I’m not sure who originally said, “Never meet your heroes,” but they should have advised, “Hannah, please never meet your heroes if you’re going to be that awkward.”
The first time I ever met a famous person was in 2003. I was 10 years old. My parents took me and my friend, Allison, on our first trip to New York City. Allison and I were taking pictures in front of Times Square when she noticed a crowd forming in front of a hotel entrance. We meandered over with our parents and saw volunteers handing out stickers and pamphlets, most of which said FUR with a large ‘X’ through it. My mother casually asked the woman next to her who the crowd was waiting for
“Melissa Rivers!” the woman exclaimed standing high onto her tiptoes to peek over the crowd as a limousine pulled toward the curb.
Melissa Rivers was apparently hosting an anti-fur event that day. I had no idea who Melissa Rivers was at that time, but I was aware that everyone seemed excited. This was someone who drew an audience, someone who was about to step out of a black limousine, a real celebrity. All my expectations of being in New York City were proving true. I need to meet her! Allison then began to place several stickers onto my coat. More! I need more! I ran toward one of the volunteers and asked for an entire sheet. Allison and I hurriedly began to place the stickers all over my body. Now she’ll notice me for sure. Just then the driver got out and opened Melissa’s door. Cameras flashed and people shouted her name. I pushed my way a bit further through the crowd until I made eye contact with her. She walked toward me and glanced up and down at my heartfelt attempt at catching her attention. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I held my arms out for a hug. Melissa paused for a moment, as if to consider whether my arms were outstretched to showcase my devotion to the anti-fur movement or for a rather socially inappropriate embrace. The moment left as quickly as it came and Melissa walked off toward the hotel doors. I was left embarrassed, arms still outstretched, covered head to toe in stickers.
I would like to think that this was an example of a burgeoning adolescent’s ignorance of social conduct, however, these moments have continued far into my adulthood, securing the special distinction of “Defining Characteristic”. My husband, Nick, cringes every time a “Melissa” opportunity occurs. You know how sometimes you can feel almost more embarrassed for somebody else than if it was your actual self? Not that I meet celebrities every day, but I will say I have recently been on a roll meeting more niche celebrities, especially within our trail running community. Living in Salt Lake City certainly helps when you can spot Jared Campbell on any given day trotting around on your local trails. I mean how do you not stop and gawk?
The most recent encounter was a few weeks ago at The Rut’s after party in Big Sky, Montana. The entire weekend was filled with tempting opportunities to make awkward introductions. The first of which was when I noticed Jennifer Lichter walking directly behind me and Nick from the parking lot to the base area.
“That’s Jennifer Lichter! Should I say something?” I whispered to Nick, talking from the side of my mouth.
“No,” Nick said sternly. “She’s just a regular person too.”
But that’s the thing…she isn’t. She was someone who could run the entire Rut 50k course in a mind-blowing 6 hours and 14 minutes. She could grind up steep inclines the same way I grinded through a hearty plate of beef tacos – with just a small bead of sweat glistening on her forehead. She was most certainly not “just a regular person.” Despite these thoughts reeling through my mind, I held my tongue. Nick’s right, I thought. Just play it cool.
Just then Nick whispered, “Look straight ahead”. It felt like a scene from a movie. The crowd of runners parted symmetrically and I was left staring at a tall, slender man in the distance…Adam Peterman. A relatively new favorite athlete of mine, his resume astounds me. Although his wins at Speedgoat 50k, Canyons 100k, and Western States in his debut 100 miler left me slack-jawed, his humility and kindness demonstrated on multiple podcasts and interviews left a soft spot in my heart. I could feel my palms get a little sweaty, my heart started racing. The strong urge to ask for a selfie was bubbling up. No, I thought. Be cool. Surely being cool meant not quickly darting my eyes in his direction every 3 minutes assessing whether I could capitalize on some situation that might give me an excuse to shake his hand, but nonetheless that’s what I did for the next hour. Nick laughed at poor attempts to hide my inner fangirl.
“You can say ‘hi’ to him if you want,” He laughed. “Just don’t say the same thing you did to Chris Burkard.”
Ah, Chris Burkard – another personal hero of mine. I have been in love with his adventure photography for many years. I’ve consumed most of his content in the form of podcasts, print books, movies, and online videos. Several years ago, Nick and I went to see his movie, Under an Arctic Sky, as Chris and his team toured through Jacksonville, FL. We arrived ridiculously early to get the best seats. We made our way through the large lobby until, suddenly, catching the gaze of Chris himself.
“Go say something,” Nick encouraged.
“He’s probably busy,” I responded. There were no more than 3 other people in the room. Chris was looking down casually at his phone. It was now or never.
“Excuse me, uh, Chris?” I said as I tip-toed closer to him.
“HimynameisHannahandImabigfan!” I shouted.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“Hi, my name is Hannah and I’m a big fan of yours,” I took a breath. “I’ve been following you on Instagram for a really long time.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I instantly regretted them. I’ve been following you on Instagram for a long time? Who says that? This was someone I really respected as an artist. Someone articulate, creative, and who had really pushed my own thought processes regarding the intersection of art and nature. And I complimented his Instagram page? Chris kindly nodded, but nothing else was said. I took my seat in the theater and felt the heat rise to my cheeks.
No, this would not be another Chris Burkard situation. I let my Adam-related excitement fade, re-shifting my focus to the next day’s race.
The Rut 28k went by in a brutal blur, but I crossed the finish line feeling like my own version of an elite athlete. I was beat up, bruised, and exhausted, but felt a deep satisfaction that only comes from allowing the mountains to push you to your edge. The only feeling that might be better than finishing your own race is spectating another’s. I am constantly inspired watching others challenge themselves. Witnessing the effects that a few cheers and high fives can have on an athlete can usually bring me to soft tears. Nick and I spent the next morning cheering on our friends and watching the elites blaze through the course in outstanding times. It was a perfect day.
Perhaps it was my new-found confidence after finishing the Rut the day before, or the few beers I had while spectating the 50k, but when I spotted Adam Peterman at the after-party, I knew it was time. My friend, Ryan, who is a fellow fanboy, agreed to come with me to introduce ourselves to Adam. A buffer! Knowing I was carrying a metaphorical safety blanket, I approached Adam with my chin held high until an awkwardly placed chair and another person stood blocking my path. There was no graceful way to break into his vision. I clumsily scooted the chair over and tried to politely interrupt the conversation. While this might have been rude, the alternative was standing behind the person as if I was waiting in line to see a Disney character. Neither option seemed ideal. Finally, Adam acknowledged me.
“So sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to introduce myself,” I explained. “My name is Hannah, and I’m a big fan.”
“Awesome, great to meet you,” He responded. Wow! This was going well!
We exchanged some additional pleasantries for a minute or so. Adam asked where we were from, how we did in the race, etc. But then, before I had the chance to think about my words, I heard myself tell Adam Peterman that I refer to him frequently as ‘Petergod’ to my husband and friends. Did I really just say that? Okay he could either think that is really weird or really funny. His face softened into a smile and I took it as a green light. I explained that I was an avid listener of Megan and David Roche’s Some Work All Play (SWAP) podcast where they also refer to him as Petergod. I have since found it hard to remember that Petergod is not his actual name. To my relief, Adam laughed and complimented the podcast. We exchanged a few final words before I sauntered back toward my table.
Was I cool? Absolutely not. I’m not sure I will ever have the best strategy for introducing myself to people I admire. And that’s okay. At the time of writing this article, I listened to the latest SWAP podcast consisting of reflections from David and Megan’s recent interview with Kilian Jornet. While the Kilian episode was a hit, full of lovely insight, inspiration, and well-articulated questions, I couldn’t help but notice their nervous giggles. They’re fangirls too! In the subsequent episode, David said the following as he referred to his and Megan’s mannerisms during the interview, “We didn’t give into the temptation of being cool.”
For most of my life, I have been so concerned with what I am projecting out into the world. Did I say the right thing? Was I wearing the correct outfit? Did I look like an idiot doing that? But trail running has taught me that being cool is usually not that fun. Sure, it’s not cool to smell like sweat at the pub post run club, or to have to poop on the side of the trail, or to muster up courage to introduce yourself to ‘Petergod’. Being vulnerable is generally not cool, but that’s where the magic happens. With vulnerability comes genuine enthusiasm, which is always worth sharing.
So I think you should meet your heroes, especially in a sport as “cool” as trail running.