Jeffery Turning Heart, Jr. is training for the NYC marathon in November.

Native Runner Braves Highway Traffic to Train for First NYC Marathon


Last year, Jeffrey Turning Heart Jr., trained for months to run the New York City Marathon. But Super-storm Sandy hit just days before the race, and the event was called off.

Heart told that he and the rest of his team were disappointed. “We all dealt with the disappointment just like anyone else would, all the months of preparation and the travels, but that soon faded away because our main question when we arrived in New York City was ‘How can we help’?”

They were coming from Washburn, North Dakota, where Heart was working at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. He started running with his teammates for a good cause, and the storm presented them with a lot of people in a lot of need. “Our team used our common passion to help those in need by going to Staten Island to help clear rubble and we were honored to be able to help out,” he said to the Highway 83 Chronicles blog.

Heart and the Lakota 5, also called One Spirit, started an organization called Native Progress and they are raising money to build a youth center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Allen, South Dakota. He hopes that the center will keep youth off the streets and away from drugs and alcohol. He hopes that if the youth see him running it will motivate them to start.

“I have always wanted to try a marathon,” Heart said. “I have completed four half-marathons in a course of one year. The sport of running is something I grew to love for over 18 years because of the feeling. I could have the worst day on the planet, but once I start to run, I am free from it all.”

Heart plans to run the New York City Marathon in November, and is training to run the 26.2 miles with his team to inspire Lakota youth. This will be his first run, and he hopes that a knee injury won’t stop him this time. “The thing that keeps me motivated through all my injuries is the people,” he told “The people I run for are not only organizations, but the people that I have known that go through a lot, whether it is breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy or suicide prevention. The people have a special place in my heart and my heart keeps me motivated to keep on running.”

Heart was born and raised in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He ran track and cross-country at the University of Mary in Bismarck, while also working as an interpreter. He graduated from Minot State University and then moved to Washburn, where he now works in law enforcement.

These days, instead of running on the track or jogging down a beaten path, one might find him running on a highway. “I love running across Highway 200A which connects to Highway 83, because I get to run across a bridge that goes over the Missouri River. It is like running across a beautiful painting of North Dakota’s beauty.”

Whether he’s running across a beautiful canvas or next to a jammed line of traffic on Highway 83, Heart’s taking his own advice: follow his heart.

“And I love hearing my heart-beat, as it reminds me of a drum at a powwow. It is something I cannot put into words because as a runner, we all have a different reason why we do what we do.”