NACA's 22nd Sacred Prayer Run
FLAGSTAFF -- Close to 300 competitors gathered at Flagstaff's Thorpe Park on June 4 for the 22nd running of Native Americans for Community Action's (NACA) 5K, 10K Sacred Prayer Run.
Not only is this annual race an early training opportunity for professional runners, but a social and spiritual statement for many. Additionally, it is truly an event run in beauty--a concept uniquely DinŽ. Participants and their audience are treated to breathtaking views of ponderosa pine forest, the sacred San Francisco Peaks and Flagstaff. Children and adults dressed for a mild summer morning sit side by side with traditionally dressed Navajo elders.
As always, the Sacred Prayer Run is a mixed bag of runners. Representatives from tribes such as the Hopi, Navajo and Apache run along with non-natives from Flagstaff and far-flung states.
For young Isaac Salay, this is his third year in competing in the NACA race.
"I just like running," Salay said after completing his 5K run.
Chuck Sypher, who came in after Salay, was enthusiastic in his praise for Salay.
"That boy is an engine," Salay said. "I really tried to catch him but I couldn't. I tried to trip him, knock him down, I threw rocks at him, but he just kept going."
Others, like Kate Glassock of Flagstaff, run because they want to support NACA.
"It's a great cause, and it's a beautiful course," Glassock said.
For Cindy Montero, this was her first year--and said that for her, the run was not about winning.
"I've been following the issues surrounding the San Francisco Peaks," Montero said. "I just wanted to run for the Peaks. I wanted to come out and show that people care about the Peaks despite the decision made by the National Forest Service."
Jessica, Montero's daughter, was on hand to root for her mother.
"I brought her to watch, because I want to encourage her to love to run," Montero added.
Andy Bessler, who as a representative of the Sierra Club's Flagstaff office has worked tirelessly on the environmental and spiritual issues surrounding the San Francisco Peaks, also competed in the 10K run.
"We've been trying to stop snowmaking," Bessler said. "I ran to pray for this mountain. It needs it right now. It needs all the help we can give it."
Lester Talaswaima of Shipaulovi Village in Hopi said that he has read about the San Francisco Peaks issues, but he participated in the Sacred Prayer Run for the first time for a different environmental issue.
"We Hopi are getting in shape for the run to Mexico." Talaswaima said. "We're running to deliver a message to stop Peabody for the use of slurry for mining--not to stop them. We're asking that they do it in a different way. The use of water is ruining the [Navajo] aquifer."
Talaswaima said that the Hopi villages have united in the run to Mexico effort headed by Reuben Saufkie.
Still, Talaswaima said that he didn't think it is good to use reclaimed water to make artificial snow on the sacred peaks.
Ron Redsteer has taken participated in the Sacred Prayer Run for six years now, but this was his first year to run the 10K.
In response to the question, "What keeps you coming back?" Redsteer described a personal relationship to the event.
"One of the years, I designed the T-shirt," Redsteer pointed out. An artist and graphic science illustrator employed at Northern Arizona University, Redsteer said that the money raised during this event goes to a good cause and plans on continuing in the future.
"As long as I finish," Redsteer said with a smile.
Redsteer and other runners said that the hardest part of this race is the first mile that weaves uphill through the ponderosa pine stand above Thorpe Park.
Anna Williams of Steamboat said that this was her fourth running.
"I do it to challenge myself--and the hill--every year," Williams said. For her this is just one of a series of races during the year.
Radmilla Cody, a former Miss Navajo Nation, was a long-distance runner in high school. She said that she participated in the race for several reasons.
"I want to get back into running," Cody said. "I plan on running some mini-marathons, and ultimately running the marathon. Also, I ran to support the efforts of tribes and their supporters in stopping the desecration of our sacred peak."
This year, the race was timed by ankle bracelets containing a computer chip that recorded each runner's time at crossing the finish line. Another new feature was the on-site Runners Injury Clinic sponsored by the Sports Medicine Center of Flagstaff Memorial Hospital.
The funds raised from the Sacred Prayer Run supports important programs NACA provides to urban Native Americans of all tribes.
Jonathan Harmon (19 years old) took first place in the 10K run with a time of 38:00. Rose Schmidt (39 years old) was right behind him with a time of 38:36. Ian Torrence (32 years old) came in at 38:14.
Chris Holve (16) was the first 5K participant to come across the finish line. Josh Plank (15) ran the course in 21:13 minutes, followed by Bill Wright (51) at 26:50.
Christi Peterson was the youngest runner of the 10K course--Matthew Zhine was the oldest participant at 82 years of age.
"I'm not so good," Zhine commented, "but it's fun."
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