Raramuri athletes meet Mexican President

Female athletes received an acknowledgment for winning first and second place at 100km race

Juana, Lorena and Mario Ramírez used the walkers at the gym of the hotel they stayed in. They had never used one before – Photo: Yadín Xolalpa/EL UNIVERSAL
English 14/08/2017 12:06 Íñigo Arredondo Tuxtla Gutiérrez Actualizada 12:22

Juana, Lorena, and Mario Ramírez are Rarámuri siblings. The three of them run. The women have won sports accolades while the man is still trying to make it to the top of the athletics competitions in races of more than 42km in mountain terrain. Their overall success has allowed them to travel through some regions of the Mexican Republic and Spain, and soon they will visit Japan in October

On August 7, they met Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Before the encounter, they only knew the President's last name and that he was the Mexican President. Mario told EL UNIVERSAL that before he met the President he “was going to ask him to give them a scholarship and to help us back home [the Tarahumara Sierra]”.

During the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, the young Ramírez sisters – 16 and 22 years old, respectively – received an acknowledgment from the President for being outstanding Rarámuri athletes. Their brother Mario was their interpreter.

A gym in the mountain range

When they run, they think of winning and receiving awards. In a luxury hotel located in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, they keep their mind focused on the upcoming races: Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Puebla, and Japan.

They train in the mountains. They've been training, without being conscious of it, since they were five years old. Their father, Santiago Ramírez, used to send them to look after the 30 goats they had near the depressions of their ranch.

More than 2 thousand kilometers from home, they step on the walkers of the hotel's gym with an unsure step; they have never used one before.

A world of contrasts

Lorena, 22, has won the 100km marathon of Guachochi. She is wearing the same blue dress with red lines and the same sandals she wore when she won the Guachochi marathon a couple of weeks ago. Juana, 16, is wearing a red dress she made herself.

Mario takes off his jeans and tennis shoes; he puts on a traditional Rarámuri costume he bought before he left Chihuahua because the organizers of the event asked him to look “very Tarahumaran”. He paid 500 Mexican pesos (28 USD) for a loincloth, a sash, and a loose shirt.

He's married with children; his sisters aren't. He went to school, his sisters did not. Mario finished junior high, Juana only went to school for a few months and then quit. To complement her outfit, she had to ask her father to lend her sandals made of rubber – a traditional shoe-ware – and she packed them in her suitcase. Ever since he left home six years ago, Mario has only worn casual shoes and tennis shoes.

Juana just got herself a cell phone. She can't stop looking at it or touching the screen. She bought it with the prize of coming in second after her sister in the 100km race. The rest she gave to her family for food – they have five other siblings at home.

Lorena, the first place, says she wants to build a house at her father's ranch. Mario explains a house “just like the Rarámuri houses costs around 15 or 20 thousand [Mexican] pesos.” ($ 850 – 1, 100 USD). She just has to pay for the sun-dried bricks, hire one person or two to build it, and wait two months for her house to be completed. Unlike their house, the hotel has water every day; back home, they have to travel through several kilometers to find water every third day and take a shower. The main difference she finds is that “here at hotels there's no dust, unlike our house.” If she can ask for something to the President, it would be cement, she said.

The encounter

When the President arrives at Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, the first sign of his arrival was the cloud of dust his helicopter made when it landed. After descending from his chopper, Peña Nieto took more than 30 minutes to arrive at the stage to greet the women who were chanting his name, while the representatives of 68 indigenous peoples waited for him. They live in different times: 30 minutes for Lorena and Juana mean the first 10km out of the 100km in Guachochi, and 10km for the President are 53 minutes, according to his latest trial.

Between the sisters, Lorena received the most applauses. She shook the hand of the President and the Chiapas Governor and posed for the photographs showing her acknowledgment.

They say the President asked them if they had received the assistance and Mario – their interpreter – said they hadn't. The President then asked Lorena how many siblings she had and she said “eight.” And that was it.

The sisters received an acknowledgment for arriving first and second place at the Guachochi marathon in Chihuahua. They received an assistance certificate as part of the Program for the Improvement of Indigenous People Production and Productivity, that is, a sum of money to buy animals, feed them and care for them. Out of the 30 goats they had a few years ago, they only have 18 left.

It began to rain after the event concluded and the locals – who protested against the event being held in their town one day before – shouted angrily at the guests who were just seeking shelter: “Why wear those costumes if they don't fit?” “Why sell yourselves like this?” “Hypocrites!” Mario was shocked by the anger of the crowd and asked: “Why are they so mad?”

Their biggest objective now is Japan. Mario, Lorena, and Santiago will go there. Santiago used to play with a globe, making it spin, pointing at the country they will visit soon. It seems the Ramírez family is conquering with light footsteps what they find on their path.