Runners from around the world are starting to arrive in Arizona for the September 12 symbolic trail run known as Paatuwaqatsi—Water Is Life—a running event to celebrate and commemorate the sanctity of water.
“It’s a monument to community, heritage, and preservation,” said Race Coordinator Kim Secakuku.
The event includes a 30-mile Ultra Run as well as a 10-mile loop and a four-mile fun run.
“This is not a race,” said event founder Bucky Preston, who has run thousands of miles in his quest to preserve and protect his people’s water.
Water Is Life is a nonprofit event to celebrate the sustaining connection between water and a way of life as it has been celebrated for centuries—by running.
“It’s a remembrance run to keep the ancient trails alive,” said Preston.
“Running is not just a health issue, it’s a spiritual and cultural part of Hopi life,” said Secakuku. “This is a time when people come together to experience Hopi life and the running philosophy that is displayed by endurance as well as spirituality and prayer involved in long-distance running.”
The belief in Hopi Land is that trails are the veins of the village, and traditional values are maintained by keeping the trails open, which in turn keeps the village alive and brings the clouds to nourish the crops.
The run takes place in the heart of Hopi Country, following the foot trails of First Mesa villages and passing through the ancient community of Walpi. Operated entirely by volunteers and hosted by the Hopi tribe, the event epitomizes the concept of community involvement or naa’ya.
“It takes a lot of hands to get the whole production done,” said Secakuku, “and we have lots of volunteers and nonprofit organizations within the tribe that offer time and effort as their way of giving back.”
As a people Hopis are known for running long distances at record speed under the belief that their ancestors and animals showed them how to run mythical races that aided in organizing the world. When Hopi tribal members did not own cattle or sheep, they needed to rely on their ability to hunt, and speed of running was a critical determinant to success. When there were no horses for transportation, running helped them cover great distances. And as a standard challenge, older boys and young men would participate in races to prove their fleetness of foot and their fortitude, assembling in the village of Orayvi and running to Moenkopi to work in the fields.
A waterisliferun web page section on running tradition includes the notation that Hopis used running as a way to deliver information, citing one Charlie Talawepi of Orayvi who ran to Keams Canyon, a distance of 72 miles, delivered a message and ran back home with a reply—all in 36 hours.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for many years,” Preston said of the initiative, which he started in 2003. “We are forgetting our Hopi values, forgetting to help each other out, and I want to return that to our community. Putting Hopi life values and teachings at the forefront is the purpose of the run. Running early in the morning not only strengthens you physically, it strengthens you spiritually because runners visit springs along the foot trails, drink from those waters, and receive strength and healing. Everything at Hopi involves water—water is life. In some places water is being depleted. In some places it is already gone. I want to bring that awareness to the people.”
Since its inception, the Paatuwaqatsi Run has been based on cultural values, and runners from other cultures are invited to learn Hopi values as well as share their beliefs about life enrichment and the role that running and water play in their lives. In addition to the rewards of the run itself, participants get to share in a traditional Hopi meal and learn from speakers who will share their knowledge and work on water issues within their own communities, many of which are contending with dangerously high levels of arsenic in their drinking water.
For race registration forms and maps, log on to the Water Is Life site. While the top finishers take home prizes, every runner receives a commemorative t-shirt as a constant reminder that Water Is Life.