Founder’s Newsletter: Humble Beginnings

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In his Canticle to the Cosmos series, quantum physicist Brian Swimme stresses the need for each of us to know our “story.” He takes us back twenty billion years to the “original fireball” in an effort to help us “regain our reverence for the earth and all life.” To help us “activate our human sensitivities to the world around us.” To “regenerate our spirit” and “tremble with awe at the mysteries before us.”

Sounds like a plan.

This writing will attempt to give you parts of the story of the Leatherman’s Loop event while being mindful of it’s mysteries and it’s spirit. It is not required reading. Might be a good time to lace up the shoes and hit the trails.

imageBack Country Bushwhack

In the mid 1980’s, Mickey Yardis directed a five mile trail race called The Back Country Bushwhack. It took place on a private estate in Greenwich CT owned by Fuzzy Perry and was a huge success. Dave Cope and I were anxious to promote the new Leatherman’s Loop event and saw an opportunity to solicit the Bushwhackers. The big problem was that Mickey was (and still is) a friend. It just didn’t seem right to plaster all of the cars at his event with Leatherman’s entry forms. Tim Parshall (long time tee shirt artist) came up with a solution in the form of a paper-mache moose head. I was able to finish the race and position myself at the end of Fuzzy’s driveway with five hundred entry forms. As the cars exited the estate after the race, they saw a curious sign that said “Stop for Moose” and took the race flyers from the Moose.  The Loop was off and running.

imageSome key players

Dave Cope—Founder. Course designer. long time co-director. Second place finisher behind Joe Stanley in 1987.
Ken Littlefield—Course designer, Earned belt buckles by completing five 100 mile trail races.  Known for legendary toughness.
Mickey Yardis—Bushwack race director. Long time director for numerous running events in Greenwich Ct..
Liz Cope—Long time co-director of the Loop.
Jim Gerweck—Editor at large for Running Times Magazine.  Long time coach, trail running advocate, and race timer. Friend of the Loop.
Judy Godino—Long Time co-director of the Loop
Tony Godino—Founder. Course designer. Long time co-director.

imageIn 2008, the old and tired team of directors turned the event management over to Mike and Kate Paletta with tremendous help from Rob Cummings. The Loop is in good hands.

imageThe Meadow Oak

Loop participants often talk about the amazing spirit that is always present at the event. I believe that some of that spirit comes right through the root system of the Meadow Oak. Yes it was brought down in a sudden windstorm nearly three years ago but that doesn’t seem to matter.  It chose to be the finishing point for the race.  There was never any discussion.

Shortly after it was brought down, two separate groups of Native American people came to do ceremony next to its trunk.  Altars, drumming, sage burning, chanting, song. The works.  What was that all about?  Where did they come from?  How did they know?  Hundreds of remembrances and condolences were hand written into a spiral notebook by non native folks.  It is good to be open to the magic that comes to us through nature.

imageThe Teepee

Teepees were never used by the Native People in the Northeast.  They are Plains Indian dwellings. We pitch one every year at the Loop and allow it to serve as a symbol of alternative ways of relating to our environment.  My spirit soars every race day morning at sun up when I catch my first glimpse of the teepee in the field.  My hope is that some of you are similarly moved.

imageThe people who roamed the land which is now the Pound Ridge Reservation called themselves Wiechquaeskecks. They were a small sub group of the great Algonquin nation and shared the territory with other groups such as the Tankitekes, the Wapping, and the Manhattan. After nearly a ten thousand year presence, most of them were killed by diseases brought in by the early Dutch and English settlers. By 1644 their numbers had been reduced to about 700 and they took refuge for the winter in three long houses in a place called Nanichiestack. Loosely translated it means “a place of safety.”  Under a full moon on the night of February 22nd, 1644 they were massacred by English mercenaries hired by the Dutch. The men were shot as they came out to defend those inside. The women and children and elders all died after the order was given to set fire to the structures. All, including the children, died in total silence.

Part of me regrets feeling the need to share that sad piece of history with all of you.  You need to know that the trails that you will be running, they once ran. The streams that you will be crossing, they once fished. The fields where you will gather, they once farmed.

imageEnter Caballo Blanco

This will be very brief. My suggestion here is that each of you get your hands on a copy of the book BORN TO RUN by Chris MacDougall and give it a read. You will get to know Caballo but more importantly you will get to know the Raramuri people and their amazing history as legendary runners. At the very least take a look at the YouTube video called Super Athletes of the Sierra Madre.

Danny Martin

Some of us are blessed by having Danny as a friend. All of you should get to know this amazing man who serves as the Spiritual Advisor for the Loop. He is a scholar who is deeply involved with family, community and environmental concerns. Each year he gifts us his pre-race blessing which sets the tone for the challenge ahead.

imageBefore Will Harlan won the 2009 Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon he was offered some words of wisdom from a Raramuri (Tarahumara) elder. Short and to the point.

“Observe the ceremonies”
“Protect the forest”
“Run”

Danny manages to incorporate each of those pieces into his life. Like the old Lorax, he speaks for the trees and the air and the water.  He has asked me on as a “Spirit Ambassador” to assist with some events that are still in the planning stages. Great things to come and I will update all of you who are interested as they develop.

Final Thoughts

I apologize to any of you who thought that the Leatherman’s Loop was just another muddy trail race and didn’t see the relevance in most of what you just read. I have searched for the exact location of Nanichiestawack for many years and will continue to search. The quest has become part of who I am.  Much in the same way, the Loop has worked it’s way into my psyche. I have lived long enough to feel comfortable in expressing myself in an emotional unguarded manner.  I hold each of you in high regard and consider you friends.

Bless you all,

Tony

[Click here for second edition of The Founder’s Newsletter (from 2011)…]