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Notah Begay Challenges Native Youth to Improve Their Health and Their Generation

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Notah Begay III was not content with simply winning PGA Tour events (four of them, to be exact). He was not content with creating a legacy of hard work and success for people Indian Country to follow based solely on his exploits in the game of golf. It wasn't enough to simply inspire others through his exploits on the course, Begay wanted to affect real change, he wanted to get directly involved in helping inspire, and challenge, youth in Indian Country to become active, to stay active, and to improve their health in the face of mounting evidence of a health crisis in Indian Country.

The fight to empower people within Indian Country to get and stay healthy is nothing short of a fight for the lives of children. Obesity is estimated to cause 112,000 deaths per year in the United States, and one third of children born in the year 2000 are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime. The number that the NB3 Foundation is looking to change drastically is for Native American children, 50% of children born in the year 2000 are expected to develop diabetes during their lifetime.

In 2005, Begay founded the NB3 Foundation in an effort to "use sports and wellness as a means for social change and to fight the epidemic of type 2 diabetes," the foundation's website states. Based at the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico, the NB3 Foundation runs golf, soccer, and health and youth leadership programs at the Pueblo, in the greater Albuquerque area, and in tribal communities throughout New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation community of To'hajiilee. In 2009 the Foundation expanded, reaching tribal communities across the country through "strategic grant making and education and outreach through soccer and diabetes prevention education," the site states.

Some of the accomplishments of the Foundation include serving more than 7,770 youth since 2005, with nearly 4,000 this past year alone. Fundraising efforts like the annual NB3 Challenge help raise money that is poured into the Foundation's programs. In 2009, the NB3 Challenge, which features some of the greatest golfers in the world competing on the course to help raise money for the Foundation, helped to fund a $785,000 soccer field and community park for the San Felipe Pueblo, the first recreation facility in the Pueblo's history. This past year, golfers like Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam were among those that participated. More than $500,000 was raised during the fourth annual challenge, which was held on Aug. 31.

“It’s a world-class event,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, the director of the NB3 Foundation, to Indian Country Today Media Network this past September. “I don’t think there is anything like it in Indian country.”

The past NB3 Challenge saw 5,000 spectators at the Atunyote Golf Club, located at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, N.Y. This was an increase of more than 1,000 spectators from the previous year. Begay wants it to grow even more.

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“We will start to look for more tribal partners to get involved with this initiative,” he says.

As for the Foundation's programs, good reports are starting to come in. The John Hopkins Center for American Indian Health has recognized the NB3 Foundation's soccer programs as positively impacting physical fitness in Indian Country in a way designed to help prevent obesity and the onset of type 2 diabetes. The Foundation has secured grants for 16 different Native American communities and schools in 11 different states, and through its advocacy efforts and the large spotlight the NB3 Challenge brings to the issue, has raised national awareness and support for their efforts at preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes in the youth of Indian Country.

The Foundation's strategies, along with sports programming for kids, includes community based nutrition education, making healthy foods accessible in the homes and schools of Indian Country, youth and community leadership development, model program development that can be replicated throughout Indian Country, and making strategic investments in Native American youth and quality programming to serve them.

Begay's good works are being noticed. In a three-year study commissioned by the Institute for International Sport, he was named as one of the top 100 worldwide sports educators. The NB3 Foundation has brought together many like-minded people who are all working in concert to help turn the tide of obesity and type-2 diabetes in Indian Country.

The NB3 Foundation recently announced the creation of a new soccer league, which ran from September 10 to October 29. A press release stated that the goal of the NB3SL was "to provide the best possible atmosphere for kids to enjoy learning the game while emphasizing player development. To accomplish this goal, the NB3SL integrates proven strategies from around the world to encourage long-term participation and positive youth development."

"Through my experience in youth player development both nationally and internationally, I have seen the benefits of this model both individually and collectively," said Stephanie Gabbert, NB3 Foundation Director of Soccer and former U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach.

With each passing year, the Foundation grows, its reach gets longer, and more people throughout Indian Country and the nation at large are becoming aware of the terrible threat of unhealthy lifestyles on Native and non-Native youth, and the dedicated people working hard to change this reality.