Hey, Spike! recalls burro racing legend Curtis Imrie
Special to the Daily
Curtis Imrie wasn’t larger than life — he was life — just plain full of it.
Walter Curtis Imrie Jr., the independent filmmaker started coming Out West to the family’s Little Menokin Ranch up in 4Elk near Buena Vista regularly back in 1967. He had graduated from Northwestern University in Illinois, where his family settled after stints in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Then potential stardom lured him to San Francisco, California.
The story continues even though Imrie was fatally felled a week ago at age 70 by a heart attack at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, showing his prized donkey for the 20th consecutive year.
My first encounter with the long-haired accomplished tennis player and Greco-Roman wrestler came in 1973 on Salida Mountain Mail assignment from editor Bill Orr to do a story about this San Francisco athlete recruited by Oscar Chapa, a Basque-heritage former 10th Mountain Division artillery sergeant who lived in Buena Vista, to run the 29-mile-long Fairplay World Championship Burro Race.
It wasn’t a win then for the pre-Nike era tennis-shoed Imrie, but the effort was to be successful numerous times over the coming years. Imrie followed in the footsteps and hoofprints of Leadville-Fairplay burro racing icon Joe Glavinick.
Many more stories would follow in decades of coverage in the Mail, Buena Vista’s Chaffee County Times, Leadville Herald Democrat, Fairplay Flume, Ten Miles Times and Summit Daily News as Imrie ran burro races in all the towns, including Breckenridge and Frisco, winning many while later becoming the unique sport’s goodwill ambassador after the passing of 86-year-old Chapa.
We developed a close bond based on writing and later running long distances. I was the journalist, writing for the public; Imrie was writing in those private journals. Facebook is where he later found a sharing platform, his streams of consciousness coming in rapid-fire bursts.
Later on, Imrie was still running burros and trying to get elected to public office as a “Dimmicrat,” the consummate outsider. At first he was a Democrat, but later became an “Independent.”
In the last election Imrie was again a write-in candidate, this time for the U.S. House of Representatives 5th District seat. He garnered his most votes ever, a number not reported, in a campaign based on signs painted on old equine trailers stashed in friends’ pastures all over.
Imrie would write screenplays, star in those black and white films, like “The Lost Frontier,” and take on roles in TV commercials to help make ends meet. It helped that he looked much like Warren Beatty, another actor. He even dated Cybill Shepherd once.
He starred as Salida’s locally famous mountain biker Mike Rust in the Grit and Thistle Film production “The Rider and The Wolf.” Gone missing for a couple of years, Rust was later found murdered over by Saguache.
Imrie’s Phoneboothfilms indie concept was always on his mind, but it was racing and raising burros that put him in contact with lovers/athletes of the sport: Ardel Boes, Lee Courkamp, Billy Lee, Tom Sobel, Sue Conroe, Diana Makris, Barb Dolan, Ken Chlouber, Jim Gregg, Ralph Herzog, Pete Makris, Roger Pedretti, Hal and Mary Walter, and the Western Pack Burro Association.
It was as editor of the Northwest Colorado Daily Press in Craig that I became good friends with a young University of Colorado J-school intern named Harold “Hal” Walter. Lo these many years later, I continue taking pride in introducing Hal to the sport of distance running and to Curtis Imrie, who turned the kid into a world champion burro racer.
Running with burros led Hal in becoming author of “Wild Burro Tales — Thirty Years of Haulin’ Ass,” “Full Tilt Boggie,” and his latest: “Endurance: And Selected Essays on Autism, Neurodiversity and Deep Sport.”
Hal and mentor Imrie were featured recently in a New York Times series by Christopher McDougall, who wrote “Born to Run.”
Together, Curtis and Hal, along with Pedretti, starred in Trevor Velin’s documentary — or as Imrie called it: donkudrama — “Haulin Ass.” They had a screening at Breckenridge’s Backstage Theatre.
With a film project always in the works, Imrie’s latest,“The Last Private Man” remains shy of “being in the can,” but his partner, Lindsey Lighthizer, says she’ll get it done.
Both Imrie and Walter would keep up their conditioning for each summer’s always-fluctuating number of burro races by running a couple of Boston marathons among many others. Imrie’s personal best for 26.2 miles was 2 hours and 40 minutes. Hal’s mark is: 2:38; he paced me to a 3:28 in Denver in 1981.
Hal and I continue the run.
For Imrie’s colorful Colorado story see: CurtisImrie.com/about.html
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former hardrock miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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