Gunn not running downPublished 9:00pm Monday, April 16, 2012
Coach Ron Gunn is a guy who greets everyone with a fired-up mantra. Southwestern Michigan College needed that kind of energy when it ended intercollegiate athletics, so Gunn transitioned into a part-time extreme sports director.
“We were looking for a dynamite way to spark interest in physical education and take it out of aerobic dance and weight lifting with more pizzazz,” he said.
“I added white water rafting in West Virginia and rock climbing in Devil’s Lake, Wis. A lot say (hiking the Grand Canyon) is a tougher challenge than a marathon. You’re out there six to 12 hours with a 16-pound day pack doing reverse mountaineering in remote wilderness.”
Gunn, 70, came to SMC in 1967 and built a national Roadrunners powerhouse, including five national cross country championships, three national marathon titles, 142 student-athletes earning All-American honors and, with the community, Steve Briegel’s Run.
Rim to river
Gunn had done the day hike from rim to Colorado River to rim, a 24.6-mile descent from 8,200 feet and Ponderosa pine to 2,300 feet and desert cactus.
“At the end, you climb back up to 7,200 feet. It’s really tough. We do a 27.4-mile test hike at Manistee River trail (near Cadillac). We start training in January, nine months ahead of the actual hike in September,” of which his ninth group is between six-hour outings to Swiss Valley near Jones and Potato Creek in South Bend.
Fifteen training hikes get progressively tougher.
Gunn has taken as many as 80 people, sometimes mixing students and community members.
Professional friends itching for a physical challenge encouraged Gunn to spin off a business, Cairn Stone Adventure Tours.
Seventy-five percent of those who start his program qualify for the (11-hour) mandatory test hike “because I have to be 100 percent sure they can do it,” said Gunn, a Cubs fan who’s taking two buses to Wrigley Field Sunday.
“It goes well beyond physical endurance. It’s social. It’s emotional. When you go down on that rim-to-river-to-rim hike you have to qualify for, if you don’t cry, you’re not human. It’s the only hike you can do in the Grand Canyon where you can go down the spine. It’s like a glider in an IMAX theater. The toughest thing I have to do is tell someone they’re not ready.
“I’m starting to take people around the world because they want more,” Gunn said, pointing to trips to Scotland and Italy.
Twenty-five people already placed $100 deposits.
“Next year, we’re not doing the Grand Canyon. We’re going to do Yosemite for 10 days. These are really catching on. Pictured Rocks (National Lakeshore in Munising) is one of my top 10 hikes in the world, and I’ve been to Australia.
“Everybody is blessed with some kind of talent. Coaching, whether I get in your face or give you a little push, and organizing trips are mine. I’m not talented like a real artist, so my way of being an artist is developing a course for a hike,” Gunn said.
Gunn, who recently returned from a mission trip to Haiti.