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Maggie Montoya Talks About Healing After Surviving the Boulder Shooting

Running and spending time with her family have brought some peace for the pro runner after surviving the tragedy at King Soopers.

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As she prepares to return to her home in Boulder, Colorado, Maggie Montoya knows she’ll seek comfort in the mountains and find support in her network of Roots Running teammates, as well as her coworkers from the King Soopers pharmacy.

The 26-year-old pro runner immediately sought refuge with her family in northwest Arkansas after surviving the mass shooting on March 22 while working her job as a pharmacy technician, that day helping to administer COVID-19 vaccines. And while time with her loved ones is just what she needed, she’s also ready to head back to Boulder—to her home just a short walk away from the supermarket—to begin the healing process.

Montoya had just gotten back to Colorado after placing seventh at the U.S. 15K road championships in Jacksonville, Florida. On that Monday afternoon, a 21-year-old man entered the store and opened fire. He killed 10 people: Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley, 51; store manager Rikki Olds, 25; store employee Denny Stong, 20; store employee Teri Leiker, 51; Neven Stanisic, 23; Tralona “Lonna” Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; and Jody Waters, 65.

The suspect has been charge with 10 counts of murder in the first degree and one charge of attempted murder, according to the district attorney.

Montoya, who has qualified for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in the 10,000 meters, has recounted her harrowing experience to Anderson Cooper on CNN and on her social media. She spoke with Women’s Running by phone on Thursday about how she’s coping with the trauma, what the running community can do to support her, and why she feels like it’s important to continue to share her experience publicly.

Women’s Running: Thank you for taking the time to talk. I imagine that it’s difficult to do these interviews. I’m wondering if it helps to talk about what you went through or why you have felt like it’s important to speak about surviving this mass shooting?

Maggie Montoya: I just want to let people know what it was like inside, if that at all makes any change towards how people feel about gun laws. I’m hoping it would have some effect, that people would never want this to happen to them. I hope that as a whole country we could come together to fix these issues.

WR: Did you have any feelings or opinions about gun laws prior to the shooting?
MM: Yeah. I mean, mass shootings have been around since I can remember. I know that they’re not always assault weapons, but a lot of times they are. I feel like a lot of people have an unnecessary amount of weapons, maybe not with the intent of doing harm—but some of them with the intent of doing harm do have access. We’ve seen it already in the month of March, we’ve had a lot of mass shootings. It’s still so early in the year. There was just another one last night in California.

WR: You said immediately after the shooting that you were going to Arkansas to see your family. How has the time with them been?
MM: We’re heading back to Boulder [on Friday], but it’s been a huge help. It’s a comfortable place coming back here. Where I grew up just has a lot of good memories back here. My aunt flew out from North Carolina to spend several days with us. Just spending all day with family and lots of dogs and a really friendly cat has been really nice and healing. I’ve had my mind distracted. I just live so close to the store, I just needed to get out of there. I brought my dog, Harper, with me. She always loves coming back here.

WR: So you’re ready to go back to Boulder now?
MM: Yes, I wanted to be back for the memorial run they’re doing on Saturday.

WR: How do you feel about going back?
MM: I mean, Arkansas is my home but Boulder is also my home, so I’d like to get back and be around my friends and teammates as well. The mountains always make me happy.

WR: Many in the running community in Boulder and beyond have expressed concern and support for you. What kinds of ways have runners reached out to you and what’s been most helpful?
MM: A lot of people have just let me know that if I need anything to let them know. Right now I’ve got all I need with my family, but I never know when I’ll hit a patch later on. Just knowing that there are a lot of people thinking about me and thinking of the impact that has—I mean a lot of people I know shop at that store, so they feel those repercussions. A lot of them live close to it as well and I know that they feel impacted, even though they weren’t at the store at the time. I mean it’s just been nice that people reach out to let me know they’re thinking of me. I got some flowers that were really pretty and bright and happy to look at.

WR: Have you been in touch with your coworkers?
MM: We have a group chat with all the people who work in the pharmacy, even the ones who weren’t there, discussing if they’ve gone to other stores to help out and what’s happening going forward. And there’s a separate chat just with those of us who were there that day, just checking up on each other each day, whether in the chat or one-on-one. My boss texts me almost every day to see how I’m doing.

WR: You’ve written and talked about how your coach, Richard Hansen, and your boyfriend, Jordan Carpenter, were outside the store and in contact with you throughout the entire shooting. How have your coach and your teammates continued to be supportive?
MM: I’m just beyond grateful to my coach for texting me that entire time, because it was a link to the outside, to what was going on around us, to give us some warning and give us some hope while we were in there. That was just the longest hour of my life and any information about when it was going to be over was something to hold onto. My coach gave that to me and I was able to show the texts to my boss that was in the room with me so she could see and accept what was happening. I’m just really grateful for that, because it seemed like an eternity before they came in to get us. We had a heads-up about when the SWAT team was running across the roof—it was really, really loud—and then when they were going to start coming in. It was something to know that we were hopefully going to make it out of there. It was helpful to have that live feed.

WR: Moving forward, that’s an incredible connection you’ll always have with your coach.
MM: I already had a good connection with my coach. He’s really good, even if he has to be tough on us it’s because it’s in our best interest. He’s looking out for us in all the ways that he can and he always has. I wasn’t shocked that he did that, but I was really grateful. That’s how he is as a coach.

WR: Are you looking forward to getting back into training or is it too early to think about that?
MM: I did my first workout on Wednesday, just an easy fartlek, and it went well. It felt good to do that again. But running has just been a peaceful outlet the past week and a half. We’ve explored and gone to a couple of new trails, which was really cool. I really enjoyed that.

WR: Is there anything else in particular that has provided an outlet for you?
MM: I’ve played a lot of games with my family, had some good craft beer. Rogers, Arkansas, seems like a weird place to have a lot of craft breweries, but like Boulder, they’re everywhere. We sit down, play games, just talk, and enjoy a good beer or two. Just having nice family meals together has been enjoyable.

WR: What are you expecting or hoping for when you are in Boulder?
MM: Since I don’t know quite what I’m doing for work, if we’re all going back to that job, the company is at least paying us until the end of April, so I’ll take that time when I have the opportunity and energy to go up into the mountains right by us and just walk around with Harper. She really likes it up there. It’s probably a little too cold to camp for me, but hikes and walks will be nice. I love to do that to begin with, but I don’t want to jeopardize a season or a race coming up. But right now I would like to have that outlet.

WR: I’m guessing that prior to the shooting your job at a pharmacy during a pandemic was probably stressful. How has it changed your perspective and career and approach to running?
MM: It’s been really, really rough working there. Everybody has told me to quit. I always say that I don’t want to leave my coworkers stranded. We were already extremely understaffed with the load we had, especially administering the COVID vaccine. We were drowning every day. I was working a lot of 10 or 11 hour days, versus my eight hours I was supposed to be doing. We were all doing that. We were all pulling crazy hours. My parents and other runners were telling me that I needed to quit, that I needed to move on. I was staying there because I do love and care for my coworkers so much. But they’d also understand if I left.

But it’s been a hard year. I’ve tried to apply for other jobs and gotten some interviews, but then a lot of them decided not to hire because they changed their focus to getting the COVID-19 vaccine out. I was kind of stuck where I was. When I was stuck in that room that day, I kept thinking, “Wow, I should have worked harder at changing my job.”

Since the Sound Running meet in August, I came back and we had a coworker quit, so we were really short-handed from there, and I think since September I’ve been averaging over 40 hours each week. It’s really tough with running because we’re standing the whole time.

Maggie Montoya places seventh at 2021 15K Championships. She was working in the King Soopers pharmacy at the time of the mass shooting.
Maggie Montoya placed seventh at 2021 15K Championships. She was working in the King Soopers pharmacy at the time of the Boulder shooting. Photo: Kevin Morris

WR: How did that kind of stress and schedule influence your training? I know you’ve raced some personal bests, so you have somehow pulled through. I’m sure the 15K seems so insignificant now, but do you remember how you felt about it?
MM: I was pretty happy with the outcome. I was four places down from two years before, but I ran a minute faster. It was just a really good field. I was happy and our coach was happy for all of us. It took me a few months to get used to the workload and being on my feet, but eventually I adjusted. My coach could always tell when I was feeling exceptionally bad—it was immediately following when I got my COVID shots. I was really tired. He’s been good about not letting me get too stressed out thinking that things were falling apart.

WR: It seems too early to ask this question, but have you thought yet about returning to competition?
MM: I definitely am returning to training. There aren’t a lot of races in April so I have that time to get back into the groove of things. I already have the Trials mark in the 10K, so if I feel like I’m not ready to chase the standard in the 5K, at least I know I can keep my sights on the Olympic Trials in the 10K. I can maybe not stress out about needing to immediately get back in shape. The plan is to get back to racing in May.

WR: Is pharmacy still something you want to pursue?
MM: I’m not sure. Long term my goal is to go to med school. I took the MCATs back in September and I need to dig into the application process this spring. Pharmacy was always my plan—I wanted to go to pharmacy school, but being in retail really changed my view on wanting to pursue that. I’m not sure if it is something I can do now, or at least in the same building.

WR: What else would you like people to know about what you’re experiencing right now?
MM: Don’t take the great interactions you have with people, whether they’re strangers or family or friends, for granted. I definitely cherish the moments a lot more than I had before. I truly thought I wasn’t going to make it out of the pharmacy that day. I’m extremely grateful I got to see my family again. Appreciate the great moments that you have—but also in the tough moments, I didn’t realize I had the great support I have around me. I didn’t know how large it was. It’s helped a lot, especially in the first couple of days when I thought there was no way I’d feel like I could smile or be happy again, being with family has already changed that. It gets better eventually.

WR: Do you see yourself doing advocacy or speaking out about gun safety laws?
MM: I know I’ll be a lot more vocal about it. Before the 2020 election, I wasn’t entirely involved in politics or voicing my views and realized that was a mistake. There’s so many politics wrapped around this, wrapped around human lives, unfortunately. I don’t know everything or all the legislature, but if there’s any way to speak, I’m sure there’s lots of people who would like to. If talking about what we went through helps change the laws, I know a lot of people would be willing to do that.

WR: A lot of people were happy to support the GoFundMe drive that your agent, Josh Cox, set up. You were adamant that the money also help your coworkers.
MM: Josh’s job is to help athletes negotiate and work with media—I don’t think he ever expected that he’d have to do this, but I’m very grateful that he has the expertise and has helped me navigate this. I know that me and the other two technicians don’t make that much, obviously and probably don’t have that much saved. We weren’t sure that we were going to be paid by the company through the end of April. Worrying about returning to work or being in the right headspace to go back was a worry. I wanted to extend it to them and to my pharmacist who was there—that’s not her home store. She had come out to help us that day. She didn’t have to be there; she was there to help out. My boss has a family at home and I know anything that could help her is appreciated. I wasn’t the only one in that store and definitely not the only one in that pharmacy. So, I wanted to share that with them.