The cause of death for Micha True, the ultrarunner who’s body was found last Saturday along a mountain stream in a remote part of the Gila Wilderness, is still uncertain. Preliminary results of True’s autopsy have yet to be released, and the only thing examiners have said thus far is there were no obvious signs of trauma for the 58-year old.
What is starting to look less uncertain, however, is the potentially negative affect True’s death will have on his Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, the proceeds of which benefited the community of indigenous people who live in the Chihuahua region of Mexico, the Tarahumara (known as the Rarámuri) Indians. The race also helped to keep alive the Rarámuri’s ancient running culture by setting up both the Ultramarathon as well as smaller races throughout the community. The international attention brought to the Rarámuri provided funds for maize, seed corn, and cash-awards for participating Rarámuri runers (men and women alike). In 2009, more than 200 indigenous runners participated in the race.
As we reported earlier, True was the race director of the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, and was an inspirational figure for the locals as well as those who often traveled great distances to take part in the races. True spent much of his year living among the Rarámuri.
The grueling 50-mile race through the unforgiving terrain of the canyon includes dirt roads, rivers, a climb of 9,300 feet both up and down into the deep canyon. The Rarármuri are renown for their long-distance running ability. Sports Illustrated reported on Monday about True’s death clouding the future of this proud race he helped create, and the incredible ability of the Rarámuri:
“For True, the Copper Canyon race was just as much of a celebration of the simple act of running as it was a chance to help feed the Tarahumara. True would travel back to Boulder, Colo., where he would move furniture and do other odd jobs for a few months to raise money to purchase tons of corn for the participants. The local government eventually began matching his contributions, and this year, prizes of corn and food vouchers were awarded to every finisher. For some, the race can take six hours.”
Chris McDougall, author of the 2009 Born to Run, in which True was immortalized as the runner Caballo Blanco, told Sports Illustrated that True understood there was “some really powerful, ancient wisdom still alive down in the canyons.” Telling SI that while some might view the Rarámuri as antiquated and quaint, McDougall pointed out that their settlements aren’t plagued by “violent crime, heart disease and cancer are unheard of and being active deep into old age is commonplace.”
“What Caballo realized was you could say whatever you want about that kind of a culture, but the fact is they have conquered many things that are defeating the rest of us,” McDougall told SI.
So what can be done to save the race that True dedicated his life to? True’s friend and fellow Copper Canyon guide, Evan Ravitz, reached out to Indian Country Today Media Network to share with us how people can help keeping the ultramarathon, and the support it provides the Rarámuri, alive:
Micah True (AKA Caballo Blanco), an old friend and fellow Copper Canyon guide, started both the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon and Norawas (“friends”) to benefit the Rarámuri Indians who are among the best distance runners on earth. His race introduced hundreds of international runners to Mexican Indian ways and a better way to run -and live.
The Raramuri are barely surviving the worst drought in Mexican history (which now extends into the U.S.), the drug war, the World Bank’s timber projects, and NAFTA. Micah died last week on a run in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. It’s unclear whether the race will continue, so donations to www.norawas.org are urgently needed to buy corn and other crucial staples for the Raramuri.
The Associated Press reports that there is a memorial run today in True’s honor in Boulder, Colorado. A one-hour run will take place today at Chautaqua Park, followed by a memorial at 6 p.m.