The Denver community is mourning ultra-distance runner Essie Garrett, a formidable force for good as an educator and a charity fundraiser who died April 1 at age 74.
According to the Denver Post, Garrett was born in Texas, and at age 16, she joined the Army, serving for three years before she moved to Denver. Around that time, she began to follow Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader who taught his followers that they can achieve enlightenment through the discipline of exercise. She took his teachings to heart and then some.
At the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, a Denver public technical college and alternative high school that has served thousands of low-income and minority students since its founding in 1916, Garrett taught refrigeration mechanics to mostly male classes full of students — some of whom were surprised to learn a woman knew so much about electronics. (She worked as a teacher until her retirement in 2010.) During this time, Garrett began to run distances unfathomable to most.
Garrett ran to raise money for a variety of charities, including Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado AIDS Project, Max Funds Animal Adoption, multiple-sclerosis research institutions, and the Denver Rescue Mission that serves the homeless. Starting on Thanksgiving in 1991, she began an annual tradition of running around Colorado’s Capitol building for 48 hours to raise money for the homeless. According to Claire Martin of the Denver Post, she often told friends complaining of hunger, “Don’t you ever say you’re starving. An appetite is not the same thing as starving.”
Essie Garrett ran more than 25,000 miles, raising more than $1 million for charities between 1981 to 2012. Chris Millius, her colleague at Emily Griffith Opportunity School said, “She was always coming up with different ideas for fundraising.”
The sight of Essie, her long dreadlocks gathered into a ponytail that bounced as she ran, will be missed around Denver’s City Park — but her contributions to charities will be long remembered.