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Wings of America: Teams soar at Cross Country Championships

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HOUSTON - The Wings of America all-Indian junior men's and women's teams captured first and third places respectively at the USA Winter National Cross Country Championships held in Houston in February.

The challenging European-style course at Buffalo Bayou Park was especially brutal after rain fell the first night and most of the next day. Runners slipped and fell on the steep hills and sharp turns as they plowed their way through the slick mud. Even the spectators were covered in mud during the two-day event.

After the junior women's 6K race on Feb. 15, the Wings team was tied with the Dallas Metroplex Striders for second place, but fell to third after the tiebreaker. Team members included Sheyenne Lewis (Navajo), Church Rock, N.M., who was the first Wings runner across the line in 21st place, Roxann James (Navajo), Gallup, N.M., Jessica Hale (Navajo), Rehoboth, N.M., Phoebe Garcia (Hidatsa), Parshall, N.D., Cateka Tsosie (Navajo), Gallup, and Kristin St. Germaine (Navajo) from Blue Gap, Ariz. Lyn Pine (Lakota) from Pine Ridge, S.D., coached the Wings junior women's team.

On Feb. 16, the Wings' junior men were led by Forrest Tahdooahnippah (Comanche), St. Paul, Minn., who finished 24th overall on the 8K course. Rounding out this year's team was Marshall Medicine Bear (Cheyenne), Watonga, Okla., Jonathan Harmon (Hopi Tewa/Navajo), Holbrook, Ariz., William Smallwood (Spokane), Spokane, Wash., Patrick Grass (Oglala Sioux), Pine Ridge, and Justin Marsette (Three Affiliated Tribes), Roseglen, N.D. Serving as coach for the junior men was James Nells (Navajo) of Moodys, Okla.

"Racing on the deteriorating course against mostly college freshmen was tough - it brought out the character, pride and discipline of the Wings runners," said Bob Nakaidinae, Wings program director.

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"Both coaches were satisfied with the preparation and performance of their athletes. In addition to the focus of the races, the trip also provided opportunities to learn about the NASA Space Programs, view materials from historic Carlisle Indian School, and meet with a representative of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. Phillip Castillo, a Wings' alumnus now running with the Army World Class Athlete Program, was the keynote speaker the final evening. Several runners also experienced their first airplane flight. The trip provided learning experiences on several different levels."

The experience of competing at the USA National Championships is one of eight programs offered by Wings, an American Indian youth development program operated by The Earth Circle Foundation, a non-profit corporation based in Santa Fe, N.M. The runners who went to nationals will be invited to attend the Wings' Leadership/Camp Facilitator Training in June and will then be eligible to work in running and fitness programs in their communities.

Also in June, Wings and Nike, Inc. will co-host the sixth annual "American Indian Running Coaches Clinic" in Santa Fe. Coaches and others working in running and fitness programs in Indian country will have the opportunity to share information with experts and prominent individuals from the running world.

Supporters making this year's trips possible include Carl and Wahleah Davis; Greg, Jenny and Tori Swanson; Jan and Nicholas Zettlemoyer; Rice Native American Student Association; NASA Johnson Space Center and NIKE, Inc., which provides a cash grant, uniforms and shoes and matching grants for employee donations. In addition to many caring individual donors, businesses and corporations, Wings of America receives support from Justice for Athletes, Santa Fe Community Foundation, The Bowerman Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, Ambrose Monell Foundation, The Educational Foundation of America, Bank of America Foundation and Margaret Jacobs Charitable Trust.

For more information about the Wings programs, contact Bob Nakaidinae at (505) 982-6761 or