This story has been archived from the Sunday, August 14, 2005


Almost 40 years ago, Steve Gachupin started an unmatched streak of wins


JEMEZ PUEBLO, N.M. — From the outside, the flat-roofed, squat adobe homes here look so similar, residents give directions by describing the cars outside.

For generations, Jemez (pronounced hey-mess) Indians have lived here in the same red, pressed-earth homes, built to keep out summer’s heat and insulate from winter’s cold.


Six-time Pikes Peak Marathon winner Steve Gachupin, now 64, suffered a stroke last year. He said he tries to walk two to three hours a day near his home in Jemez Pueblo, N.M.
But step into the welcome cool of Steve Gachupin’s house (maroon Mercury, blue Ford), and it is unlike any other.

The only man to win the Pikes Peak Marathon six straight times — 1966 to 1971 — the 64-year-old’s past is still part of his present.

The Gachupins, led by Steve’s wife Bernice, have devoted an entire living-room wall to a running career that included a 15th-place finish in the 1968 Olympic marathon trials.

The wall includes a photo of those trials, Gachupin matching strides with Billy Mills, a Sioux Indian who won 1964 Olympic gold in the 10,000-meter race.

“The way he’s built, he could run uphill almost as fast as he ran downhill,” remembers Joe Vigil, renowned coach of 2004 Olympic marathon medalists Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi. Vigil conducted the 1968 trials in Alamosa. “Mechanically, he’s a good mountain runner.”

Gachupin had something else, too.

“It meant something for him to be a good runner,” Vigil said. “It meant something for the tribe, for the reservation.”

There is an old cotton No. 1 bib reading “Pikes Peak” and photos of the small, slight Gachupin running on the pavement in Manitou Springs and racing past rocks on Barr Trail. The mementos and awards are so numerous the shelves sag.

“I can’t even remember where they come from,” said Gachupin, sitting in a worn easy chair in front of the TV. Steve and Bernice have lived in this adobe house for more than 35 years.

From almost 600 miles away in a settlement where one-quarter of families now live below poverty level, Jemez Pueblo Indians put an early stamp on the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Between Gachupin and cousin Al Waquie (1981, 1982), runners from Jemez Pueblo have won the brutal race — up and down 14,115-foot Pikes Peak — eight times. Jemez residents, including Gachupin’s younger brother, Matthew, and Frank Armijo, also have won agegroup titles.

Steve Gachupin won Pikes Peak, he said, in Converse high-tops and no socks.

The last time a resident of the pueblo won a Pikes Peak overall title was 1985, when Waquie, now a firefighter for the Santa Fe National Forest Service, won the Ascent. But winning isn’t necessarily the point. It’s more of a fortuitous byproduct for the Jemez people, whose ancestors were known for running hundreds of miles to deliver messages.

“My dad made the Pikes Peak Marathon famous in a way,” said Dominic Gachupin.

The Jemez people see mountains as mystical, and see reaching the summit a spiritual endeavor.

For them, Pikes Peak is more than a grueling challenge.

“This is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to go see what it’s all about,” said Hilario Armijo, 54, a Jemez Pueblo public works employee who has entered the Pikes Peak race this year for the first time, “and to say that I’ve been to the mountain and I made the pilgrimage up there.”


Jemez Pueblo, settled by the Jemez in the late 13th century, is one of 19 pueblos in New Mexico and is located about 55 miles northwest of Albuquerque. The 2000 census lists its population as 1,953. At 7,880 feet, the pueblo’s backyard, essentially, is miles of high mountain mesas and canyons. That’s where they run, in the hills and baking heat, on the occasionally soft sand that strains calf muscles and lungs.

Running has been passed down, like a relay baton, through generations.

“When runners get old, there are some younger ones,” said Gachupin, a retired janitor schooled in running by uncles and grandparents. “We teach them. We’ve been doing that for many, many years.”

He grew up in the mountains. The tallest is 11,254-foot Redondo Peak. He’d run up it, then down.

“I was into mountain running,” he said. “I chased animals.”


It’s a six-hour trip by car from Jemez Pueblo to Pikes Peak. Not all Jemez Indians, especially younger ones, are going to such lengths as Armijo to continue their rich running heritage. Armijo is one of just five Pikes Peak entrants this year from the Jemez Pueblo area.

Overall, numbers of runners are dwindling, said local high school coach Danny Chinana, 53, also the school’s janitor. Walk into the gym of Jemez Valley High, and you see banners for 13 boys’ state crosscountry championships, including 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Chinana, who grew up in Jemez Pueblo, said he expects 18-20 kids to turn out for this fall’s cross-country team, compared to about 30 when he started coaching in 1993, and 50 when he was a schoolboy.

A traditional Father’s Day meet for all citizens, which drew hundreds, faded away years ago.

Chinana and Steve Gachupin can’t put their finger on why fewer kids are running for Jemez Valley. One theory is more single-parent households. Another is that more kids go to school out of town.

An answer might be found outside Gachupin’s own home, where one of his grandsons is determinedly throwing a rubber baseball against a red plastic milk crate propped against the fence.

“So many kids are into baseball,” said Chinana. “They have nine teams in the pueblo. That’s what they do most of the summer.”

A tour on the pueblo’s narrow dirt streets shows little pavement but several basketball hoops. In an odd clash of then-and-now, many adobe homes have satellite dishes poking from their sides.

“I called Jemez `Little Kenya,’” said 35-year-old Dominic Gachupin, Steve’s son, who ran briefly for Adams State in Alamosa, Colorado’s distance-running mecca. “We were running all the time.”

Now kids are playing video games and watching TV, he said.

“They don’t have the discipline,” he said. “They say, `Oooh, that hurts.’"

The proof, Chinana says, is in the footprints.

“I used to run, going out on the trails, going maybe at 6 or 7 in the evening,” Chinana said. “I’d see maybe three, four, five or six people had already passed by. Nowadays, you go maybe a mile or two and see some tracks. After 2?, 3 miles, you don’t see that many tracks any more.”


People quit for different reasons. Some cite work and tribal responsibilities — Jemez Pueblo has its own government, sheriff and court system. In his prime, even Dominic stopped.

“It’s tough to live up to my dad’s name,” said Dominic, whose Indian name is Pikes Peak. “I was compared always. There was a lot of pressure within my tribe.”

Janice Tosa, 21, ran for the high school. She is still running. This fall, she enters her senior year at the University of New Mexico, where she has a scholarship, one of the few from Jemez Pueblo to run cross-country and track for a Division I school.

“I used to watch my dad, uncles run. I was in elementary school, probably in second grade,” Tosa said of her earliest running memory.

“I just went out on my own.”

A couple times a year, Tosa asks New Mexico coach Matt Henry if she can miss practice. She goes home for her tribe’s ceremonial, a ritual dance closed to the public. The first time Tosa invited Henry to watch, he was stunned.

“For me, it was very emotional,” said Henry, a 30-year veteran of coaching at the university and highschool level in New Mexico. “I can’t explain that, but there is a sense very much of pride of what they’re doing. I don’t see that in any other culture.”

The dances were revealing.

“Their knees are high, like they’re running,” Henry said. “Some of the dances can last 30 minutes. They move throughout the whole square in patterns and they’re all together. It’s beautiful.”

And it’s a workout. They dance all day long, with participants getting a hour break between dances. Henry has no problem letting Tosa go.

“She’s not going home just to sit in front of the TV and eat Twinkies,” Henry said.

Henry continues to recruit Jemez Pueblo runners. Chinana estimates 30 or 40 kids are into running in the elementary and middle school. Now if they could just keep them going.

“They’re in a down slope right now,” Henry said. “It doesn’t mean that won’t come up.”


Back in the pueblo on a baking July afternoon, a kid shoots at a basketball hoop, then disappears. Two girls walk the dirt streets, one wearing a T-shirt reading “Rez Girl.”

Earlier, Steve Gachupin walked through the pueblo as part of his physical therapy. He has heart disease and is on a strict diet. He no longer runs, having suffered a stroke last year that kept him from attending the Pikes Peak race. He has regained some use of his right arm, but has had to learn to write left-handed.

He’s not the only one with medical problems. An increase in diabetes and obesity among Jemez adults has spawned an effort to get more Jemez residents running, for reasons more medical than mystical.

Gachupin walks two to three hours a day, he says. Meanwhile, family ties run strong. He has 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Mariah, 13, said she has run a 6:17 mile on a track and competed at the Junior Olympics. A cousin, Kiana, 12, last year ran in the Junior Olympic nationals. Mariah’s grandfather taught her tricks, like chewing on pine needles to keep your mouth moist. Does it work?

“Yes,” she said. “You have to chew a long time.”

The Jemez people still run. They have regular community footraces. Every August, the Gachupins host the Steve Gachupin King of the Mountain half-marathon and 5K run/walk. Bernice and her daughters cook red- and green-chile stew in their adobe kitchen for 90 or so runners afterward.

The next generation spreads the Gachupin gospel. Steve’s daughter, Kathleen, has a special little hill in the pueblo she has picked out for her 7-year-old son, Patrick.

“We call it Pikes Peak,” she said. “We run up it.”


Steve Gachupin is the only man to win the Pikes Peak Marathon six straight years. Here are his times in each of those winning races:

1966 — 3:57:04
1967 — 3:50:05
1968 — 3:39:47
1969 — 3:44:50
1970 — 3:45:52
1971 — 3:46:26


Copyright 2005, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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