My directing debut, 2016. Photo by Rachel Demy

Helping runners in the 31st hour, 2019. Photo by Ryan Thrower

My happy place.

“You will be a Y-lifer”

My first job outside of high school was working at a Northshore YMCA summer camp. I had a blast. I attended Western Washington University but would come home during summer breaks to live it up as a camp counselor. After I received a degree from WWU, the YMCA was ready for me. Part-time led to full-time which led to higher-up director level positions. Piloting programs, leading fundraising campaigns, and taking over the horse camp for the YMCA of Greater Seattle were side gigs to directing the before-school and after- school programs. I was married, owned a condo, and had a wonderful network of friends and co-workers. I was frequently referred to as a “Y-lifer,” someone who’s first and only job is at the YMCA.. I was fine with it. Life was pretty grand…until it all hit the fan, HARD.

Buy me a beer for the details but essentially an autoimmune disease followed by a divorce turned my world upside down. I had a friend who had recently gone through a divorce invite me on a trail run. More “we don’t really know what we are doing but this is fun” folks joined group runs whenever possible. Several of us started running trail races which meant taking lots of time off work. In 2014, I made the jump. After 17 years of working for the YMCA, I left but I wasn’t sure for what. I do know a few directors lost their bets about my Y-lifer status, though.

I was fortunate to land jobs first with Rainshadow Running and then Northwest Trail Runs from 2015-2019. Both companies introduced me to people, places, and adventures I never would have dreamt about. This 5k road runner, who preferred flat courses, found happiness again; but this time on trails, and with the community that came with them. That said, I’d still call myself a Y-lifer.

While I may not work for the YMCA anymore, the YMCA is deeply committed to helping communities thrive which is now in my DNA. I left my job at Northwest Trail Runs to pursue a business that allows me to be the small-town Oprah – “…and you get $500! And you get $500!…..” while putting on trail running events that fosters community. Hence, Walla Trails & Community was born. I can now incorporate what I loved from previous work experience into trail running events: community building, summer camps, fundraising, event directing, and volunteer coordinating. I am excited to see how this next chapter unfolds.

Gretchen Walla