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feeble ilg

Spartacus. Sun Tzu. William Wallace. Alexander the Great. ilg the feeble? It might not have the same soul-rumbling gong to it, but it’s true: local super-athlete, Steve Ilg, who refers to himself as ‘feeble ilg,’ is just as much a warrior as these other historical studs. And guess what, says Ilg, so are you.

“Athletes are the ancient warriors reincarnated,” Ilg says.

The svelte 55-year-old adventure athlete and coach has been touted to excel “in more sports than most people ever try,” and was deemed a “multisport mutant” by Outside Magazine, where he’s the only athlete ever to grace the cover twice. Ten years after being featured in an article entitled “Aged to Perfection,” feeble ilg has yet to hang up his six-pack. Rather, he spent the ‘17 winter season beating competitors a third his age, making the podium 100-percent of his events. Let’s just say he’s one of those ‘old’ men who didn’t get fat over the holidays.

Those events weren’t just snowshoe races either, which he’s known for in this region as the founder of the Winter Warrior 10K Snowshoe Race. Alas, feeble ilg competed in five other disciplines from distances of 5 to 50-kilometers: freestyle ski, classic cross-country ski, Nordic ski, ski mountaineering, biathlon, and fat tire bike.

The cherry on top was a third place overall finish and first place win in his age group at the Tellurando, his first real ski mountaineering race. Ilg’s a machine, no doubt, but his ability to swing between fast-twitch and endurance sports is what makes his Herculean feats even more impressive.

What’s his secret sauce? Kale? It’s almost that simple.

“Ilg is just a paltry practitioner of Wholistic Fitness,” he explains. “I reckon the Path works when one works the proven Path.”

Yes, feeble ilg refers to himself in the third person, and this chosen “Path” he speaks of is his 35-year-old training program, Wholistic Fitness. Forged from his days working as a personal trainer at Farentino’s Gym in Boulder, Wholistic Fitness has shaped Ilg’s body to perform at peak by incorporating a blend of Strength Training and Cardio mixed with Yoga and Meditation, capped off with mindful Nutrition.

What kind of nutrition do superhumans eat? Ilg and his tribe use supplements as the base and then “guiltlessly enjoy any and all foods within our Nutritional Ten Principles,” says Ilg. Wholistic Fitness Warriors and Warrioresses are not scared of gluten, sugar, processed food, alcohol or battery acid; They’re like peacocks, says Ilg.

“Peacocks can eat anything because their digestive chi is so strong.”

Since he founded Wholistic Fitness, Ilg has not only won over 200 races in 23 sports, he’s also coached thousands of people, from Olympians to soccer moms.

“In Wholistic Fitness, we view spiritual development and improved sport performance as two sides of the same coin,” writes Ilg. “While you workout, you also work within.”

A Tibetan Buddhist, Ilg views each life he lives as another chance to gain enlightenment. In this life, he’s an athlete, and the race is towards enlightenment. Until we reach enlightenment, we’re just going around and around, says Ilg. He sees it as his duty, therefore, as the athlete warrior’s duty, to pick up the torch when humanity stops racing towards enlightenment.

“We have to, because the intellectuals aren’t doing it; they gave us Trump,” he says. “Even kings depend on warriors and understand sacredness. We have to rise. That’s why we race.”

Warriorship is our birthright, says Ilg. It’s just that, nowadays, most of us have to go looking for opportunities to find our inner warrior. This is why we toe start lines, says Ilg: to see what happens when the gun goes off and things get uncomfortable. What happens, for instance, when you can’t take another inhale? That’s why you must practice breathing, says Ilg.

“Breathing fires up the body’s ‘energetic pathways’ and turbocharges your efforts,” said Ilg in the “Aged to Perfection” Outside article. “Overcome your fear of the esoterically weird and learn to breathe.”

Durango’s ambient cocktail should make breathing easier than other places, says Ilg, thanks to the ether. As you breathe, your breath creates friction, and the turbulence transforms the air into ether. Ilg believes that Durango’s ether is extra special, probably thanks to so many healthy athletes breathing hard on the trails around town.

“I’ve seen some beautiful places but nothing really vibrates like the prana of the high desert and mountains here,” says Ilg. “Every breath is profound nourishment.”

His intro to Durango’s ether started in the San Juan National Forest near the Ilg home at Junction Creek. In the 1960’s, Ilg would run through the woods, shooting his bow and then timing himself to see how long it’d take to find the arrow. His pet wolf, Apache, would race alongside. Ilg fondly remembers this black wolf mix as his first guru.

As he grew, he started playing ice hockey and then found skiing, competing on the alpine team and serving as an alternate on the Junior National Nordic Jump team.

“I am fantastic at water sports, as long as the water is frozen,” says Ilg. “The moment it goes back to liquid state, I just sink.”

Ilg moved to Boulder for his senior year of high school, graduating in 1980. He started taking cellular biology classes at CU but was more focused on his climbing career. When the snow started melting in the high country, he and fellow dirtbags would boil a big vat of potatoes, put them in the pickup truck and drive out to Yosemite to climb all summer. The more time he spent moving in the mountains, the more Ilg severed himself from formal education, taking instruction instead from “rock, snow, ice, wind, nature.” He eventually stopped going to college but would have plenty of opportunity to learn in the school of hard knocks.

Ilg was exactly as you’d picture a 19-year-old climber: tan, unruly hair, so Colorado. One cold day in early winter of 1983, this specimen and another of his kind headed out to climb the notorious “Diamond”…aka, the East Face of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. As the wind ripped and weather rolled in, Ilg moved up the wall steadily, until he unleashed a rock the size of an office desk. Down, down, down Ilg fell, landing on his back, where a couple of IV water bottles stolen from Boulder Medical Center attached to his pack exploded on impact. The internal engine sputtered. Ilg gasped, finding air. He was in pain and couldn’t move his leg without great difficulty. He’d broken his back and shattered his pelvis.

“How exactly we got me off that ledge, rappelled to the snowfield below, and hiked 10 miles out to the car, I don’t know. All I can recall is searing pain and my attempt to rise higher than it.”

When he got back to civilization, Ilg dove headfirst into finding a remedy for his injury. He spent months seeking answers and undergoing eclectic healing practices with body-workers and spiritual healers. But the prognoses were never good, and the noise was much, so Ilg turned inward.

“When I couldn’t move the left side of my body, I set goals for myself,” he explains. “I would say, ‘I won’t go to surgery until I can’t get into a full lotus.’ That would create space. I just kept putting different cairns along the journey,  meeting the breath, rewiring the chakras. An injury must be accepted as a guru for healing to happen.”

He deepened his meditation practice, where he envisioned strange yoga postures, heard mysterious mantras, and received flashes of insight into new training paradigms. He learned that one must flip their focus when injured. For instance, since he was injured in a yang, or more masculine, activity (that is, strength or cardio focused), then he was meant to heal by cultivating the yin disciplines of his training, that is, yoga, meditation, and nutrition.

This approach not only brought feeling and movement back to his leg; it also produced a comprehensive training effect that Ilg says would eventually allow him to compete at even higher levels than before the accident. Over three decades later, he’s still never had surgery and claims to never get sick.

“I’ve never had insurance,” says Ilg. “I like to live life directly. I don’t want to miss the lessons.”

In 2007, another life-changing teaching would unfold for feeble ilg. After a 10-year spiritual mission in Los Angeles, where Ilg moved when his Teachers told him, that he was “too attached to the mountains,” Ilg relocated to Flagstaff with his partner at the time, Joy Kilpatrick. Though he was practicing periodic celibacy and Joy deemed infertile, they conceived a child, giving her the Tibetan name for heaven: Dewachen; “Dewa” for short.

After Dewa was born, Ilg thought, “The only way I’m going to pull this off is to get her home to Durango.”

So Ilg moved back to Durango to start the ultimate adventure of his life: raising a kid.

“Everything that comes out of her mouth is absolute wisdom of the dharma or absolutely hilarious…or both!”

Like her dad, Dewa competes in multi-sport disciplines, winning often and charging always. She’ll be the focus of his next winter season, when she receives her Fifth Graders Ski Pass, which means free skiing at any Colorado ski area all winter. So instead of racing full-tilt, feeble ilg has plans to quest with his little warrioress in pursuit of the holy grail of powder.

“This will give all the youngsters I kicked ass on this past winter a chance to regain their confidence,” laughs Ilg. “Then? Yup. ilg will be back on the Nordic circuit. Have fun, young guns, while you can!”


In 1981, Ilg launched a website called WholisticFitness.com – despite the internet not even being invented yet. Back then, Ilg would handwrite entire Wholistic Fitness training prescriptions for his students. Before mailing the script, he’d meditate on the perfect calligraphy brush stroke for each student, marking the inspired stroke with sumi ink on the cover of the training program.

Ilg’s dad moved the family to this ethereal paradise in the 1960s. His father worked at Kroeger’s and is remembered as the loveable guy who started the garden shop. On his one day off each week, Mr. Ilg would load the family up in the car for a road trip to the Navajo Reservation to clean up trash. Less the free spirit but game to go along with her husband’s whimsies, Ilg’s mom was “hardy stock,” the one instructing the kids to walk on the sides of the stairs “so the middle doesn’t get a wear pattern.”

Joy Martin, 5/25/17

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