Saturday, March 12, 2011

Running Hope to the World

I asked what people thought the sneak peek of this picture was going to be all about.  Tarahumari was the most common response of course.  They are beautiful people living in a beautiful land.  Caballo Blanco had the 2nd running of the Copper Canyon races this past weekend to support these indigenous people and their running culture.  I would have loved to have been there to experience that.  Perhaps next year!

These wonderful feet belong to the shining faces below.  These three boys live on the island of San Pedro near Ambergris Caye in Belize.  I was there this past weekend for a spur-of-the-moment trip with my girlfriend Calley. San Pedro is a small island where most of the people ride bikes, golf carts, or walk for transportation.  These boys were running up and down the street hawking bracelets and other trinkets to the few tourists who were around.  I watched them as they joyfully ran barefoot along the cobblestones with no thought or awareness of proper running form, foot-strike, etc.  They certainly were not wondering when the newest version of manufacturer X’s trail shoe would hit the shelves.  I wondered if they even owned a pair of shoes. 

The people of San Pedro and Belize in general are very welcoming and happy people.  Everywhere we went the locals were friendly and seemed very genuinely happy.  It is a very simple lifestyle that most live.  Housing is very basic.  People do not own cars, excessive electronics, or other “stuff”.  Sunshine is abundant and just enough of a cool breeze always seems to be blowing in this island paradise.  The thing I liked most about San Pedro was that it was not commercialized at all.  Where I live in “the bubble” all you see as you drive down the street are the same homogeneous clustering of national stores every couple of miles.  Most of the “resorts” here are over-sized residences with some beach-side cabanas for guests.  The place Calley and I stayed only had 2 other people staying there when we got there and they left after 2 days. 

We stayed at Xamen Ek resort.  The reef is only a few hundred yards off the dock.

Now I am not under some illusion that these gentle people are without problems.  Most of the problems we face here in the United States are completely self-induced and completely avoidable.  Take the economic woes of the last few years as an example.  Greed, over-indulgence, and a general focus on things that have nothing to do with true happiness have left many here lost and awash in a sea of debt and other misery.  Most have given up on the dreams of their youth.  Slowly the ground is given up on one’s dreams inch-by-inch. 

In San Pedro the worries are much more basic.  These three boys were not selling trinkets on the street at night because they wanted to.  They have to do this to help put food on the table.  Reading the local paper I was able to gather that the children here face many perils.  Abandonment and abuse do happen.  Not as badly as in some third-world places, but many are essentially living on the street largely on their own at 8 to 10 years-old. 

Rush hour in downtown San Pedro

Health care is a huge issue here.  It is not the same ridiculous entitlement issue that is happening in the United States.  There is no hospital on San Pedro.  There is no Urgent Care center.  There are a few general practitioners around, but the care is very basic.  The proprietor of the resort we stayed at had a friend who had a basic case of food poisoning misdiagnosed as kidney stones!  She ended up having to take a plane to the mainland and was hospitalized for 2 days in Belize City. 

I had an amazing couple of days overall in Belize with Calley.  We went snorkeling on the amazing reef there.  We swam with sea turtles, sharks, and manta rays.  It was very relaxing.  It is a place I would go back to again and again.  There is much of the Mayan culture and jungle ecosystem we did not have time to explore this time around.  Most of our activities were sand and surf driven. 

Calley commandeered my hat early on.  It looks much better on her.

Most of my posts have connection with running.  I think running is universal across geography, culture, language, etc.  We all have feet right?  Many of my amazing running friends are intimately involved in very important causes.  They use their running exploits to raise money and awareness about situations that need to be attended to.  They have fully embraced the concept put forth by Ghandi:  “Be the change in the world that you seek.”  These people do not just talk about of empathize with people who need our help.  They take action. 

Lisa Smith-Batchen is a perfect example.  For years she has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children in Africa.  Along with her amazing spiritual sage, Sister Marybeth, they have raised millions of dollars and directly impacted thousands of children’s lives in a profound way.  Just last year she raised over $700,000 as she ran 50 miles in all 50 states over a 60 day period of time.  That is 2,500 miles for the mathematically challenged.  Half of those miles she did while running on a broken foot!

Never bet against these two.  They are a powerful force for good in this world.

There are so many people like Lisa that I know in the Ultra community who are making a huge difference in the world around them.  Caballo Blanco with the Tarahumari.  Jason Harper with his grassroots BE CHANGE campaign.  There are too many to list here.  The main point is this:  It only takes one committed, motivated, passionate person to make a profound difference.  The scale of the effort does not matter.  It can be one person executing a random act of kindness for one person.  If we all did this once each day the impact would be limitless.

Jason has impacted the health and wellness of over 500 children in Sacramento and inspired a movement much larger than himself within his own community and beyond.

No longer am I inspired just to run just to see how far I can run or how fast I can get there.  Yes, I will always revel in the simple joy of running and the freedom of having my feet take me anywhere I want to go with the sun on my back and the wind in my face, but for me it is about leveraging my passion and energies connected with running to make a positive impact in someone else’s life.  Running has been transformational for my body and spirit.  It is time for me to pass on the gift.

Lisa finishing mile 2,500 for the children on her broken foot.  No words necessary.

Whose life are you going to change today?  It just might be yours.