Up for a Challenge

The Glacier Challenge multi-sport relay race continues tradition of fun and fundraising for Flathead Youth Home

By Molly Priddy
Runners take off at the Glacier Challenge. Photo courtesy of Glacier Challenge

For about 15 years, hundreds of people have gathered in and around Whitefish to run, bike, paddle, and generally sweat it out all in the name of making this valley a little better for some kids who need it the most.

The 2018 Glacier Challenge is the 16th such race, and will take place on June 30 in Whitefish. As with many popular races, the Glacier Challenge has developed its own culture, one that can be as competitive as the teams want it to be but is always inclusive.

For many years, Flathead Youth Home organized and hosted the race as one of its largest fundraisers. But Hannah Plumb, the development coordinator at Flathead Youth Home, said she handed that baton off to Matthew Smeltzer and the folks at Competitive Timing at the right time.

“It’s been our biggest fundraiser, but over the years we started realizing that I was spending a lot of time as a race director as opposed to the development coordinator,” Plumb said. “It was wonderful that Matthew didn’t want to see it go away.”

Smeltzer said he was already heavily involved in the race for a few years before Competitive Timing took it on as their own. Still, even though his company technically owns the race, Smeltzer said its spirit is remaining the same.

“I really feel like it’s a Flathead Youth Home event,” he said. “I certainly didn’t want to see the event disappear. We’re just trying to keep the thing above water and money flowing to the Flathead Youth Home.”

The youth home serves local kids whose lives are in crisis for a multitude of reasons, including neglect, abuse, abandonment, mental health issues, and chemical dependency. Since 1975, Flathead Youth Home has housed more than 1,600 kids.

The Glacier Challenge benefits the youth home each year, which race coordinators say is a common driving force behind teams who show up year after year to gut it out on the course.

Some teams have been competing for years, with detailed histories and rivalries with other teams. Others are made up of people who just want to have a good time with friends. Any type of team along the competitive spectrum is welcome, and Glacier Challenge offers no shortage of options for racers.

The challenge itself has seven legs: an 8.1-mile run, 4 miles of kayaking, 12.1 miles of road biking, 8 miles on a mountain bike, another 8.1 miles of road biking, 3.7 miles in a canoe, and, finally, a 5K to the finish line.

A few years ago, organizers combined the already-popular Whitefish Lake Run with the challenge, which Smeltzer said made sense in terms of whittling down the summer race schedule.

“I’ve always had this feeling that there’s just too many darn races happening around the state in the first place, so I combined the two,” he said.

Participants have the option of running the 5K Whitefish Lake Run only; running an 8-mile course only; a triathlon of running, kayaking, and biking; a solo challenge during which one person completes the entire race on their own; and building teams of up to seven people.

Giving people options allows for more participation, Smeltzer said.

“It’s really not an event to be intimidated by,” he said.

Plumb said she’s thrilled to be participating in the challenge this year instead of planning it, and intends to run the 5K with others involved in Flathead Youth Home. It’s gotten her back into running, she said.

“That’s been a really fun piece to this year’s race for me,” Plumb said.

Along with the race, there will be raffle prizes, including six season passes to Whitefish Mountain Resort, and food options available.

Smeltzer said part of the reason he likes the Glacier Challenge so much is the teamwork he witnesses, especially among friends and family and coworkers.

“That’s the part I like to see more than anything: the groups of friends who interact to work out all the logistics, and the time they spend together before and after the race,” Smeltzer said. “That’s the coolest part of this challenge.”

For more information on the Glacier Challenge, including registration information, visit www.theglacierchallenge.com. For more information on the Flathead Youth Home, visit www.youthhomesmt.org/group_homes/the-flathead-youth-home.