Running talent hits the trail

BISMARCK, N.D. - With an increasing focus on healthy living, American Indians across the country are becoming more active and looking to take care of their health. The recent addition of the Division II Men and Women's cross country team at the United Tribes Technical College is yet another way young Natives can get on the path to better health.

Cross country running is very similar to road racing except for instead of roads, most courses run through golf courses or dirt trails. According to Becki Wells, a 20-time state champion in track and field and cross country who has been selected as the head coach, cross country running is "more geared for endurance-type athletes, the stronger runners."

Wells, a member of the Blood tribe, is eager to see what her team can do. "As with any program it is going to take time," she told Indian Country Today in a recent interview. "Rome was not built over night and I do not expect they [the team] run at a national level right off the bat ? but I do feel I have the capabilities and experience to make this program into a national caliber program in the future, how long that takes depends on the athletes I get and how dedicated they are to their training."

Dedication and training should not be an issue for the five men Wells currently has on her roster. Several have played with the UTTC basketball team and were former high school track and cross country champions. Andrew Estes, a sophomore and former cross country star from South Dakota looks to be the top runner. Also from South Dakota, Francis Azure was just added. Terri Trotter, who won a State title in the 4 x 800 meter relay for Bismarck High School, is another member of the first year team. Tyler Charging and Michael Link Later, two UTTC basketball players with "natural speed" round out the roster thus far. The sole female runner so far is Ada McCormick from Lapwai, Idaho. While at Lapwai High School, McCormick did not run cross country or track but excelled in basketball and looks to have some running talent.

According to Wells, "the basketball guys have great anaerobic (sprinting) capabilities, I will have the challenge of getting them in aerobic sharp for cross country."

Wells, an accomplished runner herself, began running at an early age. She recalls running with her father as a youngster in Montana. "My father ran track and cross country at Dawson High School, in Glendive, Mont. and ran road races up into his mid-30s, so he was still training when I was young, and every so often my sister and I would talk him into letting us go." Wells and her father aren't the only active ones in her family, Wells' mother also ran track in high school and Wells' sister was a national cross country champion at Drake University. She is currently the cross country coach at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Wells' younger brother has won state titles in several track and cross country events.

Wells feels that there are more benefits to running than merely the physical payback. "The dedication and discipline it takes to compete at a collegiate level will transfer into other areas of their lives ? I hope I can show my athletes that there is more to life than indulging in self-destructive behaviors.

"The rewards are more than winning, the rewards are learning discipline, accountability, sacrifice, and being able to walk away saying you did your best, those things will make them [the athletes] a success in life not just in running."

United Tribes Technical College located in Bismarck has been dedicated since 1969 to serving the academic, social, and cultural needs of American Indians. The college prides itself on providing a comprehensive education and helping students attain self-sufficiency and an improved quality of life.