Published: August 19, 2020

This pandemic has certainly altered the way we do things here in Northern Colorado. Many events and activities have gone virtual including meetings, conferences, engagements and even community charity fundraisers. A prominent Centerra-based company, Nutrien, got creative, sourced a group of colleagues to formulate their run team and were determined to make lemonade out of lemons by joining the Wild West Relay race virtually this summer.

Nutrien, the world’s largest provider of crop inputs, services and solutions, has maintained a large commercial footprint in Centerra since 2009, contributing more than 800+ jobs to northern Colorado. The company partnered with The Matthews House in Fort Collins this summer during the Wild West Relay to raise money for a good cause and took to the local trails and streets to complete their relay over two days.


The Wild West Relay Goes Virtual

The Wild West Relay is an annual relay traveling from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs. The route covers 200 miles and participants run through the night, up and over the northern Colorado mountains.

More than 40 teams of 12 runners participate allowing each team member to run three legs of the total distance. When the pandemic hit this spring, it became clear that the traditional form of the 17th annual race was not going to work as it has in the past. However, race organizers and participants were quick to pivot and determined to make the race virtual.

While there were some similarities to a standard race, runners this year designed their routes with their respective teams to ensure social distancing. Teams tracked their time and entered the final results remotely.

David Janzen, the captain on Nutrien’s Wild West Relay team, is an IT Specialist who works at Nutrien’s Centerra campus, which serves as the company’s retail world headquarters. David shared that three years ago the team came together by word of mouth on campus and, aside from one person who moved out of state, the entire 2019 team returned to race again this year.

“Unfortunately, ‘virtual’ is a word we have become very familiar with in 2020 due to COVID-19,” Janzen said. “For events involving runners, it essentially means that you will run the same distance you had planned to in the given event, but you will either run it by yourself or in a much smaller group. Depending on the event, you then submit your result in the format the event wants. For some events, it might mean submitting output from an athletic app like Strava. For others, it might just mean entering the times online.”

Since running to Steamboat Springs was off the table for this year, Janzen and the Nutrien team opted for the trails in Loveland, which conveniently back up to one of their team member’s home. The team decided to do out and back runs on the trail. The team camped out in between segments and had cyclists ride with the night runners as a safety measure.

The revised socially-distanced course made for easier and flatter terrain than the team is used to encountering. The team traded the hills for warm front range temperatures that reached high 90 degrees during the day. The team also swapped out two vans that are typically in tow for the event with bike trail support instead. While easier and safer, Janzen said the team kind of missed that element of the race in the journey.

Despite the unforeseen event changes, the race was still a success. The Nutrien race team was ambitious and upped its initial goal of raising $6,000 to $10,000. And with the gracious sponsorship support from their colleagues, friends, family members and local business partners like Centerra and McWHINNEY, Janzen was pleased to share they exceeded their goal by raising $11,665 in total.

“I truly believe we turned lemons into lemonade,” Janzen said. “We certainly missed the mountain running experience that we normally have. But in the end, we were able to exceed our fundraising goals, keep close to home and raise awareness for The Matthews House in greater ways than we have been able to do in the past, all the while having the same team bonding experience that we had in 2018 and 2019. As expected, our team is already talking about next year!”


Nutrien & The Matthews House

Janzen has worked for Nutrien for 31 years, the first 25 as a software developer, and he loves working in Centerra, a 3,000 acre-master planned community located in Loveland, Colorado.

“Our Centerra offices have been open since 2009, and I doubt there is a single person working here who does not appreciate what an amazing community it is. With a beautiful view of the Rockies, outdoor natural space, a three-plus mile walking/run path around two lakes, and nearby shopping and dining, we are truly fortunate,” said Janzen who used the outdoor trails for training. “The trails around Centerra are simply a dream on which to run. Not many companies have access to a 5K trail system that circles around lakes and natural habitat with a backdrop view of the Rockies! I know that almost our entire team took advantage of the Centerra trails at some point in their training, and throughout the year since they are located right in Nutrien’s backyard.”

Janzen cited the trail improvements made to the north end of the lakes and the incorporation of the gravel path adjacent to the paved concrete was appreciated by the runners.

This summer marks the third consecutive year the Nutrien team decided to partner with The Matthews House during the Wild West Relay.

Prior to 2018, Nutrien team members knew that The Matthews House existed and participated in the Wild West Relay, however it was then they learned The Matthews House used this particular race as an annual fundraiser. Around that time Nutrien also started putting more focus on investing in their local community and getting involved to give back. And thus a great partnership was born!

With a mission of empowering youth and families by providing resources and building trusting relationships to disrupt cycles of poverty and abuse, The Matthews House pairs perfectly with Nutrien’s desire to work hand-in-hand with local organizations to impact lives.

“Our partnership in supporting The Matthews House affirms Nutrien’s desire to be an outstanding community member, and to support non-profit organizations that strive to make the communities in which we all live, work, and play stronger,” Janzen said. “We recognize this year, in particular, has been a very challenging year for everyone, but especially difficult for non-profits, which makes us all the more happy we exceeded our fundraising goal and can support this great local organization that is doing good in our community.”