From Marathons to Mountains: The Ward Family does it all

The Ward family enjoys their ascent of Handies Peak, our first family 14er, in August 2008.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, the Ward family does things all the way or not at all.
Like two weeks ago, when Sarah Ward ran a marathon. And won it.
Not that she expected to, exactly. It wasn’t until the last leg of the race that the 37-year-old anatomy and nutrition instructor realized she might be the first woman to cross the finish line.
“By mile 19, I knew I was the second woman and was very surprised,” Ward said. “Then I saw the first woman and was shocked. I passed her somewhere between mile 21 and 23. It was amazing to win the women’s division.”
The Huff to Bluff Marathon, which began in Blanding and ended in Bluff, Utah, was Ward’s third marathon. Her time qualified her for the Boston Marathon, which she hopes to register for in September. Entry into the race isn’t automatic, since registration times differ depending on racers’ qualifying times. But if Ward makes the cut, her next goal will be to prepare for the famous race, which happens next April.
“Part of the reason I love running is that I’m proud of what my body can do,” Ward said. “I can do things I never thought I’d be able to. It’s harder now that we have kids, but we love the outdoors and want to do those kinds of activities whenever we can.”
If marathoning is about pushing one’s body to the limit, the Wards have pushed their limits in other ways, too. Not long after Sarah and husband Todd were married in 1996, the couple climbed Longs Peak, one of dozens of Colorado peaks whose altitude is 14,000 feet or higher. They had been told that climbing a “14er” would be a great experience, so they decided to give it a try.
“We fell in love with it immediately,” Sarah recalled. “Then we realized there were lots of other (mountains) and said, ‘Wow,’ we want to see what those are like.”
Since that first ascent, Sarah and Todd have scaled all 54 Colorado 14ers. Both have a favorite climb. For Sarah, it’s the San Juan Mountains’ Wetterhorn Peak, with a 150-foot Class III rock pitchóa section that requires “scrambling” up the rocks using one’s hands, arm strength, and feet, just before the summit. Lush meadows surround the peak, which lies between Ouray and Lake City.
“It’s incredibly beautiful and somewhat difficult,” Sarah said. “You summit the peak and feel like you’ve really accomplished something.”
Todd’s top climb is harder to pin down.
“Favorites tend to kind of change,” he said. “Longs Peak and Capitol Peak are at the top of my list right now. (Capitol) is challenging and you have some exposure, though it’s not super dangerous. From the summit, you’re only an eighth of a mile from your tent, but it’s 3,500 feet below you.”
These days, getting up the mountains has become a family activity. Todd and Sarah are passing on what they have learned over 16 years to daughters Megan, 9, and Laurie, 6. Megan, who has scaled four 14ers, is “motivated and excited (for climbing) again,” Sarah said, while Laurie has summited two peaks with her parents and will take on more this summer. In 2008, the Wards climbed Handies Peak together, Todd carrying three-year-old Laurie in a pack most of the way. Six-year-old Megan made the entire climb on her own.
“That was just a stellar experience, to have our whole family at the top together,” Sarah said. “We’re still not to where we’ll say, ‘Yes, we’ll definitely (climb together) as a family,’ but we sure hope that will happen.”
If the Ward girls find other outdoor sports to their liking, Todd can probably teach them. His job as a biology instructor and Arts and Sciences Chair at Colorado Northwestern Community College has opened up a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.
“You get to do a lot of jobs in a smaller community college,” Todd said. “It’s more hats to wear, but it’s fun stuff you’d want to do anyway, like getting to pursue your outdoor addictions in association with students and teaching.”
For example, he takes students spelunking each fall at Big Brush Creek, teaching them biology along the way. Students can rappel down the 75-foot-tall cave entrance if they’re feeling especially adventurous. And for the last two winters, Ward has helped to create an ice tower on which students learn and practice before he takes them to climb in Ouray, a world-class ice-climbing destination.
It’s likely that other outdoor adventures await the Wards. For now, they return to the 14ers they like the most, repeating favorite climbs or trying new routes up the mountains.
“We’ve found some amazing places that we never would have visited otherwise,” Todd said. “It’s so quiet and beautiful up there. It’s nice to think about putting one foot in front of the other instead of the thousands of other things you normally have to think about during the day.