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Scrapbook: 8th Annual Paatuwaqatsi (Water is Life) Ultra-Marathon Inspires Hundreds on Hopi

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

September 28, 2011

8th Annual Paatuwaqatsi (Water is Life) Ultra-Marathon Inspires Hundreds on Hopi

By Andy Bessler

Sierra Club Organizer

Flagstaff, AZ

The best event I get to help organize each year is the Paatuwaqatsi (Water is Life) Prayer Run. This year was no different. The 8thrunning of the Paatuwaqatsi Run on September 10th was inspirational to over 200 runners this year and over 350 were fed a traditional Hopi meal while they learned about the critical water issues facing Hopi and surrounding communities in Northern Arizona. The Sierra Club is a proud co-sponsor of this unique event that combines a modern ultra-marathon with Hopi running traditions on ancient Hopi foot trails all in the name of protecting and honoring water.

Bucky starts run 
Bucky starts off the run with a prayer for water, then they are off…photo by Andrea Hartley

  Runners and mud 
A couple ultra-marathon runners finish together. Hope they stopped before the mud! Photo by Andrea Hartley

It is an honor each year to help run founder Bucky Preston implement his vision of a 30-mile ultra-marathon prayer run that allows runners to meditate on the importance of water in their lives while they run past sacred Hopi springs on ancient foot trails throughout Hopi land. Many runners came up to me afterwards to tell me how much the run means to them. Hopi, Navajo, Acoma, Tohono O'odham, Anglo and other runners all shared a common vision that Water is Life by following ancient Hopi trails through desert lands blessed by sacred springs. They also learned how Sierra Club and our partners are working to protect water from dirty coal. Bucky and I spoke to everyone about the important water issues for Hopi including the continuing impact on sacred springs from Peabody’s Coal Mine on Black Mesa. The federal government is accepting public comment until October 22nd for an Environmental Assessment of the Kayenta mine that feeds the Navajo Generating Station. Bucky and I continue to push for a transition off coal to protect the unique springs at Hopi. We also discussed the ongoing construction of AZ Snowbowl’s snowmaking system with reclaimed sewer water on the sacred San Francisco Peaks.

Photo: Bucky Preston and Kim Secakuku hands out some of the gifts to a 6-person team

I have learned a lot about running and life from Bucky and have tried to run like a Hopi with sporadic luck. I did not run this year and instead was busy setting up big tents, trash and recycling cans, and working with Bucky and the rest of the run organizers to implement a quick plan B after a huge rain storm the night before washed us out of the original start/finish line in Bucky’s corn field. The clay soil roads to Bucky’s corn field became impassable and swallowed a couple cars, so we relocated the run to the Hopi Health Care Center just off Highway 264. The night before, Sierra Club and Native Movement sponsored a spaghetti dinner for the runners camping out before the 6am run start time which we moved to an alternative location below Second Mesa. A big thanks to the Secakuku family for allowing over 100 muddy diners into their place!! Also, thanks to Sierra Club volunteers Jan Davis and Cynthia Pardo of the Plateau Group for helping with the Run this year!

Renee Ramirez was dishing up the nuk’qui’vi and was all smiles

What makes the run truly remarkable is the traditional meal everyone enjoys after the run. Bucky’s family including Renee Ramirez cooked for days to make sure every one felt true Hopi hospitality. Frybread, piki bread, nuk’qui’vi (a Hopi mutton and hominy stew) and watermelon made the day complete. James Peshlakai, a Navajo medicine man and friend donated a fat sheep for the mutton stew that I got to deliver in the back of a Budget moving truck. Since Bucky helped lead a run at an earlier Navajo community event James organized this year, he reciprocated with Bucky by donating a churro sheep. It felt so good renewing the strong ties between Navajo and Hopi leaders to help each other while I dragged the sheep towards its fateful end.

The run is truly a community event. The Hopi Foundation, Hopi Women’s Coalition, the Office of Miss Hopi, Hopi Wellness Center and the Grand Canyon Trust all adopted sections of the trail and helped prepare and mark the trails while hosting water stations. They also had volunteers run shuttle vans for the teams of runners completing the run in teams of 3 and 6 runners. T-shirts and gift bags (including Sierra Club water bottles!) were given to runners thanks to the other sponsors listed here (

To hear what one of the ultra-runners thought this year, check out local legend Ian Torrence's blog here. I hope you can join us next year to experience Paatuwaqatsi yourself. Keep checking the website for updated information and see you next year!!


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