By Ty Nolan
There have been less than a dozen Native American Olympic medalists. Most Americans have heard of Jim Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox Native Nation. Considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, he ran track and field and played football, baseball and basketball. When Thorpe was given his gold medals in 1912 for the pentathlon and decathlon, the King of Sweden reportedly called him “… the greatest athlete in the world.” One of Thorpe’s Olympic teammates was Louis Tewanima, a member of the Hopi Nation who won a silver medal for the 10,000 meters. Tewanima held on to the American record he set for over fifty years until another Native American, Billy Mills (Lakota) set a new record in 1964.
These sports stars have inspired other Native American athletes, including Trent Taylor, the great-nephew of Louis Tewanima. As Team Compete’s MVP and one of Compete’s models for its 2015 annual swimsuit edition, Trent agreed to be interviewed about his experiences as a runner and endurance athlete.
Compete: Can you tell us some more about your background and Native heritage?
Trent Taylor: My name is Trent Taylor and I am 34 years old. I am half-Navajo and half-Hopi. I grew up on the Navajo side with my mom and siblings in Ganado, Arizona.
I have always had a love for sports and have been an athlete for as long as I can remember. I would chase my older brother, Wayne, around and follow him to different sports activities. And I am thankful to him for introducing me to sports at an early age. I competed in a variety of sports throughout grade school, including wrestling, basketball, football and baseball. But surprisingly, I was never in track or cross-country except maybe for one semester during junior high. My love for running came later.
As an adult, five years ago I ran my first 5K – and not just any 5K. It was the Louis Tewanima Footrace which is put on every year by my family in remembrance of my great uncle, Louis Tewanima, a Hopi Olympian in 1908 and 1912. In the 1908 London Olympic Games he placed ninth in the marathon. Four years later he won a silver metal and set the American 10,000 meters record in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. I had no clue what I was doing in the race but it did spark something inside me. I actually placed fifth in this first race and it woke the competitive running spirit inside me.
Compete: A number of Native American Nations in the Southwest have a very long and ceremonial tradition of running. This is especially true for the Pueblo and Hopi Indians. Can you tell us more about that?
Trent Taylor: They ran out of necessity, running below the mesa to their fields, to hunt and to communicate with other villages. Competition naturally evolved to see which village had the fastest runners. Running became part of ceremonial rituals, both with competition and to deliver pathos (prayer feather offerings) to distant shrines. Naturally, running also became a form of prayer where the act of running is not only viewed as strengthening oneself but also praying for rain for the fields and for nature to sustain itself in the desert. This is from my dad.
Compete: Tell us more about your interest in long distance running.
Trent Taylor: My then 14-year-old niece who was on her school cross-country team in Texas got me running for the first time when she asked me to join her for a five-mile run. But it wasn’t until my older sister and her two daughters moved back to the reservation that I was inspired to start running for myself. My niece Caleigh was joining the high school cross-country team, the Chinle Wildcats.
This is where I met one of my soon-to-be-idols, well-known Navajo runner Shaun Martin. He was the head coach of the Wildcats cross-country team and he inspired me like none of my other coaches ever had. The way he led his team and conducted his practice motivated me to start running on my own. My goal was to train for the next Louis Tewanima Footrace. I trained for about a month and a half for the next Tewanima Footrace where I improved to a second place finish and made up my mind to take my training to the next level. I like to call March of 2012 the beginning of my freshman running season.
For the last three years, I have transformed myself into an endurance athlete. I have competed in multiple distances, both running events and triathlons. These running distances include: 1M, 5K, 10K, 15K, Half Marathon, Marathon, 50K and 55K. The triathlon distances have included Sprint, Olympic Half-Ironman (70.3 miles) and Ironman (140.6 miles—which includes 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle and 26.2 mile run).
Photo by Leland Gebhardt
Compete: To follow Trent and his upcoming events, visit his website: www.navahopitriatlete.com.