MISSOULA -- Makena Morley literally runs for a living now.
The Bigfork native tore up Class B cross country and track and field every year before becoming a seven-time All-American and an NCAA women's cross country national champion for the University of Colorado.
After graduating in May, Morley immediately began her professional running career by joining the Idaho Distance Project in Boise, Idaho. Morley is on the high-performance team that has five runners, including Kalispell native and Flathead High grad Zach Perrin.
"It’s an awesome opportunity," said Morley. "Of all the groups this one definitely stood out to me. Everybody in the group is so excitable and they all have such great energy about them, kind of like a little family unit. They have so much fun with running but also keep it competitive at the same time and that’s kind of a hard balance to do. At the college and professional level, I think sometimes the fun will come out of the sport. I need to make sure that I still love running and that it's fun."
In early August, Morley took another monumental step in her career as she signed a professional deal with Asics.
"This has been a dream of mine since I started running," said Morley. "In middle school I didn’t really know what professional running was, so more in high school I was like, 'Oh, I really want to be able to take this through college and also, if I’m still loving it, keep running after and be able to do that as a job and a profession.'"
Morley's contract with the popular running company is three years, with the option for a fourth year.
Many runners have the opportunity to compete at the NCAA level and even compete as a professional, but to be able to completely support yourself with a passion is something Morley doesn't take for granted.
"It's definitely enough to live off of, too," said Morley. "I signed with a base salary and for running different times you get bonuses, too, and your base salary can grow each year depending on times you're hitting. So, that's exciting to have stuff to go for and just to be ready to race some fast times."
Arguably one of the coolest parts of being a pro athlete is all of the unlimited gear you dreamed of having as a kid. Morley now gets that with Asics, a shoe she's going back to after a short absence.
"I ran in Asics shoes when I was in middle school and then I hadn’t run in them since," said Morley. "I tried like four pairs of them in May and I loved all of them, which is kind of rare for me. I’m kind of picky with my shoes. I’m super excited because every pair I’ve put on I’ve just fallen in love with. And they have such cool colors, I love bright colors."