Jason Macaluso

Colorado Mountain College’s top runner Jason Macaluso (bib number 431) hits the race course of the Ted Castaneda Cross-Country Classic in Colorado Springs on Sept. 11.

The Colorado Mountain College cross-country team is gearing up for another season of running this fall. The team kicked off the 2021 meet schedule on Saturday in Colorado Springs.

Top male finisher for Colorado Mountain College (CMC) was Vail native Jason Macaluso, who placed 21st overall in the 8K race with a time of 27:37. Hope Maldonado of Colorado Springs was top runner for the women’s team, running to 45th place with a time of 28:21 in the 6K race.

Head coach Darren Brungardt said the CMC Eagles are projected to have a strong season. Both the men’s and women’s teams have full rosters this year with a mix of returning and new student-athletes.

“CMC runners are the toughest runners in the collegiate ranks,” said Brungardt. “I am excited to see this team gel together into a tight crew.”

CMC Athletic Director Angela Dunn noted that the team — in only its third year of competition — has recruits from all over Colorado, as well as six out-of-state student-athletes who have chosen degree programs unique to CMC.

The college’s cross-country team competes as a National Junior College Athletic Association-sanctioned team. Even though the team is based at the college’s Leadville campus, students from any of CMC’s 11 locations can compete from their home campus.

Running and learning at 10,000 feet elevation

At over 10,000 feet elevation, CMC Leadville is the highest elevated college campus in the nation. This creates a unique challenge for runners as they train for competition.

“Runners adapt to Leadville’s elevation after two to three weeks and are flying high from that point forward,” explained Brungardt. “The greatest part of their training takes place in October. Their personal bests start to drop, and they reap the rewards of their tireless efforts as we head into regionals and nationals.”

But athletic performance does not trump academics at CMC. Dunn said in order to be eligible to run, student-athletes have to maintain a certain GPA.

“Maintaining academic eligibility while training takes focus and dedication,” she said.

Ready for a new season

Returning CMC Eagle Autry Lomahongva from Kayenta, Arizona is excited to get back on the trails at CMC Leadville and start the 2021 season.

“Being Native American, running has always been a huge part of my life, religiously and physically,” said Lomahongva, who graduated from Monument Valley High School in Kayenta. “Running, being outdoors is just a spiritual activity for me.”

And that spiritual connection is what brought him to CMC Leadville to take part in the outdoor recreation leadership program.

“Backpacking and guiding teach you to be a leader and practice self-reliance,” said Lomahongva. “Teaching people about the outdoors has a much deeper intention in keeping the land around us beautiful.”

Kaylynn Shaffer of Salida is new to the cross-country team this year. She too has a deep connection with running, stressing the importance of being part of a team.

“Being a part of this close-knit team has been so amazing,” said Shaffer, a Salida High School graduate. “All my teammates know if one person gets better on the team, we all get better.”

Shaffer, who is enrolled in CMC’s new pharmacy technician program, said she chose CMC to avoid the high-cost college tuition she saw many of her peers having to pay to earn a degree.

“CMC is this new support system for me that is going to help me stay focused on my career goals,” Shaffer said. “And all the while I’m saving money so in the long run I’ll be able to make life decisions based on what’s right for me and not based off how much student debt I’m in.”

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