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Profile: James and Jenny Ward

No, it wasn’t love at first sight. Just a couple of studious kids making their way through the world of scholarly pursuits and new beginnings.
James was fresh out of Colorado Christian University in Lakewood and Jenny was entrenched in her senior year at Regis University in Denver, where she had a hefty curriculum. James matriculated as a math major and computer programmer. He was keenly aware that he could outplay his professors in every aspect of computer technology and mischievously used that savvy at every opportunity.
Jenny was attending Regis on a full-ride math scholarship, with a double major in biochemistry. She confesses, “I didn’t want anything to do with math but I wanted the scholarship so I could do biochemistry because my intention was to go to medical school, but by the time I got through with my undergrad I didn’t want to go back to school. I was so burned out.”
Although neither of these Colorado natives were strangers to a mountain lifestyle, little did they realize that love was about to smack them together and drop them off happily at the end of the road in Crested Butte.
James spent the first year of his life in Cedaredge but grew up in California on the central coast after his parents moved there. He started programming computers early in junior high school with a couple of friends who had older siblings at M.I.T. who were willing to impart the “indorktrination.”
To put it in perspective, this was before the Internet, around 1990, when programming seemed miraculous and mysterious but James humbly refrains from any geek exaltation explaining, “It wasn’t complex but it was a lot of work to do very simple things.” He adds that the young engineers built mostly games. “We built a rock climbing game and a shoot tank game.”
Mostly self-taught through his friends and books, he capitalized on his knowledge when he pulled a Star Trek Kobayashi Maru (if you aren’t a Trekkie, it’s where the cadet James T. Kirk somehow slips in and reprograms the computer to alter the scenario in the no-win test, which allows him to ace the exam).
“I programmed my calculator to help us cheat on our tests,” James Ward boldly goes. “For example, in trigonometry, you’re supposed to memorize sine, cosine and tangent, but we’d program them into our calculators,” which wasn’t permitted, he confesses.
But the brilliance of the reprogramming was that when the professor came around checking all calculators to ensure that the testing students did not have the trig functions on them, James’ devices showed up as having been emptied, because he had written a program that simulated clearing the memory of their calculators—when in fact it wasn’t and the pertinent info was right at their fingertips.
Spreading the love, James also helped his friends in chemistry who had to memorize the periodic table. Cheating, you say? James and his friends would tell you it’s a waste of brain chip to memorize all that when there are important calculations to be done. Captain Kirk would have been proud.
Because of his expertise, James found himself teaching many of the computer classes. “They didn’t actually know how to program,” he said of the professors in the relatively new field, “and so I wound up teaching the students.”
A total prankster, James once spoofed an email to look like it came from then-President Clinton, who was running for reelection, that said in essence, “Don’t vote for me, I’m an idiot,” and, of course, being the only one capable of pulling something like that off, he was reprimanded and as punishment the Internet connection to his dorm room computer was immediately terminated for six months.
Not to be separated from his domain, James found a programmable solution to get around that minor complication in a single day. He laughs, “I couldn’t go very long without Internet.”
James and Jenny met through mutual friends and though neither of them followed sports at all, their first date was to an Avalanche game, “because,” James explains, “my boss gave me free tickets and I needed something to lure her with.”
Jenny claims she didn’t even realize it was a date. “We kind of hung in groups and it didn’t seem like a date when he asked.”
James affectionately responded, “You’re naive.”
But eventually the chemistry ensued and the following week they headed to the mountains above Boulder in Jamestown for some romantic snowshoeing. “Our first kiss was at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs,” Jenny blushed. “It’s a good place for a first kiss, under the stars sitting in the river.”
James recalls the day all couples must inevitably face. “The first time I met Jenny’s dad, he told me that I seemed like I was a good guy and could marry his daughter. It was pretty early in our dating lives and I was not thinking of marriage at that point,” he laughs. Then came the long road trip to meet his family and that’s when it all came together. James realized Jenny was the one. “And my family liked her, too,” he smiled. They tied the knot in 2002.
Meanwhile, Jenny was seeking her path after college. She admits, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do for awhile.” So she diversified with some high school substitute teaching of math and chemistry, tried waiting tables, was a nanny, and guided wilderness backpacking trips. The light bulb went off a couple years later when she revisited the idea of going back to med school.
“Initially I had started thinking about being a doctor because I like the science aspect of medicine, but what got me to go back was knowing I wanted to be in a profession where I could care for people. That was the big driver for me,” she concluded and enrolled in Creighton in Omaha. “Four years in purgatory!” James chuckles. In 2009, Jenny became Jenny Ward, M.D., and headed back to Denver for her internship and residency at Rose Medical Center.
All the while, James was building his career, initially working for an Internet service provider before he and his partners started up their own business, named Ectropic, mostly building Internet software, development and web applications. Later he moved into a similar job of software development with one of his clients before Adobe grabbed him to evangelize.
“It’s like a technical evangelist… We try to get developers to convert to our software,” he explains. After six years with Adobe, he’s currently at a new start-up as a developer advocate and once again evangelizing. “I go to geek conferences and help them learn to convert to our technology,” James says of his travels to every corner of the world, “wherever there are geeks.”
Jenny had always known about Crested Butte from growing up in Aspen and hitting the slopes there with her ski instructor mother. Although she moved to Castle Rock when she was 12 years old, she kept in touch with her close group of Snowmass-Aspen friends and she recalls that compared to Snowmass, Castle Rock was quite ugly.
“For me, Crested Butte felt like where I grew up but less pretentious. We had been coming up here for a long time. We were guiding on a group backpack trip together in 2001, and we both immediately fell in love with the place. It’s the coolest little place ever.”
James was also coming up frequently to meet with local geek Bruce Eckel, whom he had met while at Adobe, and helped Bruce with Flex, a developer tool programmer language about which they coauthored a book. Jen would come up for the geek get-togethers and then they started coming up just for fun, which led to trying to figure out a way to move here after Jenny’s residency. She started spending time in residency at Alpine Orthopedics and the Ski Area Clinic.
“We really wanted to move up here but it was contingent on Jenny having a job here. Jenny is a trail runner and last fall we were in Aspen for the Golden Leaf Trail half marathon. We came over to Crested Butte on a whim. Jen stopped by Dr. Wolkov’s office in Gunnison, where she was hired on the spot,” James said. He and Jenny both said to each other, let’s do it. They rented a town duplex and by October 2012 were fully engaged in Buttian life.
 James said a pattern of repeated conversation started to emerge. “Everyone Jen talked to in town expressed the need for an in-town female doctor practicing family medicine.” Jenny adds, “I’m a good fit for Crested Butte because my interests are sports medicine, integrative and holistic medicine, and small town medicine. And it was a natural fit to be in the same space with Dr. Griggs [at the corner of Sixth and Sopris] and it’s a good fit for both of us doctors in all aspects.” She decided to open her own family medical practice here in town this month.
With James gone two to three weeks out of the month, the couple crams in as much quality time together as possible—Nordic skiing, hiking, biking, and some winter mountaineering. “We take great vacations together, spend quality time together, make sure it’s the best it is. We have date nights, alone together,” Jenny discloses.
They’ve had amazing adventures trekking through Nepal, the Dolomites in Italy and France, and hut to hut in Austria. But they’ve also weathered grueling schedules, extended times of having to be apart, tribulations and all the setbacks that a couple has to endure to make their dream work.
“Jenny’s so cute it’s kept me with her,” James said, playfully nudging of his bride of 11 years, joking about all they’ve had to cope with, and how it’s made their relationship even stronger. Jenny replies, “Anyone who can stay with me through med school and residency—if our marriage can make it through that then it can make it through anything.”

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