Leading the Pack

Casey Jermyn

Casey Jermyn takes center stage in the Bozeman running community.

“When you align your actions with your ‘why,’ you tap into a powerful source of inspiration and purpose.” —Malcolm Gladwell

Every community possesses its own flavor of team spirit. And for the running community in Bozeman today, the hallmark display of spirit happens at the monthly Brew Run 5k series. At one of these races, one can expect multiple generations of runners (some stretching with strollers, others warming up to set personal records), dogs (lots of dogs), old friends, young families, and everything in between. And with an $8 entry fee, which includes a beer at the end, it might be one of the best deals in town.

After seeing the 500-plus runners at any one of these events, it’s hard to believe that it started out as only a smattering of diehards. But, as I’ve recently discovered, that trajectory is relatively on par with the city’s running contingency—which not too long ago was a handful of disparate folks and groups, lacking in solidarity. It’s taken a strong glue to congeal and solidify this rag-tag assemblage, and one of the key influences has been Casey Jermyn, who now hosts the Brew Run series and a whole slew of other running events.

I first crossed paths with Casey in 2010. His infectious spirit and bountiful energy left quite an impression. At that time, I owned a health club situated alongside a Fleet Feet store which Casey had recently acquired. He was filled with excitement as he transformed the store into the present-day Bozeman Running Company (BRC), and his passion was contagious. A vibrant and lively 28-year-old, he stood out among the crowd and surrounded himself with a group of equally-spirited compadres whom I affectionately dubbed “Casey’s merry men.” They eagerly embraced the challenge of their exciting new venture. Over the ensuing decade, I watched (and took part in) the change they helped catalyze in Bozeman’s running world.

'My parents never forced sports, but it was either you can do sports, or you can work for dad in the logging industry. I thought, okay, this is easy. I chose running!' —Casey Jermyn

It wasn’t until this past summer, however, that I reconnected with Casey to reflect on his trajectory. And it wasn’t too far into our conversation before I realized that his drive and motivation began well before he even stepped foot in Bozeman.

Growing up in the small Montana town of Plains, he befriended another young man by the name of Anders Brooker. Anders’s father, Tim, started an unofficial cross-country team in Plains. Casey laughs as he recalls, “The team typically consisted of me, Anders, and any friend we could persuade to come along and run with us.”

Casey Jermyn brew run 5k

Recognizing the importance of athletic activities, Casey’s parents were supportive and encouraged him and his three siblings to pursue a sport. “My parents never forced sports, but it was either you can do sports, or you can work for dad in the logging industry. I thought, okay, this is easy. I chose running!”

As a freshman in high school, Casey complained daily to his coach, Tim. “I just did not like running. Every single workout, every single run was hard. I was a tiny little freshman kid, but Tim saw an underlying talent and kept encouraging me.” And by his sophomore year, he began to see results. Without the official backing of the school, running became a family affair as they traveled to cross-country meets that could accommodate Casey’s budding talent. “It was a very cool and unique experience. Traveling around with my family and closest friends was truly memorable,” Casey reflects. They ventured to invitational meets in California and Washington, where, years later, Casey would lead his podium-capturing Bozeman teams, as their coach.

Casey’s success continued into college at MSU, but was not without challenges. During a summer family trip, Casey experienced a life-altering event. While traveling in a highway vacation convoy, a devastating deer collision took the life of his father.

After graduating from MSU, Casey felt emotionally lost and physically drained. He wanted to get far away from Bozeman to sort it all out.

Our conversation took on a somber tone as Casey recounted the following year, which he describes as a hazy blur. “Running became a distraction, a way that I could deal with the pain and not have to talk about it. I just focused on running, and I ran a lot.” As a result, he achieved remarkable growth, winning the 3k and 5k in indoor track, and the 10k at the national outdoor championships. However, reality soon caught up. “My dad never missed a meet. He was at every single race. And then, all of sudden, he wasn’t there.” And, as a senior, the anxiety-inducing question of what next? loomed in the back of Casey’s mind.

After graduating, Casey felt emotionally lost and physically drained. He wanted to get far away from Bozeman to sort it all out. He took a “big job” with a brokerage company in Portland, only to find out that it didn’t solve anything. Conversations with his old friend, Anders, led him back to Missoula where he bounced around between running races, picking up random prize money while working at Anders’s store, the Runner’s Edge.

At some point through it all, however, a job with Brooks Running came along and Casey jumped on the opportunity. In the new position, he familiarized himself with some of the best running stores and communities in the Northwest. In the end, it came full circle and led him back to Bozeman.

During our conversation, Casey and I delved into the transformative moment when he took over Fleet Feet and made a bold decision to forge a new and unique brand. Drawing from his experience with Brooks and the influential running communities he had worked with, he decided to create something different. Rather than continuing as a franchise, he established a local brand of his own, giving rise to Bozeman Running Company.

Casey swiftly began hosting new events—offering workshops, running groups, and numerous local races. When I asked him what really stood out during that period, Casey responded, “The Wind Drinkers had a long history of providing the community with some monumental trail runs. The Ridge Run and Old Gabe are legendary in any trail runner’s list  of endeavors. But I thought there was room for more entry-level trail runs, where those new to the trails could get their feet wet.”

I can’t help but pose a burning question to Casey: Why do you coach? He responded without a moment’s hesitation. 'Running truly changed my life.'

Thus, the Expedition 12k at Lewis & Clark Caverns, the Crosscut 25k and 15k, and the Copper City 30k and 15k trail runs were born. These races played a vital role in introducing trail running to novice athletes—encouraging them to incorporate trails into their weekly training, or giving them confidence to take on one of the more challenging “granddaddy” trail runs.

Casey Jermyn cross country practice Bozeman High School

On the road-running side of things, the festive Run to the Pub race became a standalone circus of a weekend, and the Bozeman Marathon gained recognition as a Boston Marathon qualifying race. Additionally, the Wednesday night Brew Runs (where Casey met his wife, Laura), became a monthly summer highlight for most runners in Bozeman.

Casey’s new identity was further engraved when he took his running skills and enthusiasm to coaching. In 2016, he took over the already top-tier Bozeman High cross-country team from former coach Clint May. May had helped shape the team into a highly successful program, but Casey had no idea how remarkable they would prove to be.

That year, the boys won the Montana Class AA title for the ninth straight year, and the girls won for the tenth year in a row. That was only the beginning, as Bozeman swept both the regional northwest titles and the boys pulled off a huge upset at the Nike Nationals race to win the most coveted cross-country title in America. I was lucky enough to be in the stands that day, and as a cross-country fan myself, nothing could replicate the pride and elation I witnessed as the Bozeman running community added another accolade to its long history.

The rest of the running world noticed, as well. Being named Montana’s High School Coach of the Year for both boys and girls was heady stuff, but Casey also went on to be honored as National Boys’ Coach of the Year. Seven seasons later, Casey is still in awe of all the great kids he has been able to work with. Watching some of them go on to college success and beyond has brought a new reward to his coaching career.

Bearing witness to the myriad of challenges that coaching entails, I can’t help but pose a burning question to Casey: Why do you coach? He responded without a moment’s hesitation. “Running truly changed my life. I met lifelong friends and accomplished various milestones. Now, it’s my responsibility to give back. That’s my why. Among the kids I coach, there are likely individuals who share a similar background to mine, and I hope to help them realize their own aspirations.”

Looking toward a future source of inspiration and purpose, the kid from Plains also envisions receiving calls from young athletes who started out much like him, but are now dipping their toes into coaching positions. It holds the potential for even greater satisfaction than witnessing their earlier successes. It’s the perfect baton handoff in life’s great relay.