By Billy Allen
It’s now over a year since the pandemic changed life. Most of us follow advice from health professionals and orders of tribal leadership. Our GRIC government assisted with provisions and took steps to try and protect the community. March 2021 came and went without the Mul-Chu-Tha, disappointing many Native runners.
As a former runner who has run urban byways, canal banks, and the dusty roads of our community, I sympathize. March was National Women’s History Month, so I asked five women runners— like a cross country team—to share thoughts about running.
Pain can be constant while running. The body feels it cannot go on; the mind seeks reasons to stop. Carolyn Thompson described when she pushed through such a moment. “Come on, Gila River, you can do this! I am bewildered, I hear ladies talking—Gila River ladies. All of us O’otham women sure got to the top of that Hopi mesa! It was great! We all laughed about the climb because all we know is running on flat ground, none of us could have imagined we would be rock climbing that day.”
She goes on to credit her husband for keeping them motivated. “We trained and over the next couple of years, we got better and better. Overall, I have trained and completed 11 half marathons to date. I had an ACL reconstruction in 2000, and I could have easily used this past injury as my excuse not to get started at all.
But I had several good trainers who helped me understand that strength training and strong legs would help me avoid injury and keep me active in my “older” age. I was excited to hear that I am considered a “runner. I am grateful to be considered a part of the running Community.”
Raina “Burrito “Lewis was another contributor. “I started running with my brother in 2015 and have been walking/jogging/running since. Dirt is the preferred surface; paved roads can be hard on my knees and feet. Diabetes has affected my family and running has me stay active and fit, thankfully I am not diabetic. Motivation comes from my children.
I try to lead by example for I want to be around to be a grandma. It is always comforting to see familiar faces at the starting line.” Similar to what Carolyn went through, Burrito was just about to stop during a race but “from outta nowhere,” a runner interlocked her arm and pulled her to keep on running. A sisterhood was born. “The support given by the many runners I have met throughout the years really helps.”
Running can provide a type of strength beyond the physical. Raquel Romero contributed her thoughts: “I fell in love with running when I started to run to rediscover who I was. Running has given meaning, depth and a feeling of being a part of something greater, making me grateful. The most supportive people are other female runners.
I work with a few runners and we always talk about upcoming races, getting together for prayer runs, along with our fears, accomplishments, and memories when it comes to our training. I used to run before sunrise, so no one would see me.” Her advice to those thinking about it: “Just start! No distance is too small.
No pace is too slow. Do what your body allows and be patient, because running is a life-long journey.” Hopefully you may feel “the jeved supporting you.” Completing a half-marathon was indescribable. “I am a runner—confident, but still in disbelief how far I had come in just a few years.”
“I started running in high school, one mile from our house and back.” These are the words of Danielle Mercado. “But I did not become consistent until my 30s. Running is medicine for me. It’s healing, it’s life, and it’s prayer all in one for me.
If I’m upset, I can run it out. If I’m happy, I can run and be lifted higher. It is definitely mental, spiritual, and physical. It centers me. When I lace up, I am accountable to myself. I think it is super cool when I get random phone calls and messages from people who saw me running. My family has been very supportive …friends will send music to add to my playlist as I train.
I love running with their energy, love, and spirit. I carry them with me. I run in the city which has a different energy and vibe—I can come up on and pass other runners! Just start. It will not be easy or perfect, but lace up and go. Have fun!”
Samantha Tashquinth echoed some of the previous comments. “Running is a part of our himdag on the Gila River Indian Community. I run using physical movement as a prayer and a voice for strength and healing. In this physical sacrifice, I also like to think I am helping my family and community towards a healthier way of life.
I also want to be a healthy mother for my daughters. I run the same land of my ancestors as an act of prayer. Running goes beyond time, people ran in the past, people run today, and someone will be running tomorrow. S-apu.”
I appreciate the five runners who shared their experiences with me, and now you, GRIN readers. An Olympic marathoner of the 60s and 70s, Ron Hill, offered this: “Get going … walk if you have to, but finish the damned race.” It has an O’odham ring to it, which this O’odham coach would have worn out. Can’t wait to hear “Do: vai! / Go” at the starting line.
Whether you go out solo or in a group, you and that shadow keeping pace are probably running in footprints left by our ancestors. As sung by Neil Young, “Long may you run.”