"Coach, I don't have any shoes."
Running on the Rez
Some of you may know that I’ve had the great honor to have started working periodically on an Indian reservation in Northeast Arizona. I’ve learned so much about the Navajo tribe through my experiences providing medical care to these wonderful people.
To my great surprise, I learned that running is a significant part of their culture, tradition and heritage. Last month during a break between shifts, I ran an amazing 20 miler through the spectacular Canyon De Chelly in Chinle, Arizona. Anybody can look down into the Canyon from the rim above by stopping at of the many lookouts. But if one wants to truly experience all that the Canyon offers, one must hire a Navajo guide to take them into the canyon itself to explore its beauty and power up close. While on horseback, my guide led me deep into the North Canyon, pointing out historic Indian ruins along the way.
Like pretty much anyone given the opportunity to enter their sacred tribal land, I was moved beyond belief. Generations of Navajo have lived in and passed through the Canyon. Even to this day, local Navajo live in the Canyon de Chelly.
On my most recent trip to the reservation, I had the great fortune of meeting Shaun Martin, the high school cross country coach and Athletic Director of Chinle High School, in the heart of the Navajo Indian Reservation. For many reasons, he’s what I describe as “good people.”
Several years ago, while on a run in the canyon, he came up with the idea of starting a race called The Canyon de Chelly Ultra. The 55K event exists primarily to showcase this natural wonder up close. Secondarily, it raises funds benefiting the Chinle High School Cross Country teams and Native American Youth running programs.
Many Navajo kids face challenges of low income, housing without running water or adequate heat sources and substance abuse, among others. Life on the “Rez” can be really tough.
But…running can help these kids in SO many ways.
Running teaches the invaluable life lessons of the value of hard work, self-sacrifice and discipline. It gives them hope. It teaches them respect for themselves and for others.
As their coach and mentor (and sometimes their “big brother” or “father”), Shaun is the ideal role model for these boys and girls. Sometimes the cross country team IS these kids’ family.
Shaun told me of a star runner whose shoes were stolen the day before a big meet. He couldn’t run the race. But because of money raised by the Canyon de Chelly Ultra for the kids, Shaun was able to buy the boy some replacement shoes, saving the day!!
The Chinle CC team is a perennial Arizona state running powerhouse. Many of his runners go on to college and many have even earned scholarships.
I so much believe in Coach Shaun Martin and what he’s doing, that I’d love for you to join me in supporting his mission of making a huge difference for these kids.
Please consider making a financial donation by sending a check to
Canyon De Chelly Ultra
P.O. Box 3421
Chinle, AZ 86503. Any amount helps.
Thanks for your consideration.