Adventure Kiddos: Bellingham Trailblazers

April 30, 2016

Bellingham Trailblazers Combine Kids, Nature and Trail Running

By Heather Nelson

Photo at right: Bellingham Trailblazer runners learn to pace themselves on a trail run along the shores of Lake Padden. Photo by Heather Nelson


How does the YMCA in Bellingham, Washington burn crazy-kid energy?

With a program called Trailblazers — a popular national YMCA series that focuses on building strong relationships and fostering leadership through events and activities for kids ages seven and up.

The Bellingham YMCA Trailblazers is a trail-running program started by Jen Gallant, Director of the YMCA “Girls on the Run” program of Northwest Washington.

According to Gallant, while she was visiting classrooms and in PTA meetings to talk about Girls on the Run, parents and students often asked why there wasn’t a similar program for boys.

“So in 2012, I decided to start a trail-running program for all kids in elementary school,” she said.

From the start, the Trailblazers trail-running program has been met with enthusiasm from both kids and parents. Each week, over 30 public school students and nine coaches load into big red YMCA vans and head to a different trailhead in Whatcom County.

Until this school year, there had not been a Trailblazers option for private school students. As a parent of school-age kids and trail runner myself, I approached Gallant to ask if she would be willing to create a Trailblazers program at our school. Jen gave an emphatic “Yes,” and I began to volunteer as a coach and liaison for the school.

The Trailblazers’ kids run once a week for about three miles each outing. Coaches Gallant and Tony Hinze lead them through stretches, drills and the running lessons of the day. The kids learn to stretch, use proper running technique and how to pace themselves.

Along with building stronger bodies and friendships, the kids are also becoming hardy Northwest athletes, because rain or shine, wind or snow, Trailblazers go running!

Trailblazer mom Lisa Van Doren has enrolled her 10-year-old son Hank for the past two years.

“I love that they are outside no matter the weather and they have a blast even in the wind and rain,” she said. “Trailblazers has definitely increased Hank’s stamina, but also his persistence, and that has helped in other sports as well.”

There are also the kids who aren’t interested in traditional sports, but have found their passion in trail running. Trailblazer mom Treva Coe likes the program for her son, Milo.

“Milo has had limited experience with team sports,” says Coe. “We love that programs like this fill the gap for individual athletic endeavors.

Milo now identifies running as a favorite sport.”

Before they’re allowed to take off down the trail, Coach Gallant asks the group, “What is the rule of the trail?”

The kids scream in unison, “Don’t get ahead of the lead coach, or behind the last coach!” The coach nods with approval, and like a pack of wolves on the hunt, they’re off.


Heather Nelson, her husband and two children live in Bellingham where they have a trailhead in their front
yard. She is a full-time mom, paddler, trail runner and mountain biker.