Why Leadville’s “Cutoff Queen” Has The Toughest Job In The Sport

Almost every sport has them, and their nicknames are often as gruesome as the news they deliver. The Cut Man. The Hatchet Man. The Turk. They are the ones who tell you when you’ve been cut from a team. “Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook.”

Running is no exception. And at a grueling event like next month’s Leadville 100 Trail Race in Colorado, failing to meet time standards throughout the course will bring you face-to-face with Sandy Monahan—aka The Angel of Death … aka The Angel of Mercy … aka The Cutoff Queen—where she’s tasked with delivering some tough news.

It’s Monahan’s job to tell you your race is over and you’ve been cut. You didn’t meet the standards. You’re not going to finish. It’s unsafe for you to continue—whatever the case may be.

She’s seen from experience the detached and mechanical way some of her predecessors or those at other races handled the athletes. While crewing for her husband Mike during multiple Leadvilles, she watched athletes get cut in a manner she described as “distasteful.”

“People spend years to get into condition so they can do an event like that,” says Monahan, who will be doing cuts for (she believes) her 16th Leadville. “And for some people to be so thoughtless and not willing to be considerate of their feelings and not take into account the environment when calling the cut. That chaffed at me. That’s how it got started.”

Sure, she crushes dreams. But that doesn’t mean she can’t be pleasant about it. And she also understands what’s at stake. Leadville—The Race Across The Sky—pushes runners to an altitude between 9,200 and 12,600 feet through the Colorado Rockies. Her and Mike, who has logged more than 1,000 Leadville miles, work together as a team. They have been around the sport long enough to know the tell-tale signs when someone needs to be pulled.

“Our need to cut people off is more based on safety issues,” says Monahan, 66. “These people are off in the middle of the woods. We have a legion of volunteers out there making sure people are safe. As the race progresses, it becomes even more important and serious to get runners off the course if they aren’t going to be successful.”

RELATED: “Moments at Elevation” Captures the Beautiful Challenges of the Leadville 100

And though she wields an iron fist, she does so with a gentle hand. She’ll give constant updates, often talking to a runner’s crew when she recognizes trouble. She’ll offer guidance, encouragement and some expertise. She’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and hiked the Inca Trail in Peru. She knows her stuff. And yes, hugs are always available as needed.

“I thought it should be done in a less brutal, more thoughtful, kinder, more sympathetic way instead of ‘Time. You’re out. Goodbye. See you later,’” she says. “I don’t just pull people. I try to triage.”

Many have tried to slip past her watchful eye. Others have offered bribes. “Someone offered me their American Express card one year, no questions asked,” she says. Once a spouse, after Monahan cut her husband, made fairly graphic death threats.

“Sandy’s empathy for the runners she must cut is so very evident and she has a way of making each person know that they dug deep, gave it their all and that each fulfilled their personal promise to commit, not quit,” says race director Merilee Maupin. “She knows exactly the grit, guts and determination it takes to finish.”

Of the monikers that stuck, the Cutoff Queen is the catchiest. It’s also the one she likes the least.

“I don’t feel like what I’m doing is a queen’s task,” she says. “I’ve been called the Angel of Death or the Angel of Mercy. I prefer either of those. I hope that no matter what, they see me as some sort of an angel.”

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