R. Steven Heaps (Skookumtumtum)
October 13, 2001
I had no idea what I was getting into in 1982 when Bill Greene and I responded to a tiny ad in Running Times and entered the first LeGrizz 50 Mile Ultramarathon.This race initiated us to the world of ultrarunning. It accelerated the development of my treasured friendship with Bill and began friendships with ultrarunners from near and far. Twenty years later, I cant seem to stop running it the second Saturday of every October.
When Bobbie Pomroy and I became the only runners to finish the first nine runnings of the event, we had to show up again in 1991 to earn the promised "10 Bears Award", which turned out to be a beautiful clock made from a piece of western red cedar. Coincidentally, that race was the last one I ran without medication; the next February I was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia.
My wife Karen began crewing for me (and for lots of other folks along the course who needed aide or encouragement through the years) at LeGrizz II. She has shown up at Spotted Bear, Montana, on the second Saturday of every October since. This year was to be my 20th consecutive LeGrizz. I have dreamed for years of having my kids and their families come to LeGrizz to experience the race, the great people involved and the spectacular natural world along the Hungry Horse Reservoir. In the summer I began creating fantasies of them all running the last part of the race, crossing the finish line with me. I wanted them to be there when I received the promised "Chief 10 Bears Award" for completing all 20 races.
While realizing it was asking a lot to have the kids drive from Seattle and Portland, spend all of Saturday crewing, and then drive back home from Hungry Horse on Sunday, I asked them anyway. I was thrilled when they accepted. A rented motor home and tent would house Karen and me, my son and daughter, Steven and Heather, their spouses, Sue and Dwain, and my granddaughters, Kaitlyn and McKenzie. Throw in 3 dogs and we were a crowd.
After our Jane Kirk-inspired ritual toast with Irish Cream Sherry at the Hungry Horse Dam, we were shadowed across the dam by one of two sheriffs cars there to watch for signs of terrorist threats to this 535 foot high structure. Snow had stuck at the side of the road along the course and rain forewarned of a repeat of the soggy 1999 race. Little time was to be spent reminiscing around the campfire this year.
Morning brought overcast skies but no more precipitation as we lined up for the annual spiel by the unforgettable race director, Pat Caffrey. "Many athletic events begin with a prayer. Not today because youll all be talking to God between 30 and 40 miles anyway." Hugging my wonderful family, I set off wearing race number 1000 (20X50), which was an improvement from a few years ago when Pat, with an evil glint in his eye, presented me with #666.
At 5 miles or so, there was my crew, all 7 lined up wearing previously-hidden crew shirts. Each shirt had a cartoon running bear and " RUNNING LEGRIZZ FOR 20 YEARSSTEVE HEAPS SUPPORT CREW." Karen, who had produced the shirts from a design generously created by Steve Merriman, was getting teary-eyed. I decided not to hang around as it was a bit early for me to begin crying if I was going to get through the next 45 miles.
We avoided the rain and enjoyed occasional sun breaks. I visited with good friends Will Aslin and Fred Robinson for 25-30 miles. Best of all, every member of my family ran part of the course with me, though the oldest dog, Maggie, has bad hips and was excused. I piled on additional clothing throughout the day to cope with the biting wind. Given my training and advancing age, I had predicted a 10 hour run. In the late afternoon I crossed the dam at 47 miles and soon found myself 1/4 of a mile from the finish with my whole family running with me. How often do any of us get our fantasies fulfilled? Do you know the feeling of your heart "soaring?"
As soon as I finished in a less-than-swift 10:03, Pat started the award ceremony by asking me to stand by two Boy Scouts and a Blackfeet Indian tribal elder, Maynard Kicking Woman, who had driven over from Browning, MT. Pat had been arranging this ceremony since August. As the only finisher of all 20 races, I was to be given an Indian blessing. Maynard gave an eloquent speech about the Native American and non-native cultures, described praying for, rather than hating people, and called me a "warrior". I was to be given a Blackfeet Indian name which sounded to me like "Kyowa Pita" (Eagle Bear), for a bear that always came back. Maynard later indicated that the name does not spell out in our alphabetsome of the sounds are unpronounceable in English. He suggested I kept coming back to LeGrizz because I had not learned my lesson. He had a drum and a ceremonial lance with beadwork and eagle feathers. After a prayer with the group, I was to be taken down to the shore of nearby Lion Lake for another ceremony while the regular awards ceremony continued.
Shivering in the waning daylight, I couldnt help wondering if the Blackfeet tribe practice full-immersion baptism. I knew that if they threw me in Lion Lake, I would surely die of hypothermia. The ritual by the lake instead began with Maynard lighting woven sweetgrass and having me and the Scouts follow his example of fanning the smoke all over our bodies. He then said a prayer in the Blackfeet language, blessing my feet so I could run, my hands so I could do good work, and my eyes so that I could have vision to the past and the future. He extended the blessing to my loved ones, especially any who were ill or in the hospital. He gave me the name "Kyowa Pita" and sang while beating his drum.
We rejoined the award ceremony where he sang again. Pat presented me with the "Chief 10 Bears Award", created by Mike Sands. Mounted on a slab of western red cedar were a grizzly bear and a marble slab with a bronze statue of an Indian medicine man on a horse. The medicine man was wearing a grizzly bear pelt draped over him with his face poking out of where the bears mouth should be. He was carrying a rifle. In the middle was a plaque with quotes from the Yamparika Comanche Chief Paruasemena (10 Bears). It included the inscription "IN RECOGNITION OF 20 COMPLETIONS1000 MILES OF LEGRIZZTHE CHEETAH HERDERS ATHLETIC CLUB ON OCTOBER 13, 2001 CONFERS UPON SKOOKUMTUMTUM HEAPS THE HONOR OF CHIEF 10 BEARS." A smaller plaque contained a quote by the diarist James Gilchrist Swan in Ivan Doigs Winter Brothers. "I told him I was not afraid of the powers of the air at all. He said I had a skookumtumtuma strong heart." A few years after I was diagnosed with my arrhythmia I made up the name "Skookumtumtum" from that Doig book. I have used that name for all the races I have entered the last several years as a positive statement about my heart. Pat took the time to look up the quote and include it on the award. That was very thoughtful. I figured I would receive another really cool clock and a handshake. This solemn ceremony was a surprise to everyone and I felt honored. Thanks to Maynard Kicking Woman and the Boy Scouts for putting on the ceremony. Thanks to Pat for going to all the creative effort to organize the ceremony. With the help of Lynn and Rose Carey and a handful of other volunteers, Pat has continued year after year to produce this first-class event. We are lucky to have people like you. Thanks to Karen and my kids and grandkids for crewing for me. What a way to celebrate Heathers 35th birthday! Thanks, Sweetheart.
I have felt fortunate that, despite my arrhythmia, I have been able to continue to run safely, though more slowly, with medication. I am even more fortunate to have Karen who has faithfully crewed for me and kids and grandkids who were willing to make the trip this year.
Our local competitors performed very well. Dorie Robertson won the womens race again. Gunhild Swanson broke the Womens Seniors record by 46 minutes and Larry Carroll again won the Mens Seniors race. When you add in the regular finishers plaques for us and our other local finishers, we brought a lot of nice stuff home in addition to our many memories. Next October will find Karen and me at Spotted Bear once more.