Flyathlon: Connecting Passions
As a fisheries biologist Andrew Todd understands the niche native trout occupy in an ecosystem. Like the invertebrates they eat, native trout are born into cold clean water by the bosom of a pebble-laden stream bed. Unlike those invertebrates, trout never leave the water. Married to the river by gills, trout spend their entire lives locked in a stream destined to fulfil a niche millennia in the making. Unlike trout, humans have the privilege to explore unknown realms of social and personal interaction that eventually form the niches an individual occupies. Andrew occupies many niches- father, flyfisher, trail runner, beer connoisseur, scientist, conservationist, activist, friend: all of these as a whole define Andrew. The individual niches he occupies are not unrelated, rather they are stitched together by common threads. In recognizing the inter-woven nature of his niches Andrew has been able to weave them together for a greater cause. By a needle of conservation and a yarn of native trout, Andrew has created the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon or Flyathlon.
An event centered around running, flyfishing and craft beer, Flyathlon has grown from being a small unofficial gathering of friends, to a conservation powerhouse in four short years. Andrew would tell you that he stumbled upon the idea, this may be true but the genius behind the event is undeniable. So many times in our life we are blind to the interconnectedness of our passions. We see them as individual aspects of our personality forever confined to the mold of their role. By noticing and acting upon these connections Andrew has been able to pull the heart strings of organizations like Osprey, Patagonia and Upslope Brewing Co..
When asking participants about the allure of the event they hardly ever mention the sponsors, running, fly fishing or beer drinking. No, most come to be a part of a conservation minded community. Wild spaces and native trout are intrinsically important to flyathletes (a participant of the event). Whether they run or flyfish or both, preserving the environments in which they participate is paramount. We need only look to their ability to raise funds to prove this. Pitted against one another in friendly competition athletes are tasked with raising $500 as a goal and the top fundraiser is bestowed with extra prestige at the awards ceremony. Through their efforts participants raised over $24,000 for native trout.
$24,000 is a lot of money for 60 people to raise, but the money is an added bonus. Every person that a competitor reaches out to for a donation, is one more person exposed to native trout. Word of mouth has long been and still is, one of the most effective ways to disseminate information. By connecting a cause to an individual or group through association, outsiders immediately see the appeal of an idea. By humanizing an initiative crowd funding is a vehicle to connect seemingly unconnected niches.
Usually trail runners and flyfishers occupy separate territories of wilderness. One finds solace far from the outside world on steep rocky trails, the other on a meandering river far from any scent of cell phone coverage. The appeal of escaping the hustle and bustle of the city draws many to take up one of these two activities but running and flyfishing overlap in a deeper way. Those who take up one of the two are intrinsically driven to find isolation. Through isolation on the trail or river we rediscover aspects of an almost forgotten personality. Driven by the next bend in the river or the next challenging hill we push ourselves towards elusive self-discovery. Epiphanies do not come easy. An unsatisfying trail time or a big fish missed cause us to question why we strive to personally affirm a practice many see as elitist. As we meander back from a disappointing day, family and friends remind us personal struggles are to be fought on the mountain and worked through around the fire.
Flyathlon incubates conservation-centric conversation like a broody hen. Roosted around the campfire participants from every corner of the country share a vision of activism, preservation, family, and community grounded firmly in wild spaces. Those who come from out of state strive to implement this vision at home, while those from Colorado take the vision to every corner of our state. The rapid spread of Flyathlon is tied to an urgency. Wild places throughout our country are disappearing, if we as passionate land users fail to speak up, monetary incentives will usurp the positive, often unmeasurable societal benefits of wild, native spaces.
Flyathlons are small events. As a responsible biologist Andrew knows that heavy traffic into pristine wilderness can be detrimental. Some see limiting participant numbers as an encumbrance to the overall conservation power of Flyathlon. Andrew would disagree. Participants act as nucleating agents. Each one leaving the event empowered to protect wild spaces close to home. This grassroots, fluid movement of ideas facilitated by an engaging event offers potential for skyrocketing success. Instead of the events growing in participant size, they will grow in number. Flyathlons will begin to pop up in every corner of Colorado and soon many corners of the country. As they grow in number a multiplier effect can be observed. For every Flyathlon there are 60 participants. On top of the participants is the immediate family and friend group of those participants, to be conservative add two people to each participant. Through crowd funding participants along with their friends and family reach out to an even broader community, again to be conservative add another three people to the participant, their family, and friends. Now to be conservative let us set the number of events state wide to five. Not only is the potential for number of dollars raised massive, the collective resounding call for the preservation of ecosystems native trout inhabit will reverberate throughout our state and eventually our country.