TUBA CITY, AZ – Kyle Sumatzkuku, a Native American endurance runner from the Hopi tribe in Northern Arizona recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to enable his travel and participation in the 125th Boston Marathon on October 11, 2021. The goal of the campaign is to raise funds that will cover the long trip from Moenkopi, Arizona to Boston, Massachusetts.
Whether the origin is cultural or entertainment-based, sports have always played an important role in Native American history. Running has been a part of Hopi culture for hundreds of years. Coming from a long tradition of runners, Kyle’s dream has always been to run with the best in Boston. According to Kyle, ‘‘One of my dreams has always been to have an opportunity to race in one of the biggest marathons on the world stage. The path that led me here, and the events that took place in the last few years, all occurred for a purpose and brought me to this point.’’
The Boston Athletic Association, which manages the Boston Marathon, provides the most recent list of 2020 – Present Qualifying Time requirements, where they point out that over 24,000 Qualifiers met their qualifying time, with many runners from over 100 countries and all 50 states.
To overcome his insecurities from a heart breaking performance during a previous marathon, Kyle registered for the 2019 Shiprock Marathon in New Mexico shooting for a personal best. He said, ‘‘I had an understanding going into the Shiprock Marathon, which, this race would be a true follow-up test to my endurance and skills I built. I also knew there was a strong possibility that anything could happen on the racecourse,” he added. Even though he began to be anxious with doubts on the day of the Shiprock Marathon, he mustered up strength and did what he had been doing throughout his training period, staying focused with some prayer.
Kyle’s success at the Shiprock Marathon gave him confidence to apply for the Boston Marathon, as his race time of 2 hours, 38 minutes and 8 seconds was a credible qualifier. The Boston Marathon, which was previously scheduled for April of 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Reflecting on his experiences, Kyle expressed, ‘‘Running, and the tradition of Hopi foot racing, is one simple aspect of our culture, but it’s also an incredible teaching tool for practicing core values that allow me to continue with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and chasing my dreams.’’
Various studies over the years reveal that Native American youth have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, alcoholism and suicide than any other ethnic group in the United States. This was seemingly due to inadequate nutrition or not allowing time for physical activity, which leads to unhealthy lifestyle choices well into adulthood. Previous studies have shown that participation in sport can help alleviate many of the aforementioned problems currently ailing Native American youth.
In addition to his race goals, one of his main objectives is to continue to assist mentoring and encouraging youth with choosing active healthy lifestyles. Kyle is also set on building economic development for his tribe and other indigenous communities while sensitizing them on issues related to health and wellness, physical activity and nutrition.
Raising awareness for his Hopi community, while participating in the Boston Marathon, will put Kyle much closer to reaching his ambitious goals. His other dreams include obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in Business Management in the next few years, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team for long distance running, racing the marathon in London and competing in the great Western States Endurance Run, to name a few.
On why the Boston Marathon is so important to him, Kyle commented, ‘‘The experience will simply allow me to race side-by-side with some of the most amazing endurance runners from around the globe. Like many other incredible Hopi runners before me, like many other amazing indigenous racers who all set the bar high, I effectively want to achieve small personal goals with this experience and continue to win more races, while I grow stronger and faster. I will also strive to win for our community. I will honourably represent many Hopi people – my family – my tribe. I will embrace all the help I can get.’’
Across Indian Country today, there are many amazing success stories in sports, and several more high achieving athletes inspiring many people to move toward a healthy and fit lifestyle. Perhaps the most famous American Indian athletes of all time is Jim Thorpe who in 1907 persuaded legendary football coach Pop Warner to allow him try out for the Carlisle “Indians” college football team. After starring for the team, he went onto stardom with his role as an Olympic athlete and professional team player in basketball, football, and baseball.
Track and field athlete, Billy Mills won a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics making him the first American to win a gold medal in the 10000-meter run. Despite his relatively large size (for the era) standing at 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 145 lbs., Andrew Sockalexis like many Indian athletes of the era attended the Carlisle Indian School, where he ran on the track team as well. Sockalexis made his first appearance as a marathon runner in 1911, when he ran the Boston Marathon, finishing 17th.
Hopi Tribe’s very own Lewis “Tsökahovi” Tewanima held an American record in running for decades. Even though he was never happy to be in the Carlisle Indian School, he continuously excelled in races alongside the famous Jim Thorpe. Today, more than a century after Tewanima’s Olympian feats, the Hopi hold the annual Louis Tewanima Footrace in his honour, which is open to runners from all states and nations.
Duane Humeyestewa, who is tracking Kyle on this journey with a documentary project, states, “As Hopi people, we have the inherent strength and resilience to run the highest mesas and hike the highest mountains, so running and finishing a marathon is a testament of that endurance built into our DNA. We can’t let anything stop us from achieving our dreams.”
Following his ancestors on the trail they have blazed, Kyle Sumatzkuku is looking to create new opportunities and inspire his people who are under-represented in today’s American sports. Along with financial support to achieve his life-long dreams, Kyle also asks for prayers. Kyle’s sentiments sum it up well, ‘‘I am requesting your extra boost in supporting my goals and join our journey to Boston. It would be incredible to achieve one of my dreams. Send me your positive energies. Send me your prayers. I will gather up all the prayers and carry them with me as I train, prepare and execute on my race plan.’’
To support Kyle’s dream, visit https://gofund.me/ad7260f1