Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
Dirk Whitebreast - Sac&Fox
One week ago Sunday, I drove from Michigan to Chicago to cover Dirk Whitebreast run in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
I greeted him just after he crossed Michigan Avenue from his hotel to begin the race. He told me he was tired when I inquired how he was feeling. He told me his body was getting tired. He had run a marathon the previous day in Libertyville, about 50 miles from Chicago.
Several hours later, after he passed the finish line, I greeted him again. Upon seeing me, he flashed a broad smile. He was in a talkative mood. He walked over the bridge from the finish line from Grant Park towards Michigan Avenue and found a spot to sit down on a ledge of another concrete bridge.
People were everywhere in the busy city enjoying the warm October Sunday afternoon. Families and friends were being united with exhausted marathon runners. Occasional emergency units with sirens sounding rounded city corners and raced to a scene to attend to yet another collapsed runner. We learned later a firefighter from Greensboro, North Carolina collapsed 500 yards shy of the finish line and later died.
Marathons are serious business. Running 26.2 miles is exhausting. Running in temperatures that were in the mid-80s in Chicago made matters worse for thousand of runners.
Even though, he was tired, Whitebreast was in a reflective mood. He had run eight marathons thus far, and had two more to run, which he completed this past weekend in Kansas City on Saturday and Des Moines on Sunday. He ran the ten marathons to bring awareness to the high rate of suicide among Native youth.
Perhaps, it was a way for him to relax after his 26.2 mile run that day, but he sat there and discussed why he was running the ten marathons in thirty days. He talked about his sister, Darcy Jo Keahna, who committed suicide eight years ago. He talked about the importance of reaching the youth and giving them a message of hope.
"To me speaking to the youth gives me a better feeling than getting a marathon medal," stated Whitebreast.
He talked about how he and his family financed his participation in the marathons.
“People think I am an expert on suicide, but I'm not. I am a suicide survivor”
said Whitebreat. "I was just living my life. Running was nothing more than an obsession with me, not a passion. My peers, people who grew up with me know I turned my life around after Darcy's died."
Whitebreast says with pride he has taken a drink of alcohol since the fateful day, he found out Darcy committed suicide. "I am realizing it is okay to open up and discuss what happened to me and my family. It is a tough subject for anyone to talk about. There is healing in opening up."
Even though Whitebreast does not feel he is an expert on suicide, he is being asked more and more to deliver his message to American Indian youth about how they can make a choice to live their futures. Last month, he spoke at a large crowd at the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin and last Friday he spoke to a group of youth at Haskell Indian University in Lawrence, Kansas.
His message is credible because he is a family member survivor of suicide. Now that he has run ten marathons in thirty days, his message is more powerful because of his feat of running in so many marathons.
I did not know Dirk Whitebreast before mid-September. I had never talked to him. I had just written about him after I received an email from Erin Bailey, director of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute in Washington. Her email told me about the ambitious goal Whitebreast had to run the ten marathons in thirty days. So, the Native News Network wrote about it. Then Bailey called me to see if I would go to Wisconsin to cover one or two marathons. So, I did and traveled to Menasha, Wisconsin to cover Whitebreast's run in the Community First Fox Cities Marathon. Later that night in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, I listened to him speak to the youth at the Ho-Chunk Nation and watched him linger long enough to interact with the youth who approached him after his speech.
In life, people have heroes. Some heroes are good; some are absurd. Heroes may be sports figures. They may be favorite ministers. Heroes may be family members who overcome obstacles and excel in education or business.
Historically, American Indians have had their share of heroes for we come from a long history of warriors. You only have to mention Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Jim Thorpe, or, in modern times, Dennis Banks or Russell Means to conjure up a hero among our ranks.
Ironically enough, Dirk Whitebreast shares in some lineage of Jim Thorpe, in that they come from Sac and Fox blood.
In my humble opinion, Dirk Whitebreeast is our newest hero. Since my conversation with him in Chicago, I have told people Dirk Whitebreast is my hero - an American Indian hero.
Strong enough to endure the rigors of ten marathons within one month. Strong enough to completely stop drinking alcohol - when we know so many young cannot forsake the dreaded curse of alcohol among Indian people. Strong enough to open up candidly about the tragedy of suicide within his family. Strong enough to stand up in front of young people to let them know they can choose to live their futures. Strong enough to believe in a Higher Power.
Sitting in Chicago on the cloudless beautiful fall day, he talked about an Indian friend, a fellow runner, who had one time told Whitebreast, "I know you are praying when you are running."
"He did not have to explain. He just knew that is what I do when I run - PRAY. I never feel closer to God as I do when I am running, stated Whitebreast.
Whitebreast knows where he gains his strength.
Whitebreast completed running the ten marathons within 30 days. He did so as a challenge. Anyone who would like to donate to this cause may do so by going to the Center for Native American Youth's website: www.aspeninstitute.org/Native American Youth
posted October 18, 2011 7:30 am edt
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