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Running with Intent – Running as Medicine

By Willson Atene 

Photo credit: SLC Air Protectors

It was a crisp cool September morning; we woke from our slumber at La Posada Pintada in Bluff, Utah. This is before the big run – 350 miles from Bears Ears to Salt Lake City. We all met up in the lobby of a boutique inn and had breakfast. While eating and drinking our coffee, we were instructed on what we were to expect throughout the week. After the debriefing and introductions, we all packed the vans and left for Bears Ears.

Called the Youth Prayer Run, it started at Bears Ears on the morning of September 1st with ten runners. Jacob Crane (Executive Director of SLC Air Protectors), L.J. Jim (Co-founder/Board Member of the SLC Air Protectors) and other members of the SLC Air Protectors Team were also present to see us off. Before starting our running as medicine journey, we were blessed by a Diné protection prayer song and a Diné traveling song to ensure safety. 

Jordan Daniels, Bj Swimmer, Rhiannon Velazquez, Michael Charles, Chase Hobson, Justin Susan; Photo credit: SLC Air Protectors

The temperature that morning at Bears Ears was cold, as we were blessed with the swift blessing of a Male Rain shower. I remember looking around and everyone was in their running shorts and cut off sleeve t-shirts, standing there hugging themselves. We do our best to keep warm. After issuing our offerings to the Bears Ears cultural landscape, we drove back closer to the highway. Our 350-mile run to Salt Lake City officially began. 

Simon Jones, Kedesha Etsitty, Wilson Atene, Son Sanchez, Linda Jim , Marcus Onesalt; Photo credit: SLC Air Protectors 

On day one, we ran a total of 60-miles from Bears Ears to Monticello Utah. The next day, we ran about a total of 60 miles again from Monticello to Moab. Of the longest miles ran, day three was where we collectively ran about 115 miles. This leg was from Moab to Price. Day four, we ran about 70 miles from Price to Spanish Fork. On the final leg of our journey, day five, we ran a total of about 52 miles from Spanish Fort to Warm Springs Park in Salt Lake City.  

Marcus Onesalt, Michael Charles, Jameson Crane; Photo credit: Wilson Atene

After the run, it was difficult to depart from one another. On my way home from our running journey, I drove the path we had just run. Passing by the running routes inspired some of the most memorable moments, such as which mile posts consisted of laughs, pain, realizations, and the fact that we had just literally ran 350-milles collectively. 

Simon Jones, Linda Jim Willden (Diné); Photo credit: Wilson Atene

Each day we ran, we had our own challenges, whether it was steep inclines, hot temperatures, or a sore body, but we managed to overcome those obstacles with our motivation and inspiration from one another. The motivation was so strong and intentional that even some of the staff from the SLC Air Protectors helped with some of the miles. 

Tizanna Henry (Diné); Photo credit: Wilson Atene

We left our sacred footsteps for the future runners, and ran in the same footsteps as the past runners, like Davina Smith (Diné), who ran most of this journey by herself last year. A definition of a prayer run from my perspective and from my own experience is running for many efforts. It’s running for my family, my tribe and peoples, the lives lost from the invisible COVID-19 monster, thinking of solutions to the many problems that we face across Indian Country, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, for the elements of life – To Asdzaan (Female Water), Nihimasdzaa’ (Mother earth), Nilchi’ (Air) and for our existence as Indigenous Peoples, among other reasons. When I ran, I was free from my inner ambitions, stress, the hardships of being an Indigenous person, our ancestral landscapes and traditional world, and the plight of global politics. With this freedom from attachments, you are truly living in prayer and you become resilient, as well as sovereign, but one cannot run without the foundation of your footprints being connected to the land and the sky. This is why we – as Indigenous Peoples – come back to the land and gift our everlasting blessings. I thank all the runners, SLC Air Protectors, Jordan Daniels, and Running is Medicine for the running gear, courage, memories, laughter, experience, teachings, presence, and strength. Ahe’hee n’tsxaago!

For more information about the run, check out the Salt Lake Tribune’s article here.

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