Bob Julyan was our first speaker at the Friday Luncheon. Bob is a well- known New Mexico author, speaker and has been running for 45 years. For a long time he wrote a running column for the Albuquerque Journal. He talked about going over to the local track and would see a guy who was in the Olympics and then see a guy who won a gold medal and then see another gold medal winner. The Kenyans started training in Albuquerque and it became a place for elite runners from around the world. He talked about how running is part of the Navaho tradition. That reminded me of a female Navaho high school runner who lived in Gallop, a short distance from Albuquerque. I took a Cross Country team to China to compete several years ago. She ran 17 flat for the 5K taking third. The top five Chinese runners were all in their mid- twenties. Their coach told me that they had to win to save face. Our Navaho runner gave them quite a scare finishing 20 feet behind the two leaders.
Bob went on to say that he has seen white runners, black runners, Mexican runners, Indian runners, women runners, but he said that he has never seen a cowboy runner and elaborated on that. When he was finished, I had to tell him we have cowboy runners in Montana. I told him about the cowboy who beat me out of first place at the Big Sky State Games 5k. I told Bob that I knew he was a cowboy because he was wearing a snap button cowboy shirt that he cut big squares out of the back for cooling for the 100 degree race. Along with his cowboy shirt he was wearing a pair of cut-off Levi’s. He did tell me that I looked pretty fast in my running shorts and fancy singlet.
On Saturday, Meb Kefezighi spoke. My friend George Rehmet, California State Rep, introduced him. George’s regular job is a teacher for at-risk youth. These are youth that are gang bangers, etc. George was telling Meb about what he does and that he uses running to help get them out of their lifestyle. Meb tells George that he gets lots of shoes given to him and he can have them. When Meb got up, he got a standing ovation before he got a word out. Meb briefly talked about his carrier, getting the silver medal in 2004, injured in 2008, and then the London Games in 2012. Because of an injury, he was not able to train for the marathon like he normally would, but as he said, “You never give up.” Mid race he was lying in 17th place with two packs of runners ahead of him. He worked himself up to the second pack and then worked himself up to the first pack. In the closing stages three had broken away and there was a Japanese runner ahead in fourth place. He said he was thinking there is nothing worse than finishing fourth. But this is the Olympics; even fourth is okay, “You never give up!” Meb finished fourth passing the Japanese runner. The three ahead were able to hold on to their places.
Meb was selected as the RRCA Runner of the Year for his outstanding performances in 2012. He is author of Run to Overcome, the story of his destitute beginnings in Eritra, becoming a US citizen, to winning the New York Marathon. He is also the founder of the MEB Foundation (Maintaining Excellent Balance) which promotes health, education, and fitness.
Meb Keflezighi was followed by a surprise guest, Chester Nez. Who is Chester Nez you might ask? His introduction brought another standing ovation. His story was very moving and he is a true American hero. At the age of 92, Chester Nez is the last surviving Navaho code talker in World War II. A movie was made a few years back staring Nikolas Cage called Wind Talker. It tells the story of the Marines developing a secret code using the Navaho language and mixing it with English. Up until then the Japanese were able to break all of our codes. Someone came up with this idea to use the Navaho language because it wasn’t written down. They went to the reservation and found 30 young volunteers to join the Marines. Chester Nez was still in High School at the time. They put them through boot camp and then told them to develop a code. Chester relates that they were not allowed to speak Navaho in boarding school and were severely punished if they were ever caught doing so.
They were in the invasion of Guadalcanal, one of the bloodiest beach landings of the war. They couldn’t even share with their fellow soldiers what they were doing. Many people attribute code talkers for winning the war. Chester said that he looked forward to going home and telling his Father, family, and friends about his service if he lived through it. He made it through the war, but many of the code talkers didn’t. When he was discharged, he had to swear an oath not to tell anyone what he did in the war. The Navaho code remained classified TOP SECRET for another 25 years. Most of the code talkers who survived, died shortly upon discharge. In 2001, they were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, a little overdue. Chester’s Dad lived long enough that Chester was finally able to share his secret. There is an excellent new book out, Code Talker, which is the autobiography of his life.
The keynote speaker for the Saturday night banquet was Brian Boyle aka ‘IRON HEART.’ He told the story of driving home from swim practice in 2004 when a dump truck plowed into him. That immediately brought back memories of two young high school girls on my track team who were killed when the something happened to them. This would change Brian Boyle’s life forever.
He was airlifted to a shock-trauma hospital. He had lost 60% of his blood and his Heart had moved across his chest. His organs and his pelvis were pulverized. He was placed into a medically induced coma for two months. When he came out of the coma, he was totally paralyzed, but he could see and hear, although he couldn’t blink or even move his eye balls. He remembers seeing the priest hovering over him administering the last rites. He was shouting in his head that he didn’t want to die. He remembers people dressed in blue hovering over him and hearing, “Third time’s a charm.” He heard the words vegetable and nursing home a lot. The doctors predicted that if he lived, he might not be able to walk again and certainly never swim. Then, miraculously, he clawed his way back to the living, first by blinking his eyes, and then squeezing a hand. He had lost over 100 pounds.
Three years later, Brian Boyle crossed the finish line of the Hawaii Ironman, in what many say is the greatest comeback in sports history. The following year, Brain competed in the 2008 Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, FL. In 2009, He ran five marathons back to back: Baltimore, Marine Corps, New York, Richmond and Philadelphia. He authored his first book, Iron Heart in 2009. The American Red Cross has honored him as its Spokesperson of the Year. He gave his first blood donation at the hospital that brought him back to life.
By John M. Devitt, RRCA Montana State Representative