Ultra runner Nikki Kimball visits KMS

Courtesy of KMS

Ultra runner Nikki Kimball stands stop a log on a hike.

The Chittenden native, who set speed record running Long Trail, shares experience

KILLINGTON—Ultra athlete Nikki Kimball spoke to the entire KMS community Monday, March 30, about her career, challenges she’s faced along the way, and how she’s risen above difficulty and found success.

Kimball was born and raised just over the pass in Chittenden, Vt. She attended Holderness and then Williams College as a cross-country skier, competing in 15K Biathlon U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Her focus shifted to competitive running during graduate school where she was studying to be a physical therapist. Kimball moved to Bozeman, Mont., in 2004 for the amazing trails and the running community.

Kimball has raced on five continents over terrain ranging from asphalt to desert to rainforest floor, cobblestones to snow. During her talk at KMS, Kimball talked about competing in athletics in both high school and college, where she participated in Nordic skiing and was a biathlete. As a Nordic athlete at Williams, she was on the Olympic track for the ’98 Olympics, when she was diagnosed with depression. Kimball went from a high-achieving athlete to someone who could barely do anything. She lost a great deal of weight, her job and her boyfriend, and she stopped competing. During this time, Kimball started running, which was a coping mechanism for her at first, and then became a lifestyle.

Kimball’s ultra running is the subject of a new documentary called “Finding Traction,” which recounts her 2013 quest to become the fastest person in history to run the 273-mile Long Trail. Kimball achieved her goal, setting the new women’s speed record at five days, seven hours, and 42 minutes. She showed the audience the trailer for the movie during her talk.

The film explores the challenges she faced during her run through Vermont’s Green Mountains, and it showcases the determination and dedication necessary to complete this challenge. This elite level of competition and determination is something to which KMS student-athletes can relate, and the students commented that they connected with her quest in a variety of ways. “I thought the talk and the trailer for the film was really cool and relatable, because she talked about the mental side of things and strategies for dealing with that, which is something that we really talk about with our coaches a lot,” said U16 alpine athlete, Becca Clark.

Overall, Kimball wants to inspire people to be active and to spend time outdoors, who she feels should advocate for an equal place for themselves in professional sports. She is also involved with Girls on the Run Vermont, for whom she raised donations via supporters of her Long Trail run.

Kimball shared that at one point during the run she was feeling defeated, exhausted, and she wanted to quit. Lauren Heydinger of Girls on the Run Vermont happened to show up at that moment, hoping to encourage and support Kimball along her journey. Heydinger told Kimball that she simply had to keep going, that she had raised the most money in the shortest amount of time ever in the organization’s history, and that there were 2,500 girls following Kimball’s run online and that she had to keep going for them. So she did!

Her career highlights include:

memberships on 14 US National teams across three running disciplines

three-time winner of both North American and USA Track and Field Association Ultrarunner of the Year awards

Western States 100 Champion 2004, 2005, 2007

1st place, Marathon Des Sables, 2014

LT women’s speed record holder

Several national championship titles

a World Cup team gold medal in 100km road racing

“It was an awesome presentation,” exclaimed student-athlete Pj Bovaconti. “She was a winter athlete too, so she understands a lot about our sport, and connects with the challenges we face to keep up our training during the off-season.”

Student-athlete Cassidy Bebo put it best: “She’s so awesome! She’s a powerful woman who doesn’t back down and never gives up, which is something that I can connect with and find incredibly inspirational!”

The school is immensely grateful to Nikki Kimball for taking the time to share her story. Her film has been shown at documentary film festivals throughout the winter and spring and has been aired several times on a Montana PBS station. It will soon be available for purchase on DVD. Be sure to like the “Finding Traction” Facebook page for more details and screening dates.

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