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Runners revive a decades-old marathon in Shiprock after two years of pandemic

‘It’s just motivating to run on the Navajo Nation again’
Navajo Nation firefighter Jeremy Curley finishes the Shiprock Half-Marathon on Saturday. Curley ran in his gear to raise awareness on firefighter suicide throughout the Nation. (Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

SHIPROCK – Runners from the Four Corners participated in the 39th annual Shiprock Marathon & Half Marathon in-person on Saturday for the first time since the pandemic struck.

For Army veteran Johnny Francisco, just being in Shiprock helped him through the race.

“I see Shiprock, feel the cool air,” he said. “It’s just motivating to run on the Navajo Nation again.”

Francisco completed the half-marathon in 3:17:09. He has a prosthetic leg, but he said it didn’t hinder his race.

“Running with it wasn’t the problem. It was the challenge of running 13 miles without stopping. Everything around me motivated me to keep going,” he said. “There was nothing negative about it. It was all positive.”

Athletics is one way he connects with his family.

“My sister is very active, she invites me to do something, I do it with her,” he said, “Last weekend she invited me to run the UNM Stadium Stair Challenge, and that was the first time I ever did anything like that. It’s a nice family bonding experience.”

JoFauna Shorty, left, runs alongside Alfreda Lee during the Shiprock Marathon. Shorty completed the Marathon with a time of 4:41:31 and Lee came in at 4:41:30. (Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)
Alvina McRoy finished the Shiprock Half-Marathon on Saturday, May 7, 2022 with a time of 3:14:16. (Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

The same is true for Alvina McRoy. An avid runner, she followed in her father’s footsteps and completed the half-marathon with a time of 3:41:16.

“My dad runs the marathons and he got me into marathons,” she said. “It was hard at first, but on the turn around, I came in strong.”

Coronavirus put a halt on her running, McRoy said.

“I started back in 2018, ran 2019 ... and coronavirus stopped all of that,” she said. “I stopped running for a while. Last year I got back into it again. This is a really big goal for me, and I’m proud of myself for finishing it.”

Throughout the race, McRoy was motivated by the crowd.

“I just kept going, never stopping,” she said. “Everyone was cheering. That was what kept me going. You just have to believe in yourself. You can do it, motivate yourself, and put your head toward it.”

Jeremy Curley, Navajo Nation firefighter, ran the half-marathon wearing his gear and completed the race with a time of 2:39:02.

“It gets hot,” he said. “Really hot. I’m in three layers, my moisture barrier, thermal barrier, and outer shell.”

His goal, he said, is to put focus on firefighters and mental wellness. According to data collected by the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, 125 firefighters died by suicide in 2020.

“Nationally, there is a lot of suicide among firefighters,” Curley said. “So I’m just trying to bring awareness to that.”

Jessy “Bearsun” Larios makes his way to the Shiprock Marathon finish line. Bearsun crossed the finish line with a time of 4:14:52. (Cyrus Norcross for Source NM)

An ultramarathon runner from Utah, Jofauna Shorty, traveled to Shiprock to run in her homeland, she said, and to run alongside her people. Shorty completed the marathon with a time of 4:41:31.

“It’s good to be around Native Americans, to run with them and be home,” Shorty said. “I missed being around everyone. The running has brought the community together. The whole pandemic pushed us back. But now we are all back, and I’m happy about it.”

Shorty has completed a 50K ultra marathon earlier this year, and the Shiprock Marathon will be her first marathon of 2022. She’s got many more coming up, including a 100K (62.13 miles) in October.

Tom Riggenbach is the director of NavajoYES, a nonprofit focused on youth and wellness. The Shiprock Marathon is a part of the organization’s Navajo Parks Race Series in partnership with Navajo Parks and Rec and the Office of Navajo President & Vice President.

“The last two years, we did the race virtually,” said Tom Riggenbach. “It was the best alternative we had during COVID. But this is the first one since 2019. This is live and in-person.”

It wasn’t easy setting up the marathon in pandemic conditions, he said.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s come together. Everybody’s pitched in. Everybody been cool rolling with the plan,” Riggenbach said. “Our starting line, for example, normally we are at Diné College, and we weren’t able to host it there. The Youth Center was gracious enough to open their grounds to us and let us host it here.

“It’s been difficult finding that sweet spot, that balance of making it fun for everyone, while keeping it safe, abiding by COVID protocol,” he said. “But I think we did a pretty good job at balancing that. Hopefully everyone agrees with me.”

Making it past those hurdles, Riggenbach said he’s looking forward to the summer and the races that NavajoYES will be hosting. Next up, they’ll have a race at Navajo Mountain, and in the summer, Asaayi Lake.

“I know the Narbona Pass Classic will be happening this summer too,” he said, “which is great news for the Nation. Lots of folks love going up there on the Fourth of July weekend. Hopefully we get back to some sort of normal.”

To read more stories from Source NM, visit www.sourcenm.com.