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Caballo Blanco

If I were to be remembered for anything at all, I would want that to be that I am/was authentic.  No mas.  Run free!   Micah True (known as Caballo Blanco)

“You’re kidding me!  Not Caballo Blanco!”  I exclaimed into my cell phone as I walked along the bike path in Marquette last Friday.  I was talking to Shelly, my daughter-in-law, in Boulder, Colorado.  She works for the city of Boulder and is up-to-date on the latest of news.  “It’s the talk of the town, all over the papers,” she said.  “He took off for a twelve mile run somewhere in New Mexico on Tuesday and no one has seen him since.  People from all over the country – runners, his friends – are searching for him.  And I couldn’t believe it, Helen, when I just read your blog post.”

It’s true; I had just written a post about the Tarahumara Indians who live in the Copper Canyon of Mexico and are known for their joyful spirits and light-footed running ways, Indians who have found their way into our hearts and imaginations through the words of Christopher McDougall and his best-selling book, Born to Run.  And the main character in this inspiring story is a mysterious man from somewhere in the western United States, a free spirit runner, who lives and runs among these people and envisions a way to bridge the cultures and celebrate the freedom and joy of distance running – the freedom and joy that is in all of us – by organizing an epic race that will draw into the Canyon the fastest ultra-distance runners from all over the world.  This man is given a name by his Tarahumara friends: White Horse.  Caballo Blanco.

And all week, this same week that, unbeknownst to me, Caballo’s friends had been searching for him in the remote rugged area of Gila National Forest in New Mexico, I, up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, had been obsessed with his story, the story that was unfolding as my husband, Cam and I, immersed ourselves in this book that we were reading together.  My new Merrill barefoot running shoes arrived in the mail.  I bought more chia seeds from our local Co-op, the miracle food that brought vim and vigor to the Tarahumara and Caballo.  I began to think that maybe I, too, could run free.  There’s no doubt.  Caballo Blanco was on my mind.  And, last Friday, after my walk and talk with Shelly, I googled Caballo.  I was hoping that maybe Shelly had been mistaken.  But my news-savvy daughter-in-law, she was right.  Caballo was missing.

And as I dived deeper into my research, I learned more about him, how fifty-eight year old Caballo splits his time these days between Boulder and Mexico, how he, indeed, is bridging the cultures, has set up a foundation to raise awareness and funds for the Tarahumaras, how his race is now an annual event, how he is revered by his friends, north and south of the border, as somebody who is not only light-footed but light-hearted and generous.  And Caballo, the man known for his almost supernatural ability to run long distances, became my friend.  And, on Saturday, my friend’s body was found beside a stream in the Gila Wilderness Area where he had died of natural causes.  And today, on Good Friday, there will be a Memorial Service for him in Boulder at Chautauqua Park at the base of the Flatirons.  At four this afternoon, runners will gather and take off on their own or in groups.  They will sprint up these trails, up into the Flatirons; they will run with their own runner’s joy and run to celebrate their legendary friend’s buoyant spirit.  And when they are finished, they will meet back on the grassy fields of Chautauqua and share stories of our friend, Caballo.

And I have to admit that when I learned last Friday that Caballo was missing, I wanted to put Born to Run away.  I didn’t want this new conclusion, the one that was unfolding as the search for Caballo continued.  I wanted the happy ending, the one that the book was promising for Cam and I.  But then I remembered that the story is never really over, that maybe Caballo wasn’t going to make it out of this one alive in his body, but that the movie camera is still rolling, that there’s more to unfold.  I know this firsthand as I experience my relationship with my mother who died two months ago.  I feel her, not just in the pages of my memory, but in the fresh forward-moving story of my days.  She shows up sometimes as a bird flitting across a trail, other times as a chuckle moving through me; she shows up in my dreams.  And always, it is her essence I experience and it fills me.  She is not lost.  She has just changed as we all always change.

So where is Caballo today?  Well, I’m sure that you can find him this afternoon in Boulder under the Colorado blue sky, that he’s present with his friends as they run up the hills, lightly and joyfully, the way that he modeled for them, that he’s breathing- free with the breeze and smiling-wild with the flowers, that he is present in the stories and the laughter, that he is cheering his friends on.  And, this afternoon, in the crisp clear cold of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I think I’ll find him, too, as I slip on my new Merrills, as I inhale spring and spring off on my own running path, as I look to my new friend, Caballo to show me how I, too, can run free.

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