Climbing Mountains Together at TransRockies Run

Climbing Mountains Together at TransRockies Run
Left to right: Emily Wooley & Kylee Wiscombe, winners of our 2024 TransRockies Run team sponsorship. Photo credit: Anastasia Wilde & Jana Herzog

Climbing Mountains Together at TransRockies Run

Nothing can fully prepare you for life-changing events, but running has helped Kahtoola’s 2024 TransRockies Run Team Sponsorship recipients rise to the challenge

“I had this overwhelming sense that I was being called to a life of endurance, that I must prepare my mind and body, so when I’m called to step into any situation, I’ll be ready to handle it,” says Boise resident, Emily Wooley. For her, running is a calling that transcends sport and helps her meet life’s countless challenges head-on.

In August, Emily and her running partner, and fellow Boisean, Kylee Wiscombe, will take on a challenge sure to test the pair in myriad ways: TransRockies Run (TRR). Chosen as our 2024 team sponsorship recipients, their commitment to a life of endurance will doubtless help them through the Colorado Rockies.

Kahtoola TransRockies Run Team Sponsorship recipients
Left to right: Kylee and Emily.

That commitment has also been instrumental in guiding the pair through much more trying times in their lives, including mental illness, and two close family members being diagnosed with cancer. Because running, and maybe more importantly community, have proven invaluable touchstones for Kylee and Emily, they’ve now made it their mission to help others find their way—on the trail and off—when they need it most.

United in Community

Running hasn’t always been a part of Emily and Kylee’s lives. Both came to the sport in their adopted hometown of Boise, at different times and following different paths.

Kylee first got serious about running in 2007. “I grew up in Kuna, Idaho, and never thought I would be a runner. But I have a husband who’s a great runner, and after watching him compete in races, I had a desire to be able to run too. Unfortunately, each time I tried, it felt so hard and I hated it. It took gaining weight while studying for my CPA exam for me to finally commit to running regularly.” Before long Kylee had fallen in love with the goal setting and feeling of achievement that come with running and, over time, worked up to competing in at least one race a month for several years. 

Originally from Chino Hills, California, Emily moved to Boise in 2017, but found running a few years later during the pandemic. “I was bored, so I decided, okay, I’m going to walk 100 miles this month, and then it turned into 300. Once that was easy enough, I added some elevation by hiking.” 

Later, Emily joined a group called Idaho Hiking, where she was encouraged to attempt the Idaho Grand Slam (4 peaks, 35.7 miles and 11,493 vertical feet). She completed it in a single day, becoming the first woman to record the title. Then, after hiking the Boise Trail Challenge (177 miles, 36,000 ft), Emily decided that going from point A to point B and back to her car would be faster if she ran. She’s been running ever since, referring to herself as a “hiker just trying to survive in a runner’s world.” 

When Kylee and Emily started their hiking and running journeys, neither knew how much their time on the trails would help them through future challenges.

Not All Mountains Are Outside

In the spring of 2021, as Emily was preparing for the Idaho Grand Slam attempt, her father, Dan, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and given only two weeks to live. Ready to call the whole thing off, Emily spoke with him about the hike, and he encouraged her to push ahead.

“He said, ‘You need to do this.’ I did. Standing alone atop one of the mountains, I had this overwhelming sense of being called to this life of endurance. This idea that I needed to prepare myself so I would be physically and mentally ready for the challenges ahead— whether that be taking care of my mom after my dad passes, another family challenge, or anything else life might have in store—just kept coming up over and over.” Fortunately, despite his initial prognosis, Emily’s father is still able to support her running journey thanks to life-saving medical treatment and the courageous will to battle on. 

Kylee’s mountain had come years earlier, in 2014, when, after experiencing fluctuating moods, she received a bipolar diagnosis. That diagnosis was followed by several difficult years, which included “full-blown manic episodes,” involuntary hospitalizations, periods of suicidal depression—even a plan to end her life. 

“The bipolar diagnosis was very unexpected and one of the hardest days of my life,” says Kylee. “I’m a CPA, went to college and have a family. I wasn’t prepared to be slapped with this diagnosis. It was so shameful for me, and at the time, it wasn’t something people were talking about. I felt very alone.”

A race where just as many memories are made after the day’s racing is over as during.

After the diagnosis, and battling with elevated and depressed moods, Kylee took some time off from running, which turned into a seven-year slump. But, in 2021, still struggling with severe depression, she committed to being active again, likening that journey to climbing a mountain and—starting from scratch—took it one step at a time.

“I heard somewhere that moving 20 minutes per day could help your mental health. At that time, going to the gym or running regularly seemed overwhelming, so I just committed to moving my body by walking. For inspiration, and to track my progress, I made a chart with kindergarten-style stickers. I started to feel better, and because I loved the trails and trail running and racing so much, I began hiking, and later running again.”

Kylee also credits the Idaho running community’s support with helping her mental health recovery. They were instrumental in getting her out running consistently, and it wasn’t long before Kylee started a running group herself called Trail Fridays (because every day on the trail feels like a Friday), which is where she met Emily. 

“I can’t motivate myself to get out on my own, so I had to start finding people I could go with. People I can say, ‘Okay, I’ll meet you there,’ to. And Emily is one of those people. She’s a very positive light, and we always have something to talk about. With her, it feels genuine. If I need her for something I can call her and vice versa.” 

Recently, Kylee was presented with another unexpected mountain to climb: her son Brycen, 14, was diagnosed with leukemia. She believes the strength she gained from her diagnosis, Emily, and the wider community, has helped prepare her to take on this new challenge. 

“Had I not gone through my mental health struggle, the way I’m facing Brycen’s diagnosis would be a whole different story. I’ve learned to keep moving forward and trying new things. I had to learn how to accept, overcome, and find solutions that worked for me. And if I hadn’t gone through all that, I wouldn’t be as strong and ready to handle this other huge mountain we’re now facing.”

Using the lessons learned from her struggles, Kylee has made it her mission to help others combat the uncertainty and shame that can come with a mental health diagnosis.

We’re All Gr8ter Than Our Highs and Lows

One year after learning of her bipolar disorder, Kylee started a nonprofit called Gr8ter. It’s a resource for people struggling with mental health and is built around peer support and the idea that “a person with any mental health struggle can, and should be able to, live the happy and fulfilling lives they desire.”

“When you have a manic episode and are involuntarily hospitalized, there’s a lot of shame that comes with that,” says Kylee. “When I was diagnosed, I was being told by professionals that I have this condition and I have to take this medicine—essentially that my life will never be the same. It was suggested by my psychiatrist that this could even be my new normal, which I didn’t accept. After that, I had this deep desire to help others avoid the shame I felt and know that mental health recovery is possible.

Running wasn’t a large part of Gr8ter’s programming at the outset, but as Kylee found her way back to the sport, it grew in importance as a tool. Today, Kylee organizes the Trail Fridays group runs under the Gr8ter banner, and each September, the organization holds a mental health awareness and suicide prevention event called Top of Tamarack, where participants bike, run, or hike up Idaho’s Tamarack Mountain Resort. Top of Tamarack “celebrates those who are battling mental health challenges on their way to mental health recovery” while honoring those who have lost their lives to suicide and mental health struggles.

“These are my passions colliding,” says Kylee of Gr8ter. “Running, racing and taking care of your mental health. Combined, those things can make for an amazing life.”

If Kylee is the organizer, Emily is the team cheerleader. Referred to by some as a “social enema,” she, like Kylee, is dedicated to lifting others up, especially out on the trail. 

“You never know what’s going on in a person’s life. When I’m out there, it’s not about me, it’s about encouraging people on their journey. When you get a high five, a ‘good job’ or a ‘you’re crushing it,’ it makes you feel good and helps you continue on. I hope positivity and encouragement can turn someone’s day around. That’s big for me.”

As Kylee and Emily take their passion for helping others to TRR in August, it will no doubt serve them well at a race where around every corner participants might find Santa Claus, a flamingo, a wizard or a Fireball station. A race where just as many memories are made after the day’s racing is over as during.

Connecting in Colorado

While neither Emily nor Kylee has done a multi-day stage race, they’ve both completed long runs over multiple days and have significant racing experience. They agree, however, that one aspect of TRR will be a particular challenge: the altitude.

“I’ve never done any racing at that elevation—over 10,000 feet—so I’m looking forward to that and will be training for it,” says Kylee. 

Emily has a slightly different perspective, “I have been at a higher elevation, so I know acclimating to it and running there for an extended period will probably be more of a challenge than the distance.” 

Leading up to TRR, Emily and Kylee are training hard on the trail and in the gym and preparing with single-day races. Kylee completed Idaho’s Scout Mountain 50k in early June, while Emily completed the 50 miler. Kylee is tackling another tough, mountainous 50k in July and Emily will be racing the IMTUF (Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival) 100 with plans to add another 50k race at some point before TRR. 

Training will certainly add to the TRR experience, but a race dubbed “Summer Camp for Big Kids” isn’t meant to be all no work and no play. So what are Kylee and Emily most looking forward to besides the running?

“I’m going to dominate the beer mile!” says Emily. “No, I’m kidding, there’s going to be a lot of rad people there I’m going to want to connect with. I want to take every opportunity to socialize, chat and learn each other’s stories.”

“I’m not going to dominate the beer mile!” says Kylee. “I have this tendency to chat with people around me and pull them into my world, because I like to open up about big things, even to random strangers in a race. I was doing a 50k in Moab earlier this year and by the last 12 miles I was bored and ready to poke my eyes out, so I thought, there’s this girl right up there, maybe I’ll catch up to her and see if she’ll talk to me for a while. And I did. I love that sort of thing.”

Kylee and Emily have also decided to dedicate each day at TRR to something, or someone important to them. They want to add deeper meaning to the stages and give themselves something new to focus on daily. 

“We already know we want to dedicate Hope Pass to my son Brycen, and Emily’s father,” says Kylee. “We want to dedicate one day to ourselves and maybe one to our families and one to our trail-running community. We might even have outfits or signs to go with each one.”

To learn more about Gr8ter, access mental health resources or donate, visit Be sure to follow Kylee and Emily’s journey to TransRockies Run 2024 and beyond on social media at @kyleewiscombe and @hikingboise and on our Instagram feed, @kahtoola.