Local non-profit organization GECKO (Give Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors) celebrated its fifth birthday on Thursday, April 25.
GECKO is a 501(c)(3) organization that focuses on bringing children out of a life filled with television, computers and video games, back into nature to create lasting memories and connections with the outdoor world.
According to ultra endurance runner and founder Morgan Murri, the purpose of Gecko is to help kids get, “unplugged, off the couch and outside.”
Murri created GECKO in 2008 during a seven-day traverse of the Moroccan Sahara in the Marathon Des Sables. He explained that his influence was his teenage daughter who was given the opportunity to attend an outdoor leadership program. According to Murri, this experience turned her life around. He was so inspired by her experience that he decided to “pay it forward” and looked for a way to give other kids the same opportunity his daughter had.
Murri has raised money for this organization by competing in races such as the Transrockies and the Badwater Ultramarathon. He has also directed events in his hometown of Pagosa Springs — trail runs, cycle races and mountain bike rides.
Five years after the creation of GECKO, the organization has launched Athletes@Altitude, a program located at the base of the San Juan Mountains in Pagosa Country. This program provides other outdoor enthusiasts with motivational speakers, altitude training camps and coaching.
Working with GECKO and Athletes@Altitude is Murri’s collaborator and friend, Mike Le Roux. Le Roux recently moved to Pagosa Springs from Cairns, Australia, becoming GECKO’s first employee. He will contribute to GECKO through his background as an athlete, coach and race director. Le Roux has competed in three ultra distance Ultraman triathlons, winning a world championship in 2010, and holding the Australian record for 100 miles on trails.
During last week’s celebration, GECKO recognized five Pagosa students who have received a scholarship to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). These kids will enjoy a range of activities such as kayaking in Alaska, sailing in Baja, mountaineering in Alaska, sea kayaking on the Northwest coast, and river rafting and backpacking in Utah.
GECKO has provided more than $80,000 in scholarships to local students over the past four years. For the fifth birthday, five young people will receive a scholarship. Each year, more students in southern Colorado have had the opportunity to attend outdoor leadership schools. The funds have been generated through scholarships, donations, outdoor event promotions and races.
In order to raise money for the outdoor scholarships, GECKO hosts athletic events in Pagosa Country. The events also help support the local economy by bringing in athletes as well as their friends and families. According to GECKO, 76 percent of the athlete visitors bring someone with them, and 18 percent bring five or more people. Seventy-eight percent of visitors stay more than two nights during events and 24 percent will stay five days or longer.
Upcoming events here are:
• XTERRA Turkey Track Trail Run: This race consists of an early season trail marathon and a half marathon. Runners will find themselves traversing through scenic single track, rolling hills and mellow climbs through aspens, ponderosa pines and open forests. Registration is now open and race day is June 15.
• Mountain Chili Cha Cha: This race includes a 5k, 10k and half marathon on trails. Finish the race by celebrating with local homemade chili. Registration is now open and race day is Aug. 24.
• XTERRA Pagosa Springs: This is a triathlon consisting of 1k (1,000-meter) swim/18.5 mile bike/6.9 mile trail run. This is the first of its kind in Pagosa Springs, and it is sure to not be the last. Registration is now open and race day is September 15.
• Devil Mountain Ultra: The Gecko website isn’t lying when it calls this, “One Hell of a Run!” The Devil Mountain Ultra is a 50 mile and 50k Ultra plus half marathon. Runners can expect big climbs and high elevations through the San Juan Mountains. Celebrate the run afterwards by enjoying the finish line bonfire party and the pancake awards breakfast. Registration is now open and race day is Sept. 28.
• Epic Mountain Challenge: This is a two-day, four stage run/ride with stages combining cross country and time trial mountain biking, as well as trail and road running. There is a $60,000 prize purse for the winner. A finale concert includes reggae legend Pato Banton. Registration is open and the race is Oct. 5-6.
For more information concerning upcoming events, visit www.joingecko.org.
The website for Athletes@Altitudes, www.athletesataltitudes.com, is still under construction.
GECKO offers many ways to donate or to get involved. Donations can be made at www.joingecko.org and to donate time, people can e-mail email@example.com.