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July-August 2004

Over the hill and picking up speed

It’s summer, it’s Boulder, and any number of staffers are spending their free time enjoying the outdoors. We decided to track down a few people who are particularly devoted to their favorite pastimes. And just to make it interesting, we’re focusing on the older set.

This month, we profile Jack Fellows, who surfs at every opportunity, and Betty Valent, one of the organization’s top runners. Next month, we profile Dave Kennison, who’s climbed Longs Peak 70 times, and DJan Stewart, a passionate skydiver.

Surf’s up

The day Jack Fellows turned 16, he loaded up his surfboard and drove to the local Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration office to take his driver’s test. Then he drove 3,000 miles to San Diego to surf for the summer.

“It was like a dream to surf the West Coast spots I had read about in Surfer magazine for years. I was 16, had no clue where I would live, and could not have been happier,” he says.

Jack Fellows

Jack Fellows on the beach in Maryland.

Thus began a 13-year cycle in which Jack worked and went to school during most of the year, surfed in Hawaii over winter breaks, and surfed during the summer. He even lived on a sailboat most of his college years at the University of Maryland. Today, despite living in Colorado and maintaining a busy schedule as UOP director and UCAR vice president for corporate affairs, he makes time for surf adventures.

“If I travel close to the ocean, I’ll try to fit in a day of surfing,” he says. “There isn’t much that’s more peaceful and relaxing than spending time in the ocean.”

Jack started surfing in fifth grade, when he was living in Washington, D.C. “I was nine years old, four feet tall, and hauling around a 10-foot surfboard,” he recalls. After finishing his doctorate, he wanted to teach in hot surfing spots around the world. Although those plans changed, he’s surfed in the Maldives, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Mexico, and both U.S. coasts.

“It was a special time in my life, full of adventures,” he recalls of his peak surfing days. He slept on the beach during a hurricane with 90-plus mph winds, jumped off 30-foot cliffs in Hawaii, lived in a tree house, surfed under the Golden Gate Bridge on a rare swell, and nearly got impaled by jumping dolphins in Mexico. “I grew up in the 1970s. While everyone was turning into hippies and doing drugs, I was this clean-cut kid focused on making the next surf adventure a reality,” he says. “So, surfing has been a positive force in my life.”

The Maldives are the source of one of Jack’s favorite surfing memories. He arranged a surf day with locals, but when he showed up at the dock they had ancient guns aboard a leaky sailboat. He learned that the guns were protection against pirates that roam the Indian Ocean. “I figured the pirates would have modern firepower so I talked them into not taking them,” he says. “We didn’t see any pirates, but got great waves.”

This year, he took a trip to Costa Rica in late May. He traveled solo to the remote Nicoya Peninsula and was happy to meet some fellow surfers because of the large waves. “The other surfers were 20 years my junior and it was challenging to keep up with them. When they learned I was over 50, they joked about whether they would be surfing when they were that old,” he says.

In February, he surfed a few days in Maryland. “I drove six hours to sit in 42-degree water and periodic snow showers,” he recalls.

When not surfing, Jack is likely snowboarding here in Colorado. “Snowboarding in deep powder is pretty close to surfing,” he says. His teenage kids surf and snowboard. “Being able to share this with them is great fun,” he says. But, he concedes, “It is getting harder to keep up with them.”

Life on the run

F&A’s Betty Valent clearly remembers the first time she went running, over 30 years ago. It was after the birth of her third child, and the stay-at-home mom decided she needed to do something to stay in shape. So she laced up her sneakers and headed outside.

Betty Valent
Betty Valent in the 2001 Up-the-Hill foot race.

“I ran as fast as I could for two blocks—and just about died,” she recalls with a smile.

After that, she started pacing herself. By joining a group of runners who held informal races in Denver’s Washington Park, she gradually improved her times and evolved into one of the better women runners in her age group in the area. Eventually, she won a number of 5- and 10-kilometer races, and her time of 3:30 in the 1980 Denver Marathon set a record in that event for women 40 and over that stood for three years.

Betty has now run for 33 years—about 10 years longer than most people can go before suffering knee problems or other debilitating injuries. Her goal is to keep running regularly without wearing out her body.

“It’s sort of a balancing act,” she explains. “The idea is to run as hard as I can without running so hard that I get injured. We’ll see what happens. There are a few people who can keep running into their 80s and even their 90s.”

Betty runs about 30 to 35 miles a week. On workdays, she starts her run about 4 or 4:30 a.m., sometimes seeing UCAR president Rick Anthes bicycling up the hill to the Mesa Lab. Getting up before 4 is hard to do, but as she puts it, “I’ve run enough years to know I really will feel better and the day will go better.”

One of Betty’s favorite events is the annual UCAR/NCAR Up-the-Hill Races. She is a seven-time winner in the women’s foot race with times as fast as 10:13. Many of the organization’s top runners drop out of the event after they pass their peak and their times start to slow, but Betty continues to compete even though it now takes her about 13 minutes or so to finish the 1.2-mile climb up the mesa hill.

It’s a fun race because it’s short, she says. “You just take off as fast as you can go and hang on.”

Another favorite race is the Vail Evergold, a daunting trail run that ascends part of Vail Mountain. It began on a different course as a men’s race, but Betty and some other women ran their own race in 1974, and the two events gradually merged. Over the years, Betty has often entered both the 5K and 10K versions of the race, which take place back to back, and she has sometimes won both in her category.

Racing in a steep area like Vail calls for a lot of discipline. “When you’re running, you ask yourself, ‘How much longer can I breathe this hard?’” Betty says. “You have to slow down, but you don’t want to walk too much.”
On weekends, she enjoys running trails with her husband, SCD’s Dick Valent. When they travel, they often go running together as a way to explore
the area.

“Running for me is a great way to handle worry,” Betty says. “If you get out there long enough, you get to the point where you have to think about the running and you leave the worry alone.” •Nicole Gordon and David Hosansky


Also in this issue...

A pair of sixes: NCAR bolsters its scientific staff

Coping with heat

No day at the beach: SOARS protégés tackle research projects

Child's play

Delphi Questions

New Leaders


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