Christian Gering, a runner from San Felipe Pueblo, has been chasing his dream -- literally -- of becoming an elite athlete for the past eight years.
Narrow trails traversing high desert mountains. A sun falling behind aspens, gold glittering on prickly pears. Silence, aside from squawking crows and a pair of running shoes. This is when Christian Gering feels most alive.
Gering, a runner from San Felipe Pueblo, has been chasing his dream -- literally -- of becoming an elite athlete for the past eight years. Last month, after winning a 100-kilometer trail race at Lake Tahoe, Gering qualified to attend the Salomon brand Ultra Academy in Hong Kong in November. The accomplishment, he says, is a first step in achieving potential sponsorship.
More important, it's a way to inspire his local Native community.
"I don't see a large population of people out there (on the trails) who look like me," said Gering, 27, his raven black hair pulled taut into a ponytail. "I hope it shows to Native people and to Pueblo people that anyone can run."
Gering grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, and remembers taking summer trips to San Felipe, where his mother is from, running with his dad around the village. He learned to play soccer at age 5 and finished his first marathon in his sophomore year of high school. Gering ran track his junior and senior years at Santa Fe Indian School and cross-country his senior year, before running at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where he set multiple records and won the Outstanding Senior Award.
Following college, Gering's long-distance running hobby became a full-fledged passion.
"He went on destroying races," said Sean Trujillo, a mentor to Gering since he was a student at SFIS. "He couldn't be stopped. He's a monster."
Last year, Gering tried getting into Salomon's inaugural running academy but never heard back after submitting an application. This year, he knew his win at the Tahoe 100K -- his first 100-kilometer distance -- earned him a spot. He finished in 9 hours, 48 minutes, and 24 seconds.
"I'm excited to further my approach to running," he said.
Gering will depart for the running camp Nov. 25 and return Dec. 6.
This year's academy, Gering explained, hosts 10 participants from around the world for a weeklong intensive training. The program will include running, health and business tips, including how to manage social media accounts and build a brand, as well as give them the chance to meet with Salomon executives and provide feedback on newer gear.
During the week abroad, Gering said the runners will compete in the Asian Skyrunner Championship Race in Lantau, the largest of Hong Kong's islands, on Dec. 2. Gering said he thinks the race could determine which students Salomon will add to its international team, and he expects some degree of sponsorship or ambassador opportunity following the event.
"This is a privilege of mine, but I also busted my (expletive) to get here," he said.
In May, Gering competed in his first 50-mile run at the Jemez Mountain Trail race. Since then, he competed in the Speedgoat 50K in Utah -- "one of the toughest 50Ks in America" -- and finished in 10th place.
"After all of this, my body is feeling good and I'm thinking I have potential here," he said.
Some of the events Gering takes part in, however, are not about winning medals -- they're about raising awareness.
Earlier this month, Gering won the locally famed Big Tesuque Trail Run, which raises money for Wings of America, a nonprofit that promotes American Indian runners.
A primary message Gering said he hopes to communicate through running is the need for more sustainable, healthy foods. He said he works with Roxanne Swentzell, author of "The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook," to find ways to connect food and movement.
"How can I find a way to share with the community I'm a part of how to be healthier?" he asked. "How can you make sure you have longevity in your life when faced with food disparities and lack of education?"
To fuel himself in an ethical way, Gering said he follows "The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook" diet, relying heavily on venison, buffalo meats and homemeade atole, a mixture of corn, salt, pumpkin seeds, currant, honey and piñon. He said he tries to stay away from white sugar, white flour, dairy and heavily processed foods.
His relationship to food and sport, Gering says, has helped connect him to his Native American roots.
"I choose every day to be intentional when I go running. ... It connects me to my history, my ancestors, my land," he said, adding that before locomotive transportation, traveling long distances by foot was the norm.
Now, "going these distances is called 'ultra,' " he said. "We've become so far removed from that, from everyday people going these distances. ... I want to use ultra marathons to show we are capable of it. It never went away. It's reconnecting, reigniting to this lifeway."
Before shifting to competitive running, Gering had adopted unhealthy habits, including smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Though he rejects that running "saved" him, he says the sport has pushed him to strive for something more in life.
"It's a practice for me to build myself to be the best version of myself," Gering said. "As I'm on those runs, I figure out who I am as a person, how I want to move about this land, this life."
Trujillo said he witnessed this transformation.
"I wanted to introduce him to the outdoors. You could tell in Christian, it really woke him to something," said Trujillo, who mentored a handful of students who were "in a negative place" years back.
"Sometimes if you can take them (reservation kids) out of the normal regiment, you put them on the mountains, you show them the trails, that the mountain is free, it opens up an entire new world out there."
Gering's next goal is to finish first or second place in the Black Canyon 100K in Arizona this February, to earn a "golden ticket" to Western States Endurance Run in California's Sierra Nevada, one of the world's most iconic 100-mile trail races.
Through all his hard work, Gering said he hopes other Natives, specifically youth, will realize that they can dream big as he has.
"You keep putting in hard work, and you'll find your way there," he said.
This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.
In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.