An ASU pre-medical student who took the semester off to spend the summer and fall running across North America will complete his 5,645-mile journey Wednesday in Uaxactun, Guatemala.
Gerardo Vasquez Jr. has dedicated the last seven months to the Peace and Dignity Journeys, a spiritual run held by American indigenous groups every four years since 1992.
May 1 marked the first day of running for the two groups, one of which began in Chickaloon, Ala., and the other in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
The runners traveled on foot through native communities for seven months to reach Guatemala.
They carried sacred staffs, which represent the prayers of the communities they passed through.
Each year, the run is dedicated to a specific prayer; this year, the prayer was for water.
“(The water supply) is one of the most, if not the most, important issue in our world,” Vasquez said. “Water is life.”
Vasquez was one of the only runners who finished the entire route.
Seattle resident Alberto Mejia, 29, also completed the run.
Mejia said he and Vasquez have become like brothers since they met at a runners’ training in April.
“In order to carry the prayer responsibly, we have to be authentic with each other,” Mejia said. “We treat each other better than family.”
California State University, Fresno art senior Daniel Mejia, who is not related to Alberto, joined the run in Prince George, British Columbia, on June 8 and stayed until the end of August.
Daniel said he and Vasquez grew to trust each other during their time running together and their experiences allowed them to become leaders for those who only ran briefly.
“Being on (the run) for a consistent amount of time, we were able to learn just a little bit more because we were exposed to different aspects of the run over time, and we were able to share that with anyone that was newer to it than we were,” Daniel said.
Vasquez said the most challenging part of the Journeys for him was learning about himself and how he works with others.
He said being confined to a van with at least eight other people was challenging, but relationships he built with fellow runners were worth it.
“I know that these connections will be lifelong,” Vasquez said.
The Journeys passed through Phoenix in early September and continued south to Mexico.
In Mexico, Vasquez learned about his native roots while visiting the Mayos people in Sonora.
He has seen the importance of the prayer resonate throughout the journey.
“Something that is stated almost every day is the huge job we are doing carrying the prayers of the continent for an even bigger cause — the water,” Vasquez said. “I’ve realized the importance of keeping this way of life and state of being every day and bringing it all home.”
Vasquez often found himself surprised at how far the runners’ bodies could go during the trek.
Although the groups of runners travel in vans, someone ran every mile of each route.
Runners split up the miles and ran different legs of the distances between communities which could be as many as 70 miles apart, Vasquez said.
He has played basketball for more than 10 years, but never ran more than three miles a day before the Journeys.
“My training was in Alaska and on. For two months I was sore every day,” he said. “Now I am a runner and will be for as long as I can.”
One of the most memorable parts of the Journeys for Vasquez was experiencing the indigenous communities he visited.
“We have experienced many similarities of traditions spanning far north and far south that had to have been shared at one time,” Vasquez said. “From Alaska to Argentina, we have been in communication since long before Columbus’s arrival.”
The Peace and Dignity Journeys will have a week of festivities as part of its closing ceremonies, and will officially end Dec. 4.
After that, Vasquez will return to Phoenix to continue studying pre-med before going to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.
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