Running for a Cause Beyond Medals, Lakota Athletes Return to the New York Marathon
Team One Spirit scouting the New York Marathon course. From left to right: Amanda Carlow, Nupa White Plume, Alex Wilson, Kelsey Good Lance, and Jeff Turning Heart Jr.
Cross-country running has deep cultural roots for many Native American nations. The National Museum of the American Indian in New York recently screened Racing the Rez, a documentary directed by Brian Truglio that tells the story of Navajo and Hopi high school runners, and how their dedication to sport transforms their lives. An exciting, equally transformational story is unfolding for five Lakota athletes from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota.
On Sunday, November 3, Amanda Carlow, Kelsey Good Lance, Jeff Turning Heart Jr., Nupa White Plume, and Alex Wilson will compete in the 2013 ING New York City Marathon. The team is training extensively for the 26.2-mile event and is determined to do well. Their lead coach, Dale Pine, has helped bring out the best in many Pine Ridge athletes since the 1980s, creating a legacy of state titles in track and cross-country. Reaching farther back, one of the Unites States’ greatest long-distance runners, Billy Mills, gold medalist in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, got his start in Pine Ridge. One Spirit, a non-profit charitable organization that manages many projects to help alleviate poverty on the reservation, sponsors the current runners, and they have had received support from New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organizers of the New York City Marathon, as well.
Team One Spirit originally planned to run the New York Marathon in 2012, a race that was cancelled following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. Instead of returning home to South Dakota, however,the Lakota team chose to stay in New York City to help victims of the storm. On the first Sunday in November, when the marathon would have taken place, they all went to Oakwood Beach, a Staten Island neighborhood hit very hard by the storm surge, to clear rubble and help people whose houses were badly damaged.
The running team and their coach help residents of the Oakwood Beach section of Staten Island recover from Hurricane Sandy. Above, from left to right: Coach Dale Pine, Amanda Carlow, Jeff Turning Heart Jr., Alex Wilson, Nupa White Plume, and Kelsey Good Lance. Right: Alex Wilson and Amanda Carolow.
Cliff Matias of Indian Country Today asked the team about their decision at that time. “We come from a hard place to live,” Coach Pine explained. “Many of our elders go without heat, electricity, and hot water every day. We know what is needed in situations like this.”
Runner Jeff Turning Heart Jr. added, “At first I was sad the race was cancelled, but coming here and seeing all these people working together made me feel proud to be part of it. We know how to survive in desperate situations and have the skills to assist these people in need. I know I am stronger from this experience.”
Fast forward to this coming November when the Lakota Five and their coach will return to New York to finish what they planned to do last year. Like many marathon participants, they will be running in support of charity. The team will help raise funds and awareness for One Spirit Youth Programs on the Pine Ridge reservation, including the construction of the Allen Youth Center in Allen, South Dakota. The youth center is being built to provide Lakota youth with a safe space for learning, community, and athletics.
Team One Spirit returns to the New York Marathon this fall, running to represent the people of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and to support construction of a much-needed youth center there. Left to right: Nupa White Plume, Jeff Turning Heart Jr., Alex Wilson, Amanda Carlow, and Kelsey Good Lance.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Pine Ridge is one of the poorest areas in the United States, and its children face serious problems of poverty, including substance abuse, violence and suicide, low graduation rates, high unemployment, and teen pregnancy. The Pine Ridge runners have overcome hardships themselves to become positive examples within their community. Especially, they are role models for other young people, by stepping up to help families on Staten Island last fall, as well as through their efforts on behalf of the youth center back home. When they take part in the upcoming marathon, they will be running with the support of their entire reservation, and they will be running for a great cause.
—Margaret Sagan and Grant Moffitt, NMAI
"Marathon runners show how 'Team One Spirit' inspires many," from the Native Health News Alliance blog Wellbound Storytellers
NYRR On the Run, a short video focusing on the One Spirit team, 9/26/2012
“The Lakota Five: Young Pine Ridge Marathon Runners Leave a Lasting Impression on New York City,” & accompanying photo gallery, Indian Country Today Media Network, 10/17/2012
ALSO OF INTEREST
Racing the Rez, a documentary by Brian Truglio about Navajo and Hopi high school runners
Margaret Sagan is Visitor Serices manager at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.
Grant Moffitt, a native of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, was a summer 2013 Marketing & Community Outreach intern at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York; his internship was funded by Pace University, Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Grant is pursuing a BA in marketing with a concentration in advertising and promotion from Pace.
All photographs were taken in New York City, November, 2012, and are used courtesy of One Spirit.