For 2023 TransRockies Run Sponsorship Recipients Elaine, Tom & Adam, Running Is Everything
For 2023 TransRockies Run Sponsorship Recipients Elaine, Tom & Adam, Running Is Everything
Trail running season is now in full swing and with it comes one of our favorite times of the year: when we get to choose our TransRockies Run (TRR) team sponsorship recipients. Each spring, pairs of runners are invited to apply by sharing their passion for the sport with us and finding creative ways to tell us why they should attend this legendary “Summer Camp for Big Kids.” Selection isn’t based on a team’s running resume, results or social media following, but instead on heart, soul and a willingness to give back to the running community.
For 2023, we’ve decided to do things a little differently, accepting video applications from runners. The result has been amazing, with fun, inspiring and heartwarming submissions coming in from all over the map.
A Dream Team
After much reflection, our Associates have chosen the husband and wife team of Elaine Acosta and Tom O’Reilly to represent Kahtoola at TRR 2023. For years, Elaine and Tom traveled far and wide together, running and racing. Sadly, in 2019, Tom was diagnosed with Glioblastoma (GBM)—a devastating form of brain cancer—and on June 13, 2020, passed away following a 16-month battle with the disease.
While heartbreaking, Elaine’s video application radiates positivity as she continues to run and keep Tom’s spirit alive by spreading his ashes at events and trails all over the world. Theirs is an inspiring story of love, loss and never giving up, and one that’s sure to capture the attention—and hearts—of anyone who hears it.
Elaine applied with Tom as her partner, but because there are two TRR sponsorship spots available, we asked Elaine if there is anyone she’d like to have with her and Tom at TRR. Elaine has a deep connection to the running community, and after some reflection, chose her longtime friend and running partner, Adam Mayer. Living in Boulder, Adam is at home running in the Colorado Rockies and will be there for Elaine every step of the way. For added support, Tom’s parents, Tom and Jo O’Reilly will also be at the race cheering on the three adventurers.
Destined to Run
Both living in New Jersey, Tom and Elaine met doing what they loved: running. It all began at a race called Running with the Devil when the two found themselves running up a hill together and started to chat. Elaine left Tom in her dust that day, but they ended up at another race together and, after some “stalking”—as Elaine puts it—by Tom, the two avid runners began dating and were eventually married.
It was the perfect match. Elaine had been running since high school, drawn in by the community spirit and opportunity for travel. Tom also loved to travel, and they spent years running and racing all over the world in places like Singapore, Thailand and Cuba, among many others—Tom even crewed for Elaine at Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB).
When Tom was diagnosed with GBM, running had to be set aside. And although life expectancy after a diagnosis is only 15 months, Tom remained optimistic and never gave up hope, keeping a list of races he wanted to do on his phone, buying trail running shoes and watching videos of TRR—a race he and Elaine had dreamed of running together one day.
All the Places and Races
Since Tom’s passing, Elaine has continued to run and travel the world with him, taking Tom with her to “all the places and races.” To date, she has scattered Tom’s ashes in 31 locations, in 25 states and five countries and has dedicated numerous benches and plaques to Tom at some of their favorite trails and parks.
That tradition will live on as Elaine and Adam carry Tom’s ashes with them on each TRR stage and scatter them at all six finish lines. It will be the opportunity Elaine and Tom never had to finally run their dream race together.
It’s going to be a unique, challenging and inspiring adventure, so we sat down with Elaine and Adam to learn more about Tom, their thoughts on TRR and the importance of community.
Q & A with Elaine and Adam
Elaine, Tom will be with you at TRR in spirit, but you’ve chosen Adam to run with you. How do you know Adam and why did you choose him to take on this special journey?
Adam is an old friend from Tom and my early days of trail running. He’s in Colorado now, but when he lived in New Jersey, we all ran together, and Tom crewed Adam and I at Wasatch 100. I also ran the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run with Adam in Buena Vista, Colorado earlier this year, and when I got back, I found out I had won this TRR entry. At the time, I thought it would just be Tom and I, but then found out there was one additional spot for a partner. We hadn’t been able to scatter Tom’s ashes in Buena Vista, and at the time didn’t think I would ever be back. But TRR starts in Buena Vista, so I thought of Adam and everything just sort of fell into place. I think it was a sign we were supposed to go back.
Running was such a huge part of your and Tom’s life. Can you talk a bit about what it meant to both of you?
Everything revolved around running for us. We even made life’s milestones running related. For example, when we first started dating, instead of celebrating one month or two months, we would celebrate 26.2 weeks. We made belt buckles for our 100- and 200-week anniversaries, and for Tom’s 47th birthday, we ran Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon because it was 47 miles. We had RSVP age group awards and aid stations at our wedding, and we spent our first anniversary traversing the North Georgia Mountains at Cruel Jewel 100.
If there is one thing you would like people to know about Tom, what would it be?
He was amazing. And kind. And funny. He always said, “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you deal with it.” He was very positive and optimistic all the time, and everybody loved him. The running community was also very important to Tom; he was the Race Director for the Somerset Turkey Trot and the Chimney Rock 5 Miler, and he was the President of our running club, Raritan Valley Road Runners. He raced for the USA Track & Field men’s team. He volunteered at events and organized adventure runs. He was an official pace leader for half and full marathons. He guided Achilles athletes. He crewed at ultras. He was a mentor for the less experienced and always celebrated people’s successes.
How has running helped you keep moving forward after Tom’s passing?
Running is what I know how to do best, and I am so thankful for the community. Grief is hard. The day Tom passed away, I was on my porch and didn’t know what to do—he was just gone. So I posted on Facebook: who wants to meet me at Johnson Park to go for a run? And a huge group showed up. I mean, it was like the entire running community was there. People came from all over just to run a couple of miles with me. And then the next day, another big group arrived to run his favorite trails at Sourland Mountain. It was heartwarming. Even now, three years later, the support continues. Being able to scatter his ashes at finish lines, and at other places he would have wanted to run, is also very helpful. I feel his presence when I run.
How did you hear about our TRR sponsorship and why did you want to apply?
A friend had tagged me in your contest, and at first, I thought, “Okay” and kind of just scrolled past it. Then I remember wishing Tom was here so we could do it together. We had wanted to do TRR, but at the time thought it was too expensive and didn’t want to take a whole week off work—I guess that’s what you always think. So when the contest came up on my feed again, I was like, “Why not?” And I just entered with Tom. I really thought it was a long shot.
Elaine and Adam, what is it about the race itself that makes you want to run TRR?
Elaine: I’ve never done a stage race and what better place than the Rocky Mountains!? I pace a lot and have done that over back-to-back days, but for me, it’s really the challenge of back-to-back 20-mile days in the mountains.
Adam: I just love all things Colorado, so why not spend six days out running up and over mountains I’m familiar with? I was pretty excited when Elaine invited me to come along.
What are you both most looking forward to at TRR?
Elaine: I’m looking forward to the views and the scenery. We don’t have mountains like that in Jersey! I’m also looking forward to seeing how I feel between stages…and the parties. Everything in between the races looks like a lot of fun.
Adam: I think for me, it’s being out in the mountains with my friend in territory I’m familiar with. Nothing is better than being in the Sawatch in the summer months, so I’m looking forward to a full week out with Elaine and sharing all of that with her.
What do you think will be the most challenging aspect(s) of TRR for you?
Elaine: For me, it’s the altitude. I’ve done two races at altitude—Leadville and Collegiate Peaks—and it’s always really tough for me…I’ve hiked Kilimanjaro, and that went pretty well, but running is just different. Maybe I’ll get used to it over the six days! No matter how challenging things get, though, I remind myself it’s not harder than cancer and everything Tom and I went through.
Adam: Probably the back-to-back long days. I have some pretty savage training partners and have done back-to-back days in training. Never 20-mile days for six days though. But I’m confident in Elaine and my ability to get it done.
What are your goals for the race?
Elaine: To take Tom with me on this journey and spread his ashes on every finish line. He will be with me in my pocket, and I’ll pass him over to Adam sometimes so we can both carry him.
Adam: To have fun and be supportive. To be ready to grind every morning, get after it and enjoy each day in the mountains.
Continuing Tom’s Legacy
Despite having a terminal illness, Tom loved being a positive role model and would talk with and help give hope to others who were having a hard time accepting their GBM diagnosis. Elaine hopes to carry on this legacy during her TRR journey by supporting, comforting and connecting with others going through a similarly scary time in their lives. Just like Tom did. Running is also a way for Elaine and Adam to remind people that staying positive and living life to the fullest can help us all move forward during both the good times and the difficult ones.
To learn more about GBM or to donate, Elaine recommends checking out StacheStrong. They work to raise awareness around GBM and support brain cancer research.