In Urique, a small riverside village deep inside the Copper Canyons of northwest Mexico, a cobbled pair of sandals made of goat leather and old tire treads were strapped around Will Harlan’s toes and ankles. They are the traditional shoes of the indigenous Tarahumara, widely regarded as the world’s greatest endurance athletes. Wearing these tire-tread sandals, they have defeated some of the world’s most highly trained ultra athletes.
What brought Harlan deep into the canyons where the reclusive Tarahumara Indians, who call themselves Raramuri (Running People), scratch out a living in barren, rocky soil? The Copper Canyon 50-mile Ultramarathon whose course traverses monstrous, river-carved chasms, each deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Each year, Harlan travels to Tarahumara ancestral lands to provide seeds and tools and helps them fight drought. He also shares the trails with the legendary, sandal-clad Indians, running traditional ball races and ultra runs through their steep, ancestral canyons.
Back home in North Carolina, Harlan and his wife Emily operate an off-grid organic farm modeled after the Tarahumara rancho. In addition to providing produce to families in need, promoting sustainable agriculture, and offering health and nutrition education, the farm also assists the Raramuri’s efforts to protect their ancestral lands and traditional farming culture by providing seeds, tools, and support.
“The Tarahumara have something called “korima” – a spirit of selfless giving at the heart of their culture,” says Harlan, who has won dozens of endurance runs, trail races, and course records in the U.S. “It replaces asking for help and saying thank you – in their cultures it shows as a circle of sharing.”
In April and May, Harlan will be in Champaign for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon Expo April 25-26 and will run the Illinois Marathon in traditional Tarahumara garb on Saturday, April 27. He will return to Champaign May 31 as the keynote speaker at the Christie Foundation Gala Dinner, Planting the Seeds.
“When the Christie Foundation asked me to share my story at their Planting the Seeds gala, the spirit of korima hit me,” says Harlan. “Through their work, the Foundation is giving back – planting the seeds. I want to come and run and share my story and inspire others to give back.”
Harlan is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is editor in chief of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon Expo
Thursday, April 25; 4–9pm || Friday, April 26; 9am–7pm,Activities & Recreation Center, UIUC
Harlan will be on hand with a video promotion of a soon-to-be-released documentary about him, handcrafts and seeds that exemplify the Tarahumara culture, and one of the hand-carved wooden ball used in the rarajipari, the Tarahumara ball-kicking race (complete with demonstration). He will wear authentic grab and sandals made by Arnulfo, the runner made famous by the book Born to Run.
Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon
Saturday, April 27; 4–9pm
Harlan will run the Illinois Marathon in traditional Tarahumara garb at 7am on Saturday, April 27. The race starts near Assembly Hall, runs through campus, loops through Urbana, back through campus, out into Champaign, and finishes on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium.
Christie Foundation Planting the Seeds Gala Dinner & Scholarship Awards Ceremony
Friday, May 31; 5:30-9pm, iHotel & Conference Center
The board, staff, and supporters of the Christie Foundation will celebrate nearly four decades of impact, progress, and success at the Inaugural Planting the Seeds Gala Dinner and Scholarship Awards Ceremony. The Gala Dinner will feature Will Harlan’s inspiring story, an ultra runner, organic farmer, and author. Prior to the dinner, over 100 east central Illinois students will be provided with scholarships to help them pursue their medical careers and education.