Keynote speaker: Christie Foundation Planting the Seeds Gala Dinner
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 him 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, he 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, he 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. It replaces asking for help and saying thank you – in their cultures it shows as a circle of sharing.
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. He has won dozens of endurance runs, trail races, and course records in the U.S.