Run­ning down a dream

San Felipe man a step closer to his goal of be­com­ing an elite long-dis­tance run­ner

The Taos News - - REGIONAL - By Olivia Har­low ohar­low@sfnewmex­i­can.com

Nar­row trails travers­ing high desert moun­tains.

A sun fall­ing be­hind as­pens, gold glit­ter­ing on prickly pears.

Si­lence, aside from squawk­ing crows and a pair of run­ning shoes.

This is when Chris­tian Ger­ing feels most alive.

Ger­ing, a run­ner from San Felipe Pue­blo, has been chas­ing his dream -- lit­er­ally -- of be­com­ing an elite ath­lete for the past eight years. Last month, af­ter win­ning a 100-kilome­ter trail race at Lake Ta­hoe, Ger­ing qual­i­fied to at­tend the Salomon brand Ul­tra Academy in Hong Kong in Novem­ber. The ac­com­plish­ment, he says, is a first step in achiev­ing po­ten­tial spon­sor­ship.

More im­por­tant, it’s a way to in­spire his lo­cal Na­tive com­mu­nity.

“I don’t see a large pop­u­la­tion of peo­ple out there (on the trails) who look like me,” said Ger­ing, 27, his raven black hair pulled taut into a pony­tail. “I hope it shows to Na­tive peo­ple and to Pue­blo peo­ple that any­one can run.”

Ger­ing grew up in Las Ve­gas, Ne­vada, and re­mem­bers tak­ing sum­mer trips to San Felipe, where his mother is from, run­ning with his dad around the vil­lage. He learned to play soc­cer at age

5 and fin­ished his first marathon in his sopho­more year of high school. Ger­ing ran track his ju­nior and se­nior years at Santa Fe In­dian School and cross-coun­try his se­nior year, be­fore run­ning at Fort Lewis Col­lege in Du­rango, Colorado, where he set mul­ti­ple records and won the Out­stand­ing Se­nior Award.

Fol­low­ing col­lege, Ger­ing’s long-dis­tance run­ning hobby be­came a full-fledged pas­sion.

“He went on de­stroy­ing races,” said Sean Tru­jillo, a men­tor to Ger­ing since he was a stu­dent at SFIS. “He couldn’t be stopped. He’s a mon­ster.”

Last year, Ger­ing tried get­ting into Salomon’s in­au­gu­ral run­ning academy but never heard back af­ter sub­mit­ting an ap­pli­ca­tion. This year, he knew his win at the Ta­hoe

100K -- his first 100-kilome­ter dis­tance -- earned him a spot. He fin­ished in 9 hours,

48 min­utes, and 24 sec­onds. “I’m ex­cited to fur­ther my ap­proach to run­ning,” he said.

Ger­ing will de­part for the run­ning camp Nov. 25 and re­turn Dec. 6.

This year’s academy, Ger­ing ex­plained, hosts 10 par­tic­i­pants from around the world for a week­long in­ten­sive train­ing. The pro­gram will in­clude run­ning, health and busi­ness tips, in­clud­ing how to man­age so­cial me­dia ac­counts and build a brand, as well as give them the chance to meet with Salomon ex­ec­u­tives and pro­vide feed­back on newer gear.

Dur­ing the week abroad, Ger­ing said the run­ners will com­pete in the Asian Skyrun­ner Cham­pi­onship Race in Lan­tau, the largest of Hong Kong’s is­lands, on Dec. 2. Ger­ing said he thinks the race could de­ter­mine which stu­dents Salomon will add to its in­ter­na­tional team, and he ex­pects some de­gree of spon­sor­ship or am­bas­sador op­por­tu­nity fol­low­ing the event.

“This is a priv­i­lege of mine, but I also busted my (ex­ple­tive) to get here,” he said.

In May, Ger­ing com­peted in his first 50-mile run at the Je­mez Moun­tain Trail race. Since then, he com­peted in the Speed­goat 50K in Utah -- “one of the tough­est 50Ks in Amer­ica” -- and fin­ished in 10th place.

“Af­ter all of this, my body is feel­ing good and I’m think­ing I have po­ten­tial here,” he said.

Some of the events Ger­ing takes part in, how­ever, are not about win­ning medals -- they’re about rais­ing aware­ness.

Ear­lier this month, Ger­ing won the lo­cally famed Big Te­suque Trail Run, which raises money for Wings of Amer­ica, a non­profit that pro­motes Amer­i­can In­dian run­ners.

A pri­mary mes­sage Ger­ing said he hopes to com­mu­ni­cate through run­ning is the need for more sus­tain­able, healthy foods. He said he works with Rox­anne Swentzell, au­thor of “The Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence Cook­book,” to find ways to con­nect food and move­ment.

“How can I find a way to share with the com­mu­nity I’m a part of how to be health­ier?” he asked. “How can you make sure you have longevity in your life when faced with food dis­par­i­ties and lack of ed­u­ca­tion?”

To fuel him­self in an eth­i­cal way, Ger­ing said he fol­lows “The Pue­blo Food Ex­pe­ri­ence Cook­book” diet, re­ly­ing heav­ily on veni­son, buf­falo meats and home­meade atole, a mix­ture of corn, salt, pump­kin seeds, cur­rant, honey and piñon. He said he tries to stay away from white sugar, white flour, dairy and heav­ily pro­cessed foods.

His re­la­tion­ship to food and sport, Ger­ing says, has helped con­nect him to his Na­tive Amer­i­can roots.

“I choose every day to be in­ten­tional when I go run­ning . ... It con­nects me to my his­tory, my an­ces­tors, my land,” he said, adding that be­fore lo­co­mo­tive tran­spor­ta­tion, trav­el­ing long dis­tances by foot was the norm.

Now, “go­ing these dis­tances is called ‘ul­tra,’ “he said. “We’ve be­come so far re­moved from that, from ev­ery­day peo­ple go­ing these dis­tances . ... I want to use ul­tra marathons to show we are ca­pa­ble of it. It never went away. It’s re­con­nect­ing, reignit­ing to this life­way.”

Be­fore shift­ing to com­pet­i­tive run­ning, Ger­ing had adopted un­healthy habits, in­clud­ing smok­ing cig­a­rettes and drink­ing al­co­hol. Though he re­jects that run­ning “saved” him, he says the sport has pushed him to strive for some­thing more in life.

“It’s a prac­tice for me to build my­self to be the best ver­sion of my­self,” Ger­ing said. “As I’m on those runs, I fig­ure out who I am as a per­son, how I want to move about this land, this life.”

Tru­jillo said he wit­nessed this trans­for­ma­tion.

“I wanted to in­tro­duce him to the out­doors. You could tell in Chris­tian, it re­ally woke him to some­thing,” said Tru­jillo, who men­tored a hand­ful of stu­dents who were “in a neg­a­tive place” years back.

“Some­times if you can take them (reser­va­tion kids) out of the nor­mal reg­i­ment, you put them on the moun­tains, you show them the trails, that the moun­tain is free, it opens up an en­tire new world out there.”

Ger­ing’s next goal is to fin­ish first or sec­ond place in the Black Canyon 100K in Ari­zona this Fe­bru­ary, to earn a “golden ticket” to Western States En­durance Run in Cal­i­for­nia’s Sierra Ne­vada, one of the world’s most iconic 100-mile trail races.

Through all his hard work, Ger­ing said he hopes other Na­tives, specif­i­cally youth, will re­al­ize that they can dream big as he has.

“You keep putting in hard work, and you’ll find your way there,” he said.

This story first pub­lished in the Santa Fe New Mex­i­can, a sib­ling pub­li­ca­tion of The Taos News.

‘As I’m on those runs, I fig­ure out who I am as a per­son, how I want to move about this land, this life.’

— Chris­tian Ger­ing

Luis Sánchez Saturno/New Mex­i­can

Chris­tian Ger­ing of San Felipe Pue­blo goes for a run Fri­day at La Tierra Trails.

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