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Chapter 10
PERFECT! Leadville was exactly the kind of wild, Rock’em-Sock’em thrill show Rick Fisher waslooking for. As usual, he was out to make a big splash, and a carnival like Leadville was just theticket. You telling him that ESPN wouldn’t jump at the chance for footage of good-looking guys inskirts smashing records on a mythical man-eater? Hell yeah!

So in August 1992, Fisher came roaring back to Patrocinio’s village in his big old ChevySuburban. He’d gotten travel papers from the Mexican Tourism Board, and a promised payoff incorn for the racers. Meanwhile, Patrocinio had cajoled five of his fellow villagers to trust thisstrange, intense chabochi whose name got stuck in their mouths. Spanish has no “sh” sound, soFisher soon got a taste of sly Tarahumara humor when he heard his new team calling him Pescador—the Fisherman. Sure, it was easier to pronounce; but it also nailed his Ahabness, the constanthunger to hook a big one that radiated off him like heat waves off a car hood.

Whatever. As far as Fisher was concerned, they could call him Dr. Dumbass, as long as they gotserious once the race started. The Pescador squeezed his team into the Chevy and hit the gas forColorado.

Just before 4 a.m. on race day, the crowd at the Leadville starting line tried not to stare as five menin skirts struggled with the unfamiliar laces of the black canvas basketball sneakers the Pescadorhad gotten for them. The Tarahumara shared a last few drags on a black tobacco cigarette, thenmoved shyly to the very back of the pack as the other two hundred ninety ultrarunners chantedThree … two …Boooom! Leadville’s mayor blasted his big old blunderbuss of a shotgun, and the Tarahumararaced off to show their stuff.

For a while. Before they even made it halfway, every one of the Tarahumara runners had droppedout. Damn, Fisher moaned into every ear he could grab. I never should have stuffed them intothose sneaks, and no one told them they were allowed to eat at the aid stations. Totally my bad.

They’d never seen flashlights before, so they were pointing them straight up like torches….

Yeah, yeah, check’s in the mail. Same old Tarahumara letdown; same old Tarahumara excuses.

Few but the most obsessive track historians know it, but Mexico tried using a pair of Tarahumararunners in the Olympic marathon in both the 1928 Amsterdam games and the 1968 Mexico Citygames. Both times, the Tarahumara finished out of the medals. The excuse those times was that26.2 miles was too short; the dinky little marathon was over before the Tarahumara got a chance toshift into high gear.

Maybe. But if these guys were really such superhuman speedsters, how come they never beatanybody? Nobody cares if you’re a great three-point shooter in your backyard; what matters iswhether you stick them on game day. And for a century, the Tarahumara had never competed inthe outside world without stinking up the joint.

Fisher puzzled over it during the long drive back to Mexico, and then the lightbulb flashed. Ofcourse! Same reason you can’t grab five kids off a Chicago schoolyard and expect to beat theBulls: just because you’re a Tarahumara runner doesn’t mean you’re a great Tarahumara runner.

Patrocinio had tried to make life easier for Fisher by enlisting runners who lived near the newpaved road, figuring they’d be more comfortable around outsiders and easier to gather for the trip.

But as the Mexican Olympic Committee should have realized years ago, the easiest Tarahumara torecruit may not be the ones worth recruiting.

“Let’s try again,” Patrocinio urged. Fisher’s sponsors had donated a pile of corn to Patrocinio’svillage, and he hated to lose the windfall. This time, he’d open the team to runners from outside hisown village. He’d head back into the canyons—and back in time. Team Tarahumara was goingold-school.

Yep, “old” pretty much nailed it.

Ken was none too impressed with the new band of Tarahumara who showed up at the nextLeadville. The team captain looked like a Keebler elf who’d taken early retirement in MiamiBeach: he was a short fifty-five-year-old grandfather in a blue robe with flashy pink flowers,topped off by a happy-go-lucky grin, a pink scarf, and a wool cap yanked down over his ears.

Another guy had to be in his forties, and the two scared kids behind him looked young enough tobe his sons. The whole operation was even worse equipped than last year’s; no sooner had TeamTarahumara arrive............
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