Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Runners You Should Know: Lewis Tewanima

Lewis Tewanima was born in 1888 in the Hopi village of Shongopovi, Second Mesa, Arizona Territory.

As a young Hopi boy, Lewis grew up immersed in the centuries-old running culture of his people. For fun, he and his friends would sometimes run the 50-60 miles to Winslow to watch the trains which passed through the town. After they were done watching, they would then run the 50-60 miles back home. This wasn't a big deal for him since "it was summertime; the days were long." 
Winslow c.1890, a few years before Lewis and his friends came to watch the trains
A train arriving at Winslow c.1913 
In 1907 Lewis was sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania as part of a federal program which required that Native American children be sent to government-run schools. One extracurricular activity immediately appealed to him. He approached the track coach, Glenn Warner, about running for the school. When Warner told the 110 pound teenager that he didn't think he was built to be an athlete, Lewis reportedly responded “Me run fast good! All my people run fast good.” Warner relented and let him join the team, which included Jim Thorpe.
Tewanima is seated on the far right; Thorpe is center back row
Apparently Tewanima was right, because the next year he was selected for the U.S. Olympic team for the 1908 London games, finishing ninth in the marathon. The next Olympics, the 1912 Stockholm games, he ran the 10,000 meters, winning the silver medal and setting a U.S. record which stood for 52 years. (Appropriately enough, the man who finally broke Tewanima's record was another Native American, the Lakota Sioux Billy Mills).
Tewanima (in white) winning silver at the 1912 Olympics
After the 1912 Olympics Tewanima returned to his home on Second Mesa on the Hopi reservation, now within the newly admitted state of Arizona. He lived there the rest of his life, herding sheep and growing corn,  beans, and melon until his death in 1969. 

Today the Hopi still honor their most celebrated runner with an annual 10k through Tewanima's hometown on Second Mesa


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