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Go Gladiators! Athletes From Blackfeet Rez Compete in NBC’s Spartan Race

Athletes from Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation will soon be getting some national exposure. Officials from Reebok and NBC Sports sponsored a team from the reservation located in Browning to compete in the network’s gruelling Spartan Race held in Bigfork, Montana earlier last month. An hour-long broadcast, depicting the team’s training and race-day trials and tribulations, will be shown on NBC Sports on July 23.

The Spartan Race, held in various North American communities, is a running event that features numerous obstacles, such as climbing over walls and carrying logs or gravel up steep hills. Both 5-mile and 10-mile courses are offered. Participants take part as individuals or teams.

The Blackfeet team’s 11 members (three women, eight men), competed in the 5-mile division. They stuck together throughout the course as plenty of teamwork was required to complete certain obstacles. It took the team more than three hours to finish the course. The race is set up by gender, and by teams, and brings some of the world's best athletes together to compete for $500,000 in cash and prizes, and the title of 2015 Reebok Spartan Race World Champion.

When the team’s leader, Alger Swingley, heard a production company was keen to film a team from the Blackfeet reservation, he felt he could entice enough people to form a team and enter the race.

Swingley was one of two team members who are descendants of an athlete (Belle Johnson) who was on the 1904 Fort Shaw Indian School women’s team that captured a world title in basketball. Swingley is Johnson’s grandson, while Jenna Rock, who also took part in the Spartan Race, is Johnson’s great-granddaughter.

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The Blackfeet team also included three brothers who are all in high school; Ryan, Dylan and Derek Loring.

One team member, who asked that his name not be used, said the team was not focused on completing the event in a certain time. “A lot of the obstacles we had to do twice, to get the right camera footage,” he admitted, adding NBC officials were keen to display the teamwork involved in completing the course. Other members included husband-and-wife, Duey and Cass Bear Medicine; Susie Small, Kurtis Hall, Ron Ingraham and Karl Ingraham.

“It’s really amazing the opportunity to do this even came up,” Small told ICTMN. “[NBC was] really sensitive to our traditions and did not want to depict us in a bad light.”