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Alumni Athletes
By J.L. Bibb

Rick and Shannon Rochelle
Ultrarunners

The Rochelle’s put normal marathons to shame. For a couple that runs a combined 100 training miles a week, the marathon distance of 26.2 miles is a simple jaunt through the trees near their winter home in Lander, Wyoming. And though they won’t boast about their accomplishments in perpetual motion, the facts are staggering: Rick has been running for 30 years, while Shannon has been running for 16. They have both been running ultramarathons (races of distances more than 26.2 miles) for nine years. Shannon has run seven 100-mile races, and Rick has run eight.

The Rochelle’s have been NOLS Instructors for more than a decade. Rick has been an instructor since 1988, having earned a B.A. in civil engineering from Princeton and a M.S. in ecology from Colorado State University. He currently serves as a program supervisor for NOLS Alaska mountaineering courses and is president of the NOLS Instructor Association. Shannon has been an instructor since 1999, having joined Rick in Lander after earning a B.A. in biology from Princeton and a M.S. in forestry from Virginia Tech. She’s now a NOLS field staff coordinator and a program supervisor for NOLS Alaska.

The couple says that they really just stumbled on ultrarunning. But once they ran a couple of races, they were hooked. Now the Rochelle’s train together and compete together, though Rick notes that Shannon usually finishes ahead of him, which means they don’t always run the 20-plus hour races side-by-side.

“Shannon is faster than me,” Rick says. “She often finishes in the dark, and I rarely do. It is interesting that I beat her at marathons, but she usually beats me at 100’s. Her best is 21:05, and my best is 23:37. We run together all the time in training, but rarely do so in races.”

The Rochelle’s say that during races, which start early in the morning and end in the morning the next day, they often meet and converse with the runners around them. In fact, both Rick and Shannon say this is one of the most rewarding facets of ultramarathon racing.

“You spend a lot of time talking with other people and learning about them when you’re running,” Shannon says. “There’s not as much competition in ultras as there is in regular marathons. People help each other – the aids, volunteers and runners – and everyone works together. It’s not so much about beating other people during a race as it is about competing with yourself.”

Sounds a lot like a NOLS course.

The two runners say they learn innumerable lessons from ultraracing that they apply in the NOLS classroom. For the Rochelle’s, ultramarathons and NOLS courses go hand-in-hand.
“I run to prove to myself that I can – to see what’s possible,” Shannon explains. “You can do a lot more with your body than you think you can. It’s a lesson that I love to watch our students learn.”

And Rick adds, “One of my favorite quotes is: ‘You can do more than you think, and you’re better than you think you are.’ If we can get our students thinking that way about their lives, it’s transformational. That’s why I still work at NOLS. It’s that light bulb going on over a student’s head because they just learned a new idea.”

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