By Tom Southall, CHSCA
Growing up in Telluride, one of the most scenic parts of the state, Soleil Gaylord knows quite a lot about the beauty that surrounds her. When Soleil (pronounced So-lay) remarked that winning the 2018 Freddie Steinmark Award was a beautiful way to end her high school career, she was not exaggerating.
"Oh my gosh, this is absolutely amazing. What a beautiful way to end my high school career. I graduate next week, this is huge!" said Soleil. Another thing that is huge is the list of accomplishments and community activities put together in the mountains around Telluride. Her running talent has taken Soleil far from her hometown, as she has competed in world championships in Spain. But, the training she has completed on the worn track at Wheat Ridge High School means as much to her as any track and gives her a unique connection to the Freddie Steinmark story.
Soleil's mother, Ramona, graduated from Wheat Ridge High School and was familiar with the legacy of Freddie Steinmark. When the Gaylord family visited Soleil's grandmother in Wheat Ridge, Soleil would jog down to the Wheat Ridge High School track and complete her workout for the day.
In her nomination letter Soleil wrote, "I imagine Freddie Steinmark must have spent hundreds of hours practicing and playing games on that field. Through the proximity to his high school, I feel a kinship with the young Freddie when I stride along the track. I am inspired by the legend of Mr. Steinmark, and I ponder what being nominated for this prestigious Colorado award means to me." Now Soleil will have to consider what the impact will be on being the 46th recipient of the Steinmark Award.
The Steinmark Award was established in 1972 and honors Freddie Steinmark, who excelled in football, basketball, and baseball while attending Wheat Ridge High School in the 1960s. He was also an outstanding student and was active in several school and community-oriented endeavors before attending the University of Texas, where he helped the Longhorns to the national football title in 1969. He died from cancer in 1971 at the age of 22.
Soleil has been a standout on the Colorado cross country and track scene for her four years of high school. In cross country, she placed in the top 7 all four years-with a runner-up medal in 2017--and was a member of the 2A state championship cross country team in 2015 and 2016. In 2014, the Telluride Miners were runner-up in the team race.
On the track, Soleil was atop the 2A girls podium for three straight years in the 1600m and 3200m races. In 2018, she finished 5th in the 800m, and in 2017 was a member of the state champion 4x800m relay.
Pretty good performances for a school without a track! An understandable fact given the massive amounts of snow that Telluride is famous for. This minor setback gave rise to other outlets for Soleil's tremendous passion
for running, a passion she credits to her father, Kent Gaylord. Soleil began training in the winter by snowshoe running and in the summer was training in the spectacular mountains above the Valley Floor area. Before long she was competing at mountain running and snowshoe running...competing and winning state, national, and international titles. Soleil has traveled the world as a member of the silver medal team at the 2017 World Mountain Running Championships in Italy and as a two-time world champion at the World Snowshoe Federation World Championships in New York (2017) and Spain (2018). For these accomplishments, Soleil was named the 2017 Outstanding Snowshoe and Overall Outstanding Athlete by the Sportswomen of Colorado.
As if this was not impressive enough, Soleil was named the 2017 Wendy's High School Heisman National Winner. She was recognized for her courage and dedication in overcoming a mountain-sized obstacle of her own. Early in life Soleil was diagnosed with selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that made it difficult for her to communicate in social settings. Instead of running away from her problem, she sprinted at it full speed. Soleil says she knew "being able to communicate was vital to bringing change to her community." After years of tackling the condition head on, Soleil became the Student Body President, host of her own radio show, and started her school's greenhouse.
A special tone seeps into Soleil's voice when she talks about her work in the school and community of Telluride. Her radio show, "Valley Floor-a and Fauna" shares information about the environmental aspects of the valley floor and the wildlife that can be found on her training runs.
Soleil was joined by other schoolmates in refurbishing the school's greenhouse and started a program to teach elementary school students about healthy eating habits. The vegetables grown in the school greenhouse are harvested and shared with the school food program to make a local food source the students can enjoy year- round.
For these and many other activities, Soleil was awarded The Congressional Award Bronze Medal for her goal- setting and community service.
Soleil will continue her community-service activities, athletic career, and academic pursuits next year at Dartmouth College. She noted that she took her college visit to the Hanover, New Hampshire school in the height of the fall colors and instantly fell in love with the area, the college, and the distance coach and team.
Soleil Gaylord is the 46th winner of the girls Steinmark Award since it was first presented to girls in 1974. The first girl to win the Steinmark Award was Anne Vento of Pueblo Centennial in 1974. There were two winners of the award in 1984. Soleil will be honored as part of the CHSCA All-State Games on June 8, 2018, at Adams State University in Alamosa, CO. Soleil will be honored along with Pomona's Ryan Marquez, who will receive the boys 2018 Steinmark Award.
Last year, Jordan Acosta of Douglas County was the recipient of the girls Steinmark and Brandon Micale of Pomona the boys Steinmark.
Finalists for the 2018 Steinmark Award: Rylee Anderson, Silver Creek; Addi Iken, Littleton; Micayla Isenbart, Kit Carson; Skylar Lodice, Dakota Ridge; Gabriella McDonald, Rocky Mountain.