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Brian Nelson


At A Glance

Why I Love the Race

“You can’t be indifferent and give 100 percent effort.”


A Seed is Planted

The first time Brian approached the 21 sets of stairs at Stadium Bowl, he was unfazed, having just returned from Afghanistan in peak shape. By the time he reached the last of the 1,628 stairs, bent over and gasping for air, he was humbled by the cardiovascular destruction of the three-quarter-mile run. He could barely walk for days, yet he kept coming back.

Upon taking command of his battalion at the Tacoma Armory, Brian realized he didn’t know the 35 officers serving with him personally, “whether they liked scrambled or fried eggs,” for example. Knowing that sports can be the biggest indicator of character, he scheduled monthly stair runs at Stadium Bowl as part of their physical training—followed by his officers’ favorite types of eggs at the Hob Nob restaurant.

His philosophy? “If this is going to stop you, you can’t lead my soldiers.”

Officer physical training soon became the highlight of the battalion’s month. Brian’s officers grew into a great team, an outcome of the struggle and camaraderie they shared on the stairs.

Humbled and On Fire

In April 2011, Brian ran the Bowl stairs alone for the first time. Unassisted by the encouragement of teammates, he mustered up the strength to push through his body’s petitions to quit. As he completed the run, he felt “equal parts master of his own domain and egoless connection.” He decided in that moment to organize a race to engineer and extend that same experience to others.

Within the next 11 weeks, Brian and his wife, Kelly, quickly organized the inaugural Unleashed race with no prior planning experience. Unleashed participants run or walk all the Stadium Bowl stairs, “weaving the stairs” by running up one staircase and down the other.

The race proceeds benefit Kindred Souls Foundation, a nonprofit Brian and Kelly founded to place lesser-adoptable animals into long-term foster homes. “Unleashed and Kindred Souls Foundation is the perfect fusion of who Kelly and I are as individuals and is exactly what we’re meant to do.”

Collective Suffering and Breaking Bread

At its core, Unleashed is a race rallied around character, connection and community. That’s the beauty of the event for Brian: “Everybody sees everybody throughout the race, invests in other racers, struggles together and cheers for everyone because they, too, have just been through the struggle.”

Though the fastest racers clock in around 10 minutes, the event is open to all, regardless of age, fitness level, gender or race.

“Many people have never gone in all the way, so I wanted to create a space safe enough for participants to give their all and see themselves differently,” Brian said.

He explained that while “nothing destroys the human ego like all-out physical effort,” it also reveals your relation to others, allowing you to recognize how hard life can get. “That’s when you realize one should drop the judgment. Other people matter.”

On average, the race takes 22 minutes. There’s even a two-loop option for 3,256 steps total.

After the race’s conclusion, participants are invited to visit information booths representing different community partners, encouraging people to create community.

Brian hopes Unleashed will become a two-day event with 10,000 participants and 150 community partners.

Mountain, City or Sea?

Brian is a suburban man at heart. “Sure, running the trails is great, but I love running the stadium.”