This story has been archived from the Friday, August 18, 2006

Defending champion is laidback, but confident


Harvard junior-to-be Ryan Hafer, one year removed from his history-making win in last year’s Pikes Peak Ascent, spent the summer back home in his native Colorado Springs.

Last year, at 19 — just three years older than the minimum age allowed to race — he became the first teenager to win the overall Ascent title, topping a field of 1,800 with a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 30 seconds. The time was well off Matt Carpenter’s record 2:01:06, but broke the 29-year age-group record.

Not that the champion is getting any special treatment at home this summer. His dad, Craig, has him landscaping the yard.

Hafer, a Coronado graduate, tore out the entire lawn of grass and weeds, and removed or replaced rocks. Hard work, especially when added to his part-time job as a shoe clerk at the Colorado Running Company and running 90 miles per week to prepare for his fall college cross country season.

Last year Coronado graduate Ryan Hafer became the first teenager to win the Pikes Peak Ascent at 19. The Harvard student says he “wouldn’t rule himself out” of this year’s race.

The lanky, laid-back Hafer doesn’t seem to mind. He’s ready to defend his title. His toughest competition likely will come from eight-time champion Scott Elliott, who missed last year because of a hamstring injury. In 2004, Hafer led for 10 miles before he said he “fell apart.” Elliott reeled him in above tree line and passed him.

Hafer said he used that to propel him to last year’s win. As for this year . . .

“I’m in better shape than last summer,” Hafer said.

Hafer is a mechanical engineering major at Harvard and runs cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring. He doesn’t feel pressure to defend his title.

“I’m really not that worried,” he said, speaking in a back office at the running store Thursday. “The race for me is the offseason. It’s not a priority."

Still, he has scouted the field.

“I wouldn’t count myself out,” he said.

Like the lawn, Hafer has reshaped himself too, making the transformation from soccer player to elite runner his junior year in high school.

“He’s very driven,” said his father, part of a family that includes Ryan’s mom, Heidi, and sisters Brianna, who will be a Colorado State sophomore, and Kayla, who is entering her junior year at Coronado. “He’s very competitive. I think he could have a really good race."

Craig Hafer, who works at satellite chip-maker Aeroflex, said Ryan showed an uncommon work ethic even as a youngster.

“He was very driven with soccer,” he said. “He’d come home after soccer practice, and would practice juggling (soccer balls) and running sprints in the yard after practice."

Hafer has trained on the mountain more this year than last. Someday, when his collegiate career is over, this race will be a priority. Then, watch out.

“I’m looking forward to doing it after college and seeing what I can do then,” he said.

Copyright 2006, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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