For more than a decade, the sound of a starting gun has meant one thing to Maggie Montoya—a cue to focus her body and mind on the race ahead.
That was before March 22. On that day, a man entered the Boulder, Colorado, grocery store where Montoya was working as a pharmacy technician and opened fire. Ten people died, including three store employees and a police officer.
For about an hour, Montoya huddled in a locked room, wondering if she’d escape alive. She made what she feared was a final phone call to her parents. Her coach, Richard Hansen, who usually guides her through repeats and race strategies, was instead texting her updates on SWAT team locations.
Finally, the suspect surrendered and was arrested. Montoya and those with her were escorted outside to safety.
Now, sudden gunfire triggers memories of the trauma, as Montoya discovered when watching some of her Roots Running teammates compete last weekend.
Still, the 26-year-old will continue pursuing her athletic ambitions. On Sunday, she’ll run the 5,000 meters at the USATF Golden Games and Distance Open at Mt. SAC in Walnut, California, aiming to earn a qualifying time for next month’s U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. The following weekend, she plans to run the 10,000 meters—an event at which she’s already earned her spot at the Trials—at the Track Meet, hosted by Sound Running, in Los Angeles.
“Back when everything happened, I wasn’t sure if I’d be ready to race this month,” Montoya told Runner’s World. There’s no doubt the emotional stress has affected her training, she said. But her goals haven’t changed, and workouts and race plans have offered a sense of purpose and normalcy. “I’m grateful I’ll be there and getting that opportunity again, and that I’m able to do so this soon.”
A day of tragedy
On Saturday, March 20, Montoya ran 50:25 to place seventh in the U.S. 15K road championships in Jacksonville, Florida—a nearly one-minute improvement from her time at the event in 2019.
That Monday, it was back to her regular routine. A health sciences major at Baylor University, Montoya had been working at the King Soopers pharmacy for about three years, balancing the job with training and planning to apply to medical school.
Staffing a pharmacy during a pandemic was already stressful, with extended hours, long lines of fearful customers, and extra duties coordinating COVID-19 vaccinations. She’d been working nearly full-time, her nerves worn thin.
A few hours into her afternoon shift, Montoya heard the first bang. She couldn’t quite place it, but her manager did, and yelled, “Active shooter!” Everyone scattered. Montoya rushed to the pharmacy’s counseling room with four others; they locked the door behind them.
She heard more shots, then silence—except for background music and the pharmacy phones, which wouldn’t stop ringing. Crouched under a desk, Montoya stared at the tiny gap in the doors out to the store. She hoped desperately not to see a shadow that might be the shooter’s.
That’s when she called her parents and told them what was happening, and that she loved them. She hung up before they could reply. “I was almost certain I wasn’t going to make it out of there,” she said.
She texted similar sentiments to her boyfriend, Jordan Carpenter, a runner and head men’s cross country and track and field coach at Pomona-Pitzer in Claremont, California.
Hansen, who’s also a chiropractor, was in his office about a mile away from the store. He was watching a live feed and texting Montoya about each new development. When the SWAT team arrived, and again when they entered the store, he updated her.
The line to the outside had an huge impact, Montoya said. “I was still terrified, but through that, I had a lot of hope,” she said.
It wasn’t until later, watching Montoya tell her story on national television, that the gravity sunk in for Hansen. “Putting visuals to our text exchange was difficult,” he said. “And knowing that those messages could have stopped at any point was a tough realization.”
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The SWAT team apprehended the suspect right next to the pharmacy. Now, he faces 54 charges, including 10 counts of first-degree murder and 10 charges alleging he possessed an illegally large ammunition magazine and used it during the crime.
Though Montoya was relieved to be rescued, one of the most difficult moments came when she was guided out. Authorities cautioned them not to look, but she couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of a body near the front of the store. She recognized store manager Rikki Olds, 25.
Olds was well-liked by pharmacy employees. Montoya had recently signed her up for a COVID vaccine. That’s when she’d realized she and Olds—who she’d assumed was older because of her job responsibilities—were the same age.
“It was just shocking and really reinforces our own mortality, how something can change so drastically in a short period of time,” she said.
In the parking lot, Montoya had an emotional reunion with Carpenter, who was in town and had rushed over. He joined her on the bus ride to the police station, where she and other survivors gave statements to investigators.
Her dad flew in the next morning, and Carpenter drove the two of them—and Montoya’s goldendoodle Harper—the 12 hours to her family’s house in Rogers, Arkansas. “I texted my coach and I texted my boss and said, ‘Hey, I have to get out of here,’” she said. “They were both extremely supportive.”
There, she took comfort in familiar surroundings. Harper played with the family’s three other dogs. Longtime neighbors brought over bread. Friends and teammates reached out to check on her, filling her inboxes with supportive messages.
Her agent, Josh Cox, set up a GoFundMe to help with recovery-related expenses. Montoya insisted some of it also go to her four pharmacy colleagues.
After two days off, she resumed running easy miles, mostly for her mental health. Exploring surrounding trails brought a sense of peace.
She wasn’t sure how long she’d stay. But soon, she learned that local coach Lee Troop and others were planning an April 3 event, #Run4BoulderStrong, to honor all those affected.
So, Montoya returned to Boulder on April 2. The next day, with her teammates and several hundred others, she ran to the top of a trail overlooking the city. At the turnaround point, runners wrote cards to the victim’s families, first responders, and others present that day.
“With Boulder being such a big running community, there were so many people that wanted to come out and support that,” she said. “It was awesome.”
Montoya keeps in touch with her former colleagues by group chat, and said store management has offered helpful resources. However, she doesn’t currently plan to return to work at the pharmacy.
She has a new job, at a local coffee shop, where she’s mastering the espresso machine. “It’s something new, but in the workflow, it’s kind of similar to what I enjoyed in my last job, customer interaction and multitasking and learning things each day,” she said. “So I get that little bit of reward, and then a lot of coffee.”
While she regularly passes painful reminders—she lives just a mile from the still-closed store, and her route to the coffee shop goes past the church where she attended Olds’s funeral—she also sees signs of solidarity.
Signs around town proclaim “Boulder Strong,” and they’re not empty words. On April 29, Colorado lawmakers announced they’d pursue three new gun violence prevention bills—measures that would expand background checks, allow cities to adopt their own stricter regulations, and create a state Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
“I’m glad I live in a community that, as soon as everything happened, they all came together and tried to fight,” she said. “People don’t want to see something like this happen again.”
Though she’s shied away from politics in the past, Montoya said she’ll continue sharing her experiences, lest the ever-changing news cycle allow citizens to forget the impact of mass shootings. “The fear we all had in there—if someone could see that or hear that and want it to not happen to them bad enough that they would also want to take action,” she said, “that would be really helpful.”
The events didn’t diminish Montoya’s resolve to compete at the Trials, but her first week back in training was tough. Workouts felt harder than she’d anticipated—“a shock to the system,” she said. In the hours between them, she attended funerals.
Being back with the team lifted her spirits, though. Things improved the second week, and by the third, she felt running clicking again.
Hansen has coached athletes through troubling times before. While he’s urged Montoya to treat herself with care, he also knows she has big goals. Racing earlier made sense to both of them, once it felt physically possible, both to chase qualifiers and better prepare her to perform again under pressure.
“I would hate for Maggie not to have the race or the experience of the Trials that she’s worked hard for these last few years,” Hansen said. “I hope what we see this next week with some of her competitions is some of the same athlete that we had seen grow over the past year, and that she’s able to have the races she deserves.”
The time she needs to qualify for the Trials in the 5,000 meters is 15:20—one that, given her talent and training, she should have no problem achieving, Hansen said. Her personal best is 15:38.21; last July, she ran 15:38.53 at the KT Tape St. George 5000m Showdown in Utah, at an altitude of 2,700 feet.
Her chances right now depend on whether muscles and mind can align so soon after such significant trauma. Even Montoya isn’t sure what will happen when the gun goes off. Her plan is to stay focused, so she’s not startled, and hope her competitive fire returns.
She’ll put it all out there, but if she falls short, she aims not to judge herself too harshly. Surviving, after all, represents the greatest victory. “While hitting the Trials qualifying time is ultimately the mark, it’s also just being grateful to be back on the line,” she said.
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