The 2021 Virtual Siskiyou Challenge Is Back, Better Than Ever
The Siskiyou Challenge is just what it sounds like: a true test, with mountains involved. Originally founded in 2009, the Challenge is a multi-sport race including road cycling, running, mountain biking, trail running, and kayaking that wound through Ashland and utilized the Cascade Siskiyou Scenic Bikeway, along with Emigrant Lake—all benefiting Rogue Valley Farm to School. This year, the Challenge is taking on a whole new spin being “global and virtual” and running from April 1 through the 24. We caught up with Siskiyou Challenge’s Executive Director Sheila Foster to get all the info.
RVM: Talk about RV Farm to School and the partnership with Siskiyou Challenge: how did it come about and how do the organizations work together?
The Siskiyou Challenge is Rogue Valley Farm to School. It’s our largest fundraising event. Some organizations have auctions. Rogue Valley Farm to School was crazy enough to launch a six-leg, multisport relay race that spans over 42 miles and involves 600 athletes and volunteers as our biggest fundraiser!
Rogue Valley Messenger: How long have you been the Executive Director, and what has been your favorite part of the job? Most challenging?
Sheila Foster: I started as the Executive Director four years ago, and one of my first tasks was to figure out how to manage a six-leg, multisport relay race that involved more than 600 athletes and volunteers, up in the woods and on the roads—and make sure no one got hurt! As it turned out, it was super fun, even if it was a ton of work. We basically got to turn the entire town of Ashland into a big celebration of health and wellness, and get the word out about Rogue Valley Farm to School.
My favorite part of my job is the amount of collaboration it takes to make deep and meaningful systemic change in our food system. As COVID-19 has shown, there are deep inequities in our community. Rogue Valley Farm to School is very committed to helping change that, and one of the places we have seen that needs to change is in access to fresh, healthy food. One really effective way to do that is to improve the quality of school meals. Another way is to provide super fun education programs that get children outdoors, their hands in the dirt and experiencing what health really feels like—through the fresh air, the community of their friends in the garden or on the farm, and good, healthy food in their bodies. We partner with schools and school districts to support building a culture of health. This year we are partnering with Central Point and Phoenix Talent School Districts, as well as Walker Elementary in Ashland and Kids Unlimited in Medford.
RVM: Have you ever competed in the Siskiyou Challenge yourself?
SF: Well, running a race that involves 600 athletes and volunteers, and making sure everyone is safe, that we have great bands and music, and delicious food and awesome beer means I’ve never been able to compete in the race. That’s what I’m so excited about with the virtual Siskiyou Challenge. I’m actually setting up two teams, because you can compete in the race any time between April 1 and April 24, so I’m on a team for Rogue Valley Farm to School (because this is the first year all of our staff isn’t needed to run the race, so we get to have a team!) and on a team with my family and friends, who are spread all over the US.
RVM: Explain how this year’s race will work, “global and virtual”?
SF: So the great thing about a virtual race is you can be anywhere in the world to compete (global) and do it anytime you want between April 1 and April 24, and you can push yourself as hard as you want (like when you see someone else has a better time, re-run that leg and upload the new time) or just have fun raising money for a great cause. I’m in the middle of trying to figure out if my 83-year-old father can compete in the kayak leg by paddling up and down the pool. I think it’s going to work, and he’s never competed in a race in his life!
RVM: Who has traditionally competed in the challenge, and what groups of folks are you targeting to participate?
SF: Traditionally the race attracts athletes training for bigger, longer races, or businesses who want to support their employees getting healthy and friends and family that just want to have a great time doing something athletic together. This year, we get to spread the net even wider to include friends and family from all over and a whole range of capacities. We got really excited when we realized how the race this year could be so much more inclusive. We have prizes for things like the most geographically diverse team, or the oldest team, or the most unique team. It’s fun!
April 1 – 24