SHARING TIME WITH A LEGEND
Many times I've wondered what it would be like to meet somebody really famous in the running world. Well, I had the experience of being with a running legend this past week and felt compelled to share a little bit. I crewed alongside Valmir Nunes at the Badwater Ultramarathon for a second year. I was also room mates with Valmir for a second year.
For those of you who are wondering who Valmir is - please Google him now. A short running resume of Valmir would note that he is a Badwater 135 champion, former Badwater record holder (22 hrs and change), former 100k world record holder (6 hrs and change), 100k world champion, and international ultra-distance stud.
I first met Valmir 2 years ago when I agreed to crew my friend at Badwater. Somehow, my buddy had gotten the Badwater course record holder to crew him. I didn't know who Valmir was, and the first time I saw him I wasn't too sure how it world work out for me to share a room with a Brazilian super-model. Valmir is simply a genetic miracle. The guy is over 50, ripped, not an ounce of fat and not a filament of hair, with blue eyes. I was intimidated by Valmir's physical presence, but I was plenty confident with myself as a person, athletic capabilities and intellect. We had a problem with our relationship at first - Valmir spoke Portuguese, and some Spanish and I spoke English, and some broken Spanish. We would both need to use a second language to communicate with one another.
We immediately ran into another problem when we only had one bed in the room to share. Valmir opened the door and saw it; then, he immediately turned to me and made gestures and said some words that meant "we have a problem." Next, he went to the bed and built a pillow wall. He was speaking to me in Portuguese all the time and it was clear that he was only going to be OK to sharing a bed with me as long as I respected the barrier and there would be "no touching." I didn't want any part of an accidental touching incident with Valmir so I just slept on the floor.
Now, I want to tell you a little bit about what I learned from Valmir that makes a person a True Legend.
Valmir has more accomplishments than most elite runners can ever dream of - including winning Spartathlon, Badwater and holding world records. If you did not know who he was, you would never even know you were in the presence of greatness. Whenever we went somewhere, elite runners from all over the world would spot this man and want to take pictures with him and want his autograph. However, he never went out of his way to promote himself or tell people who he was or what he had accomplished. He never told people what he had done. He always obliged fans and spoke with them. His smile and love for running exuded every ounce of his frame. Had Valmir been focused on promoting himself like the Ultramarathon Man, he could have been filthy rich. However, Valmir let his feet do the talking, and left the words for other people to utter as he powered on "running like a tremendous machine." (Secretariat reference)
In order to be a great athlete, you MUST drink coffee; and it must be strong. Valmir would make us coffee in the morning. He likes his coffee like espresso with a little sugar. I liked mine like a DIVA - a mocha latte from Starbucks. That is hard to find in Death Valley so I had to settle for a couple creamers and a couple sugars. At the end of 2 years, I was drinking my coffee super strong with 1 creamer and 1 sugar. I also learned from Valmir that "cafe-cito" is OK to drink at all times of day - even right before bedtime. I was amazed to see the champ down an espresso then nod off. He could sleep at the drop of a dime.
Valmir has been given a gift of being able to run really fast, for really long. He loves being around people and remembers people and their accomplishments. This last week we bumped into Ann Treason and Valmir recounted how they had both won the 100k World Championship in Europe in the 90's. Whenever somebody would ask him for his time, he freely gave it. There are no security guards, or agents protecting Valmir. If you want to contact Valmir you can send him a note and he responds. He loves people and people love him.
He is an absolute animal. I'm not sure he is human. I've ran with him, and he is in incredible shape at all times. Whenever I had a question about running and how to improve, he freely gave it. Valmir could charge thousands of dollars for his knowledge. Heck, there area gazillion mediocre runners out there who have a couple accomplishments on their resumes and they become "running coaches". I believe a true runner will always give running information freely. Why on earth would you charge somebody to help them run better, which will eventually help them become a better person. Valmir helps people run better, because that is the right thing to do - he is an example more coaches should follow. He offered to help me. Some would argue that at 52, an ultra-runner is beyond his prime. 2 years ago, Valmir was speeding through Death Valley in July at the Badwater Ultramarathon attempting to break his prior record - he was in 1st place. The man is a machine. He is always in great running shape - at times, he is in extraordinary running shape.
Valmir is probably the only person on this earth who can run in Death Valley at the Badwater Ultramarathon in nothing more than a speedo - and nobody dares make fun of him. When he was running in the 120 degree heat, it was like a demigod was moving past the runners and their crews. You could hear them say, "I think that is Valmir Nunes." In the world of serious runners who know their history, the names of Valmir and Yiannis are on par with one another. This past year at Badwater, in honor of Valmir, our entire crew and runner wore speedos during the Badwater 135 (that is until our runner developed a bad case of chaffing). We were going after the Speedo record.
What can I say. I made a good friend. I encountered a person who I have the utmost respect for as a runner, a friend and a man. I am so grateful that I had the chance to meet Valmir, learn from him and laugh with him. I know if I'm ever in Brazil near my friend, I have a home - and vice-versa if my friend is ever in Colorado. I definitely developed a bro-mance, but it is based on ultimate respect. On our last day together, there was king-sized bed with a pull out couch. I entered the room first, and I said, "Campeon. La cama es para ti." (Champion. The bed is for you). I slept on the pull-out couch. Only a king-sized bed would do for this man, who is legend in my heart. Valmir taught me that a true champion is a true friend first.
Long live the champion - Valmir Nunes.
Jason Romero is a highly sought after inspirational speaker and the 1st and only blind person to run across America. Jason is a member of the US Paralympic Team, holds 12 world records in ultra-running, a former attorney and business executive, and a single father of 3 children. More information can be found on Jason at www.relentlessromero.com.