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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Legendary Runners | 07-24-2016
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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Jul 24, 2016
ftbmi_Tarahumara
Tarahumara and other indigenous runners are greeted upon their July 14 arrival in Santa Clarita by members of the local Fernandeno-Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. Photo by Timothy Ryan Ornelas/FTBMI.
 

DianneErskineHellrigelIn 1990, I vacationed in Copper Canyon, Mexico, “The Sierra Tarahumara” where the Tarahumara (aka Raramuri) people live.

I was lucky enough to spend three weeks with them, hiking in the area, watching them weave their beautiful baskets, visiting an abandoned church in the depths of the canyon – for which there are no Spanish records, and yet the floor is worn smooth by the passage of bare feet. Catholic priests were met with resistance, and records were burned. No one knows what happened to the padres who built the church. No one knows who they were.

The Tarahumara, as they were called by the Spanish, are perhaps some of the least integrated natives into modern society. Originally from the Chihuahua area, they migrated deep into the mountains and canyons of northwestern Mexico as they retreated from the Spanish.

These people, for the most part, still practice the traditional lifestyles of their ancestors, living in caves or cliff shelters, some small wooden cabins or stone shelters. They raise sheep, goats and some cattle, and they migrate around the canyons throughout the year. They also grow small gardens consisting of beans, potatoes, chilies, maize, tobacco and squash. They drink a fermented, sprouted corn beer that is low in alcohol but provides a great deal of carbohydrates. The beer is called Tesquino. They also hunt with bows and arrows. However, it is well known they can outrun their prey and can easily down a deer, squirrel or wild turkey. They also occasionally will eat a goat or other animal they raise.

The Tarahumara are known around the world as amazing, legendary runners. Since 1992, they have been running from Alaska to Panama where they meet up with another group of natives running from the tip of South America up to Panama.

Tarahumara2Last week, the Tarahumara passed for the first time through the Santa Clarita Valley on their run. I was lucky enough to see them arrive, and even more blessed to see Tataviam tribal members welcome them, bless them and honor them.

The ceremony was exquisite and heartfelt. The Tarahumara are a gracious people. They went around the circle of people, thanking them for being there – when in reality, it was us who should have been thanking them. The Tarahumara are a proud, respectful, grateful, quiet and shy people.

The swift runners are what initially impressed me about the Tarahumara in 1990. They often run up to 100 miles per day. One Tarahumara man ran 240 miles in 48 consecutive hours, barefoot. Most of the runners either run without shoes or with sandals most commonly made from the tread of discarded rubber tires.

The Tarahumara who arrived in Santa Clarita had shoes that were mostly like Keds, with very little support. After running a little over 100 miles to reach us on that late afternoon, they were just fine. Imagine what your feet would feel like after a mere 20 miles on the road.

tarahumara1In the canyons, they make their tire sandals by cutting out a foot-shaped piece of tire for the bottom of the shoe and then tie it onto their feet with string, cloth or leather lanyards.

The corn beer that is a dietary staple for the Tarahumara is what is partially attributed to their ability to keep running for so many miles. Their traditional diet is also the reason they have low rates of obesity and diabetes. (When they adapt to city life in Mexico and leave their traditional diet behind, they have higher rates of obesity and diabetes.)

A study was done in the U.S. to try to determine why they can run so fast and so far, and why we cannot. It was discovered that when they run barefoot or with minimal footwear, they don’t have the harsh heel strike we do. Their body is not affected by the great impact that radiates through our entire body with our heavy heel strike.

Tarahumara4The young white man who was the laboratory guinea pig ran on a treadmill, first with the best running shoes money could buy. There was a tremendous heel strike and great impact throughout his body. Next, he ran on the treadmill barefooted. There was very little heel strike and a much softer or gentler impact through the body. The doctor and the technicians were amazed.

I’ve tried the barefoot shoes for hiking. I think I’ve babied my feet for too many decades … but if we raise a new generation of children with minimalistic shoes, perhaps kinetically our bodies will respond much better. The Tarahumara have sure figured it out.

The Tarahumara who live close to the Copper Canyon Railway have become more modernized with an influx of tourism. They sell their baskets and dress in their native attire for the visitors. Others have retreated farther into the canyon depths.

I hope they can remain aloof, away from modern society, retain their customs, their Uto-Aztecan language, and continue to live happily as they have for centuries. They are a beautiful, imaginative and lovely people. My admiration for them is great.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

Tarahumara3

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Lou F says:

    Thank you for writing enjoyable articles like this and many more!

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