Guest Blog by Alex McGlinn of Team Oiselle
Alex loves running, biking, swimming, a good book and believes that jumping pictures can save the world!
When I was little, I didn’t really know what it meant to be Native American. Sure, I knew that it meant that my maternal relatives lived on a reservation, and that we are all bound together in a tribe, but I would have been hard-pressed to tell you anything beyond that. Now that I am older, however, I find myself fascinated by the stories, the beautiful dances, and the intricacies and nuances of a shrinking culture and lifestyle. Living overseas, while affording me many fantastic opportunities, means that I am far removed from the reservation and my tribe. While this didn’t bother me in my younger years, I find the quiet of the land and the tug of family pulling tighter at my heartstrings as the years go by. It is the only reason I can pinpoint that has me running (quite literally) back to this place summer after summer after summer.
Here’s a quick history lesson: I belong to a tribe called the Tonawanda Band of Seneca. We are part of the Six Nations Iroquois, along with five other groups: Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Tuscarora, and Cayuga. We maintain our sovereignty as a people to this day, which means that we function independently of the US Government. We uphold our own rules and laws and settle our own disputes on our reservation as directed by our Chiefs and Clan Mothers. If you would like to know more, you can check out this page.
Every year, our tribe celebrates and raises funds for the longhouse with a Field Day, held on the first Sunday in August. If you come, you can see traditional dances (smoke dancing and fancy dancing), cheer on the lacrosse games, play horseshoes or beach volleyball, and read about the history of the tribe in the historical tent. You can even partake in some delicious food (Indian tacos, frybread, corn soup, chicken barbecue, and strawberry smoothies are at the top of my list). While the vendors and tents change from year to year, the general premise is the same. It is a chance for the residents of the reservation and the surrounding community to come together and break bread.
The tribe has been celebrating Field Day every year for as long as my mom can remember; however, it is only within the last 6 years that we have added a run through the reservation to kick off the festivities. Even though this is a relatively new event, the relationship that the tribe has with running is not. My mom told me that long ago when a chief died, the other chiefs ran from reservation to reservation wailing loudly in grief to communicate his passing. While that tradition has fallen to quicker modes of communication, we still run for competition and sport. As the younger generation begins to take on the responsibilities of organization, different activities pop up, and I have to say, this one is my favorites, especially knowing that I have all that amazing food to sample later in the day!
This year, the run started at 9:00 am; bikers left at 9:00 and runners at 9:15. I got there around 8:00 to get registered and set up. I let my friend Coach K talk me into doing this as a bike/run, so the plan was for us to bike the entire course at 9:00, complete the 4 miles and transition in that time, and be ready to roll out at 9:15! I was more than a bit nervous; I didn’t want to slow everyone down, even though Megan (the awesome race director who coordinates everything from routes to sponsors to t-shirts) said she would hold the pack until we were ready to go.
My nerves are evident on my face, although I should not have worried. My Garmin had trouble locating the satellites so I just rode alongside Coach, who kept me updated with our distance and pace. He even told me when we were almost back at the starting line, which we reached in less than 13 minutes. Plenty of time to unclip and slip on my running shoes! I was at the starting line, along with all the other runners, before 9:15.
It was around this time that I became cognizant of why I really love these runs for many, many reasons. First and foremost, I am surrounded by people that I will be tied to, by friendship and familial lines, for many years to come. We run through some of the most beautiful land that I have ever seen; it is lush and verdant with the smell of flowers and sweet grass following you all the way to the finish line. The intersections and water stops are manned by community members that have been a part of my life for as long as I have been alive and will be until I am too old to do much more than grin at them, all gums and wrinkles. For a kid who grew up hopping from country to country and school to school (first as a student and now as a teacher), there is no greater comfort than to be able to come to where your momma and your momma’s momma were born and run pell-mell through there. There just isn’t.
I finished the race in 28:44, which was not a PR for me, but was fast enough to hang on to my 3rd year as the first female finisher. Between you and me, though, I would run this race even if I came in last. The special icing on the cake for me was being able to share this run with one of my former Kwajalein running buddies (who has since relocated), Lisa, and her two daughters Nikky and Heather, both of whom were in my 3rd grade class. Lisa has helped me through some really tough training times by sticking to her “No Family Left Behind” philosophy (which means that if you are lagging behind she will come back and pick you up), pacing me in the last miles of my marathons, and picking me up off the ground when I fell off my bike. Twice. I was really excited when I saw her come over the finish line, and even more excited when she got a prize as well.
It isn’t every day that I get participate in a run that hits so close to home for me with people that I love and admire. Now that I am an adult, I am *still* learning what it means to be an active and productive member of our tribe. I know that I still have many things to discover, but running this race year after year brings me a couple steps closer, and for that, I am infinitely thankful.