Running warriors

Babette Herrmann, Today correspondent

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For numerous competitive Native runners, the height of their running career often occurs during college. Once these elite runners graduate, many decide to hang up their running shoes and enter the job market.

In turn, they miss out on competing at the national level during their prime running years. It’s something that Mike Daney, the director of Sports Warrior Track Club, has personally experienced.

Daney said he had to find a job to support himself after college, but this experience motivated him to take the reigns of SWTC and help elite post-collegiate runners to realize their dreams. SWTC runners have competed at both USA Track & Field championships and Olympic qualifying trials.

“I see the under representation of the Native American athlete on the elite level. I want to give young people the opportunity to compete at a national level.”

But the group of elite runners is small, anywhere from five to 10 runners travel once a year to a national track meet. In order to raise funds to pay for these trips, Daney founded the annual 5K National Championships and Open Community Run.

The third annual event, held June 12, drew about 170 elite and amateur runners and non-competition walkers to the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque. There was something for everyone to participate in from ages 3 and up, and for Native and non-Native runners alike. In each age division the winner was awarded the title of national champion.

Daney hopes the event encourages Native people to embrace a healthier lifestyle. The non-competitive one and two mile walks were designed for that purpose. “I’ve got visions of grandeur, I want every Indian person to be healthy.”

He’s a one man show, with the exception of volunteers that help him the day of the race. He functions as the race coordinator, director, programmer and accountant.

Daney, Choctaw, said a portion of the proceeds goes toward providing travel expenses to the runners attending the USATF National Cross Country Championships in North Carolina this December. Often times, they must pay for a portion of the trip, but he would like to get to the point where runners won’t have to reach into their pockets.

“One goal is to get sponsorships for his runners so they can train without having to work full-time.”

Some of the proceeds also go toward the newly formed Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute Running/Fitness Club, where he teaches health and physical education. He was impressed when several of his students approached him with the concept of developing the club on campus.

“Instead of just preaching it in the classroom setting, now I can do it on a casual level with them.”

Meanwhile, Daney has the goal of bringing the first co-ed team to the upcoming championships. But that will take five males and females to make it happen. His eyes are already set on Tana Kaskalla, the overall female winner and national champion of the open division at the 5K run.

Kaskalla, Zuni Pueblo, said she is also vying for a spot on the team. “Yeah, he’s been twisting my arm,” she quipped. “He has twisted it enough where I would be able to join him.”

Each year brings new runners into the mix and the return of the most dedicated runners in the group. Angelo Baca, who finished third at the 5K run, began running for SWTC in 2004. Baca lauded Daney for his dedication and encouragement over the years. “Mike is an ambitious guy, always pushing forward and ahead, not just as a coach but as a real life mentor for all of us.”

Baca even made it to the Olympic trials in 2004, but fell short of qualifying. Now 30, he has no plans of slowing down and continues to compete and work on improving his time.

Daney said that runners interested in joining the club must be enrolled in college or have already graduated. “When running stops, what are you going to fall back on?”

Runners for SWTC train and live all over the country. For more information contact Mike Daney at (505) 710-3323.

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