When five young people from the Pine Ridge Reservation answered a call for runners to represent their community in the New York City Marathon they never imagined their visit would create such a lasting impression. The trip which was sponsored by One Spirit, a non-profit organization headed by a remarkable woman by the name of Jeri Baker. One Spirit works within the Pine Ridge community bringing food, wood and various programs to community members in need. This past spring the New York Road Runners Club granted five entries to One Spirit with the hope of encouraging Native youth to train and finish the 26.2 mile course. “By allowing just regular community runners to enter the race, this program became a way to highlight the positive accomplishments members of the community can do,” says Baker. So with the help of Lakota running coach Dale Pine they set out to recruit 5 runners: Jeff Turning Heart, Amanda Carlow, Nupa White Plume, Alex Wilson and Kelsey Good Lance.
Two days before their visit, New York City was hit with the worst natural disaster it has ever faced. Nonetheless the city’s mayor told the world the race would continue. On Friday evening as this reporter sat with the runners in the lobby of their hotel conducting an interview the news reported the Marathon was cancelled. One could see the look of disappointment on the faces of the runners who worked so hard preparing for the race some running up to 120 miles a week. Almost instantly the runners, their coach and One Spirit’s Baker decided this trip would not be in vain and even though the mission of the run was to help their community they knew many communities in the city also needed help.
On Sunday morning Team One Spirit joined a few hundred other runners and climbed aboard a New York ferry heading toward one of the hardest hit boroughs in the city, Staten Island. The team along with their coach ran across the island to Midland Beach which was almost completely destroyed in the hurricane. The runners grabbed masks gloves and shovels and began going house to house helping residents dig their homes out of the decay left by the storm. They could have stayed dry and clean in one of the distribution areas handing out supplies but these Natives come from a place where helping your community is a daily duty. “We come from a hard place to live” says Coach Pine. “Many of our elders go without heat, electricity and hot water every day, we know what is needed in situations like this." And so they did, clearing a complete basement of moldy sheet rock and rugs in 30 minutes. As they helped a Chinese husband and wife who barely spoke English the man turned and asked “Who are these people?” A Road Runner staff member replied, "They are American Indians, they come from a community which is the poorest place in America.” The man replied “I am honored they would come to help me." Jeff Turning Heart said, “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."
The runners never imagined they would be coming to New York City to help another community in need but as One Spirit founder Jeri Baker said “These young people are now heroes in their community and an inspiration for our youth. That is what this trip was all about. I think that part of our mission was accomplished. There will be other races to run and goals to reach but helping people in need is priceless."
(editor's note: later today ICTMN will bring you a special photo gallery of the Lakota Five and their visit to NYC, featuring the work of Cliff Matias.)