Usually, when Travis Kauffman is trail running and hears something rustling in the brush, he doesn’t get alarmed. It’s likely just deer foraging or a squirrel.
Last week, while on a 15-mile run the afternoon of Feb. 4 in a remote area of Horsetooth Mountain Open Space just west of Fort Collins, something told Kauffman to look back when he heard a crunch. When he did, he saw a mountain lion about 10 feet away getting ready to pounce.
The gangly, 5-foot-10 Fort Collins resident had moved to Colorado from a town in the southern Ozark Mountains of Arkansas five years ago for the outdoors. He picked up mountain biking, trail running and downhill and cross country skiing. At 31, being active made him “feel younger,” he said.
He had biked the West Ridge Trail, which is steep, technical and remote.
Just minutes before spotting the big cat, he had completed the tough first ascent. Then, “one of his worst fears was confirmed.”
“My heart sank into my stomach,” he said Thursday during a news conference in Fort Collins, the first time he had spoken publicly about surviving the attack.
Kauffman had read about what to do if he encountered a mountain lion, so he halted, threw his hands up in the air and yelled to intimidate the animal.
It showed no signs of backing down. The juvenile mountain lion, also known as a puma or cougar, which Kauffman estimated to be about 3 to 4 feet wide and 2½ feet tall, leapt at him and locked its teeth around his right wrist.
The precious time alone in the calm of nature became transformative in Rachel Sapp’s healing process.
When every muscle in her body begins to feel like a weight pulling her down, and every ache urges her to quit, Rachel Sapp continues to run, pressing forward with every step on the trail.
This grit serves as an important reminder in every aspect of her life. Just as she survived a brutal attack, she can survive any grueling physical challenge that comes her way. And running has helped her summon that courage.
“The strength that running has provided, it’s almost unspeakable,” Sapp told Runner’s World.
“Running put that at the forefront for me to know that I got through these situations in life that are hard. It may be difficult right now, but it’s also beautiful, and it’s also vulnerable and I can be in this place and experience all of these things and it’s because my legs can propel me. There’s something so magical about that.”
It all started in the spring of 2017, when the Nederland, Colorado resident was leaving the Denver area hospital where she worked as a paramedic. Two people followed her to her car and attacked her, breaking her ribs and her cheekbone. From the parking lot, she was rushed back into the hospital.
Sapp ended up suffering post-traumatic stress from the attack. She felt helpless and lost, and she knew that she didn’t want to return to work at the hospital.
With the support of her husband Zack, Sapp decided to quit her job in emergency medicine and make the transition to becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom to her six-year-old twin girls. Unable to escape the painful memories, Sapp still felt anxious and trapped. And as a mother and wife, she couldn’t check out completely.
So when her husband encouraged her to get out of the house and take an entire day each week to taking care of herself, Sapp took him up on it. That precious time alone became transformative for Sapp, not just for her recovery, but for her overall wellbeing.
At first, though, she didn’t quite know what to do with all that free time. Still recovering from her injuries, Sapp would sit at park benches unsure of where to go or what to do. One thing she did know, though, was that she wanted to avoid large crowds. So she started to go for long walks. Soon after, she had the desire to explore further and see more of the breathtaking trails that surround her mountain town.
“I thought, ‘Why am I just walking? I could be making so much better use of my time and see so much more if I run,’” she recalled.
On April 11, 2017, Sapp went for her first run. A lifelong rock climber, Sapp always hated running, and her first attempt on the Flatirons Vista Trail was anything but easy. She got several side cramps, and could only make it half of a mile before she had to stop and walk.
“I was huffing and puffing by the end. I had no idea how to control speed or anything,” she said. “There wasn’t a time in my life that I had run other than those horrid middle school miles. It was so new, but I liked that no one was there.”