Photo by Laura Fuchs
Native American youth from New York City enjoy an afternoon of lacrosse at Central Park as part of a Wings of America camp in July.

Sweat and Inspiration: Wings of America Turns 25

Megan Baker
August 15, 2013

Wings of America, a nonprofit which promotes active lifestyles and healthy living in Native American youth, turns 25 today.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Wings of America will honor 1964 Olympic Gold Medal winner in the 10K and Wings board member Billy Mills as well as its founders, William E. Channing, Ando Hixon and Oren Lyons at a cocktail reception fundraiser tonight in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Established in 1987 by William E. Channing as a beneficiary of the Earth Circle Foundation, Wings of America began its work by sponsoring high school-aged student athletes from all over Indian Country to compete at the USA National Cross Country Championship on its Junior National Cross Country Championship team for both men and women.

Since 1988, these athletes have captured more than 20 national titles, shining a light on the talent of Native runners.

In addition to its sponsorship of American Indian athletes, Wings of America also hosts running and fitness camps throughout Indian Country during the summer. These camps are geared to promote active lifestyles and combat the health problems found in Indian Country that stem from a lack of such lifestyles.

These are two-day camps and are free of charge for all participants ages 6 to 18. Each day consists of warm-ups, a morning run, stretching, field and ball games and presentations on the value of running and healthy living.

“The aim of these camps is to, first and foremost, make sure that the kids out there are running, being active all day when during summer they are more than likely not doing a whole lot,” says Dustin Martin, Wings of America program director and former Wings national team runner. “More than anything we’re trying to help the kids recognize that there’s something to be said for the camaraderie that you have with your peers when you’re exercising and it feels good to be tired at the end of the day, and that it’s not dangerous, it’s not a bad thing if your lungs hurt for a little bit when you’re running.”

Introduced in 1992, the running and fitness camps began with seven camps throughout the southwest. Sponsorship by the Navajo Nation ‘Just Move It’ campaign added 14 camps to the summer program. With a grant from Nike N7, camps were established in Oklahoma in 2012.

This summer marked the first running and fitness camps in the New York City area, home to the largest urban Native population, according to the 2010 US Census.

Working in partnership with the American Indian Community House, Wings hosted three camps on three different sites during July and August: the Shinnecock Indian reservation in Southampton, Central Park and at the Churchill School in lower Manhattan.

These camps mark one of the many efforts of the American Indian Community House to reach out to the community it serves.

“We haven’t really had any programs geared toward youth in the time I’ve been [here],” said Shaylynn Raphaelito, health department director at AICH. “This is a way to kind of bring the youth and the community out – so this is kind of a pilot year for the Wings program.”

AICH sponsored three facilitators to fly out to New Mexico to join 30 other facilitators for training.

In preparation for the running and fitness camps, the facilitators that run the camps attended the annual American Indian Running Coaches’ Clinic hosted by Wings in June.

Aiming to provide facilitators with the knowledge necessary to become better athletes, leader, coaches and cultural stewards, the presentations covered various topics such as the history of Native running, coaching and the importance of youth leadership in health and wellness. The facilitators then went on a retreat in the Santa Fe mountains to brainstorm presentation ideas and to learn the games that they would play at camp. From there, facilitators returned home to run their respective camps held throughout the summer.

Wings will host its annual Indian Market 5K race at the Santa Fe Indian School August 18.

Overall winners of the 5K will receive Acoma pottery by Loretta Joe. A fun run/walk will also be taking place. Day of registration will be available.