Media Life: Auburn home to bizarre chapter in inspiring running story

Author McDougall tells story of Tarahumara runners; Curtis Salgado headlines SPCA BBQ & Blues in Auburn
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Outdoor-oriented author Chris McDougall visits Auburn Monday to sign copies and do a Q&A on a book that has a quirky link to the running history of this area. McDougall’s “Born to Run” has just been published in hardback by Random House and the Auburn Running Company store will be welcoming him at 6 p.m. on Memorial Day for a promo session. McDougall, a former war correspondent for the Associated Press and currently a contributing editor for Men’s Health, is a three-time National Magazine Award finalist. So he knows his way around a good yarn. And this one definitely has its Auburn chapter. “Born to Run” is subtitled “A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” It’s a look at the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. Its subtext is that their primitive running ways pound the midsole out of the science and hype of the shoe and sports-apparel industry. The Tarahumara have a short but colorful association with the Western States 100 Endurance Run that takes place this year the weekend of June 27-28. The run finishes in Auburn and that’s where the story really got interesting – and bizarre – back in 1995, when four Tarahumara runners competed in the Western States ultra. Running in tire-soled sandals, they did quite well, all four of them finishing in the Top 12. Third place went to 24-year-old Tarahumara runner Gabriel Batista. For the record, Ann Trason – ultra-endurance running’s superwoman of the 1990s – came in second, beating all the others to the LeFebvre Stadium finish line except Auburn’s Tim Twietmeyer. WHAT A FINISH Outside magazine did a piece on the Western States finish-line fireworks 14 years ago. Team Tarahumara’s sponsor, an outdoorsman by the name of Rick Fisher apparently spoke for the four, accusing race organizers of trying to steal the runners’ “sacred blood” for genetic testing, alleging markers were changed on the course to steer them in the wrong direction, and claiming steroid abuse by other runners cheated the Indians out of victory. The blood that was being “stolen,” by the way, was a standard sampling that occurs at the finish line every year as part of ongoing scientific research. Fisher, taking on the role of champion for the four, irked the normal buzz of Western States finish-line camaraderie. The Tarahumaras broke up their team shortly afterward and have never returned to run on U.S. soil. McDougall picks up the story and brings it into the 21st century, with the isolated Copper Canyon now playing host to its own ultramarathon and the Tarahumaras continuing to snub their noses at the Nike nation by running on rugged flip-flops. Should be an interesting session, with McDougall – who does his running in the Amish backcountry of Pennsylvania – updating the locals on some talented runners living way off the modern-day grid. BLUES BRO’ Placer SPCA has snagged another music legend for its annual BBQ & Blues bash at Auburn’s Gold Country Fairgrounds. The July 11 fest will welcome singer and harmonica player Curtis Salgado as its headliner. Salgado is one of those bluesmeisters who has skittered around the edges of stardom for decades. Back in the 1970s, when his home base was in Eugene, Ore., Salgado was frontman in guitar player Robert Cray’s band. In 1977, he caught the ear of actor John Belushi, who was making “Animal House” in and around Eugene. That’s Salgado playing in the “Animal House” scenes involving frat band Otis Day and the Knights. Belushi took much of Salgado’s act with him when he left and established the Blues Brothers with SNL pal Dan Ackroyd. Salgado was given a shoutout on the debut album sleeve. Salgado continued to develop a following on the blues circuit and even spent a stint in the 1990s as Santana lead singer. The 55-year-old vocalist dodged a fatal bullet three years ago, when financial support from the music community allowed him to undergo a life-saving liver transplant. The list of musicians who helped out ran from Steve Miller to Everclear to Taj Mahal. Bonnie Raitt paid the guy’s rent while he was recovering in the hospital. Clear of cancer now, Salgado is ready to blend the blues, R&B and soul on the Gold Country Fairgrounds stage. The 20th anniversary BBQ & Blues will also feature Café R&B and Mr. December, with Newcastle’s own Dana Moret. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through the SPCA at (916) 872-7722 Ext. 102, or (530) 885-7387, Ext. 102. Online, the address is Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at