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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 28, 2003 - Issue 90


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Crow Event Strives for Ultimate Fitness

by James Hagengruber Billings Gazette
credits: photo by Larry Mayers Billlings Gazette

Tipis at Little BighornCROW AGENCY -- This is probably the only triathlon where moccasins are required and where spandex shorts are covered with breech cloths.

It's all part of the Crow Tribe's way of injecting a bit of Native pride into the race. The entire Ultimate Warrior event, in fact, was born four years ago out of an idea to highlight traditional athletic skills -- paddling, running and bareback horse riding. The race is meant to promote health and combat ballooning rates of diabetes, substance abuse and heart disease on the reservation, said George Reed, the tribe's cultural affairs director.

"This is an incentive for the up-and-coming generation to condition themselves and respect their bodies," Reed said.

The race began Wednesday afternoon with a quarter-mile sprint. Racers then jumped into canoes and paddled 1 1/2 miles on the rain-swollen Little Bighorn River. Next, was a four-mile foot race. After swapping their running shoes for moccasins, the racers hoisted their tired bodies atop bareback horses and headed for the grassy hills for the final nine miles.

Though there were only seven racers, the tribe's grandstands were filled with hundreds of spectators, including 75-year-old Ron Stewart, of Wyola.

"There should be more of this type of activity," said Stewart, a Korean War veteran. "I really like this. Too bad they didn't have it when I was a kid."

Stewart said he was thrilled to see such fit young men from his tribe -- as well as from the Fort Peck Tribes and the Northern Cheyenne. The participants might have even made the warriors of old proud.

"They were in better shape back then," Stewart said. "They had better diets -- no preservatives, no tobacco and they ate grass-fed buffalo. Now, we all get diabetes and heart disease."

The race stages were designed to represent the three major transitions experienced by the Crow, said Reed, the tribe's cultural affairs director. The paddling hearkens back to the time when the Crow lived in the North Woods, when canoes were the major means of transportation. Running symbolizes the tribe's migration to the prairies and mountains. The final stage symbolizes the most recent 450 years of Crow history, after the introduction of the horse.

The race was organized originally by the Indian Health Service as a way to promote healthy living. The tribe now sponsors the race and puts up about $6,000 in prize money.

"It's an investment in our youth," Reed said.

Isaiah Good Luck, a wiry 19-year-old college student from Lodge Grass, captured the victory -- worth $3,000 -- in one hour, 28 minutes and 57 seconds. It was his second victory. After the race, Good Luck was barely winded. "It felt great getting on the horse after that run," he said.

After the race, Good Luck was asked to stand on a platform in front of the crowd while his father, Edmund Littlelight, sang a praise song.

"This is one of the best things that the Crow Tribe has ever developed," Littlelight said, his amplified voice cracking with emotion.

Dozens of spectators crossed the stage, congratulating Good Luck and dropping $1 and $5 bills into a hat. By the time the song was finished, two cowboy hats were packed with cash.

Three and a half minutes behind Good Luck was Anthony Lopez, a 24-year-old from Hardin. Lopez was bucked off his horse twice during the race and his bare back was bloodied by the falls.

"The first time I got on a horse was only a month ago," Lopez said, moments after the race. "A lot of people told me I couldn't do this race. I did it for myself and to prove them wrong."

One of the participants, Kalin Sun Rhodes, collapsed midway through the horse race. The young man was switching to a new horse when his legs gave out. An ambulance took him off the field. His condition was not known as of press time, but witnesses said he was suffering from exhaustion.

The participant who garnered the loudest applause from the grand stands was Lawrence Pete Big Hair. He finished last, but, at 49, he's also more than twice the age of the other racers. Big Hair said he only recently started training for the race.

"I'm doing this for the Native American servicemen who went to Iraq," Big Hair said. One of those servicemen was Big Hair's own son, a Marine, who returned home safely from Iraq Sunday.

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