Boston Marathon “Pursuit” Program

Once again, Wings of America is partnering with the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.)  to commemorate the legacy of Native distance runners and promote the aspirations of an upcoming generation of student-athletes. As part of the Pursuit Program, Wings will select up to five (5) American Indian high school JUNIORS to travel with the organization to Boston during “Marathon Weekend”, April 11th-16th, 2024. All travel, lodging, meals and race entry fees will be covered by Wings of America. Students won’t run the Marathon on April 15th, but will get the chance to race the B.A.A. 5K in downtown Boston on Saturday, April 13th.

2023 Pursuit Program Students (L-R: Nicole Tsosie, Isaiah Sandoval, Cassius Maloney, Theodore Roundface, Emily Garcia)

Aside from experiencing the power and excitement of these world-class distance races, students will visit Boston-area universities, make friends with the family hosting our group in their home, and learn to navigate the city while meeting other runners and supporters of Wings. Sponsored by the fundraising efforts of Native runners training for the Marathon, this trip is meant to encourage selected students to strive for greatness in their own lives and bring the inspiration of the race and its Native champions back to their families and communities. We thank the Boston Athletic Association for continuing to create space for our group during their premier event.

After going strong from 2017-2019, the Pursuit Program was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. We return to Boston again in 2024 with the understanding that the risks associated with the virus are less, but still present. With this in mind, last-minute changes and/or cancellations to the trip may be necessary.

This year, two “charity runners” have volunteered to raise funds to pay for the Pursuit students’ trip and serve as trip chaperones: Justin Casiquito (Jemez Pueblo) and Andrea Snowball (Muscogee Nation and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska). Justin is a runner, father, and land-based learning educator at Albuquerque’s Native American Community Academy. Andrea, or “Andy”, is a runner, mother, and Associate Attorney for Big Fire Law and Policy Group, LLP. Along with Wings staff, they will accompany students during the weekend’s activities and share lodging at the home of our host family in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill.

2022 “Pursuit” Program Students: (L-R) Devin Lansing, Emily Manuelito, Shaud Becenti, Kaydence Platero, Lia Castillo

Below is the timeline for the 2024 “Pursuit” Program:

-January 24th: Application period opens.

-March 8th (Friday), by midnight (11:59pm): APPLICATIONS DUE
(MST); Click the link below to view/download the application:

2024 Boston Pursuit Program Application

***Please note that mailed applications must arrive at the Wings office by the deadline.***

-March 11th: Selected applicants notified.

-Week of March 11th: Travel arrangements finalized.

-April 11th-16th: Selected students travel to/from Boston.

Trip Activities:

-College visits/counseling facilitated by Boston-area Universities (COVID policies allowing);

-Group runs in and around Boston as a means of sightseeing;

-Speaking engagements, tours and workshops that expose students to the realities of continuing their education (COVID policies allowing);

-Visits to the Boston Marathon “expo” and other race-related events/speakers leading up to the race;

-The B.A.A. 5K hosted on the Boston Common the Saturday before the Marathon;

-Museum and research institution visits in the Boston area;

-Marathon viewing on “Patriot’s Day”

Complete applications are due Friday, March 8th, 2024 (11:59pm MST). We hope you will join us at Marathon Weekend for the 128th running of the Boston Marathon!

2018 Boston “Pursuit” Program students (L-R: Ty McCray, Precious Robinson, Netawn Marsoobian, Isaiah Honyumptewa, LaKyla Yazzie)

2017 Pursuit program participants pose with Wings’ charity runners Newell Lewey (Passamaquoddy) and Beth Wright (Laguna).

Pursuit Program and Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP) students. We are thankful to HUNAP staff and Harvard Native students for consistently hosting our runners to help them see the realities of higher education.

The history behind the “Pursuit” Program:

When Ellison “Tarzan” Brown beat local favorite Johnny Kelly in the 1936 Boston Marathon, his win was classified as dumb luck. How could Tarzan, a poverty stricken brick layer from the Naragansett Tribe of Rhode Island, have beaten one of the world’s greatest distance runners? He had to set a new course record in 1939 to get the respect and recognition he deserved. But Tarzan isn’t the only runner to have challenged the crowd’s understanding of “Indians” in this historic race.

Tarzan Brown Winning the 1939 Boston Marathon

Tarzan Brown Winning the 1939 Boston Marathon

After his coach, “Mohawk” Bill Davis, finished second in 1901, Tom Longboat (Onondaga) captured a win in 1907. Soon after, Andrew Sockalexis (Penobscot) finished second two years in a row (1911-12). Patti Dillon (Micmac) made women a part of the impressive legacy of tenacious Indigenous runners at Boston by finishing second in 1979, 1980 and 1981.

Patti Dillon Before 1980 Boston Marathon

Patti Dillon Before 1980 Boston Marathon

In 2016, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Tarzan’s first win, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) and Harvard University invited Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) to speak about his own path on the way to distance running legend. Though he came of age nearly 30 years after Tarzan, Billy also struggled to break through the world’s perceptions of him as “Indian”. Only after taking gold in one of the most exciting 10,000 Meter runs in Olympic history, did Billy feel validated as a citizen of the modern world. That victory has enabled him to inspire countless listeners to fight racial and cultural biases using education and sport as foundations for equality.

Wings runners pose with Billy Mills and Rob DeCastella, two time winner of the Boston Marathon and founder of the Indigenous Marathon Project. Photo: Jim Davis

Wings runners pose with Billy Mills and Rob de Castella, 1986 winner of the Boston Marathon and founder of the Indigenous Marathon Project. Photo: Jim Davis

As part of the celebration of Tarzan’s wins, Wings was asked to bring representatives of the newest generation of Native distance running champions. At an evening of presentations and panel discussions featuring university professors, acclaimed authors, Indigenous runners from outside North America, descendants of Native top-finishers at Boston and the Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, Oren Lyons, Wings runners made it known that the future of Native running remains bright. The “Pursuit” program aims to continue the conversations, learning opportunities and inspiration felt by everyone involved in the 2016 celebration. With any luck, it will help foster new role models for Indian Country and help those involved break free of any outsiders’ perceptions that might discourage them from pursuing greatness.

Tom Longboat

Tom Longboat

Boston On Indigenous Peoples’ Day (10/11/2021):

When the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) re-scheduled the 125th running of the Boston Marathon to October 11, 2021 due to COVID, there was little awareness amongst race officials that it was also Indigenous Peoples Day (IDP). But then they started to hear complaints from Indigenous organizers and their allies. They felt the Marathon was going to eclipse a holiday officially recognized by multiple municipalities along the route.

Long before the peak of the IDP controversy, Wings decided that we would not select a crew of high school juniors to travel to Boston during Marathon weekend for the “Pursuit” Program. The risks and unknowns associated with COVID, especially for young people, were still too many. But the B.A.A. offered one “charity bib” to help raise funds for future students. Artist and runner, Yatika Starr Fields (Osage, Cherokee & Muscogee Creek), jumped at the chance. He (and Wings) thought: what better way to honor the legacy of Indigenous People on IDP than to run strong on the world stage?

Eventually, the B.A.A. offered a public apology and donation to Indigenous organizers in Newton, whose IDP celebration had been jeopardized. Prior to that, race organizers began to seek advice from Wings board member and Marathon matriarch, Patti Dillon, about how to honor Indigenous Peoples on race day. As a Mi’kmaq woman and three-time Boston runner-up (’79-’81), her insight was invaluable. After conferring with friend and fellow board member, Sanjay Rawal, their advice to the B.A.A. was “work with Wings”.

Because Yatika was already going to be in “Bean Town” for the race, Wings asked if he might use his talents as a muralist to build on the B.A.A.’s recognition of Native champions that began in 2016. Their first idea: paint a mural honoring 2-time Boston winner, Ellison ‘Tarzan’ Brown (Narragansett), on a wall along the Marathon course. Ideally, the tribute could be done somewhere in Newton, where Tarzan clinched his first victory in 1936 after putting in a surge that demoralized defending champion, Johnny Kelley, on the now infamous “heartbreak hill”.

With only 6-weeks until race day, finding a wall and willing property owner seemed like a long shot. But the B.A.A. thought up an alternative: a 35’X7’ vinyl “canvas” stretched on a truss system in Copley Square. Steps away from the Marathon finish line, nestled between the tents used to check the vaccination or COVID test status of each participant, the “wall” was sure to catch a lot of attention. The B.A.A. also provided Wings with 6 additional race bibs, to be offered to Indigenous runners that could be ready for Boston on short notice.

At the artists’ request, the B.A.A. had running cutouts of 5 notable Indigenous runners that made their mark at Boston printed on the “base” canvas: Tarzan Brown, Tom Longboat (Onondaga), Patti Dillon, Andrew Sockalexis (Penobscot) and Jordan Marie Daniel (Kul Wicasa Lakota). Between them, Yatika began to weave a free-form mesh of color and commemorative text, while local artist Robert Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag) worked on a “blown-up” portrait of Tarzan over the life-size cutout printed on the vinyl.

The two worked casually, taking time to speak to passersby about the history embedded in the work and the significance of the Marathon on IDP. It was also used as a meeting place for morning shakeouts amongst Indigenous runners on Friday and Saturday before Marathon Monday. At one of these runs, Wings was presented with a $10,000 donation from the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation to support future youth programs. More than just a “live painting”, the mural became a place for Indigenous runners to create community, support one another and feel proud of the running tradition their presence sustained.

After two days of work, what was once a blaringly white rectangle had become a colorful ribbon in celebration of movement. Finally, with humble disregard for his gestural spray can work, Yatika helped adhere 10 life size cutouts of Indigenous runners that would be racing the Marathon on IDP. As he stuck his own silhouette next to Patti’s, the mural became past, present and future in one- strong medicine for all stepping to the start line in a few days.

The night before the race, Patti and Wings were honored by the B.A.A. at a reception attended by Tarzan Brown’s family, Boston Mayor, Kim Janey, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo). In her comments, Madame Secretary jokingly promised not to win the race the next day. Instead, she vowed to “run her own race, thankful that Creator has given me good health and the ability to run 26.2 miles with the people of the world.” As Patti fired the official starting gun the next morning, we can only hope that more runners than ever left the line with such humble appreciation for the gift.

Wings looks forward to continuing our collaboration with the B.A.A. knowing we have a steadfast partner to help us elevate Native perspectives within the running world. We are thankful that the mural was displayed at two celebrations hosted by the Newton Indigenous Peoples’ Day committee, as well as the 2022 B.A.A. 10K before being entrusted to Wings. As it was boxed up and sent to Albuquerque, a prayer was offered by Hiawatha Brown, Tarzan Brown’s grandson, and rolled up with cedar, tobacco, a braid of sweetgrass and an eagle feather. It arrived safely in December of 2022 and is now on display in the atrium of the Wings office. We welcome visitors to come see it for themselves.