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SALT LAKE — As Jeffrey Binney hiked the trails near Lake Blanche up Big Cottonwood Canyon, he stopped. And then he danced.
On a snow-covered bridge, Binney recreated something that fans of '80s pop culture would appreciate: the frustrating, yet triumphant scene in the movie "Dirty Dancing" where Baby is practicing for her iconic performance with Johnny.
Complete with missteps, clenched fists, tantrum kicks, and perfectly executed "lean-into-the-rail-look-both-ways-leg-swipe," Binney captured the magic that until now, was perhaps only done so by the one and only Jennifer Grey. His performance, which was posted to his TikTok and Instagram accounts on Jan. 7, has been viewed more than 3 million times.
If you were to ask Binney, however, dancing in the middle of a snowy trail isn't the goal, nor is gaining clout or followers. If you were to ask Binney why he spends time in the great outdoors — sometimes moving to popular tunes, and sometimes to the beat of his own heart — the answer would be much different than what meets the eye.
When tragedy meets a crossroad
In January of 2012, Binney lost his mom at the age of 58 to heart failure. Binney, who was 29 years old at the time, found himself sitting in a hospital waiting room thinking that he might very well end up with the same fate. After all, he was 350 pounds at the time. Yet, at that very same moment, Binney found himself looking at something that would change his trajectory: a running magazine.
"I was in a waiting room at the hospital, desperately not wanting to die of heart failure, and I see a 'Trail Runner Magazine,'" Binney recalled. "On the cover was the title of an article that read, 'Is the 100-mile ultramarathon the new marathon?'"
Binney said he began reading and thought what any other person who was desperately trying to lose weight would think: "I should do this."
From pig farm and musical theater to trail and ultrarunning
Over the next several months, which led to the next few years, Binney embarked on a journey not only toward running but athleticism in general.
"I grew up on a pig farm in Missouri and then entered the world of musical theater," Binney said. "I was not an athlete, let alone a runner."
Binney laughed as he told the story of being on a recreation basketball team as a child and being taken off the court for not trying hard enough.
"I was once taken off the basketball court by my coach and told to let him know when I was ready to go back in – and I never went back in," Binney chuckled.
Later in life, he said he became what those in musical theater call a "mover." The term, he explained, "is a nice way to say that I wasn't the best on stage. Let's just say that I was never considered an athlete."
@jeffreybinney#trailrunning#ultrarunning#hiking#runningmanontiktok#plussize#bodypositivity 👯 @rayvlo ♬ I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) - Whitney Houston
Even with the obvious roadblocks and insecurities about athletics, Binney had a goal, and he didn't let his past get in the way. In fact, just one month after his mom died, he completed a 20-mile race. A few years of training and building mileage passed by. However, having committed himself to run a 100-mile race, he enlisted the help of a coach and signed up for the Leadville Trail 100-mile race in 2015.
"I decided to run Leadville primarily because, at the time, you didn't need a qualifying time to get in," Binney said.
As part of his training, Binney decided that he needed a little bit of motivation, so, he enlisted the help of a film crew to document his journey. He said that he did this because he wanted both accountability for himself and to inspire others like him. He took to social media to share his journey, even building a virtual cheerleading section of sorts.
"I had seen my share of running documentaries and even though they were all super inspiring, none of them were relatable to me, at least," Binney said. "All of them were these beautiful, athletic people bounding over rocks. None of them looked like me. I wanted to show people that they didn't have to look a certain way to do this, so I got a film crew to follow me at Leadville."
Falling short and picking himself back up
While Binney may have chosen a race that would accept him without a qualifying time, the race still required the participants to finish in under 30 hours. As he reached 44.5 miles in, it was clear that he wasn't going to make the cutoff time and he was removed from the race.
In other words, he failed.
Discouraged but not defeated, Binney signed up for another 100-mile race six months later, but this time with less fanfare. He still wanted to document it but did so under the radar. After all, he said, the goal was to live the life his mother wasn't able to.
"I was doing this because while my mom couldn't change her life, I can," he said. "So, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and signed up for another race. This time, I didn't tell anyone and only had one person help document it, and a friend and my sister crewed me," Binney said.
Twenty-nine hours, 52 minutes and 4 seconds later — a mere eight minutes under cut-off time — Binney crossed the finish line. He documented his journey in a film he released in 2020 titled "Once is Enough."
The title of the film, he said, was inspired by a quote by Mae West, which says: "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."
Merging a former love with a newfound passion
While running 100-mile distances may, for now anyway, be a thing of the past for Binney, experiencing the great outdoors by foot isn't. In fact, he told KSL.com that it was the lure of the mountain ranges that caused him to move to Utah from his prior residence in New York City.
"As soon as I got into trail running, I was like, 'I gotta move to Utah!'" Binney said. "It's unparalleled. There is such a diversity of climate. If you don't like snow in Salt Lake City, drive four hours down south!"
It wasn't just the diversified climate and terrain to explore afoot that brought Binney to Utah, but also the artistic culture.
"Salt Lake City offers so much art and culture," Binney said. "I often get asked why I moved here, and I'm always like, 'Why not?'"
Rather than keeping his love for musical theater and trail running separate, Binney has found a way to merge his two loves by — you guessed it — dancing on the run.
"With my entertainment background, I wondered if I could do a little more with it, so I started taking my camera out with me on the trail," he said. "I would actually spend a lot of time creating content. Then, I just woke up one morning and learned to do a dance — it was actually a dance to Adele's 'Water Under the Bridge,' and people loved it! I guess people want to see a husky ginger in the woods."
Binney jokes about being "husky," knowing full well that he doesn't represent the typical runner/dancer, but he literally takes it all in stride all in the name of hoping to inspire other less-typical athletes to get outside.
"I am a person on a mission to help people have fun on the trail," he said. "It's so easy to forget to have a good time. I want to show people that it doesn't matter your size, sexuality, or color of your skin when you're out on the trail. All that matters is that you have fun."
To see more of Binney, he can be found on Instagram and TikTok @jeffreybinney,