Lakota runners to use NYC Marathon as fundraiserSIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Health benefits and adrenaline rushes aside, a group of five Native Americans runners from tribes in South Dakota have unique reasons for participating in this weekend's New York City Marathon.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Health benefits and adrenaline rushes aside, a group of five Native Americans runners from tribes in South Dakota have unique reasons for participating in this weekend's New York City Marathon.
They want to be positive role models for Lakota youth who primarily see the alcoholism, high rates of suicide and crippling poverty that is endemic to South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation.
Sunday's annual race, which will go on despite the devastation left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, is a means of fundraising for the Lakota runners, who are hoping to help fund a youth center on the reservation. They're being sponsored by ONE Spirit, a nonprofit organization that works with Lakota tribes.
“This is something different. This is excitement of something they can do, not what their problems are,” said ONE Spirit executive director Jeri Baker. The organization paid for the runners’ transportation, hotel and entry fees.
For Alex Wilson, the race is personal. The 24-year-old has trained in order to help provide a safe place for his young daughters to go on the Pine Ridge Reservation when they get older — something his older stepsister didn't have. In 1998, she committed suicide, and Wilson, who was 11 at the time, discovered her body.
He started running soon after to try to escape the horrible image in his mind. When people on the reservation ask him why he's running — sometimes as many as 19 miles — along the dirt roads of the reservation, he has one response.
“I say I'm running for you guys,” he said.
Three others from Pine Ridge are racing Sunday: Amanda Carlow, Nupa White Plume and Kelsey Good Lance. Jeff Turning Heart, Jr., who grew up on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota and now lives in Washburn, N.D., is also participating. They've all competed in road races before and started training several months ago.
New York Road Runners, which organizes the marathon, also chipped in to help with some of the costs and recently sent a film crew out to Pine Ridge. Road Runners spokesman Richard Finn said their stories — posted on its website — illustrate that the marathon is not just a road race, but also an event of the human spirit showcasing the determination and dedication that goes into running 26.2 miles.
Carlow, 31, is a counselor at a school on the reservation and said she wants to show her students and other youth that leading a healthy lifestyle — sans alcohol and drugs — can allow them to see the world.
Turning Heart Jr. said he hopes to become a role model like Lakota runner and 1964 Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills was to him. Mills, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is revered by many Lakota tribal members.
Like millions of others who tried to travel to the East Coast this week, the group's travel was delayed by Sandy. But they arrived safely Wednesday.
Some New Yorkers have criticized the decision by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to hold the marathon as scheduled, saying it would be insensitive to divert city resources at a time when many are suffering.
But Turning Heart Jr., for one, is happy to see it will go on as planned.
“With or without electricity, I want to do it,” he said.