Missoula runners are raking in big dollars for good causes. Among them? A Mexican tribe of peerless runners and people burned in fires.
An event this week to raise money to feed Tarahumara Indian runners in the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in Mexico earned an estimated $7,500, roughly double the goal, according to a sponsor.
Some 600 people turned out Wednesday night to the Wilma Theatre to hear "Caballo Blanco," or Micah True, speak about running with the Tarahumara Indians - Raramuri, in their own language. The tribe runs as a way of life, and True started the CCUM to celebrate their culture and help preserve it.
Run Wild Missoula and a small group of Missoula runners headed to the ultramarathon in 2011 brought Caballo Blanco here to help raise money for the Raramuri, whose culture is threatened by poverty and even new roads. Raramuri runners have little money, but they must buy food near the race start before the competition.
Fellow runner and Wilma Theatre owner Rick Wishcamper, who heads to the Copper Canyon race with Kevin Twidwell, Kiefer Hahn and Dean McGovern, said the group wanted to raise $3,500 to feed the Raramuri competitors.
At last count, the total was somewhere in the $7,000 or $8,000 range, and people may still donate at www.norawas.org, Wishcamper said. The cause is described in the best-seller "Born to Run," which features Caballo Blanco, who paid $3,000 of his own money last year to buy food for the Raramuri runners.
Among the audience members who packed the Wilma were many runners in athletic gear. Trisha Miller turned out early to hear Caballo, and Thursday she said his talk was both entertaining and enlightening.
"It's always inspiring to hear people who run for themselves and run for others, and who dedicate themselves through this sport to the end result (of) giving back," said Miller, who has been a runner herself the past eight years.
In fact, she and Missoula Fire Department firefighter Andy Drobeck are pulling in money for charity, too. The couple stages the Montana Made Run to fundraise for the International Association of Fire Fighters Burn Foundation, and they just completed the Chicago Marathon for the same cause.
Together, Drobeck and Miller raised $6,200 this year. The money goes toward medical bills and also camps for burn victims. Last year, the couple raised $4,900 in the Marine Corps Marathon.
"If we (firefighters) get burned on the job, it's a work-comp thing, and there's other support," Drobeck said. "But if you pull a victim out of the fire, it's good to know there's a charity and they'll be helped."
Drobeck, who also attended Caballo Blanco's talk, said he's familiar with the generosity of Missoulians, the same giving nature one of the lecture sponsors lauded Wednesday evening. Among all the IAFF teams across the U.S., the firefighter said Missoula raised the most money this year, and Billings raised the second most at $3,700.
"It's not like I'm a special sales person at getting money. It's just that people want to support things like that here," Drobeck said.
And not only did the home team - Drobeck and Miller - raise the most money, he said Missoula runners are fastest in the IAFF as well. Drobeck finished the Chicago marathon in 2 hours 35 minutes and Miller finished in 3:00.
Runners don't have to be firefighters to be on the IAFF team, and it isn't too late to donate. Head to www.active.com/donate/IAFFBFdnBoACM10/trisha.
One reason Drobeck began raising money for others was because he was spending so much of his time training - time he could have been using to do a coat drive or something similar, he said. Drobeck didn't want to be selfish, and he knows people liked giving money to firefighters, so he took up the IAFF Burn Foundation cause.
"If I'm going to spend all this time running, maybe I should do something good as well," he said.
Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, email@example.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.