Wings on National Public Radio

A few weeks ago our Program Director got a call from Laurel Morales, a reporter for FRONTERAS- The Changing America Desk. Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, this Flagstaff-based bureau regularly produces radio spots for National Public Radio on the people and issues of the American Southwest. On this particular day, Laurel was looking for information about “THE” Native American running tradition.

After offering her some comments of his own, Dustin directed her to some Wings’ alums that have become “experts” in recent months. Thanks to Alvina Begay and Shaun Martin, Laurel was able to produce this great story: “Navajo Running Tradition Catalyst for Change”

Visit the Fronteras website (click the article title above) to listen to the radio spot and watch a short video of Alvina strutting her stuff.

Posted in WINGS SUMMER 2012

A Running DYNASTY, Hopi High’s “Unbeatable” Harriers

Check out Arizona News12’s recent story on Hopi High’s running tradition- WINNING. Great to see these young runners proudly repping their school- but more importantly- their people and culture. Wings is honored to have two Hopi High girls on this years National Team.

Link to video: HERE

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Hopi running traditions and events from a Hopi blogger, check out “Beyond the Mesas” HERE.


Posted in WINGS SUMMER 2012

Janji “Run For Another” Interview With Dustin Martin

On the way to the 2010 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Mike and Dave had an idea: what if they could help runners give back not solely through charitable races, but during each and every run? By the time the track meet ended, Janji had been born.

Mike and Dave realized that by producing high performance running apparel with a distinct look, Janji could raise awareness and fund relief for the global food and water crisis—one that kills 1 child every 6 seconds and affects nearly 2 billion people worldwide.

They knew that runners–including themselves–often take for granted the food and water needed to run. Not everyone is so lucky. Now by simply wearing Janji’s running apparel, people can help provide food and water to those in need.

Janji is the Malaysian word for “promise.” Janji’s promise—made by Mike and Dave on that bus ride—is to combat the food and water crisis through the power of running.

Periodically Janji likes to post information about groups/organizations that vibe with their mission. Thanks to Mike for reaching out to Wings program director, Dustin Martin to learn a little more about how we #takeflight. Click HERE for the full interview on the Janji’s site and learn a little more about the good work the company does.

Posted in WINGS SUMMER 2012

Announcing The 2013 Wings National Team

After months of hard work and a national recruitment effort, the 2013 Wings National Team has finally been selected! Fourteen (14) outstanding student-athletes from across Native America were chosen from a viciously competetive pool of 67 applicants. At the end of the day, it was these athletes’ focus and tenacity on championship-season race day that earned them their spot. Though it was very difficult for us in the Wings office to notify a number of former Wings National Team members that we could not offer them a spot again this year, we are excited to begin working with this year’s group of champions. We know it is stressful for our National Team applicants to come to terms with the fact that their selection rests on ONE race at the end of the season. That being said, we are confident that this format of selection process is the fairest criteria we can stand behind. Fortunately the finish line never lies.

Congratulations to those that have been selected, their families and friends. Though no one can do a runner’s work but him or herself, it truly takes a community to foster a champion. Wings looks forward to helping foster the talents of the 2013 team members through the winter until February 2, 2013 when they compete in Forest Park, St. Louis at the USATF Cross Country Championships.

Please visit the 2013 National Team page HERE for a full list of selected student-athletes, offer your congratulatory comments/feedback and learn more about this year’s selection process and the generous donors that made it all possible. On this page you may also download the full spreadsheet of those athletes that ran a qualifying time if you would like to compare results.

Posted in WINGS SUMMER 2012

2012 The North Face Edurance Challenge- Congratulations to Shaun Martin

With little less than 24 hours before the start of a series of grueling races, North Face Endurance Challenge race organizers called an unusual audible to ensure the safety of their competitors- they changed the course. As a result, the “50 mile championship” became a 46-mile slopfest run over two figure-eight loops woven through The Marin Headlands just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite many competitors getting disoriented and running off course, former Wings program director Shaun Martin managed to finish 10th with a time of 6:07:17 (yes, that’s SIX HOURS!). Though rumor has it that he may be promoted to 8th place because of post-race disqualifications, he can rest assured that his Wings family is immeasurably proud of him no matter what.

Part of the reason Shaun stepped down from his position at Wings in 2011 was to pursue THIS dream. Huge congratulations are in order for following your heart.

For more detailed race coverage, please visit HERE.

And in case you haven’t already seen it, click HERE to read Outside magazine’s recent feature on our hero: “Running Down a Dream”.

And in case you haven’t had enough, watch the video produced by Outside below.


Posted in WINGS SUMMER 2012

Announcing the 2013 Wings National Team Coaches

This year two outstanding educators with vast experience working, coaching and inspiring in Indian country have been asked to help prepare Wings athletes for competition. Todd County High School (Mission, SD) cross country and track coach Tonya Whirlwind Soldier will play the role of coach on the women’s side. James Nells from Riverside Indian School (Anadarko, OK) will lead the men. Both will be in regular contact with those runners selected for the Wings team as they train through the winter in preparation for February’s race. Wings athletes can feel confident tackling their prescribed workout regimen knowing there is a support system beneath them. In the event of sickness, injury, personal strife and/or unusual fatigue, coach Nells and Whirlwind Soldier have the knowledge these athletes need to get through the difficulties of training and perform like champions come February 2nd. Both coaches will travel with the team to St. Louis.

Pat Tyson, head track & field/cross country coach at Gonzaga University and long-time Wings supporter, has agreed to serve as a consultant for both coaches and Wings program staff as they construct and adjust workout schedules to best fit the training styles of selected athletes.

The added structure and support provided by the 2013 coaching staff marks the beginning of a new and improved era of Wings athlete development. The organization is excited to see how increased communication and guidance from these coaches will benefit the performance, motivation and attitudes of the talented young runners that make the Wings team.

Coaches’ Biographies:

Tonya Whirlwind Soldier is Sicangu Lakota from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She is an avid runner and has mentored Todd County HS athletes as a coach for more than a dozen years. Apart from fostering many multi-year state qualifiers and champions, coach Whirlwind Soldier strives to see her runners succeed off the starting line as well. Athletic and academic achievements go hand in hand on her teams—Whirlwind Soldier’s athletes have maintained a combined grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher throughout 7 of the last 9 seasons she has coached.

Besides playing the part of coach, Tonya is the loving single mother (and grandmother) of three young men and baby boy. She works on the Gang Task Force as a security guard at Todd County HS and serves as the junior class advisor. She is currently working on three college-level degrees and recently earned her Basic Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. On top of all this she has served as a Wild Land Fire Fighter for the last 15 years.


James Nells is a long-time Wings supporter and a steadfast mentor for runners of all ages, races and creeds. Though his roots lie on the Navajo Nation, he has worked as an educator of Native youth in Oklahoma for more than 20 years. He has served as head cross country and track coach for Sequoyah High School (Talequah, OK), Bacone College (Muskogee, OK) and Riverside Indian School where he remains today. During his tenure he has helped his high school athletes earn four state team titles and four runner-up trophies. His Bacone College team placed 12th at the National Junior College Cross Country Championships in 2000. As a former Wings USATF Cross Country Championship coach he has led Native athletes to two national titles and one second-place team finish. In 2012, Coach Nells was an integral part of Wings’ successful expansion of summer Running & Fitness Camps to Native communities in Oklahoma.

Coach Nells attended Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas and graduated from Central State University, Edmond, OK. During this time he achieved All-American status as a college-level cross country and track athlete. Post-college, Mr. Nells served 8 years in the US Army where he took part in Operation Desert Storm with the 2-16th Infantry Rangers. James and Elena, his wife of 28 years, are proud to have raised seven children.


Official 2013 USATF Coaches Press Release


Posted in USATF 2013

2013 Wings USATF Cross Country Championship Team

The next USA Cross Country Championships will be held on February 2, 2013 at Forest Park in Saint Louis, Missouri. As in years past, Wings of America will sponsor a men and women’s team to represent Native America in the Junior race. The organization will cover travel expenses and room and board for the twelve young men and women selected to race in Wings uniforms. Aside from competing, the group will get the opportunity to absorb the culture of St. Louis and the surrounding area through a number of site visits and activities planned and paid for by Wings.

2013 USA Team

Wings created this opportunity in order to showcase the talents and positive achievements of American Indian youth and provide them with a cross-cultural learning experience. The program brings Native youth together from across the nation to compete as a team in an elite field of both high school and college runners. Many program alumni have earned the attention of college coaches with their performance in this race. Wings runners have captured twenty four national junior team titles since 1988.

Learn More >>

Posted in RACES 2013

2012 USATF National Cross Country Junior Olympic Championships: December 8th in Albuquerque, NM

Let’s Help Our Native Youth Represent!

Junior Olympics

The Opportunity: USA Track and Field (USATF) holds a National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championship each December. Many of our NM youth fundraise each year to travel to nationals, but this year we will be hosting the national meet at Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta Park, Saturday December  8th, 2012. In addition to making it easier for local athletes to travel to nationals, there are changes in the qualifying process that make it easier for athletes from the host state to make it to nationals – this is our year to get as many of our youth as possible to make it to the national race!

Learn More >>


Posted in RACES 2012

Olympic Cross Country?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to my mother’s frustrated pleas as rhytmic gymnasts and badminton players take the Olympic stage: “What about the cross-country runners??!!” Though I certainly share her curiosity (& frustration), I’ve most often replied with something to the tune of “that’s just the way it is”. But why?

An Olympic cross-country meet would induce excitement the world-around. If the competition remained true to the current international standard, viewers might expect a 3,000m Steeple/BMX-hybrid sure to produce gritty champions, a tenacious team battle and, most important of all, filthy falls.

So what is Brazil waiting for? Rio certainly has the hills…

The truth is cross-country WAS an Olympic sport. From 1912-1924 (Stockholm, Berlin (cancelled due to WWI), Antwerp, Paris), a steeple-like course was devised to torture harriers. Sadly, the competition was apparently forgotten about by the IOC after the Parisian course decimated a formidable field of runners on a particularly hot day.

To learn more about the history of the sport of cross-country and why it might have been blacklisted by the Olympic Committee, please read Bill Katovsky’s enlightening article from the Natural Running Center website.

So who will carry the torch in the crusade to reinstate my beloved in the Olympics? Perhaps it will have to be Wings of America. With some luck, we’ll convince Wings board-member Billy Mills to put us in touch with the right people in Switzerland. Who’s with me?

Posted in WINGS SUMMER 2012

Another Successful Wings Summer

Wings of America is proud wrap up another successful summer schedule of Wings Running & Fitness Camps. With the help of 19 high-school and college-aged facilitators, the organization provided two FREE days of applied fitness and nutrtion education to 17 Native communities across Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Our fantastic facilitators led participants on morning runs and engaged them with Native-tailored field and ball games….But that’s not all they did. Stay tuned in the coming days for further reports from this summer’s camps and more pictures!