World-class champion savors local color |

World-class champion savors local color

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Eric Drummond

BRECKENRIDGE ” Whether behind handlebars or behind the counter, Monique Merrill has a remarkable capacity to succeed under pressure.

“She may be mild-mannered behind the counter, but her race face is as fierce as anybody,” said Tony Di Zinno, a Los Angeles-based freelance photographer who’s shot Merrill in races across the planet. “She’s phenomenal.”

Merrill’s adventure racing team ” team Nike ” finished first last month in Primal Quest, a grueling 500-mile endurance race involving running, climbing, pedaling and paddling for up to 10 days. The team completed the race in five and a half days.

It won the same event in 2006.

Working alone on a Friday morning, Merrill, 39, recently made time for a discussion in the stuffy kitchen at her bustling business, Amazing Grace Natural Foods in Breckenridge.

“It’s really gotten busier,” she said of the yellow cottage on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and French Street.

Customers vary among local leaders, business owners, cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts.

The atmosphere is cozy, with a wood stove, instrumental music and the aroma of fresh coffee.

“It’s a great meeting place,” Breckenridge Mayor John Warner said. “She’s really done a great job ” it was a cramped, dark little house (before she took over).”

Merrill purchased the business about seven years ago, after a few years working there part-time. The venue was once the only organic market in town; it has since become more of a sandwich shop and breakfast hangout, as organics are more widely available elsewhere.

The Town recently recognized her, proclaiming July 22 “Monique Merrill Day” in honor of her extensive racing awards, contributions to the community and service on the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Committee.

Years before she took the helm of what has become a locals’ spot, and even before establishing an athletic career, Merrill planned to attend law school. She moved to Breckenridge in 1991 after graduating from the University of Virginia with degrees in English and Religion.

“I was in a sorority. I painted my fingernails, my belt matched my shoes. …” she said. “Now, like I don’t even own a comb.”

Through her childhood, Merrill’s family frequently traveled. Her father is a developer of low-income housing in developing countries.

Life in such places as Indonesia, Tanzania, Singapore, Phillipines, West Africa and more limited Merrill’s athletic involvement.

“Going to the really small American schools, there was never much opportunity for organized sports: It was more like playing in the dirt,” she said.

But most of the locations had pools. So, she swam for recreation.

In fourth grade, Merrill lived in Virginia and participated in a summer swim team. As a high school student, she made the All-America team ” swimming the 50-yard freestyle in 25:38 ” at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“It was the kind of thing ” I’d get in the pool, I’d win, get out, then go play soccer,” she said. “I never loved it.”

But Merrill dove into mountain sports shortly after arriving in Breckenridge. She came to the town to spend some time in her parents’ rental before moving on to become a lawyer. Instead, she decided to stay.

“In three months, people knew my name here,” she said, adding that she enjoyed the small towns when growing up overseas.

Town Councilmember Jeffrey Bergeron said it’s impressive Merrill has the time to give back to the community, considering what it takes to be competitive in such sports.

Merrill said she doesn’t have to worry too much about preparation, as the years and miles have conditioned her.

But she’s become more selective with competitions as the business has grown more popular. She must keep on top of payroll, ordering, stocking, managing and more.

“It’s hard to leave home,” Merrill said.

As far as finances are concerned, Merrill compared earning about $1,000 in a month at Amazing Grace to $6,000 in a week racing in Montana.

“Racing pays better,” she said.

She has about three regular employees who keep the place in order while she’s away.

Despite her passion for racing, Merrill finds fulfillment in her friends and her role in Breckenridge.

“Getting the award meant so much to me,” she said of the town’s proclamation. “As just a racer, I wouldn’t feel as much a relationship with the community.”

Merrill said that some athletes don’t know what they’ll do to make money when they retire from competition, which can be an uneasy feeling.

“I don’t have to think about that because I’m too busy scrambling eggs,” she said.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or

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