I have had the privilege of following inspiring athlete, Emily Gerlick, for a few years now on social media after meeting her at work over four years ago. I have looked at dozens of beautiful photographs of Emily running in picturesque scenes in several states, including Arizona, Colorado, and Utah and have often wondered how she makes it to so many remote locations, while also maintaining a busy teaching and coaching schedule. I am in awe and I am inspired by her, and I know I am not alone. Emily’s photographs reveal more than colorful landscapes in hidden valleys, they reveal dedication, desire, determination, and talent. Her photographs of running through the woods, or standing over crystal-clear lakes, or gazing at mountain vistas also do more than momentarily entertain, they beckon the viewer to get out, get moving, and get exploring.
From the moment I met Emily, I was immediately drawn to her independent nature and her compassionate teaching style, but as it often goes, it is difficult to truly get to know another teacher in the confines of the workday, when their classroom is across campus. I sought out an interview with Emily because she recently made a professional move, leaving our mutual school in Glendale, Arizona and accepting a position over 140 miles north, in Flagstaff, Arizona. Changing jobs and relocating can be a terrifying proposition; her story may help or motivate others who might be considering doing the same. Emily has also continued to push herself with her fitness goals and her results are incredible and motivating. I have learned several details about Emily during our interview that further add to my admiration and I am thrilled to share her story. I also learned to not wait so long to get to know someone who I admire from afar.
Who is Emily?
Emily is from a Wonder Lake, Illinois, a small-town northwest of Chicago. She went to high school in Woodstock, Illinois. Arizona is her home now, but she misses the downtown square, the mom and pop restaurants, and lighting of the Christmas tree, which she described as being beautifully lit.
Not surprising Emily enjoyed playing outside as a kid. As someone who is working on adding more play to her life, I love that Emily continues to allow her inner child to play, run, and explore. As a child she loved to do those activities barefoot – in the summertime of course. She has fond memories of being three years old and watching bonfires in her family garden, during changing seasons. She would sit and watch as long as she could, until the cold became too much, and then she would race her dad, fifty yards, back to their house. She learned discipline as a young gymnast and ballerina. As an eight-year-old, she fell in love with softball and would continue playing through middle school, high school, and eventually at the University of Iowa. Softball is also one of the sports Emily has coached, passing on her love of the game to aspiring players.
Emily feels the influence of growing up with four seasons
(something native desert dwellers cannot relate to). Illinois winters gave her
grit and those long cold winters also gave her an appreciation for spring and
summer. She is both an athlete and a fan – supporting the Bulls, Bears, and
Cubs. She remembers watching Michael Jordan play with the Bulls and considers
him to be an inspiration for her and her athletics.
Who Inspires Emily?
Emily is inspired by her parents.
She said, “They both worked so hard to give my sister and I the best life they could. They worked hard and showed up at all of our events that we both participated in.”
Her students with special needs also inspire her, “… to be a better human. They have so much courage and work so hard and still have time to smile and laugh.” She thinks of, “them often when … out on the trail.”
Making the Moves
University of Iowa to Arizona
Emily fell in love with Arizona while competing against Arizona State University every spring. She completed a strength and conditioning internship with ASU the summer before her senior year, then moved to Arizona after graduating from college. Arizona surprises her most by the abundant places to explore and the beauty in the state. She mentioned one of my favorite spots, the Mogollon Rim.
She stated that she has “… not even covered half of the cool spots to hike, explore, and camp” in Arizona. Based on her posts, I would say she is covering more of the state than most. Although the Illinois cold gray winters gave her grit, she doesn’t miss having to shovel snow, however, the endless summer days in Phoenix, that never cool down, even after the sun disappears from the horizon, require their own form of grit.
Phoenix, Arizona to Flagstaff, Arizona
Emily’s most recent move – the one that prompted this interview request – was her move from Phoenix, where she had lived for thirteen years, to Flagstaff. For those who are not familiar with Arizona’s geography, the two locations are distinctly different, and an example of the diversity in the state. Her desire for new adventures, new career and personal challenges, and the abundance of trails, motivated her to head north. Landing a job in an area she has always loved and leaving the security of the known for the unknown, demonstrate Emily’s ability to trust and believe. Two additional qualities I admire in this adventurous athlete.
She has faced the challenges of starting over, but her risk to leave the familiar is paying off. She is meeting new people, settling into her new job, learning new running trails, and she is loving the small town feel of Flagstaff. A feel that reminds her of home, in a place that is starting to feel like home.
Blazing a Trail
Emily’s first trail running experience was a seven-mile trail at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park, in Buckeye, Arizona, in 2008. She was hooked! Her trail running began with hiking and running with friends. She loves the reward of seeing beautiful views after a climb. Her Instagram followers also love those views! Running in nature, and surrounding herself with natural beauty, gives Emily an immediate release from everything else going on in her life. Trail running has also given her ways to cope with the intense struggles of anxiety and depression.
She loves her supportive, and ever expanding, trail running community and she loves sharing her trail running and outdoor adventures with friends and family. Through her sharing, she has, “met some pretty amazing humans.” I would add that through her sharing people have seen beautiful hidden corners of several states. It is Emily’s hope, and my belief, that her running and sharing will inspire others to get out and find their own adventures.
If I haven’t yet mentioned, Emily is also humble, but I am happy to share that she qualified for the 2020 Boston Marathon. She believes it will be her last road marathon. As her interviewer and someone who has seen her push forward and grow, I am not convinced it will be her last.
Emily’s Top Five Reasons to Hit the Trails
- Repetitive movement is soothing and meditative
- Fresh air to the lungs
- Connecting with earth
- Seeing amazing feats of nature
- Sitting in a cold creek listening to the sound of rushing water
Emily’s adventurous spirit, beautiful photographs, and willingness to take risks, both professionally and on the trails, inspire me to get up, get moving, and go beyond my comfort, which “is where life begins.”
For your own weekly dose of visual inspiration, follow Emily @ em_run_teach_love
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. ~ Neale Donald Walsch
Copyright © 2020 Michele Lee Sefton. All Rights Reserved.