‘You must not let anyone define your limits because of where you came from. Your only limit is your soul.’ These are the words that inspired a little chef from rural France to come to Paris, become the greatest in the world, and impress even the harshest of his critics: Anton Ego. Talent can come from anywhere, and when it is in your genes, there’s little anybody can do to cover up the shine of your soul.
Maria Lorena Ramirez of Mexico has beaten 500 other participants to win the 50km (31miles) Ultramarathon category of Ultra Trail Cerro Rojo race held in Puebla, in central Mexico. Then again; you may ask; what is so special about this achievement? People win races every day; every race must have a winner; so what makes her stand apart?
It is not every day that 22-year olds win Ultramarathon Trail races wearing sandals.
Hailing from the little known Tarahumara indigenous Indian community in the Sierra Madre valley of northern Mexico, Maria is an ‘athlete’ without any professional training or gear. It seems as if she was born to run; it was in her blood and genes.
The Tarahumara or Raramuri tribe, are a Native American community, belonging to the Uto-Aztecan family of human ancestry. Originally, inhabitants of the state of Chihuahua, they retreated to the shelter of the Copper Canyons in the Sierra Madre after the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Their word for themselves in their own language means ‘runners on foot’ or ‘one who walks well’; alluding to their now-well-known capability to complete endurance races with ease and grace. There have been documented cases of members of the community running almost 435 miles at a stretch over 48 hours; that is over 13 times the length of an Olympic marathon, for reference. And this is not the first time they have grabbed eyeballs, for they have been known to irritate American ultramarathoners by beating them, wearing huarache sandals. According to new research into the origins of their incredible ability, it seems that they are a reticent and private people who live a long way from one another, which is why they are used to covering long distances on foot to communicate.
However, what makes this feat all the more incredible is that this race was not an athletic marathon, but a trail race, which makes it almost impossible to traverse on anything other than custom-made shoes. The rocky nature of the area makes it humanly impossible to cover in normal conditions, let alone virtually barefoot. Here is where the genetic legacy of Maria comes into play. Without any training, she entered the race of her life with the absence of even basic professional gear. A goat-herder by day, she is used to walking some 10-15kms a day for keeping track of cattle. The race occurred as early as 29th April this year, with reports about her feat, emerging only now. This is by no means her first such achievement, given that she came second in the 100km category of the Caballo Blanco ultramarathon, in Chihuahua, last year.
Over the last century, African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya have traditionally produced the best crop of talents in the long distance running circuits on the world stage. This has been their forte and we have seen some incredible athletes pushing the envelope of human endurance. But with the emergence of the Tarahumara tribe from isolation, it seems that the pole position will soon be up for grabs.
It is also an indication to our country to nurture and develop natural sporting talents from the indigenous population of the country, especially those who have previously shown a propensity towards a specific sport. We all remember the story of Budhia Singh of Orissa who became the world’s youngest marathoner. Sadly his story was lost in the vagaries of time due to insufficient support and became just another early success. If India is to become a superpower in the world stage, sports will have to play a major role in that success, and that can only come through sound scientific basis of evaluation and nurturing by setting up properly financed academies in every corner of the country.
As Maria has shown again to the world, diamonds are found in the deepest recesses of the coal fields, you should only have the heart to look for it.