Location: Acoma Pueblo
Esther Felipe of Acoma Pueblo didn’t start running competitively until the age of 56. Now 71, her goal is to run in Copper Canyon, Mexico.
She explained how she got started running. “One of my grandsons, he was going to Sky City School then, and he asked me, ‘Grandma, can you come to our school and give some money? They are going to have a race. They wan to make our school yard nice and beautiful.’
“So I told him, ‘I guess I can.’ I didn’t know there were running shoes; I bought pink high top tennis shoes. I had some sweat pants because I didn’t want to show my legs. I think it was in May and we had the run. I have the little pot that I got. After that they had a run at Acoma and I’ve been running ever since.”
At 62 Felipe ran her first half marathon and placed first in her age division. In 1993 she ran 42 races, her record and said she has always finished a race. She trains daily with a two mile run.
The effort has brought astounding results. Felipe has over a hundred medals and more trophies than she can display. In 2000 she brought home five gold medals, two silver, and one bronze from the New Mexico State Olympics.
Felipe is anticipating a strenuous week at the end of May. “I have a very hard race coming up at Acoma, sand dunes straight up. We always have a lot of elite runners. It’s a Memorial Day and three days later I will be doing my first race in Las Cruces.”
But she loves the activity. “So many people are overweight,” she said. “We have a lot of diabetes, high blood pressure, health problems. They eat junk food, and sit and don’t move around. I can’t live that way. I live to be outdoors.”
When she was young, Felipe got up a four or five to work in her family’s fields. “Mother worked just a hard as Dad,” she said. “All of our food was grown in the fields. I cut wheat with homemade sickles. Try to get a teenager to do that now. They won’t know what you are talking about.”
My father was a farmer. He worked for Santa Fe [railroad] for a while. They were going to make him a foreman, but neither one of my parents spoke English,” Felipe explained. “Going to school we were punished for speaking our language, in our native tongue. Now it’s just the opposite. It would be nice if kids growing up today could speak both languages. My grandkids don’t speak my native tongue. Now teachers are trying to teach them our native tongue.”
When Felipe attended the Indian School in Albuquerque, she participated in track events, but said she wasn’t an athlete. “I ran a few times, but I didn’t do it year after year or month after month.”
After school she raised a family, then went to nursing school. She retired in 1991. She strongly approves of women who remain active. “I think you’ll get to see people in the older age that, just because of their age, they don’t slow down and a lot of the seniors that I have seen and met are really in shape,” she said. “I think they all feel good about themselves. It builds up their self esteem and they look younger. I would tell them you all just be in shape, not only running, but you will be able to do other things and not tire so easily. Maybe your housework or whatever.”
“I’ve tried to encourage women. They say, ‘Esther, I can’t run.’
“I say, ‘Can you walk?’ But they just won’t do it.”
She enjoys the friendships she has made through racing. “I get to see all my friends new and old. Everywhere I go, I always meet nice people. There is never a time I have not had a new friend at a race. To me they’re like family. We have conversations about running and how hard it is,” she explained. “I really get satisfaction when I go out and meet new people and not be at home for a while.
It’s really something, you know. You don’t get angry at each other,” she said with a smile. “After the race, you’re just hugging each other, hugging all the time. It makes me happy to know they are healthy enough to do what they are doing.”