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Posted: March 9, 2016:  

Athletics: B.A.A. Announces Native American Running Partnership with Harvard University

Panel discussion and speaker series among events set to recognize Native American traditions during Boston Marathon weekend.

BOSTON = Working closely with Harvard University, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, and the Harvard University Native American Program, the Boston Athletic Association is pleased to announce that numerous events exploring the history and importance of Native American running traditions will be featured during Boston Marathon weekend this year. Past, present, and future Native American running culture will be explored leading up to the 120th Boston Marathon, to be held on Monday, April 18, 2016.

The free, multi-day event, which is titled Native American Running: Culture, Health, Sport, will not only explore the history and importance of Native American running traditions, but will also present efforts to support and encourage running in Native American communities.

"We are proud and honored to work with our friends at Harvard University to celebrate and showcase Native American running, both here on the roads to Boston and beyond," said Tom Grilk, Executive Director of the B.A.A. "The events planned for Boston Marathon weekend will be both inspirational and educational, exploring all facets of Native culture through running and sport."

Kicking off the celebration will be a Native American Running Conference at Harvard University on Friday, April 15, followed by two panel discussions at the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo on Saturday, April 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Hynes Convention Center. Both events are free and open to the public.

"Every culture runs, but Native American running traditions are special. These events will explore and honor Native American running in all its rich diversity, from its origins to the present, including in the Boston Marathon," said Daniel E. Lieberman, Harvard University’s Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences. A leading expert in the evolutionary benefits of running for both Native American cultures and the general population, Lieberman will participate in both the panel discussion and expo series on Boston Marathon weekend. "We have much to learn about Native American running traditions, and we need them more than ever."

Among the distinguished guests also participating are Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Nation, the 1964 Olympic gold medalist over 10,000 meters, and a Native American leader, as well as athletes from the Tarahumara indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. Representing the Tarahumara will be Arnulfo Quimare, one of the most accomplished ultra-marathoners in history, and Irma Chavez-Cruz. Both Quimare and Chavez-Cruz will race the 120th Boston Marathon.

Chris McDougall, author of the bestselling book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, which chronicles the Tarahumara, will also be on hand to participate in panel and expo discussions.

Other scheduled participants include 1986 Boston Marathon champion Rob de Castella, a leader of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation in Australia; three-time Boston Marathon runner-up Patti Dillon, a Micmac Indian and the first American woman ever to break 2:30 in the marathon; Chris Sockalexis, a Penobscot Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and relative of Olympian and marathon great Andrew Sockalexis; and Mickey Mahaffey, a guide, cultural consultant, race organizer, and researcher of indigenous Mexican tribes.

This April, the B.A.A. will also celebrate two native champions: Ellison "Tarzan" Brown, the 1936 and 1939 champion, as well as Thomas Longboat, the 1907 Boston Marathon victor. The 2016 Boston Marathon marks the 80th anniversary of "Tarzan" Brown’s 1936 victory, the iconic race which is said to have led to the naming of "Heartbreak Hill." The B.A.A. also recognizes Andrew Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot of Maine who placed second in 1912 and 1913.

Connecting the week’s celebration of Native running traditions to the Patriots’ Day race, representatives from the Tarahumara indigenous people will compete in the 120th Boston Marathon. In addition, members of Wings of America and Running Strong for American Indian Youth (a charity which helps American Indians meet their immediate survival needs while creating opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem in American Indian youth), as well as Rob De Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Foundation, will also race from Hopkinton to Boston.

"Generations of Native runners have competed and excelled at various levels across the nation. The teams of Native runners participating this year continue to share and represent these strong cultural running traditions," said Shelly C. Lowe, Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program. "We are absolutely delighted to shine a national light on Native runners this year as we join the B.A.A. in celebrating the accomplishments of Tarzan Brown, Thomas Longboat, and Andrew Sockalexis."

A youth team from Wings of America has been invited to compete in the B.A.A. Relay Challenge on Saturday, April 16, extending the Native American tradition to one of Boston Marathon weekend’s most fun-filled events. Wings of America uses running as a catalyst to empower American Indian and Alaskan Native youth to take pride in themselves and their cultural identity, leading to increased self-esteem, health and wellness, leadership, and hope, balance, and harmony.

Native American tradition is intertwined with the roads leading to the Boston Marathon finish line. In 1907, Canadian Thomas Longboat, of the Onondaga Six Nations, won the Boston Marathon in a course-record time of 2:24:24. Nearly three decades later, Narragansett tribal member Ellison "Tarzan" Brown triumphed in 1936 and 1939, establishing himself as one of the most dominant Boston Marathon champions of the decade. Andrew Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot of Maine, placed second in 1912 and 1913.

The entire running community is welcome to connect and experience the Native American running traditions at both the Native American Running Conference at Harvard University on Friday, April 15, and at the speaker series at the John Hancock Sports & Fitness Expo on Saturday, April 16. Both events are free and open to the public.

More information can be found via the Boston Athletic Association’s website,, as well as at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology’s website,


Established in 1887, the Boston Athletic Association is a non-profit organization with a mission of promoting a healthy lifestyle through sports, especially running. The B.A.A.’s Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon, and the organization manages other local events and supports comprehensive charity, youth, and year-round running programs, including high performance athletes and running club. Since 1986, the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon has been John Hancock Financial. The Boston Marathon is part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, along with international marathons in Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. More than 60,000 runners will participate in B.A.A. events in 2016. The 120th Boston Marathon will be held on Monday, April 18, 2016. For more information on the B.A.A., please visit BAA>org.

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