Run for your life

  • Jon Kelly
  • 18 Sep 08, 01:30 PM GMT

I was gasping for air as I jogged beside Kaitlin Yepa through the humid New Mexico night. "How long does it take before you start to lose your breath?" I wheezed. "I don't know," came the cheerful reply. "Maybe an hour?"

We'd been on the road for, at most, five minutes. But then Kaitlin, 15, is a Native American - a people for whom running has become a form of communal survival.

Near Pueblo of Jemez, New MexicoI'd read all the statistics before I came here. How Native Americans suffered from the some of the highest rates in the country of teen suicide, alcoholism and poverty.

And earlier, as I was driven through Pueblo of Jemez, I'd seen the reality of these figures before me.

Underneath spectacular, bright red mountains were the reservation's peeling, ramshackle adobe cottages. Ancient pick-up trucks heaved their way up dusty side roads. At the request of my hosts, and out of deference to their traditions, I didn't take any photographs there. What I saw was beautiful, yet utterly bleak.

No-one there I visited was keen to talk about the hardships they faced, however. These were proud people. They wanted to tell me how much they loved running.

The sport has deep roots in their culture, something elders have tried to harness to keep their young people away from addiction and unemployment. The Wings of America cross-country team, based in nearby Santa Fe and composed of young Native American athletes, has won a boys' or girls' national title every year since it began competing in national contests in 1988.

Kaitlin YepaKaitlin belongs to the Jemez Eagles Running Club and trains for one to two hours a day, seven days a week. She told me that she loves the feeling of freedom it gives her, as well as the sense of achievement she gets from winning races.

"But I also hope that it can win me a scholarship to go study somewhere," she added.

"I'd like to go out of state. My mom always tells me that Jemez isn't going to go away anyplace."

This was exactly what Benjamin Mora, 40, hoped for when he set up the Eagles in 1995. After he became a state athletics champion while at high school, universities across America clambered over themselves to offer him a scholarship. His education degree had given him a good career as a teacher, and he was determined to show successive generations how to copy him.

"My grandfather told me that he used to run everywhere," he told me. "If we had to get somewhere, he'd say: 'Why don't you go run?' That's how we always did things."

The tragic, bitter history of the Native Americans was clearly extremely raw with Benjamin. He told me about the cruelty of the Conquistadors and the betrayals of Theodore Roosevelt.

It still angered him, he added, how his parents and grandparents had been taken away from their homes as children, separated from their culture, punished for speaking their own language, Towa.

I asked about the election. He couldn't see either McCain or Obama offering much to his community. "Even though I'm a Democrat, I haven't decided yet."

What struck me, though, was his that his anger appeared to be directed at the denial of Native American culture rather than the poverty and hardship that his people faced. Was he not enraged at the gap between their quality of life and that of middle America?

He gave me a look of pity. "I've got all my family here. I'll never be hungry. I'll never be homeless. How many rich men can say that?"

He was right. Still, it was obvious to me what his people were running from. What nobody can predict is where they will end up.

The view from Santa Fe

  • Jon Kelly
  • 18 Sep 08, 09:39 AM GMT

It looks a bit nerve-wracking on Wall Street.

I asked some voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico (a pretty liberal place, on the whole) what they reckon the state of the financial markets means for them and whether it would affect how they vote.

michael_mcminnMichael McMinn, 57, mortgage banker

I've been in the mortgage business for 29 years, and I've seen these things come and go in cycles.

All of this is happening because of poor investments in the sub-prime market. Mortgage lenders were giving out loans to people who just couldn't afford it.

The markets are in a bad way. But I think the overall economy is still in pretty good shape. We'll get out of this.

I don't think it matters too much who wins. They'll just appoint advisers who'll tell them what to do.

janice_mccoyJanice McCoy, 67, book-keeper

Times are definitely getting tougher - I can see from my clients' books that they're making less.

But I think that it's going to get better. The government is doing the right things to get us back on track.

It's the Democratic Congress who are responsible. They're sitting around doing nothing so that Bush gets all the blame.

I really hope John McCain wins the election. Obama's liberal policies would be a complete disaster.

talene_osborneTalene Osborne, 53, bespoke seamstress

The people I work for say that they haven't done as much business this summer as last year.

So I suppose the crisis is going to affect me sooner or later.

I'm quite worried about the financial markets because I don't have health insurance and that leaves me vulnerable.

All I can really do is be careful with my money, just in case.

I've had it with the Republicans. This is all their mess.

charles koroneosCharles Koroneos, 57, retired salesman

I've been watching my spending because I'm extremely worried about what will happen.

I blame the Republicans. They've spent so much money on this war in Iraq that they can't afford to get the economy back on track.

The beneficiaries of the AIG bail-out will just be rich CEOs. I believe we should set a limit on how much they can make.

I hope Obama gets elected, but it'll take him another eight years to put right all the damage done by Bush.

john_cabanissJohn Cabaniss, 60, environmental director for a car firm

I, personally, am going to be OK because I've invested my money safely.

But I'm concerned about the impact on others. A lot of people are going to lose out.

For me, the real long-term issue is energy. We need to diversify and invest in renewables if we don't want to store up a whole load of problems for the future.

What we need is change. I think either Obama or McCain will provide that. What's important is that we get rid of Bush.

linda_ellisonLinda Ellison, 56, shopkeeper

Every time I watch the news, it's really frightening. My business is doing OK, but how long will that last?

It's bad enough that the price of gas keeps climbing. Now we've got to worry about the stock market too.

My son has just graduated from business school. I've advised him not to look for a job until the election is decided.

We've been headed in the wrong direction for too long. What we need is a government that encourages manufacturing.

Low culture

  • Jon Kelly
  • 18 Sep 08, 07:15 AM GMT

The culture wars are refusing to die down in New Mexico, according to the Albuquerque Journal. David Coss, the Democratic mayor of liberal Santa Fe, has pulled out of addressing an evangelical conference in the city after spotting a statement on the organisers' website comparing homosexuality to "Sodom and Gomorrah".

Given that Santa Fe has the second-highest percentage of same-sex couples in the US, Mayor Coss's decision sounds like smart politics. "If there was a Catholic conference on eliminating a woman's right to choose, I wouldn't participate in that either," he adds.

In response, the organiser of the event, Pastor Kyle Martin, is waspish. "The Scriptures say homosexuality is a sin, the same as pride," he tells the Journal.

It's easy to dismiss such stories as the well-rehearsed posturing of the nation's entrenched red and blue camps. But the passions enflamed by such spats perhaps help to explain another item in the paper.

It reports that officials fear over 1,000 new voter registration cards received in one county alone may be fraudulent. The clerk's office in Bernailillo has called in prosecutors after receiving forms offering the details of people who were already registered, it continues.

I don't know if it's the fact this is a crucial swing state, or something to do with a scorching climate. But politics sounds like a tough old business in New Mexico.

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