Farewell, Caballo Blanco - Page 3
True in his element - on a backcountry trail. Here, running near Santa Maria, California. Photo by Luis Escobar.
“It’s a really good read. It’s a nice book, really inspiring,” True said in 2009 after reading Born to Run for the first time. “After the first 40 pages, I thought, ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ Chris drew readers in with this character that is supposed to be me, but he made me out to be some sort of legendary badass. When I called Chris on it, he said, ‘I was told to write the book from the beginning to the end and these were the things I heard and were my first impression.’
“But to his credit, as the book went on, it really captured us all. It did take some liberties with our personal lives, and it was very controversial, but when you get a half-million dollar advance to write a book, you’ve sold out right away and you have to answer to people.”
Although True had some differences with McDougall after Born to Run came out, they maintained a cordial relationship. While True became somewhat of a reluctant savior, his uncomplicated genuineness never wavered, nor did his dedication to the Raramuri way of life. He eschewed the fame that came his way, but he graciously accepted the opportunity to help the plight of Raramuri.
“He wasn’t a guy who cared about publicity or having his name in the headlines. What he did for the Tarahumara people, he lived it,” says David Weil, a Boulder massage therapist and longtime friend of True. “He was bi-cultural for sure. Whatever money he earned in Boulder, he spent or gave away down there.”
In addition to the intrusion of the modern world, an extended drought, the ongoing Mexican drug war and a downturn in tourism in recent years has left the Raramuri in dire straits.
In 2003, True started the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, because he wanted to find a way to help the impoverished Raramuri people help themselves. He supplied cash prizes and vouchers for bulk corn (at times out of his own pocket) and often turned down corporate donations to protect the Tarahumara from exploitation, though he also later helped convince the local government to match the prizes.
The race provided food and money, but True didn’t want to just give them handouts to meet their material needs—he also wanted to show them that they were respected and honored by many other people and that they should be proud of their culture because that was not a lesson that they heard very often.
“And they responded,” says Mike Miller, a Durango, Colorado, trail runner who ran the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in 2009. “And Micah did the same for many of us. Us ‘dispersers.’ He gave us a name, called us Mas Locos, and when the world was at war he brought us together in peace at the bottom of a canyon in Mexico, because that’s what dispersers do—they connect us. He taught us, like the Raramuri, that we are not alone, that there are others out there like us who have never really felt part of this modern world. He provided a venue where we could express all these innate qualities that we all share—strength, perseverance, peace, love, humility. And like the Raramuri, he instilled in us a sense of pride in who we are, and we went home changed people.”
“We were both admirers of the indigenous, but he was able to help them far more than I,” Ravitz says.
Although True was always surprised at the number of speaking engagements and media opportunities that came his way after the book was published, he spoke passionately about the race and sustainable agricultural projects he helped create for the Raramuri.
“I think he was proud of being included in the book the way he was, but he never really understood all of the attention he got from it,” Walton says. “He was proud because it was bringing an awareness to the Raramuri and the beautiful spirit that they have.”
The 10th Copper Canyon race on March 4 was the largest yet, drawing more than 300 Raramuri runners, 160 Mexican nationals (including two-time New York City Marathon champion German Silva) as well as about 80 more people from around the world. True had a profound impact on just about everybody who experienced the unique cultural immersion of the race, an alliance of runners he long ago dubbed Club Mas Loco.
“My outlook on life started to change after that race,” says Boulder resident Chris Labbe, who participated in the race in 2009 and later helped True create a non-profit to support the Raramuri people. “The people down there changed me. It wasn’t just Micah, but the people Micah brought together. You just had to be humbled by the way he lived.”
Not surprisingly, when news spread in late March that he had gone missing in a remote section of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, dozens of Mas Locos (including McDougall) came from far in wide to help the search efforts, many hopping on airplanes within hours of the news or driving through the night.
On Friday, April 6, more than 100 runners showed up at Chautauqua Park in Boulder near the base of the iconic Flatirons to honor True with a trail run. Organized by a handful of Boulder runners who had logged countless hours with True on the dozen or so trails leading out of that park, the memorial was meant to be an organic event, not a pre-planned production. “We’ll just show up and run,” said longtime Boulder trail runner Buzz Burrell, one of the organizers. “That’s what he was all about, and that’s how he would have wanted it.
Sandrock reminded everyone to mind the trees during the run because, in Raramuri lore, the spirits of the dead go into the trees. With that, several groups of runners headed off in different directions for 60- to 90-minute trail runs. Along the way, runners set various items—pinecones, leaves, rocks, feathers—on tree branches as a way of honoring True.
By the time runners meandered back to the park, another 100 or so people had arrived, friends and acquaintances of True—some dating back 35 years—not to mention many admirers who had never met him.
As the sun began to set behind Green Mountain, the group gathered informally in a circle and over the next 90 minutes shared stories that brought smiles and tears and heartfelt laughter. A bag of pinole (corn powder, a Raramuri food staple) was passed around for people to sprinkle into the wind as they offered up private blessings.
Several people spoke about True’s understanding of Korima, how he was always giving everything he had without ever wanting anything in return. Someone said True became the living embodiment of the idea of “giving ‘til it hurts,” noting that with True, it never hurt.
Renowned ultrarunner and Born to Run character Scott Jurek talked about True’s conviction and integrity, how simply True lived, how he respected his elders and history and how he managed to keep a good perspective on life and running.
“Anyone who knew Micah, knew he kept life fun, kept running fun,” Jurek said. “If you went for a run with Micah, you got a history lesson, a sociology lesson, an anthropology lesson, a biology lesson. He was always interested in the world around him and he would pass that on whenever you ran with him or sat down to talk to him. He’s going to be missed, but his spirit will always be alive and well with us.”
“What inspired me was the way he brought everyone together,” said photographer Diana Molina, who documented the 2011 Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. “The Rararmuri just loved him. He was part of their world and it’s not an easy world to enter. That race and the amazing union he managed to bring together was something magical.”
Despite his post-Born to Run fame, True always insisted that he was simply a common man who cared about those around him. He was a stubborn, street-wise survivor, often quite witty and seemingly completely footloose and carefree, and took life as seriously as it needed to be taken.
“I have a theory that to breathe is to live—and the more you breathe, like on a long mountain run, the more you live,” True said in 1986. “That sounds cosmic, but it’s really a simple statement: when you run up in beautiful country, breathing all that clean air, there’s no better way to live.”
Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner and is the editor in chief of Competitor Magazine.
At press time, we learned that True’s death was attributed to idiopathic cardiomyopathy, which results in an enlarged heart.
A memorial fund has been set up at www.caballoblanco.org and a new non-profit foundation is being launched to continue the Copper Canyon Run. Another U.S.-based non-profit that supports the Raramuri people (set up by True and supported by members of Club Mas Loco) can be found at www.norawas.org.