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High Country Running: Giving thanks for lifelong running friends

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Nat White and Tsosie Taylor with trophies from a 1972 race in Cottonwood.

Recently my college cross country coach passed away in Indiana. Driving to a motel after the funeral, three of my teammates from the early 1960s gave me a long-distance call.

We talked on the speaker phone for a good half hour or so about Coach and our running times together. Nearly 60 years ago seemed like last week.

As the conversation wound down and they reached their destination, the usual salutations were spoken. There was a short silence, and Steve said in a voice like a sincere handshake, “We are just like brothers.”

I could hear the muffled agreements on the speaker phone, followed by softly spoken goodbyes.

The special bond emerging out of group exercising is not limited to one activity or team competition. Think of any long-attended athletic club exercise class and its leader, NATRA’s all-comers Saturday social runs, the Thorpe Park Adult Center walking group led by Jack Welch, trail maintenance crews, and the aspen protection groups sponsored by Friends of the Forest.

Working together with a positive purpose fosters bonds and good memories.

“Exercised-induced friendships” are continuously being developed here in Flagstaff. They can go back half a century. The recent Arizona Daily Sun front-page article on the Tsosie Taylor family highlighted that for me. The Taylor family (father, head coach daughter, son) shepherded Coconino High School’s women’s cross country team to the state championship this fall.

It was unusual to see a runner on the sidewalks or streets of Flagstaff when my family arrived in 1969. I, the lightly clad lone runner, might have been considered an oddity jogging along the roads of the small Western town.

Local running groups had not yet formed. The extraordinary Flagstaff running community of today was decades in the future, but there was an opportunity. The NAU cross country team coached by Leo Haberlack allowed this “old guy,” age 30, to train with them.

When I met Tsosie Taylor in 1971, he was a standout NAU runner, a born and bred local on a team that now also features talent from across the nation and beyond.

At summer breaks, the NAU runners were off to their hometowns and, of course, Tsosie stayed here at home. That gave me an opportunity to run with someone. The picture shows us after a 1972 race in Cottonwood, Tsosie holding the first place trophy and me, second place.

Literally a half-century later, Tsosie and I are still friends, occasionally talking over old times, new times and the national NAU champions. It’s not just the physical benefit of exercising -- the lifelong memories that form these close friendships are just as important.

Since arriving in Flagstaff in 1969, Nat White has logged more than 30,000 miles, running these environs for the love of it and the great outdoors.

Send your running news to coordinating editor Julie Hammonds ( to be featured in this column.


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