Five community members completed a marathon at the 13th Annual Hawk race event in Lawrence, Kan., on September 9, 2023. The Hawk consists of four races: the marathon, the 50-mile, the 75-mile, and the 100-mile.
This marathon, which was a trail race, was the first marathon for Joe Mitchell, who is a PBPN member, Potawatomi Tribal Gaming Commissioner, and Royal Valley USD 337 Board of Education member.
“Trail running is its own beast,” Mitchell said. “In any other marathon race, you run on a flat surface—which is easier. Still hard but easier. Because you don’t trip over tree stubs and rocks. And with trail running, you run up hills and back down them, so it is a lot harder.”
“I knew my first marathon was going to be hard, but I didn’t know how hard, because I’d never run that trail before,” Mitchell continued. “Some runners, they’ll go run the course beforehand. I chose not to. I’d like to think it’s part of the adventure—the unknown.”
Mitchell mostly trained by running on flat surfaces, but he would dedicate one day a week to running hills.
“Evidently, I was not running enough hills. It took me a lot longer than I expected,” Mitchell joked.
Mitchell was joined at the Hawk by Grant Wewenis, Kickapoo member and firefighter/EMT with the Potawatomi Tribal Fire Department (PTFD); Robert Lewis, Citizen Band member and an instructor with the PBP Language Department; and Garrett Simon, Potawatomi and Kickapoo. This was the first marathon for all four community members.
Alongside the four newer runners, Jon Gwartney, firefighter/paramedic with PTFD, also competed in the race.
“Jon has been running for about 5 years. He’s who it all started with,” Mitchell said after the race. “Jon has run many ultramarathons. He inspired Grant and Garrett [to start running] about two years ago, then Grant inspired me last year. Then me and Grant both encouraged Robert Lewis to join us for this marathon.”
“It all started with Jon,” Mitchell continued. “I never met Jon before that day of the race, but I knew of him from Grant. He was taken aback to hear that we were all there because of him. He didn’t want to take credit. He said it was too much. But I assured him it was the truth and so did the others.”
In addition to the inspiration and encouragement from his friends, Mitchell had his own personal reasons for taking up running.
“I started because of my daughter. She’s nine years old now. And she was born with Down syndrome. She was my first baby, so I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know what all that meant,” Mitchell explained. “But I knew I had to take care of her. I’m going to have to take care of her as long as I can, and so while I’m here, I want to be healthy. I still carry her around like she’s my baby sometimes and so I want to be strong for her.”
Although Mitchell told himself that he would try to be healthier, it took several years for him to dedicate himself to running and to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Eventually, he got tired of making excuses for himself and ran his first full mile since high school.
“That first day I ran, I was so proud of myself. I got up off the couch one day and just decided to run one mile.” Mitchell remembered. “A couple days later, I saw Grant. He asked how I was doing, and I said, ‘I feel good. I finally ran for the first time in a long time. I ran one mile all the way through.’ And he had already been running a year or so—which I didn’t know that at the time.”
“He then said, ‘Oh, wow… Well, why don’t you do a 12k or a 25k?’ And I said, ‘How about you let me do three miles first before you start talking crazy like that?’” Mitchell said. “Like, I had just done a mile, first time since high school like 20 years ago, and I was all proud of myself. But it was funny because he planted the seed then.”
Afterwards, Mitchell’s friend checked in on his progress and encouraged him to continue trying to run longer distances, convincing Mitchell to try a 12k race. Following that first 12k, Mitchell ran two half marathons, and his latest race is his first full marathon. Giving himself less than two months to recover and train, Mitchell has already planned his second marathon.
“I have unfinished business. I want to do a four hour and 15-minute marathon or better,” Mitchell said. “This is why this is so important. This isn’t just about running—this is all analogous to life. Pushing past the limits of what you think you can do and just doing something and doing something great!”
Mitchell sees running as more than just physical exercise. He says that the mental and spiritual dimensions of running are what appeal to him most and can have the biggest impact on someone’s life.
“I love it because it helps me think, and I solve my problems in my life when I run,” Mitchell said. “I had a profound moment in training one time. My legs were hurting in the first mile, and I had four miles to go. I felt pain in my legs for the first time during my training, because I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had any injuries up to that point. But on this particular day, I felt the pain.”
“So, I started talking myself through it,” Mitchell continued. “Running is a form of meditation. Running is also medicine. So, I used this chant, in rhythm with each step: Not my body, not my mind. I said that over and over to get through the pain, and then eventually I started saying, not my pain. Not my pain. I felt like I was feeling my spirit. And the pain eventually went away. Most runners call it being in the zone or having a runner’s high.”
Mitchell is confident that the current group of runners in the community will attract others to take up running or another healthy activity that can enrich their lives.
There are already some local youth runners in the community, and Mitchell says that running can be especially beneficial to younger people because of the mental and emotional benefits that come with physical health and activity.
Just as Jon Gwartney encouraged Grant Wewenis to start running, who in turn encouraged Mitchell, running can help build community around a shared interest and hobby. It can also serve as a positive example for others when a healthy lifestyle seems difficult or even impossible to achieve.
“I ran initially for my daughter, and then along the way, I thought of my people here, and I was running for them. It was motivation. I wanted to show them that you can be healthy. That one day you can just decide to get off the couch and just start running,” Mitchell said.