July 15, 2013

Running for a Cause Beyond Medals, Lakota Athletes Return to the New York Marathon

Runners ed

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. 

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SandyAid edThe 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. 

ING NY Marathon ed

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


One Spirit | NYC Marathon

 "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

“No NYC Marathon to run for group of Native Americans who were racing to inspire hope, raise funds for the Pine Ridge reservation,” New York Daily News, 11/3/2012 


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. 

Comments (7)

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it's so great that a running team would contribute so much! great post

Its great to se youth helping so much

I wish you all the best and a good run. Your run is honorable. I am proud of you and what you represent.

I am touch with these runners who are dedicated to helping their community, as a runner and a track coach myself I have great respect for those who put self aside and run their hearts out for a cause, let me know that there are people who hold on to those words that say I am my brother's keeper. keep up the good work I hope one day that I will get to meet those runners from team spirit. please keep in touch

THE OGLALA SIOUX RUNNER (for the Lakota people and the five marathoners of One Spirit Runners)

When I run I sometimes think / of Crazy Horse, / That “Shirt Wearer” who was / not afraid / to run courageously, with a yellow lightning streak / on his face, bringing fear
to an enemy, Blue shirt or brave. / Of those who are proud enough / to run / at Pine Ridge, / There is greatness
among the rolling mixed grass prairie, / Where the wind blows sand / forming dunes. / There the vision of pines, cedar trees /and horses running / along the White River,
That is the Lakota shield.

—Luis Lázaro Tijerina, Burlington, Vermont

Love all the volunteer work you guys do. Keep up the Spirit. My child is named Spirit. Keep pushing forward and teach the younger ones the same. Good luck Team One Spirit!

Great ! articles that you write on this blog make me understand, and more. your writing does not make me confused.

July 27, 2012

Celebrating American Indian Athletes in the 1912 Olympics

SVoss-Wheaties22FINALJim Thorpe Commemorative Wheaties Box, autographed by his daughter Grace Thorpe. 7 cm x 21 cm x 30.8 cm. National Museum of the American Indian, 26/4641. Photo by S. Voss


Even the most casual sports observer has heard of Jim Thorpe. The Sac and Fox athlete who swept the Pentathlon and Decathlon at the 1912 Olympics earned awards, accolades, and die-hard fans in nearly every major sport in the early 20th century: baseball, football, basketball, track and field. But he wasn’t the only Native American athlete who sealed his reputation at the Stockholm games. Thorpe was joined by three Indian brethren from the U.S. whose influence, even 100 years later, continues to reverberate throughout in Indian Country and beyond: Hopi runner Louis Tewanima, Native Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, and Penobscot runner Andrew Sockalexis.    

Tewanima winning the 1911 New York City marathon  -- Library of CongressLong-distance runner and Olympic medalist Lewis Tewanima (Hopi, 1889?-1969) after winning a marathon in New York City, May 6, 1911. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Lewis Tewanima

Like Thorpe, Tewanima entered competitive sports by way of the Carlisle Indian School in rural Pennsylvania—2,000 miles from his birthplace on the remote Hopi mesas of Arizona. In 1907, he was ordered by federal authorities to attend the government-run school after a long dispute with the tribe over the education of its children. Tewanima arrived at the Carlisle’s doorstep “virtually a prisoner of war,” the school’s superintendent Moses Friedman later put it.

At 110 pounds, the twenty-something’s scrawny physique belied his natural athleticism. According to legend, Tewanima learned enough English to tell the school’s famed coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, “Me run fast good.” After clocking his times, Warner needed no further convincing. Just a year later and with minimal training, Tewanima found himself competing at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London alongside fellow Carlisle Indian School teammate Frank Mt. Pleasant (Tuscarora). Competing against the world’s most rigorously trained runners, Tewanima placed 9th in the marathon with a time of 3:09:15. The performance of the virtually unknown athlete caught the eye of President Theodore Roosevelt, who reportedly remarked at a reception for the team, “This is one of the originals.”

When the 1912 Olympics rolled around, Tewanima returned with yet another Carlisle teammate, Jim Thorpe. Neither was required to compete in qualifying trials, such was the confidence in their abilities. Tewanima won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters with a time of 32:06.5—a U.S. record that stood for more than 50 years until Oglala Lakota runner Billy Mills broke it to win the gold medal during the 1964 Games.

Tewanima, Thorpe, and Warner enjoyed a hero’s welcome upon their return to rural Pennsylvania. Thousands of fans lined the streets to watch the now world-famous athletes parade through town, followed by a speech from the Carlisle superintendent that was as critical of Tewanima’s culture as it was complimentary of his athletic achievements: “His people, the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, had been giving the Government much trouble and were opposed to progress and education. It was finally decided to send twelve of the head men and most influential of the tribe to Carlisle to be educated in order to win them over to American ideas,” Friedman declared. “Louis Tewanima here is the twelfth of that party. He is one of the most popular students at the school. You all know of his athletic powers—I wanted you to know of his advancement in civilization and as a man.”

What Friedman didn’t realize (or perhaps preferred not to acknowledge) is that Tewanima’s athletic prowess was a direct result of his Hopi upbringing. Born in the late 1880s, Tewanima spent his childhood carrying on the ancient Hopi tradition of running as a spiritual act. For the tribe, long-distance running is a physical form of prayer believed to produce rain for their parched lands, good fortune for their people, and a connection to their ancestors. Hopi foot races were legendary for the endurance they demonstrated, not the least because most runners ran barefoot, despite the region’s rocky, cactus-strewn landscape.

Running was also a much-needed diversion on the lonely, windswept deserts of the Southwest. During his induction into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1957, Tewanima recalled that as a child he would run nearly 50 miles with his friends just to glimpse passing trains in Winslow before embarking on the 50-mile journey home: “It was the summertime,” he explained with a shrug, “The days were long.”

But despite the insistence among Carlisle administrators that Tewanima had voluntarily exchanged his Hopi earrings, long hair, and traditional lifestyle for more “civilized” ways, he returned to Second Mesa, Arizona, soon after the 1912 Olympics. He remained there for the rest of his life, herding sheep and growing corn as his Hopi forefathers had before him. He died in 1969 after falling off a 70-foot cliff while walking home from a religious ceremony. At the time of his death, he was believed to be the oldest living U.S. Olympian.

Since 1974, hundreds of runners have gathered in Second Mesa for the annual Tewanima Foot Race to honor his memory. “Tewanima is a cultural hero to all Hopi,” Hopi High School track coach Rick Baker told Sports Illustrated in 1996, “But especially to young runners.”

Duke same series_CroppedDuke Kahanamoku (Native Hawaiian) prepares to dive, 1920 Olympics, Antwerp, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Duke Kahanamoku

Known alternatively as the Bronze Duke of Waikiki, the Father of Surfing, and Hawai'i’s Ambassador of Aloha, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku remains the state’s greatest athlete. His list of achievements is a long one. Beginning with the 1912 Olympics, he participated in five Olympic games, earning three gold medals and two silver medals and setting three world records in the 100-year freestyle over the course of his career. In 1913, he earned the title of U.S. indoor champion; he became the outdoor titleholder in 1916 and repeated the achievement in 1920. He developed the now common “flutter kick” and popularized modern surfing, first appearing on the shores of Sydney, Australia, to teach eager would-be surfers how to carve their own longboards and later promoting the sport in southern California, Atlantic City, and on Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, where an avenue once bore his name.

Though Duke’s first name suggests a link to Hawai'i’s 19th-century kingdom, the Native Hawaiian actually inherited his name from his father, whose birth coincided with the Duke of Edinburgh's first visit to Hawai'i. Born in 1890 as the eldest of nine children, Duke learned how to swim “the old-fashioned way,” as he told the audience of the popular television show This Is Your Life in 1957: by being thrown from a canoe at the age of four by his father, who instructed him to “save yourself or drown.” Despite this intense introduction to the water, or perhaps because of it, Duke would spend the better part of his childhood in the surf at Waikiki Beach not far from his home.

In 1911 Duke swam in his very first meet, a competition sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and broke his very first record. Swimming 100 yards in 55.4 seconds, he beat the previous record not by fractions of a second, but an astonishing 4.6 seconds. The new time stunned AAU officials on the mainland, who refused to recognize the accomplishment, first claiming that officials in Hawai'i had misread their stopwatches and later that ocean currents had aided the swimmer. Local supporters eventually raised enough money to send him to Chicago, where he swam in a pool for the first time and dominated the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. A year later, he made his victorious debut at the 1912 Olympics, winning the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle and the silver medal in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. King Gustav of Sweden crowned him with a laurel wreath that now sits in the Parker Ranch Museum in Hawai'i.

Though World War I forced the cancellation of the 1916 Games, Duke Kahanamoku continued to accept invitations to swimming exhibitions all over the country, competing in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and St. Louis in the span of one month that year, and bringing his 100-pound, 16-foot longboard with him whenever his travels took him near the ocean. Wind sliding, as surfing was once known among the Hawaiian royalty who practiced it, suddenly appeared on shores throughout the world.

During his last Olympic appearance, in 1924 in Paris, he was joined by his younger brother Samuel, who won the bronze medal in the 100-meter freestyle; Duke took silver. But his most impressive feat occurred in 1925, when he personally rescued eight passengers from a capsized boat off the coast of Corona del Mar using nothing but his strength and his longboard.

That such an unbelievable rescue might read like the plot of a Hollywood movie is appropriate considering that that’s where Duke headed next. Over the course of his 28-year film career, the telegenic athlete appeared alongside actors John Wayne, Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda,  and others in roles that emphasized—and arguably mocked—his Native Hawaiian roots. During this time he also became Hawai'i’s unofficial ambassador, greeting VIPs like John F. Kennedy, Joe DiMaggio, Shirley Temple, and Amelia Earhart during their visits to the islands. The popularity and respect he enjoyed in Hawai'i eventually led him to the Honululu Police Department, where he spent 26 years as the city’s sheriff.

He died in 1968 at the age of 77. A ceremony was held on Waikiki Beach and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean while a local reverend offered these departing words: “God gave him to us as a gift from the sea, and now we give him back from whence he came.”

Reilly1128-600x952Andrew Sockalexis (Penobscot) with marathon trophies, 1912. Photo courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries

Andrew Sockalexis

Andrew Sockalexis, like Lewis Tewanima,  took up running as an homage to his tribe’s ancestral customs. Born in 1892 on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine, Sockalexis grew up hearing stories about the tribe’s legendary “pure men,” an elevated status attained only by the community’s most agile youth. Before the tribe lost its hunting grounds to European settlers, these men acted as the Penobscot’s designated hunters, literally running down prey and abstaining from liquor, tobacco, and women to stay in top physical condition. The Sockalexis clan had produced a number of pure men in the past, and athleticism still ran in the family, so to speak. Andrew's father had earned a reputation as an outstanding runner in the tribe’s traditional five-hour foot races. His cousin, Louis Sockalexis, would become the first Native American baseball player to join the major leagues when the Cleveland Spiders drafted him in 1897. (Thanks to Louis’ success, in 1915 the team officially changed its name to the Cleveland Indians.)

Andrew Sockalexis was 10 years old when his father built a track near their home and encouraged his only son to use it. Just eleven years later, Andrew made national headlines by finishing 17th at the Boston Marathon in his first official race. The performance earned him a spot on the U.S. team for the 1912 Olympics, but 90-degree heat on the day of the race took its toll. Though he was considered a favorite among the marathon’s 12 American runners, Sockalexis placed 4th. He later explained that his strategy of holding back to conserve energy had backfired. He had waited too long to gain on the marathon’s frontrunners and couldn’t catch up in time. 

In the end, Sockalexis’ promising career would be cut short. In 1919, seven years after his Olympics debut, he succumbed to tuberculosis. He was just 27 years old. On the 90th anniversary of his death, the Maine State Legislature officially recognized him among the ranks of the state’s greatest runners of all time, declaring that he “brought much pride to the Penobscot Nation and to all the people of Maine.”

— Molly Stephey, Public Affairs Producer, Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

These photos are part of the museum's exhibition, "Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics," on view in Washington, D.C., through September 3, 2012.

Comments (7)

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Say, you got a nice blog article.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

Olympics are awesome, any era!

Really helpful. Thanks for sharing useful detail.

Thank you very much

It's pretty cool to see the history of these American Indian athletes, especially considering the current day issues with team names and player names being disallowed from being used as they are viewed as derogatory or offensive to native tribes.

Inspiring I really enjoy to read this blog post I always appreciate work like this.

That was a pretty interesting post, will be looking forward to your future updates.

July 16, 2012

Iroquois Nationals Play a Decisive Game July 17 at the 2012 Lacrosse World Championships


Newsflash: Iroquois Nationals beat the U.S. lacrosse team today (July 17) 15–13. The Nationals advance seeded in the winners' bracket. Here's today's scorecard.

With a record of two wins and one loss so far in the 2012 World Lacrosse Championships in Turku, Finland, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is making a powerful statement in world sports. The next question is, When will it play in the Olympics?
        In the first three games of the championships, which run through July 21, the Iroquois Nationals crushed England, came back for a decisive win over Australia, and in a dramatic match lost narrowly to powerhouse Canada. In their next game on July 17, the Nationals take on the U.S. team to advance from divisional play to a berth in the winners' bracket of the 12-nation tournament.
        As an expression of Haudenosaunee sovereignty, the team travels with Iroquois Confederacy passports. During the last championships, held in Manchester, England, in 2010, the British government denied the team visas. This year, the team received a warm welcome from spectators mindful of that diplomatic debacle. The next step for the team will be to play lacrosse as an official sport in the Olympics—though not during the London games starting July 27. 
        It’s an often overlooked fact that the sport, invented and still played with great spirit by American Indians, was once an official Olympic sport. And an Iroquois team once competed and won an Olympic medal. 
        The Third Olympiad, in St. Louis in 1904, held a three-way lacrosse tournament including an all-Iroquois team from Brantford, Ontario. Since competitors at the time were not entered as national teams, the Iroquois represented their club and their Haudenosaunee affiliation, not Canada. The team finished third, winning the bronze medal. Information on the team is sparse, since it submitted a roster of obvious pseudonyms, such as “Flat Iron” and “Man Afraid Soap.”     
        The 1908 London Olympics also hosted a lacrosse tournament, but no American Indian team was entered and none of the Canadian or U.S. players were identifiably Native. The cost of travel to London very likely discouraged Native participation. The Olympics dropped lacrosse thereafter as an official sport, because of the limited number of countries that played it. 
        But lacrosse made a few subsequent appearances as an Olympic exhibition or demonstration sport: in Amsterdam in 1928; Los Angeles in 1932; London in 1948, the last time the games were held there; and Los Angeles again in 1984. At the 1932 games, Olympic organizers were allowed two demonstration sports, one domestic and one foreign; they chose football as the domestic sport and lacrosse as the foreign. (The rationale was that lacrosse was played only on the East Coast, not in California.) The lacrosse federation originally projected a competition for Indian teams. At some point before try-outs in Long Island, the federation switched to an all-star Haudenosaunee team. Then, under somewhat murky circumstances, national lacrosse officials decided that too many of the Iroquois players had professional backgrounds, and the team was not allowed to compete in Los Angeles. 
        Although the sport fell into Olympic limbo, it has exploded in popularity in recent years. With widespread high school and college play and several professional leagues, lacrosse is now a major North American sport with increasing presence worldwide. It is again knocking on the Olympic door. The requirement for consideration is a viable presence in 34 countries. National lacrosse committees are now active in 32 countries, including the Haudenosaunee National team. A modest proposal: If more Indian nations fielded teams, such as a Choctaw or Cherokee team, they could easily boost the sport over the Olympic threshold and restore its place in the premiere world athletic arena.

Championship logo
To follow the World Championships, go to the 2012 World Championships website, which is giving live scorecards for ongoing games. For news on the Iroquois team and links to other sites about the sport, visit Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse. Indian Country Today (ICT) is providing thorough text and photographic coverage; ICT's excellent background story on Iroquois Nationals team and the 2012 tournament here.

Team scores to date

Iroquois 24 – England 2
Canada 11 – Iroquois 9
Iroquois 17 – Australia 9 

—Jim Adams

Jim Adams, senior historian at the National Museum of the American Indian, is the curator of the exhibition Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics, on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through September 3.

Comments (2)

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Great post, thanks for this!

Splendid Article, Please Keep Update Us, Thank You :)