[caption id="attachment_265" align="alignleft" width="358"] Mike, Micah and their dogs at the 2010 CCUM[/caption] I considered Micah to be friend but I don’t claim to know him well. I am sure that there are many who knew him as well or better than I. My gut feeling, however, is that we all were like the blind men describing an elephant. We all had a piece of the puzzle of the man that was Micah True but nobody, except possibly Maria, has seen the big picture. I am OK with that and I think Micah would be too. I have enjoyed hearing about the piece of the elephant that others have seen, this one is mine.
Like many others I read “Born to Run” and was inspired. I changed my running style and my knee problems went away, I began to consider the possibility that I might actually be able to run longer distances. and I signed up for the 2010 CCUM. I wanted to push my limits physically but I am not a natural runner, I struggle to achieve mediocrity and if I finish a race in the top half I am pleased. I was more interested in experiencing the area and its culture which I had been hearing about for over 20 years and I was interested in meeting new people. The kind of people that pick up a book in a bookstore and end up running an ultramarathon in Mexico a few months later. My kind of people. Mas Locos.
Experience prepared me for the fact that the reality of CCUM, the canyon, the Raramuri, and of Micah himself would be very different from the book but I was completely unprepared for what a life-changing event it was to be. I drove to Urique from Colorado with my dog, Lola, and spent over two weeks at the bottom of the canyon for the 2010 race. I think I was the first runner down and the last to leave. I wanted to experience the entire chain of events, the sleepy little town before the race, the build up of craziness leading up to the race, and the return to normality after the race. I hoped to experience the Raramuri culture outside of the context of the race.
Leading up to the race Micah was busy as expected and our interactions mostly revolved around our dogs. Even so I found him kind, generous, supportive, and friendly, even to me who had no expectation of even finishing the entire event and who had applied at the last minute after the race was full. “The race is full”, he said. “But I suppose we could fit you in”. After the race, most of the other runners had left and I got to spend more time with him. What struck me was the strength of his conviction that the purpose of the race was to honor and support the Raramuri and to celebrate the joy of running rather than to see who was fastest. It was clear that he was not comfortable with the trappings of fame that came from his inclusion in “the book”.
Once I went into Keith's to check my e-mail and he was there working on the computer and he said “This is what ‘Born to Run’ means to me. I have to spend all my time sitting at the computer instead of doing the thing that got me in the book in the first place”. It was clear that he was not entirely comfortable with the way he was portrayed in “the book” and he had grave misgivings about being viewed as a mystical barefoot running hero who could run for days on a bottle of water and a pouch of pinole and could kill a man with his bare hands (and bare feet). I know he was not comfortable being portrayed as being in opposition to the narco-traffickers, a stance that has gotten many people dead in Chihuahua in the 21st century. More than once I saw him make airquotes when using the word “non-fiction” in reference to the book but despite his discomfort he was grateful that the book had been written and written well enough that so many would read it. He saw an opportunity to promote the race not for his own edification but to provide assistance and awareness to his Raramuri soulmates, even if it meant the loss of his valued privacy and the simplicity of the life he had built for himself. Korima.
2010 was the first year of CCUM after “the book” and its popularity had skyrocketed. This was all new ground for him and I know he struggled with how to handle its success. He was a tireless defender of the Raramuri, working hard to ensure that they were respected and not taken advantage of while at the same time trying not to miss an opportunity to help them. A fine line to walk, and one that I know he struggled with, and others involved in the race and Norawas struggled with it, and sometimes him, as well . It is difficult to judge people’s true motives and he was suspicious. It had not been easy to gain the trust of the Raramuri, and he was very protective of that as it was his true life’s work and the race would not work without it. With the success of the book and the race came many people looking to cash in on it, making movies, writing articles, taking pictures, etc. Micah insisted that they all partake in “korima” a Raramuri word whose closest translation in English is “sharing without the expectation of anything in return”. Although the success of the book and the race made it attractive to commercial interests and there were companies actually pursuing him to be allowed to sponsor it, he rejected all commercial sponsorship. He insisted that the sponsor of the race was “korima”. The race was about sharing not profit. There was an unwritten rule that the gringos who ran well enough to win cash and/or corn would not keep it but rather give it to a Raramuri of their choice as “korima”. The gringos entry fees went to support the Raramuri by providing 500 lbs of corn to everyone who finished, that was the extent of financial involvement. On a deeper level the interaction between the gringos and the Raramuri benefited both sides. Korima.
The Raramuri have been under assault from all sides ever since the Europeans came to their country. As a peaceful people they responded not with warfare but by simply moving deeper into the canyons. During the Apache wars in the US there was a bounty paid for Apache scalps. The Apaches were some of the worlds finest guerilla fighters and their scalps were not easy to come by. In what may be one of the worst examples in the history of the world of the horrors humanity can inflict on itself in pursuit of selfish greed, American bounty hunters traveled into Mexico to hunt the peaceful retiring Raramuri in order to turn their scalps in for bounty as “Apaches”. The Raramuri survived into modern times but always under constant pressure from mining interests, logging interests, road building, the uncurtailed violence of narco-trafficking, and in general the constant onslaught of “progress”. And perhaps worst of all, centuries of being looked down upon by their own government as lowly Indians. It all takes its toll and the Raramuri struggled to adapt, many would leave the canyons for work and lose touch with their culture. Years of disrespect by the world led to a corrosion of the pride they had in their culture and running became something the old folks did long ago rather than something the children were doing today. Micah wanted to change that, and he did. He knew that they would benefit from material support in the form of cash prizes and corn at his race but he also knew that they would benefit most of all, not from handouts, but from the knowledge that there were many people in the world who looked on them not as “Indians” but as inspirations both as runners and as people. He wanted them to know that people thought they were cool, to change their mindsets and instill pride. Based on my interactions with Micah I would say that this was the real motivation for the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. I saw him encouraging the gringos to go visit their encampment and even if they couldn’t carry on a conversation, at least to say “Kuira Ba”, “We are one” and touch their hand in the soft gentle handshake of the Raramuri. To let them know that we honored them and their culture of peace, sharing, and brotherhood, even if we couldn’t express it to them. I saw him struggle with broken promises of support from the government, in the form of food and housing for the Raramuri runners. I saw the gringos respond by opening up their wallets and offering their help in any way that they could. Korima.
And it wasn’t just the Raramuri that benefitted. Us gringos, the Mas Locos, benefitted more than you can know. We encountered kindred spirits everywhere we looked. Not just as runners but as humans beings involved in something bigger than a race. We saw the example of Micah. We saw the example of the Raramuri, we saw the examples of the other Mas Locos. We all began our journeys with a little trepidation due to the constant barrage of negative news coming from Chihuahua but we went anyway and we found peace, beauty, love, brotherhood, and joy. We returned as changed people, inspired to live simpler, more peaceful lives and to give back more than we got, and to run freely and joyfully. Korima.
We all know that Micah was an accomplished athlete. We all know that he loved to run but to me, his message was not about running, it was about freedom and brotherhood. Running was simply the venue through which he found freedom, the venue through which he had met and earned the trust of the Raramuri. He had been a competitive racer but the race was not about competition but simply the venue through which he could best bring attention and support and pride to his Raramuri brothers. This race is unlike any other in the States. The Raramuri are mostly shy and distrusting of strangers for obvious reasons. Micah met them first when they were brought to Leadville and he paced them to win against the best American ultrarunners. He was appalled by their treatment as were the Raramuri who never returned. Instead he went to them. I am sure that he spent many lonely years running through the canyons. I’m sure that he has many stories that will never be heard of close calls with dehydration, falls, narco-traffickers, animals, and loneliness. Gradually he earned their respect, later followed by their trust, and finally by their love. Anybody who knows the race director of an American ultramarathon understands how much time, effort, and planning goes into the event, often with little recognition from those of us who occasionally pay the piddling entry fees for a chance to test ourselves and run with aid stations. What Micah did was immeasurably harder and required more dedication than any of us can imagine. A true labor of love, with very low probability of getting anything in return. When the Raramuri learned of his death they said simply, "What can we do to help our brother". Korima.
The man I knew was a man of contradiction. He gained fame by being a recluse but he had five thousand facebook friends. A private man who took a public role as race director and speaking events in order to benefit his brothers. A professional fighter who valued peace and love above all. A free spirit who sacrificed his freedom for others. A luddite who shunned technology but spent more hours than he would admit using technology to serve a greater purpose. A proud man who provided an example of humility to everyone he met. A humble man who accepted the adoration of thousands in order to change the world a little bit. A competitive athlete who cared not a whit how fast you were as long as you ran with joy and respect. Not a perfect man as he would be the first to admit but a wiling vessel. Korima.
I saw Micah a few more times after that first race. I returned for the 2011 race and did the extended program and I saw him at other races and speaking events and always it was the same. People would ask him about running, about footwear, about competition, about the book and always he would respectfully turn the conversation around until they were talking about freedom and joy and beauty and peace and the Raramuri people. From where I stand, that is the man I knew as Micah True. Although I regret his death and mourn for those who loved him, I take heart in knowing that nobody will ever regret his life. He lived well and died well and accomplished more with less than anyone I have ever known.
Text by Mike Miller