After a life time of being overweight, in March 2013, Gary Stotler stepped on the scale at 400 pounds. He vowed he would never feel that way about himself again. He went outside and walked around the block. The next day he walked around two blocks. Two years later, he had lost nearly 200 pounds and was on his way to his first marathon. After completing his first marathon, he came across the Silver Rush 50 Run via Facebook. Gary wondered to himself if could do it. So, he signed up. After completing the Silver Rush 50 Run, he received a coin into Leadville Trail 100 Run for 2017 which, by then, had become his dream race. However, in late 2016 and early 2017 he hit major obstacles in life. Not only did he lose his friends and family because of his new life, but when he looked in the mirror, Gary didn’t recognize the face looking back at him, so he turned to alcohol to solve his problems.
When Gary was no longer able to solve his problems with booze, he looked at ending his life three weeks prior to his dream race, the 2017 Leadville Trail 100 Run. Instead of ending his life, Gary chose to climb Hope Pass instead. It was there where he found his hope and will to continue in running and in life. During the 2017 LT100 Run, Gary consumed 3 bottles of Fireball Whiskey during the race until bowing out at mile 69 (Half Pipe Aid Station). Leaving devastated, he went back to drinking even more. A week later, Gary woke up with the realization that his life was worth so much more, so he quit drinking on the spot and vowed to go back to Leadville in 2018 and finish what he started. And that he did.
After a long year of recovering from drinking, depression, and a journey of rediscovering himself from the inside out, Gary returned to Leadville in 2018 where he finished holding his sons’ hands while crossing the finish line in just over 29 hours. In 2019, Gary will be heading back to the place where he found hope and discovered what’s possible by towing the line with a full heart at the Leadville Trail 100 Run.
Gary’s story is a perfect example of Rising Above in Leadville. He was able to overcome countless obstacles to ultimately conquer his personal struggles and his dream race. We asked Gary a few more questions about himself and his story in the interview below.
Leadville Race Series: Given your prior tribulations, what does finishing the Leadville Trail 100 Run mean to you?
Gary Stotler: Leadville is more than a race to me, Leadville has become my home. I have been given the most beautiful mountains to run for fun, challenging terrain to train and more importantly, I have met people who have become my family. No amount of words can describe the feeling of quitting in the middle of the night or running up 6th St toward Harrison. Hearing the cheers from friends and strangers as you watch the finish line get closer with every step forward knowing you have given every ounce of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for the last day, week, month and for some of us… years of consistent focus and dedication to live the last mile as if it was the first step of the rest of our life. No matter how difficult a training run is, the climb up the backside of Hope can be, the long road to Outward Bound or the false summits of Powerline… I am grateful every day for the opportunity to race across the sky again in 2019.
LRS: Your story is a tremendous example of determination. How were you able to “Rise Above” your prior obstacles to get back to the start line of a 100 mile race?
G.S: The greatest lesson I have learned from Leadville is nothing is impossible if we have the courage to take just one more step. Failing to finish LT100 Run in 2017 has become the greatest lesson of my life. I was forced to evaluate and improve myself from the inside out in every way. Stepping to the starting line in 2018 was the first time I felt like I was running toward my future instead of away from my past. In 2018, I was able to prove to myself I could improve on failure… and I have spent the last year working to Rise Above and improve on success.
LRS: How have your life experiences changed you?
G.S: My life experiences have changed me in every way. 6 years ago I took a step out my kitchen and around the block at 400 pounds. I was unhappy, unhealthy and just trying to get through the day as best as I could. Today, I am grateful to be happy, healthy and working every day to accomplish more personally and professionally than I ever dreamed was possible. I took nearly 188,000 steps during the LT100 Run in 2018 but the same size step that got me across the finish line was the same size step I took to get off the couch. I just had to learn to keep taking one more step forward past the point I wanted to quit.