2022 event was dampened by a last-minute rainstorm, the enthusiasm wasn’t. Participants improvised with parking lot games.

“It was a real bummer that we weren’t able to ride the trails last year but we were able to make a series of parking lot games and everyone still made a great time out of it,” Williams recounted.

RAMBO has set its eyes on attracting both regional mountain bikers and locals this year. Coinciding with International Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day, the event will feature a special kids strider-ride at the family flow loops near the trailhead.

The event’s fundraising aim is clear. After previously obtaining a non-motorized state trails grant, RAMBO hopes to raise $10,000 at the Extravaganza, which will be directed toward completing the trail system.

Local businesses have generously donated raffle prizes, ranging from tune-ups at area bike shops to gift cards, emphasizing the community’s support for the event.

Williams highlighted the extensive support received from various stakeholders. 

“The city of Rifle, Colorado River Valley, Bureau of Land Management, and Garfield County have invested significantly into these trails. This event showcases these trails and the work done,” Williams said.

For those interested in participating, start times for the race:

  • 9 to 10 a.m. – Rolling Start
  • 11 a.m. – Kids Strider Ride High (12 and under)
  • Noon – Raffle Prizes

To register and find more details, visit

If you go…

What: Hogback Extravaganza
When: Saturday, Oct. 7
Where: Grand Hogback Trail System
How much: $35 for adults; $10 for kids

Glenwood Springs resident sets sail for 2023 World Rowing Masters Regatta

At 76, many are settling into the comforts of retirement. But for Clem Kopf, an illustrious 53-year journey with rowing continues to unfold. 

The Glenwood Springs resident is charting his course to the 2023 World Rowing Masters Regatta in Pretoria, South Africa, set for Sept.21-23.

In the upcoming championship, Kopf has his eyes set on three events: the 70-year-old Quad, the 70-year-old 4 with coxswain, and the 70-year-old 8 with coxswain.

 Intriguingly, the age groups for these events are not solely determined by an individual’s age but by the average age of the crew. With his years, Kopf often elevates the age bracket for his team, allowing crews in their 60s to compete in the 70-year-old category.

The team accompanying Kopf to the championships promises a melting pot of talent. With members hailing from South Africa, Austria, Minnesota, California, and, of course, Glenwood Springs, they bring a diverse set of skills to the boat.

In the lead-up to this prestigious event, Kopf’s preparation regime remains unwavering. He dedicates countless hours to training at Harvey Gap State Park north of Silt. 

His commitment was on clear display earlier this year, clinching two gold medals at the U.S. Eastern Regional Masters Championships in Delaware and, subsequently, two golds and a silver at the U.S. National Masters Championships in Indianapolis.

Kopf’s history with the sport stretches back to his youth. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, he was a cornerstone of a National Championship High School rowing team. In the 1960s, he donned the national colors, representing the U.S. National Team in three consecutive years. This stint witnessed multiple international triumphs, including a memorable victory against the highly-regarded German rowing team during a tour to Germany in the early 1960s.

“Rowing was all very new to me when I started,” Kopf said. “I attended this private school and we stood there; if you were tall and looked somewhat athletic, they brought you on for tryouts for the rowing team. It was never something I was interested in, but this sport truly is incredible.”

His accolades do not end there. In 1967, he was crowned champion at the Pan American games. Moreover, Kopf’s legacy led to remarkable experiences, such as sharing a meal with former Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat. He also showcased his prowess in multiple American Olympic teams from 1964 to 1968.

“It truly has been a blessing to be in the spot that I am in,” Kopf said. “I never thought this would be where I am, but this opportunity truly has given me and my family the chance to see the world and more.”

When reflecting on Kopf’s dedication and skill, former teammate Joe Henwood weighs in with admiration.

“For most people, we call rowing the oldest competitive sport in the world,” Henwood said. “For Clem to have the success that he has had, the dude has worked his butt off to be where he is today.”

“Back in the day, Clem was probably the strongest oarsman that I ever rode with,” Henwood added.

Outside the water, Kopf’s expertise extends to engineering, with him presently residing in the scenic Roaring Fork Valley. As he embarks on his South African adventure, the rowing world will undoubtedly be cheering for this stalwart of the sport.

Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team marks 24th anniversary with strong showing in Longmont

The Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team made an impressive mark at the Outdoor Diva Triathlon in Longmont on Aug. 20. Celebrating its 24th season, the team brought 45 of its members to the event.

Under the guidance of Head Coaches Sharma Phillips and Carla Westerman, and assisted by a group of skilled assistant and swim coaches, the team embarked on a rigorous 13-week training program in May. Their regimen took them from bike rides up Red Mountain to open water training at Harvey Gap Reservoir. With 30 newcomers in a group of 59 participants, the team showcased a mix of both novice and expert athletes.

At the Longmont competition, team members took on a half-mile swim, an 11.8-mile bike ride, and a 5k run around Union Reservoir. Four team members clinched top spots in their respective divisions: Tess Jankovsky earned second place in the elite division, Sydney Pena secured first in the 25-29 category, Jamie Boutilier grabbed third in the 40-44 group, and Sherrie Setterberg claimed first in the 65-69 age group.

Setterberg, a Roaring Fork team member for 12 years and assistant coach, didn’t stop there. She also achieved first place in the Boulder Sunset Sprint Triathlon the week after.

“It was great, you never know what your competition will be or bring,” Setterberg said. “The entire time you’re out there, the only thing you have control over is giving it your absolute best and then you find out where that brings you.”

Setterberg further stressed the inclusivity of the team.

“If anyone is thinking or has ever thought about wanting to run a triathlon or even dealing with something, this group wants you to reach out,” she said. “I am a five-year breast cancer survivor with a lot of injuries in my past, this team showed me that you can overcome anything.”

Co-Head Coach Carla Westerman, a member since 2009, couldn’t contain her pride.

“I’m just so proud of this team,” Westerman said. “Those girls worked so hard to be able to run in that triathlon and it was beautiful to see.”

Westerman has witnessed firsthand how the team dynamics shift, fostering a unique bond.

“At the start of our season, everyone is kind of avoiding contact and not really interacting with each other because they don’t know each other,” she said “Through the trials of learning together and pushing each other, it really creates a special bond every new year.”

For first-year member Olivia Beck, 42, who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley at the onset of the pandemic, joining the team has been transformative.

“During the pandemic, one glass was turning into two and two was turning into three, and joining this team really helped with that,” Beck said. “I just want anyone else who is struggling to know that this is the most supportive group of women and it truly is a family that cares and is there to help.”

While the team only competes together once a year, members such as Beck are excited to continue her training.

“It feels great to be making these lifestyle choices and I can’t wait to continue to train with some of the girls leading up to next May,” Beck said. “This past race, I really was just focused on finishing. I’m looking forward to staying in shape and really competing next year.”

For information regarding the Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team, visit

Second annual Strides for Giving 5K race returns to Rifle in honor of late Garfield Re-2 teacher

The grounds of Rifle will be filled with the sound of running shoes hitting the pavement as participants gather for the second annual Strides for Giving 5K race, set to take place Sept. 23.

The event is more than just a race; it’s a tribute to Christy Walters, a beloved educator from the Garfield Re-2 School District. Walters’ two-decades-long fight against breast cancer came to a heartbreaking conclusion in 2021.

Organizing the event is none other than Walters’ daughter, Taylor Walters, who works as the athletic recreations coordinator at Rifle Parks and Recreation. Taylor has found solace in continuing her mother’s philanthropic legacy through this 5K race. 

Only having a few months to prepare last year’s inaugural race, Taylor is excited for the upcoming event.

“Having a little bit more time and preparation has been nice,” Taylor said. “I have more of an idea of what to expect and I think it’s going to be a great day.”

Last year, the race saw an impressive 60 participants and brought in nearly $8,000. But this year’s participation has seen a dip so far.

“We have about 12 participants right now, which is down from what we had this time last year,” Taylor said. “We are really hoping to get some more people involved so that we can support a great cause.”

The race’s proceeds are channeled into Rifle’s annual holiday meal-kit giveaway. With assistance from sponsors such as Alpine Bank and Shelter Insurance, this initiative spreads cheer from New Castle to Parachute by providing meals during the festive season. The kits have the capacity to feed families of 4-7 people. 

Due to the funds raised from last year’s 5K, the number of meal kits distributed in 2022 surged to 120, a significant increase from the 80 distributed in 2021.

“My mom touched a lot of people and she was always doing so much for others,” Taylor said. “She would always go out of her way for others, so to be able to carry on her legacy gives me a piece of her that I get to continue on.”

Christy’s kindness wasn’t limited to holiday initiatives. She also had a big heart for children in need of winter clothing and would make meals for families grappling with cancer diagnoses, Taylor recalled. For Taylor, the Strides for Giving 5K isn’t just about the run; it’s about continuing the legacy of a woman who always believed in giving back.

For those looking to join the race or support the cause, they can visit or dial 970-665-6574 to sign up.

If you go…

What: Strides for Giving 5K race
When: Check in begins at 9 a.m., Sept 23. Race starts at 10 a.m.
Where: Centennial Park, 300 W. Fifth St., Rifle
Registration fee: $40

Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance makes regional enhancements

Since its formation in 2014, the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance (RFFGA) has been the driving force for guides and anglers alike in the Roaring Fork region, pledging dedication to the protection and conservation of local fisheries.

In line with their mission, the RFFGA’s recent initiatives have brought significant enhancements to the local fishing community. 

The organization has spearheaded multiple projects aimed at improving accessibility and safety for all users. This includes the recently installed staging signs and parking pavers at the Carbondale boat ramp. 

In a collaborative effort, around 30 volunteers from the RFFGA, Town of Carbondale, Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife participated in clearing brush and creating additional spots for boats to anchor along the bank.

Another landmark project by the alliance was carried out at Iron Bridge, where they combined efforts with the Roaring Fork Fishing Club to lay 42 tons of road base. This intervention was crucial to cover large, sharp rocks, which were causing damage to equipment and hindering activities at the ramp.

“We’d like to continue to grow regionally and try to get people from this whole region to come out and join us,” RFFGA President and Founder Kyle Holt said.

Highlighting the Iron Bridge initiative, Holt described the state of the area post-runoff as a challenge. 

“After the runoff, that area was almost like an impassable state with giant boulders sticking up everywhere, we figured we had to do something,” he said.

Though Colorado Parks and Wildlife could not provide funding for these projects, the RFFGA took the initiative with their consent. Beyond these activities, the alliance has also initiated the improvement of the Silt boat ramp on the Colorado River.

The RFFGA has grown, both in terms of its projects and its stature. Recently, the alliance achieved a significant milestone, obtaining 501C3 non-profit status. This development, according to Holt, will enable the organization to garner more resources for river conservation and further improvements.

Reflecting on the essence of the RFFGA’s mission, Holt underscored the passion of the local angling community. 

“There are a lot of anglers and guides in the valley who really care about protecting our waters and this great place that we have the opportunity to call home,” Holt said. “We invite everyone to come check us out if interested.”

Currently boasting over 100 members, the RFFGA welcomes new members. Guides can join for $20 annually, associate memberships stand at $25 per year and outfitters can be part of the alliance for $250 yearly.

For more details or to explore membership options, interested parties can visit the RFFGA’s  Facebook page.

‘The most technical kayaker I’ve ever seen’

In the rapids of the Roaring Fork Valley, the sound of rushing water sings a familiar song to Mathieu Dumoulin. 

The 36-year-old French kayaker, who made his way to Glenwood Springs in 2015, is now gearing up for the 2023 International Canoe Federation Canoe Freestyle World Championships after a eight-year hiatus.

Hailing from the small town of Limony, France, Dumoulin’s journey with kayaking started at 8 years old. A sport made easily accessible and popular in the country, Dumoulin quickly grew interest. By 15 years old, he was competing professionally in freestyle canoeing, traveling the world for nine months of the year while sponsored by big name brands such as Adidas. 

Qualifying for six different world championships during the course of the Frenchman’s run, Dumoulin earned himself a silver medal at the 2015 World Championships. Following the second-place finish, he stepped down from the professional ranks to settle down in Glenwood Springs with his wife, Kristen.

“And then we moved here and just kind of focused on life and making things happen for us,” Dumoulin said. “I wanted to grow roots in Glenwood and now that I’ve done that, I felt ready to use some personal time to train and compete again this year.”

When the 2023 World Championships were announced, Dumoulin felt the pull of the river again. The chance to compete on home turf was too good to pass up.

“The competition’s in the U.S. I figured it would be a cool opportunity to compete again,” Dumoulin said. 

A dual citizen of the U.S. and France, Dumoulin will choose to represent his home country, a route that allowed him to stay closer to his family during an exciting time in the Dumoulin household.

“I was going to compete in team trials and try and qualify for the U.S. team, but the French Federation offered me an automatic spot on the team without having to go to trials because they know what I’m capable of,” Dumoulin said. “It really was a blessing because I still get to compete at world’s but I was able to stay next to my wife while we were expecting.”

Mathieu Dumoulin prepares for his journey to Columbus, Georgia for the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

Now the father of 8-week-old son, Enzo, Dumoulin is excited for the large, dynamic wave in Columbus, Georgia that will present a welcome challenge. It fit his style, and his extensive experience gave him an edge over the younger competitors.

“I made it out there a couple times during the winter and it’s a challenging wave,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun getting out there.”

But for Dumoulin, kayaking isn’t just about winning competitions. It’s also about sharing his love for the sport with others. Helping start the Roaring Fork Valley Kayak Club along with other water-enthusiasts, Dumoulin and others look to grow the aquatic sport.

“We thought it would be great to be able to get that French scene that was made available to Matt when he was younger to this valley,” fellow co-founder Scott Dillard said. “We live in one of the best scenes possible for this sport and we want those with an interest to be able to have an opportunity to participate.”

Taking shape following the COVID-19 pandemic, Dillard said having someone like Dumoulin has helped the club see a decent number in growth since 2021.

“I’ve kayaked around the world and he’s definitely the most technical kayaker I’ve ever seen,” Dillard said. “He brings a level of technical ability that no one else has, and he has a really good way of teaching it as well.”

Excited to compete once more, Dumoulin said his age won’t stop him from putting his best performance on display for Team France. And among the crowd, his newborn son, Enzo, will be watching his father face the waves. To learn more about the Roaring Fork Valley Kayak Club, visit

Local program partners with western Garfield County school districts to provide outdoor education

Garfield County Outdoors (GCO), a community initiative supported by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and Generation Wild, is providing outdoor education and programming for local youth and families, according to a news release. The collaborative community project involves partnerships between Garfield 16 and Re-2 school districts as well as other local organizations.

Spearheaded by Program Director Scott Partan and Garfield 16 Outdoor Education Coordinator Ari Philipson, GCO’s objective is to enhance outdoor education opportunities in local schools and communities through various activities within the local schools and outdoor trips.

Most recently, students from Grand Valley, Rifle and Riverside middle schools, as well as Grand Valley High School, had an opportunity to learn about the area’s geography during a hike to Hanging Lake. The students learned about weathering, erosion and the impact of events such as the Grizzly Creek Fire.

In collaboration with local Kiwanis clubs, GCO has also organized winter ecology trips for Garfield 16 students. Learning winter survival skills, snowshoeing and about the local fauna and flora on Grand Mesa, the program aims to provide fourth graders with winter outdoor experiences while improving their winter survival skills.

“As a program coordinator, I wish to extend Garfield Outdoors’ initiative of breaking down barriers for students to connect to the outdoors,” Philipson said. “As an educator, my goal is to foster memorable learning experiences for students that allow them to explore and engage with lessons through an outdoor lens.” 

GCO encourages parental participation in outdoor activities through the introduction of “Family Outdoor Days.” These events offer parents, guardians and children opportunities to partake in outdoor recreation activities. Examples of such events include a hike at West Elk Trailhead and a snowshoeing event on Grand Mesa. GCO provides necessary gear at no cost for these family outings.

GCO has supported numerous school-based outdoor education trips to attractions such as Mt. Elbert and Mesa Verde National Park. In a significant development, the Re-2 School District formed an outdoor education design team, leading to a comprehensive plan for outdoor education within the district.

Providing outdoor education to students and families since 2018, GCO has been an emphasis in providing the necessary materials for those who may not have access in order to be able to partake in outdoor activities.

“This programming is essential in our beautiful valley,” the news release states. ” GCO is not only giving students and families opportunities to get outdoors, learn and experience our great state, but they are providing these opportunities and equipment at no cost. Families who could not afford to rent or buy expensive outdoor gear have been granted opportunities to learn about all things Colorado has to offer, for free.”To learn more about the GCO program, visit

An Eagle Valley 12-year-old and 3 generations of his family will ride to support the hospital that saved his life

Then-pregnant Delfina Darquier remembers feeling an unsettling suspicion when doctors requested a second fetal echocardiogram for her son 12 years ago.

“It made me think at that point they’d seen something that was not quite right,” the Edwards resident recalled earlier this week.

“Big surprise when he was born.”

The surprise could be taken two ways. Her son, Owen Parham, had been born with four congenital heart defects and would need a life flight to Denver immediately. The second surprise — or at least ultimate blessing: he survived.

“If it wasn’t for the hospital, Owen wouldn’t be alive,” her mother recalled.

Spurred on by the suggestion of a nurse, Denise — who fell in love with Owen during his initial visit to Children’s Hospital Colorado — the family has celebrated their son’s health and given back to the institution largely responsible for it by riding their bikes around the famed Copper Triangle loop every July.

“She said, ‘Hey you guys should ride the Courage Classic;’ we’re like, ‘OK’ and we’ve been all in,” Darquier said.

“And we really got sucked into it. We feel it’s a great way to give back. Owen’s about to turn 12, so this is going to be the 12th year doing it.” 

Adding to the specialness is the fact that Darquier’s father, Manuel, will be visiting from his native Argentina and riding with Owen on Saturday’s 12-mile option from Copper to the Black Lakes rest stop and back for the second straight year. 

Owen with his heart surgeon, Dr. Jaggers. Jaggers performed two open-heart surgeries on Owen, the first at 6 days old and one at nine months.

“I’m glad to do it and I wanted to do it,” the 80-year-old said. “It’s just doing something together with the whole family, but especially with the kid.”

“We barely get to see him,” Owen added when asked about one reason the afternoon is so special. “It’s the one time a year.”

Three generations will take part. Delfina — who was born in Argentina but met her husband, Ian Parham (who is from England) while the pair worked as ski instructors in Andorra before relocating to the valley in 1994 — will chaperone the shorter route.

“It’s a huge age gap so I try to keep an eye on everybody and make sure they can all do it,” she laughed. “It’s interesting, but fun.”

Manuel is a bike enthusiast, but an increased collective road rage from motor vehicle drivers has made the activity unsafe in his bike-pathless homeland. Thus, he relishes the chance to be in Vail, and isn’t concerned about the altitude.

“It doesn’t matter my physical state — it’s just, if I want to go there, I will go there,” he said. Even at 80, he plays soccer weekly.

“He doesn’t want to give it up,” his daughter laughed. “He can’t move on Mondays, but he still does it every Sunday.” 

At least one member of the family (Darquier’s husband this year) always does the full 83-mile Copper Triangle during the two-day event. Many close friends, such as Kristina Bruce and Jim Giuliano and their families, have ridden with the crew in the past. Overwhelmed with gratitude toward their donors, the Darquiers have raised over $90,000 for the cardiac wing of the hospital in their 12 years of participation. They reached their $10,000 goal already this year, but can receive donations through Aug. 20. 

The Darquier’s have ridden many Courage Classics with close friends, such as Jim Giuliano (second from the right).

“Unless you have a kid that has health issues that you can’t take care of up in the valley, you don’t realize how lucky we are to have a facility so close to us,” she said.

“There’s so many families that fly from over the country, and for us it’s a two-hour drive.”

Owen, whose first open heart surgery came at six days old and second was at just nine months, has returned for annual checkups in preparation for a post-growth-spurt third operation.

He was born with a hole in the heart between the upper chambers, known as atrial septal defect (ASD). He also had bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), meaning his aortic valve only had two leaflets instead of three. Finally, there was stenosis of the aorta and aortic arch.

A Ross procedure was performed to replace his diseased aortic valve, on the left side, with his pulmonary valve, located on the right side. Now, the left side is working as good as it can be, but the synthetic valve on the right obviously hasn’t commensurately grown with the rest of his heart, and needs to be replaced.

“It’s already too small, but he can still live with it, and they just try to extend that surgery as far as they can,” Delfina explained.

‘Live with it,’ might be understating the vigor with which Owen approaches his world. The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy student is one of the fastest skaters on his Vail Mountaineers Pee Wee team — his favorite sport — and enjoys snowboarding, biking, skateboarding and math.

“I just don’t really think much about it,” Owen said when asked about the source of his eternal energy. “I just think that I’m like everyone else — normal — that I don’t have anything wrong.”

Indeed, the 12-year-old is pretty typical. Competitive, full of friends; his favorite part of the Courage Classic is getting to the turnaround so he can grab a snack and go downhill. He wouldn’t say no to a pro hockey career but is not set on his future, and his main focus this summer is saving up money to buy a new computer.

“Ours works but,” he said before a brief, unsatisfied exhale known to mothers of boys worldwide.

“…it’s kind of slow at times.”

“He has no limits,” his mom emphatically added.

Owen and his grandpa take a break at the top of Vail Pass during last year’s ride.

Owen’s optimistic approach to life has impacted his grandpa, who believes his grandson’s tendency to savor each day is instinctive to anyone born who has experienced a life-threatening health scare.

“They have a feeling that today, maybe they will pass away — you never know how long life will be — so what they want to do is, ‘I want to do everything,’ and that’s what (Owen) is doing, subconsciously,” Manuel said.

“Of course you see life in a different way now. You don’t know what can happen with him, so this is for me something very special,” he continued, adding that it’s strengthened their bond immensely.

“My relationship with him is different than with the other nine grandsons or daughters I have.”

Through the years, Delfina’s thankfulness for both support from donors and Children’s Hospital Colorado has only increased.

“We feel so lucky,” she said.

“When you get to the hospital for the first time, you feel sorry for yourself — and then you see things that are so much worse than what you’re going through. It puts things in perspective for sure. You realize how fragile life can be.”

From left to right: Manuel Darquier, Delfina Darquier, Ian Parham, Logan Parham, Owen Parham.