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Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

A 25-year-old Hopi running phenom continues the legacy of Native runners showing up on big stages. Kyle Sumatzkuku, Hopi, ran alongside some of the world’s best runners and was the first Native person to cross the finish line at the 125th Boston Marathon on Monday.

Sumatzkuku ran 26.2 miles with an impressive finishing time of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 17 seconds. His average time per mile was 5 minutes and 35 seconds per mile. To put that into perspective, the first place finisher overall was Benson Kipruno from Kenya. His pace was 4 minutes and 58 seconds per mile.

“I’m really happy and content of how the results went and the performance,” Sumatzkuku said in a Wednesday appearance on Indian Country Today’s newscast.

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The runner says he was running 80, 90 and 100 miles in his years-long training. On his “Sunday long runs,” he trekked 18 to 19 miles.

In 2019, Sumatzkuku qualified for the Boston Marathon by running the Shiprock Marathon. The Boston Athletic Association requires that all runners qualify for the race by running a marathon in a specific time based on a runner’s gender and age before they can apply.

He ran the Shiprock Marathon in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 8 seconds — making his Boston time 1 minutes and 51 seconds faster than his previous performance.

“I wanted to set the standard and the bar high for my Boston Marathon debut,” he said.

Sumatzkuku waited two years to run Boston after the 2020 race was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the interim, he worked as part of Hopi’s COVID-19 response team by delivering goods and foods.

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The Boston Marathon, which is one of the world’s six major marathons, was held unintentionally on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

To his surprise, Sumatzkuku says this occasion gave him strength. On race day, Sumatzkuku says he needed to catch a bus then walk approximately a mile to get to the starting line.

“I was so nervous,” he said.

Following the advice of other runners, he says he kept his composure and went into a “deep meditation,” focusing on running his own race. He had a carefully articulated plan of how to run.

Native people have a history of running the Boston Marathon.

Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, Narragansett, won the 1936 Boston Marathon with a time of 2 hours 28 minutes and 51 seconds. Sumatzkuku’s Boston time was 2 minutes and 34 seconds faster than that.

Brown became an instant hero to Native people across North America and inspired the name “Heartbreak Hill” to describe the most iconic — and dreaded — section of the Boston Marathon course.

Alongside Sumatzkuku, other Native people ran this year’s Boston Marathon including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Native runners who finished the 125th Boston Marathon:

-Kyle Sumatzkuku, Hopi
-Erin Tapahe, Navajo
-Brandon Parker, Comanche Nation
-Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo
-Craig Curley, Navajo
-Liberty Reyes, Shoshone Bannock
-Richard Langdeaux, Sicangu Lakota
-Angie Hirsch, Dog Creek First Nation
-Robyn Michaud, Anishinaabe
-Dustin Martin, Diné

He says he and the other Native runners met up before the race and he also went to a mural unveiling honoring Native runners.

Running forward

Sumatzkuku has his sights set on training, saying Boston was just the beginning.

Currently, Hopi filmmaker Duane Humeyestewa is working on a documentary highlighting Sumatzkuku’s journey.

“The Olympic team is a long and personal goal for me as I stay on the right path and just shoot for the stars.”

Louis Tewanima, Hopi, won a silver medal at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. At the time, Native Americans were not U.S. citizens. His American record stood for 52 years.

For Sumatzkuku, the London Marathon or any other world major marathon is his next goal. 

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10/22: This story was updated to include the names of more Native runners who successfully completed the 125th Boston Marathon

If you know of any other Native runners who successfully finished the 125th Boston Marathon, please email achavez@indiancountrytoday.com with their information

Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is an anchor and producer for Indian Country Today’s newscast. On Twitter: @aliyahjchavez