“They are so beautiful,” he said.
NACA has been instrumental in helping urban Native Americans overcome many issues they face off the reservation, including cultural preservation.
One runner, who works as a radiation therapist, runs in support of these contributions.
“I admire an organization like NACA—one giving back to the culture,” the runner said. “I appreciate NACA’s cultural and health education programs, because there is an overabundance of health problems thrown on Native Americans.”
Poverty and exposure to radiation are just an example of this.
Other runners participate for the pleasure of running.
One woman said she participated to train for another race, while another ran just to see if she could finish.
“I’ve always wanted to run a marathon,” she admitted.
For others, the Prayer Run is a way to memorialize a loved one who has passed on.
Rob Wagner has been attending the race for four years now, and this year a bad knee left him sitting at the sidelines. But his hands were busy as he worked on a piece of wood he’d found earlier.
Wagner is the artisan who has provided the beautifully carved hiking stick to the fifth runner of the 10K to cross the finish line for the last three years. He does this in honor of his daughter, Kelly.
Although Wagner said he has always loved the woods, it was his daughter who got him hooked on running.
“We all look for inspiration in different places,” Wagner said. “Kelly is mine. Runners are a rare breed—running is a punishing sport. It takes a lot of strength.”
Kelly, he said, had that strength.
He described himself as a hermit but said running does provide him with a social outlet.
“I make new friends and hear new stories.
Many people wonder why Wagner’s hand-carved sticks go to the fifth place runner. The answer is simple. Five was Kelly’s number when she performed.
Wagner described his home as being full of sticks, collected on different walks and runs in the forest.
“They are hanging everywhere,” he admitted. “It’s like peanuts. I can’t get enough of them.”
For Wagner, living in Flagstaff satisfies two of his greatest loves.
“I love to run and here in Flagstaff we have beautiful trails and forests,” he said.
Of Cherokee ancestry, Wagner admitted that he is thrilled to live in a community with such diverse culture.
It is culture that brings Wensler Nosie back to Flagstaff for the Prayer Run every year. Nosie, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, brings family members and friends with him each year to emphasize the cultural importance of the San Francisco Peaks—the mountain that gives the race it’s name.
Nosie leads the fight for another sacred mountain—Mt. Graham—which is very significant to the San Carlos Apache. Once arrested for attempting to pray at a sacred site on Mt. Graham, Nosie was charged with trespassing because he’d entered a place declared off-limits without a permit because of the telescope that is situated on the mountain. Nosie, along with other Apache and their supporters, continue their own battle to protect their ancestral rights to a sacred mountain.
“We have come again to give our annual support,” Nosie said. “We’ve also spent time in the forest to offer prayers.”
Of his own effort back home, Nosie said that there has been renewed interest in the Mt. Graham effort.
“This year, our tribal council refused financial support from universities in Arizona and Minnesota,” Nosie said. “This gave these universities a black eye to their allegations that our people are in support of the telescope. The tribal council’s action has revitalized our efforts.”
One cannot spend a morning among the organizers and runners of NACA’s annual Sacred Mountain Prayer Run without realizing that this race means many things to many different people.
Under the steady face of the San Francisco Peaks, runners enjoy breathtaking scenery, high-altitude training, some very personalized awards as well as a glimpse at the Native American culture that has made Flagstaff unique.
The staff of NACA has created a race that is equally unique.