If it weren’t for John Branch’s fantastic New York Times special on the Hopi people’s tradition of running and winning, we may have never known that Hopi High is going for its 26th consecutive cross-country Arizona state championship this Saturday. 26th! That’s the longest streak for any cross-country team in the country and fourth longest for any high school sport. Who wouldn’t want to brag about reigning supreme for over a quarter of a century?
Answer: the Hopi, because for the “Hopi modesty inhibits boasting.” In fact, their 25 trophies are stored out of sight in a small storage room, but never out of mind.
For the Hopi – a Native American tribe comprised of a dozen villages living on a reservation in northeastern Arizona – “to run is to pray.” The tradition began way back in the early 1900s with their scouts, or men who searched for water and directed tribal migrations, and has since evolved into a vital method for sending messages between villages. It is also a crucial element in any number of ceremonies, from receiving blessings from cloud people to rituals for rain, harvest, and simply living long and prosperous lives.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who can better maneuver the dynamic of running in both cultural and competitive races, doing so flawlessly on all accounts. Devan Lomayaoma, a 33-year-old Hopi who took home two individual state cross-country titles at Hopi High and was triumphant in many Hopi races as well, had this much to say with respect to the difference between the two: “It might sound a little funny, but running in cultural races is a lot different than running in high school or college. In cultural races, you never got recognition for it. They have a deeper meaning.”
Although running might garner individual accolades for the Hopi, it is ultimately done for the benefit of others – their people. This is what makes their cross-country efforts so overwhelmingly beautiful.