Friday April 15, 2016, I was on the train to Boston to attend a conference on Native American Running presented by Harvard’s Peabody Museum in collaboration with the Boston Athletic Association and other sponsors. This topic has interested me since reading a book by Peter Nabokov which described how Indians ran to communicate, fight, and hunt, as well as interact with spiritual forces. I thought the Indians’ experiences might contain clues to human potential which have been forgotten in today’s technology-obsessed world.
I’m glad I went: the speakers talked about the spiritual and community aspects of running — a welcome contrast to the heavy commercialism of the Boston Marathon Expo. It was a special treat to meet Arnulfo Quimare, the Ruramari runner of Born to Run fame who beat American ultrarunner Scott Jurek in a 50-mile race — and surprising to learn that he doesn’t “train” like American runners, but rather developed his running prowess from dancing and walking. He’s happy when running, he stated through a translator, and even happier when he wins.
Out of all the speakers, one comment caught my attention in particular. Chief Oren Lyons is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, a distinguished professor of Native American studies at the State University of New York, and a tribal leader in the Onondaga Nation. When asked what advice he gives young Indian athletes, he mentioned a word in the Onondaga dialect, which sounded to me like “jaga.” It meant, he explained,
Try hard — try harder!
— Chief Oren Lyons
After the conference, I returned to my hotel and prepared to participate in my fourth Boston Marathon.