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Jim Butera: Leadville's Lost Founder

Will any of us be remembered? If so, how long?

It seems natural, when staring out at a vast ocean or a limitless sky, to say "not long." And what does it matter? As Woody Allen put it, homework is hard to do when "the Universe is expanding." He explained to his doctor, "the Universe is everything and if it's expanding, one day it will break apart and that will be the end of everything."

Yet, that doesn't stop us from hanging onto our memories, our past, the people and the moments that have defined us. It's how we make sense of movement and change: the spinning atoms and ringed planets and the miasma of unending cycles of political upheaval.

Jim Butera's place in the canon of the Leadville 100 is non-existent. He never fought to hold onto it. A select few, however, refuse to let it slip away.

In 1983, Jim was working in Frank Shorter's running store outside of Denver, Colorado. He sold shoes, ran a Colorado ultrarunning club, and lived for time alone in the mountains. He spoke to everyone who entered the shop. A good salesman does. But there was something different about Jim. He was a dreamer. On the walls hung handmade fliers for his biggest dream yet: a 100-mile race across the high mountains of Colorado. First, he thought to hold it from Vail to Aspen and switch the starting point each year. A more practical sensibility led him to a mining town, reeling from the collapse of their mine: Leadville.

Jim mapped out the course and measured it with a bicycle wheel, an innovation of ultra pioneer Ted Corbitt. He started the race that year, 1983, and served as race director till '85, when he decided he wanted to run it. Afterward, he left Colorado for California and a chance to make more money - something he never had much of.

Since then, the Leadville 100 has become an icon. Due in large part to the charisma of Leadville local Ken Chlouber, who organized the race until 2010. That year, he sold it to Life Time Fitness for over a million dollars. Each year, hundreds arrive in Leadville from all over the world. They hear about the town and the beauty and the dangers of the high Rockies. But they never hear of Jim. Only a few remember his contributions. One is his widow, Sheila Butera. She was kind enough to share this poem she wrote for him. (It is produced here in part.)


We loved him.

He made us laugh.

He was quirky. A one of a kind.

But oh what a man!

He was a free spirit.

Couldn't be hemmed in.

Loved the wide outdoors

and the sound of the wind.

He loved the good Earth,

The sun, moon and stars.

Yes, his precious runs took him afar.

He loved all animals, great or small;

They brought him joy, each one and all.

He never missed a chance to pet a dog as it walked by.

They warmed his heart and made him cry.

He pounded the dirt, crossed ragging streams,

And always lived out his wildest dreams.

He never wasted a single day.

Life was his treasure in every way.

He never let any grass grow under his feet...

The sacred grounds on which he ran will whisper his name

With each gentle sound.


Jim was first and foremost a runner. He ran Western States in 1982 and finished three more times in his career. He ran Across the Years, the Pacific Trail 50, and the Gibson Ranch 24-hour. He won none of those.

His measuring wheel sits in Marge Hickman's garage in Fredonia, Arizona. Marge, a 14-time finisher, is one of a handful of Leadville veterans, trail hogs, firemen, and neighbors who still remember Jim. He passed in 2012, too soon. Those that knew him know he is still running - up there somewhere - on a never-ending trail, his steps as light as the clouds.

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