arnulfo's team wins traditional ball-kicking race

arnulfo’s team wins traditional ball-kicking race

January 23, 2014  |  Homesteader Blog

Each year, Barefoot Seeds helps organize and support a Tarahumara rarajipari and ariweta — traditional team ball-kicking and ring-throwing races. Women toss a hoop ahead of them with a stick as theyrun; men kick a heavy wooden ball as they run, often for 100 miles or more.

Last weekend, the fourth annual Race of the Light Feet rarajipari/ariweta was held in Urique. Below is a race report from our project manager and race organizer in the canyons, Mickey Mahaffey:

The mens’ rarajipari race ended at near midnight on Sunday after 17 laps and 119 kilometros (74 miles). The Batopilas team crossed the finish line together: Arnulfo Quimare, Silvino Cubesare, Florencio Quimare and Bonifacio Quimare. The veteran team from Guachochi stayed even through the first 7 or 8 laps, then slowly dropped to about 3.5 kilometers behind and stayed behind at that distance for the remainder of the race.

As they have demonstrated in the other rarajipari races, Arulfo and team orchestrated a smooth rotation of runners actively moving the ball forward while their teammates dropped back to run a few laps in ‘cruise control’ and stop to drink pinole.

The young girls on the Urique ariweta team ran with their hearts wide open but could not keep pace with Isidora Rodriguez Gonzalez, 36, from Tatahuichi, municipio Guachochi. Catalina Rascon, age 13 outran Isidora in the 63k at Sinforosa Canyon and again in the 60k at Cerocahui…but not in the indigenous race. Isidora is the long running ariweta champion in the Sierra Madre, the Arnulfo Quimare of women. While we ate lunch together about 30 minutes after the race she admitted to being very tired but the,glow of contentment so manifest in her face was striking. Isidora and Catalina ran 42 kilometers in the morning race; later I saw them late in the night, their brilliant skirts swishing in the light of ocote torches, running stride for stride with the lead rarajipari runners.

On Saturday, after the men spent the morning carving balls and sticks, we walked the course with the cabecias (captains) of the teams from Batopilas and Guachochi/Urique along with the runners and began debates about which rules would apply. I knew that each team represented two different Tarahumara dialects and customs but I had no idea the extent of the differences; in rarajipari the rules and styles are entirely different. Perhaps most curious is the fact that they live so close geographically; only about 5 hours by foot separate the two cultures.

Three hours after we started the walk we resolved the final issues about how long the race would be and whether they would run with sticks like in Batopilas, or without sticks as is the tradition in Tatahuichi. The much older Tatahuichi runners knew they could not beat the younger Quimare clan in a “short” race of 75 to 100 kilometers; they also knew their chances of persuading Batopilas to run more than 25 laps would be unlikely. Instead, they argued to extend the course knowing they could more likely outlast Batopilas at a longer distance. In the end the Guachochi/Urique team agreed to 25 laps however they held strong on increasing the length of the Urique course by about 1.5k longer than previous races thereby making a total distance of about 168 kilometers or 105 miles.
Martin Ramirez, 54, the 7th place finisher at Leadville in 1994 and 12th place at Western States and who has run the Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco two years, led the way for Guachochi most of the race. After 17 laps I asked their cabecia how Martin was doing and he said, He is behind by half a lap but I am confident he won’t stop before he has completed 25 laps.

Right after they completed 18 laps I got a message that the race was called because a runner for the Guachochi/Urique team dropped out of the race and, later in the night, started running with the ball again.Guachochi had agreed from the beginning to invite a few runners from Urique to run with them, even Miguel Lara showed up and decided to run (he dropped out at 16 laps with cramps). We regretted that a runner from Urique tried to pull this off but the saving grace was that the cabecia for Guachochi/Urique was the one who reported the infraction. It was a shame that one of the runners tried to cheat and stopped the race earlier than planned. How amazing it would have been to see them complete 25 laps, yet despite all, everyone present in Urique was deeply gratified by the beauty of the race and amazed once again by the exuberance for life the Raramuri show us. Through the example of their lives they truly demonstrate to anyone who cares to pay attention: how to be a real human being.

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