Local team to race Grand Traverse for Living Journeys

$4,000 raised toward $10,000 goal

By Than Acuff 

While the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse ski race provides plenty of challenge for participants, some choose to make the race more than just about finishing the race. Enter John Mahoney and Taylor O’Neal. Mahoney and O’Neal are competing in the Grand Traverse this year and using the event to raise money for Living Journeys, a Gunnison Valley nonprofit dedicated to supporting those in the valley living with cancer. 

The Grand Traverse is a 40-mile backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen and this year’s race starts at Midnight on Saturday, March 30 from the base of Crested Butte Mountain Resort sending teams of two skiers—you’re required to ski as a team—into the night air bound for Aspen. The top teams do the race in six to seven hours while the last teams cross the finish line after 14 to 16 hours of shuffling through the mountains.

The race is plenty challenging enough, but Mahoney and O’Neal, dubbed Team Positive Attitude, are joining forces to do the race for something bigger than themselves.

“We’re doing it for the adventure of being out in the amazing backcountry we have here and to be a part of something more than just the race,” says Mahoney.

The connection to Living Journeys came from Pat O’Neill, board member and co-creator with Emma Vosburg of the Living Journeys Athlete Corps. The Athlete Corps started in 2019 with 20 athletes taking part in the program since its inception and has raised $200,000 for Living Journeys through a variety of athletic pursuits from trail running, to mountain biking, halfpipe skiing as well as the Grand Traverse. 

“We want to put a different focus on our athletes’ endeavors,” says O’Neill. “The Athlete Corps’ motto is, ‘We win when our clients win.’”

There are nine individuals on the 2024 Athlete Corps team, including Mahoney and O’Neal, who were brought into the fold by O’Neill. 

“I approached John and Taylor because we’re just really good friends and John has paced me in some of my 100-milers,” explains O’Neill. “It just seemed perfect because it’s Taylor and John’s first Grand Traverse and I thought what better way to have a first race than to have a purpose raising money for people living with cancer.”

Mahoney is originally from Montana and manages a ranch south of Crested Butte and has been an assistant coach for the boys high school basketball team at the Crested Butte Community School for the past five years. He admits he is new to the world of backcountry ski racing. O’Neal is as well, though a little less green.

“I’ve never done anything like the Grand Traverse,” says O’Neal. “It’s definitely been a dream of mine to do it and I was looking for a partner.”

They’re committed to the race and doing whatever it takes to prepare for it. They’ve spent multiple tours together to flesh out the nuances of the gear and build fitness and with the race three weeks away, are looking to step into bigger tours but are just waiting for the right time.

“This is something completely new for me and it’s wild,” says Mahoney. “We’re just trying to get as many miles as we can on our skis.” 

O’Neal is also getting additional advice from friends who have raced in the Grand Traverse before, friends like Jari Hiatt.

“I’m just following what Jari tells me to do,” says O’Neal.

And while the race is the vehicle driving their training, the cause is what keeps them going.

“Just looking around at how many people Living Journeys is supporting and you just get fired up about it,” says Mahoney.

“We both have family members living with cancer so that’s a motivator to help Living Journeys,” adds O’Neal.

They plan to bring some incentive with them during the race to remind them why they are truly out there.

“We’re going to write down the names of people living with cancer and then taking them out and thinking about them during certain miles of the race,” says Mahoney. “We’re doing a hard thing but it’s more than that.”

Their goal is to raise $10,000 and they’ve raised $4,000 so far through grassroots efforts with emails, social media but they’re looking to take their fundraising efforts to the next level.

“I’m not the best poster when it comes to Facebook,” says O’Neal. “But one specific plan is to raise a certain amount and find a match.”

To support them in their cause and, ultimately, to help people living with cancer, go to living-journeys.networkforgood.com.

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