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Alumni Profiles

Western Grad Keeps Blazing Trails

Emily Hawgood trail running while wearing her Adidas Terrex uniform.

Given the topography around Western Colorado University, it isn’t surprising that a lot of Mountaineers are avid trail runners. But one of Western’s most notable trail runners is from an unlikely place. Emily Hawgood grew up on the pan-flat plains of Zimbabwe and graduated from Western in 2021 with a master’s degree in High Altitude Exercise Physiology. Then, she went on to become a professional trail runner for Adidas Terrex, chasing her passion around the world.

MW: How did you discover Western?

EH: I was at The College of Idaho, and I really wanted to find a master’s program, specifically in exercise science, and I wanted to be on the West Coast. It’s amazing how few programs there are on the West Coast unless you’re in the big cities.

Western just jumped out to me because it is in the mountains already, so I could study what I was training for specifically. I don’t even know if I applied anywhere else because I really wanted to go to Western. The program is small, and there is a lot of passion for it, too. I had never been to Colorado, so it was really cool to know that there was going to be another door open there. It ended up being the perfect choice to go to Western.

MW: Can you describe Western in three words?

EH: Magical mountain community.

Emily Hawgood trail runs during a race.

MW: And what’s your fondest memory of Western?

EH: It was during COVID, and obviously, I was kind of confined to my little apartment. My landlords, one of whom teaches in the Exercise Physiology Department, decided we were going to be confinement buddies. So that ended up opening a whole new world, and I didn’t have to just be stuck.

Not that we were really stuck because we could all go out to the mountains and stuff like that, but it really showed me the value of human connection and being connected, and we would hang out and share stories of growing up.

It was such an interesting time because I think a lot of us in Gunnison thought, “Well, how lucky are we? We can still go out and not see anyone and do our thing,” but then we still started to feel so alone. It’s amazing how important human connection really is. I was amazed too because I’ve traveled the world a lot on my own and in some of the countries, you don’t even speak the language. It is lonely, but COVID made it so that you were in a place where you spoke the language and knew all these people, but you couldn’t interact with them. It was the loneliest thing ever.

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MW: Who inspired you most during your time at Western?

EH: My professors were amazing. Kind of the stock body within the High Exercise Physiology Department was incredible. Altogether, they all have different strengths and that brought so much to the program. Also, how the whole program was set up. It gave us so much exposure to so many different people and so many different areas in our field. I couldn’t pick one because I drew from so many different parts. Our program is still kind of new, not just the high altitude but just exercise physiology in general. It’s so diverse and so huge. My biggest inspiration was that so many different aspects could come together to form this really unique program.

MW: What are you working on now that you’ve graduated from Western?

EH: When you get a degree in the States, you get a year of work experience that you can apply for. And if you’re in this program, you can apply for an extension on that for another two years. So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m a professional athlete for Adidas Terrex, and I trail run in the mountains. I have a 100-miler coming up in two weeks.

I also coach; coaching is my job over here, which is super cool. I love it. My boss is Aaron Smith, who lives in Gunnison and runs a company called Sage Health and Fitness, and that’s who I coach under.

MW: Where have you had the opportunity to travel to while competing?

EH: I have been to so many places. I originally started doing Sky running races, which are shorter but all super technical races in the mountains. I originally was running for Scott International running and then got picked up by Adidas. I’ve traveled to Norway, Spain, Scotland, Portugal, and South Africa, which is close to home. And I have done some races in the States. Just recently, I went down to Argentina. It’s been the most magical thing to be able to run and explore.

MW: How did you get into trail running?

EH: I was doing Iron Man triathlons, and I didn’t like the bike, which is the biggest section. When I got done with my last race, I asked myself if this was really the sport I wanted to do forever more. The weekend after that race, I went to a friend’s wedding and met my [future] coach. He said, “Oh, I train athletes to run in the mountains,” and my heart just kind of jumped. That sounded like something I would love to do, and I am from the flattest part of Zimbabwe, super flat, with no hills. So, I just took the chance and asked, “Could you help me do that?” and he took a chance on me.

Emily Hawgood poses for a photo while climbing a mountain

MW: Do you ever run into the Western team at competitions?

EH: Yes, Josh [Eberly] is my teammate, and he coaches the Western crew. Because of this, the Western Trail Running team have a really good relationship with Adidas and all their kit and gear is sponsored by Adidas.

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MW: Did you run for the Western team while you were here?

EH: I didn’t because the classes for the grad Program were all afternoon classes so I couldn’t do both, but I did coach one of my really good friends from the undergrad program.

MW: Where’s your next trip?

EH: In two weeks, I race in California. Then I go over to Chamonix, France.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned while you were attending Western?

The value of learning. Learning can happen in the classroom but so much more happens when you take the information you learn in the classroom and put it into practice, so I really lucked out as that’s what I was doing.What I learned in the classroom, I could go out in the mountains for my training session and put it into practice right away and I’d learn so much quicker that way.

I think the value of putting into practice what you learn really makes it stick, and then it also creates a spark. It makes you want to learn more, so you hop on the computer and dive deeper into a subject. The more you read, the more you really dive into something, the more you learn, and the more passionate you become.

What advice do you have for current students and young alumni?

I think that having as many conversations as you can is important. You’re very much surrounded by intelligent people, so you have the opportunity to learn. Find out what other people do and where they’re from because you are making connections. It is very much about who you know in the world, and it is amazing what opportunities there are. The more connections you can make, the more people you know, and the bigger your world becomes. So, value people and what they say.

I was just on a podcast a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about when I came over to America. I was on campus, and the second week of school, we were walking across campus, and somebody walked by me and said, “Hi Emily! How are you?” I never really realized this, but at home, once you ask how someone is, it is usually a full conversation. It was funny because they asked me how I was and kept walking past me on campus. I didn’t know what to do because I was trying to ask them how they were and tell them how I was doing, but they were walking away. I mean, should I stop them? After a while, you get used to people just asking that, but no one actually really listens to the answer or wants to know. It is the littlest thing, but if we could bring that value back by asking that question and really listening to what people think and how they are, we would all be more connected and feel more valued by having a genuine conversation.

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