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Chelise Foster: Waldo's star in stripes

Good Dirt

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Her 18-month-old son Sterling clung to her neck, the house was cluttered and yard work awaited, but it was no big deal to Chelise Foster, the Waldo Waldo 5K event director who is used to multitasking.

She knows she can be a mom and a wife and still kick ass. And she has. The freckle-faced 28-year-old, who looks like she graduated from high school last week, is one of Colorado Springs' great advocates for trails and open space.

In only three years, the Waldo Waldo 5K has raised $100,000 for charitable causes. In 2012, she contributed $20,000 to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation's Waldo Canyon Firefighters Fund; in the years since, she has split funds between the Trails and Open Space Coalition and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute.

And Foster isn't done. The fourth annual Waldo Waldo 5K, a funky and fun costume party that features a sea of runners dressed in the red-and-white-striped sweater of the Where's Waldo? icon, is set for Oct. 17. (More information, a registration link and volunteer info are available at waldowaldo5k.com.) Foster has some lofty, but attainable, goals and hopes that 3,500 people will participate this year.

"After this fourth event, if I can say we've donated $130,000 to $150,000," she says, "then I'll be feeling really great."

And maybe a little tired.

"It's difficult with a toddler," Chelise acknowledges. "I try to put him to bed at 7:30, and I work until midnight. And I wake up in the middle of the night, and then I'm up early. So it has been hard, but it's something that is important to me, and I think a lot of people want to see it come back every year. And I'm working my husband to death, poor guy."

Jeff Foster handles the race marketing: web design, photography, videography, writing, anything Chelise wants. It's common to see them dressed in their Waldo sweaters, promoting their event at other races.

As so many of us know, Waldo Canyon, that enclave tucked into the Manitou Springs foothills, once contained a singletrack trail favored by hikers, runners and mountain bikers. Foster's a native, a Rampart High School grad, and as a child she spent many days on that trail with her family. The idea for a Waldo event struck her as they hiked there in the spring of 2012.

Playful at heart, Foster, who worked at the costume company Elope Inc., wanted to gather friends together and "do a flash mob and just kind of clean up the canyon."

Then the June 2012 fire changed everything. Two people died in their home that burned with hundreds of other houses in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. Some 18,000 acres, from Colorado Springs to nearly Woodland Park to the Air Force Academy, were consumed by the flames.

Foster's childhood playground was gone, but her memories of the lush forest there remained, and led her to take action.

"I thought we should have a lighthearted way to bring people together and raise money for the place that I and so many hold dear," she says.

The first event was a smashing success. Foster enlisted the help of several local go-getters in the outdoor community. Elope provided (and still provides) the costumes at a discounted price. And Colorado Springs residents who had felt helpless as their mountain skyline burned found a way to give back.

In six short weeks, Foster and her team pulled together more than 1,000 runners. That number grew to 2,700 in 2013, and 3,100 last year.

This year, with the assistance of Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax funds and help from the Downtown Partnership, the route has moved to the city's center from America the Beautiful Park, beginning and ending at the Pioneers Museum.

People who love the city's trails and open, diverse landscapes will wear the stripes again. And for many reasons, Foster won't forget Waldo Canyon.

"I always kind of felt like I wanted to make an impact, like I was meant to do something more interesting than, you know, just be Chelise," she says. "It's encouraging because now I think maybe I can do more things and make a bigger impact. Maybe I can encourage my friends to help out more and be involved. And I think we need more of that in Colorado Springs."

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