By Paula Parrish/The Gazette
It was irrational, but she couldn't help herself. Zanč Meredith blamed the mountain, hated it, looked at it each day with disgust. On those days when feathery clouds layered its peak, she was not fooled into feelings of awe and appreciation. On cloudless days, its majesty did not move her.
Rational or not, Pikes Peak became her enemy, the killer of her dear friend, Rich Buzzelli, a well-known regional photographer who died on July 9, 1995. He was struck by lightning while photographing on the Peak, long one of Buzzelli's passions.
Meredith, a life-long Colorado Springs resident, had pretty much ignored the Peak to that point. She'd never been up it as an adult, never been inclined to more than glance at it during her daily routine. But after Buzzelli's death, she would scowl at it on her way to work, curse it on her way home.
"You stupid mountain. Why in the world would anybody want to go up you? To think he died (there), it just doesn't make sense."
Then Meredith had to do the unthinkable. She had to go up the mountain herself, to say good-bye to Buzzelli at a memorial service about a month after his death.
Arriving early not far from Barr Camp, Meredith was overwhelmed by the splendor of the sunrise. Charmed by the mountain's beauty, her soul was invaded by the aura that has drawn millions. Including Buzzelli.
"Once I went up there, of course I discovered why he loved it," Meredith said. "It was incredible. I couldn't believe I drove up there.
"Rich's dying was part of what encouraged me to find out a little bit more about what he loved about the mountain."
Having made the trek by car, the next step in conquering the mountain was climbing it on foot.
Then running it.
Saturday, for the second time, Meredith will compete in The Ascent, a 13.3-mile run up Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak. An ascent of 7,815 feet. Though for Meredith, maybe compete is the wrong word. You will not find her among the elite runners, nor among those in the middle of the pack. Wait for the stragglers and there you will see her huffing along, jogging when she can and walking when she can't.
She laughingly calls herself a survivor of the trek and a prayerful one at that, as in "Please God, let me make it."
"But once you've done it, you want to do it again," said Meredith, an operating room nurse at St. Francis Hospital. "There's just something really special about it. It has an effect on you once you've been up there. It's crazy, totally nuts to think this is what I'd be doing. Not everybody has the desire or the need to do it. But some people are drawn to it."
Intermittently jogging and walking last year's Ascent with a friend, Meredith made it to the top in 5 hours and 40 minutes - about twice as long as the winners.
As a member of the Pikes Peak Roadrunners Club, the 48-year-old wife and mother has competed in 5K and 10K runs throughout the Springs. But running vertically provided a different kind of exhilaration, a feeling that you beat the mountain; it didn't beat you.
"There's just such a sense of accomplishment once you finish," she said. "You're at the top of a huge mountain and air is thinner and even though it's totally nuts, you're thinking, 'Cool. I did it.' People think they can't do it, but it's amazing how many people really can do stuff they don't think they can do."
Paula Parrish may be reached at 636-0252 or email@example.com
Story edited by Geoff Grant, headline by Bob Staal