Christopher Sebela

writer, wronger, rearranger

Obituary of an Existential Badass

Micah True, whose real name was Michael Randall Hickman, is thought to have been born in California on November 10 1954. His father was a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant whose postings moved the family up and down the west coast of the United States. Michael was a skinny loner who often found himself picked on by bullies at new schools. As a result, every time the family moved home, his priority was to find the nearest Police Athletic League and sign up for boxing lessons. The bullies soon learned that it was wiser to leave him alone.

After leaving high school, he went off to Humboldt State University to study Eastern Religions and Native American History. To pay his fees, he began fighting for money in backroom bars, billing himself as the “Gypsy Cowboy”: “I just wandered the country fighting,” he recalled, “taking dives, winning some, losing but really winning others, mostly putting on good shows and learning how to fight and not get hurt.”

After a few years he took his winnings and decamped to the Hawaiian island of Maui, “looking for a purpose in life”. In a hidden cave he found a hermit called Smitty who fixed him up with a cave of his own and took him to visit Maui’s sacred sites.

It was Smitty who first got him into running. They would run between sacred mountain-tops, then run back again, fuelled only by wild papayas. Gradually Hickman the backroom brawler became Micah True the ultrarunner — Micah after the Old Testament prophet and True after a dog. During one of his runs, he met Melinda, a psychology graduate student from Seattle who was in Maui on holiday. They fell in love and he returned to live with her in Boulder, Colorado, where he could run the mountain trails and resume his career as a fighter.

When a photograph of True, bare-chested, fists cocked and wild haired, appeared on the cover of a local paper with a quote indicating that he would “fight anybody for the right amount of money”, he was invited by a kick-boxing promoter to appear in a nationally-televised bout against Larry Shepherd, America’s fourth-ranked light heavyweight. True was not a kick-boxer and wondered whether he might be letting himself in for a thrashing. He went ahead anyway but, rather than the usual boxer’s tactic of dodging and dancing, as the bell clanged to start the match he sprinted across the ring and, before his opponent realised what was happening, laid into him with a furious barrage of lefts and rights, then “kicked him in the face so hard I broke my toe — and his nose”.

He returned home to celebrate with Melinda, but found that she “had a knockout blow of her own to deliver”. She had met someone else, she informed him, and was going to live with her new lover in Seattle. News that he had become the fifth-ranked light heavyweight kick-boxer in America seemed small compensation for True. He decided to retire from the ring and decamped to wander America in his battered Chevy pickup, working as a furniture mover and running in every spare moment.

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