Happy homecoming in Rifle for Jenny LaBaw
RIFLE — Jenny LaBaw has experienced plenty of exciting and sometimes trying adventures the past three weeks. However, the last three days were particularly special for the Rifle native who is running across Colorado to raise awareness and money for epilepsy.
LaBaw started her departure from Rifle Thursday morning at Rifle High School, her alma mater, where students and staff lined the driveway to send her off. More supporters held signs and cheered as she made her way down to Railroad Avenue and headed north on Highway 13.
“When your legs get tired run with your heart,” several signs read. Others simply had the title of LaBaw’s effort: “Move Mountains.”
Up until Thursday morning LaBaw had said nothing on her journey compared to the sight of the Roan Plateau and the feeling of running home as she completed the stretch from Glenwood Springs to Rifle Tuesday. That was before Thursday’s send-off.
“It was pretty special today,” said LaBaw, who was a multi-sport athlete while at Rifle High. “To go up to the high school and see Theresa Hamilton and Todd Ellis and Troy Phillips … all these faces that I grew up with.”
Although she usually returns to her hometown several times a year, the circumstances surrounding this trip brought a heightened buzz.
On Wednesday, LaBaw spoke briefly before a crowd of about 40 people, some were friends and former high school classmates, in Centennial Park. The event was organized by the owner of 1211 Fitness in Rifle, Ashley Gavito, as a way to help contribute to LaBaw’s fundraising efforts — her crowdrise.com page totaled $22,377 Wednesday evening.
Gavito, who played soccer with LaBaw at Rifle High, said she was amazed her former teammate was walking around without any discomfort, despite having made the 26-mile haul from Glenwood to Rifle the day before. “It’s incredible,” she said.
LaBaw has always been a super athlete, said Jacquelyn Johnson, another one of LaBaw’s former high school soccer teammates who came out to Centennial Park Wednesday.
Diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 8, LaBaw now works as a professional strength and conditioning coach. She told the crowd Wednesday that she struggled with the disease for a long time and her success in CrossFit gave her a platform to bring awareness of the disease that will personally impact 1 in 26 people — a statistic gleaned from the Epilepsy Foundation, which is where the proceeds from LaBaw’s effort will go.
While CrossFit provided the platform, it was shortly after a trip to visit her family in Rifle earlier this summer when LaBaw decided to run across Colorado for epilepsy awareness. Driving through the mountains and natural beauty of Colorado led LaBaw to tear up. “And I said, ‘I’m going to do it,’” she recounted Tuesday.
“What is most amazing about Jenny is she’s obviously a phenomenal athlete, but she’s an even better person,” said Lindsey Ellsworth, one of LaBaw’s good friends since childhood. Ellsworth remembered when she was 5 and her family first moved next door to the LaBaws. LaBaw, who was 4 at the time, walked into Ellsworth’s house with a toothbrush in hand and informed the family that she was going to be spending a lot of time in their home.
The story is true, LaBaw admitted. “I guess I wasn’t shy that day,” she said.
LaBaw completed 21 miles and made it into Little Box Canyon Thursday — officially passing the 300 mile mark and leaving a little less than 200 miles. Asked if she had any specific plans for the rest of her journey, LaBaw said, “Just keep moving forward.”
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon will continue to be closed due to “extreme damage” from the latest round of heavy rain and flooding Saturday night, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Sunday afternoon.